Category Archives: Independent Study

Skype in the Classroom

We have been using Skype for a few years in my classroom.  Sometimes we have chatted with experts for genius hour projects and other times we have talked with classmates who have moved away.  A couple of times we have used it to talk with app developers about products the students were beta testing.

As many educators know, inviting other adults into your classroom, whether virtually or physically, can be extremely unpredictable.  While these adults may be experts, that does not guarantee they are able to impart their knowledge effectively to young people.  They may have great intentions, but might have a hard time keeping your students interested.

This is what is great about using the resources from Skype in the Classroom.  On this site, you can look for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and other classrooms to collaborate with.  The people who have volunteered to have information posted on the site are experienced working with students.  Your chances of having a great Skype lesson are increased when choosing a contact who is prepared to speak to a young audience.

Right before the Winter Break, students in a couple of my gifted and talented classes had successful Skype conversations.  My second graders benefited from a virtual field trip  to Buffalo Bill Center of the West near Yellowstone Park as they learned about animal adaptations, while my 3rd graders spoke with a reporter about protecting the oceans from overfishing.  Both sessions were scheduled through the Skype in the Classroom site after I did some filtered searching based on topics and grade level.  Once they were scheduled, I received e-mails with further details to prepare for the Skypes, and reminders the day before each session.

After each Skype, my students and I felt very gratified that the hosts were willing to volunteer 45 minutes out of their days to help the students understand their topics better. The experts were able to offer perspectives and ideas that were new to all of us, and we agreed we definitely learned quite a bit.  I must admit, also, that I was relieved that the presenters were not only very knowledgeable about their subjects, but excellent at communicating with children.

If you want to use the Skype in the Classroom site, you will need to have a free Skype contact already created, and to register with the Skype in the Classroom site.  If you are a beginner, don’t worry.  There are tons of resources on the site to get you started.  In addition, you will find the people who respond to your interview requests are very happy to help as well.

Take your students to places and people they might not otherwise ever encounter with Skype in the Classroom.  It will deepen everyone’s learning, including your own.

UPDATE 1/8/17: I just found this fantastic blog post that gives suggestions for Skype Virtual Field Trips from Skype Master Teachers!

Photo-Dec-12-10-41-21-AM-1s4meef.jpg
A student shares her animal adaptation research with a docent from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Reliable Websites

As my students begin to do research for their Genius Hour projects, I find it important to help them learn how to find good information online.  Over the years I’ve used various lessons and videos, but I recently found this one by Jillianne Jastren that succinctly details what to look for in a reliable website.  Although this video uses safesearch.org as the starting place, my older students often use the Google Explore tool (formerly known as the Research tool) in addition to our own library’s electronic resources.  After watching the video, the students are able to explain the pros and cons of different types of domains and the tell-tale signs of inaccurate or biased websites.  I hear them discussing with their partners whether or not they should trust information that they find on a site or telling them to find a site that is more balanced and less biased. In my opinion, finding reliable websites is a critical survival skill in today’s world – not just for school research projects – and this video gives an excellent brief lesson on how to do just that.

image from Chris Pirillo on Flickr
image from Chris Pirillo on Flickr

This video does direct the viewers to turn in an assignment on Moodle at the end, but it’s easy enough to say, “That doesn’t apply to you.”

Or I guess you could just look at your class expectantly and say, “What are you waiting for?  Follow her directions!”

And they could say, “How are we supposed to put an assignment on a noodle?”

And you could just shake your head and say, “Aren’t you guys supposed to know more about technology than I do?”

And then they will start blurting out how to build rocket ships that make your dinner for you in Minecraft (even though I don’t think that’s really a thing, but I would like someone to teach me if it is).

And your entire lesson will derail spectacularly – most likely all of this happening while you are being observed by an administrator.

How you handle things is completely up to you…

Genius Hour Digital Resources

In my never-ending quest to refine Genius Hour for my students and make it meaningful, I have created a few new digital resources that I intend to use this year with my 3rd-5th grade students.  We will be using Google Classroom, so I decided to design some Google Slides presentations that the students can use for collecting research and keeping track of what needs to be completed.  Here is the link to the folder of resources, which you can copy and edit to suit your needs.

My plan:

  • Assign the Research Planner as a copy to each student.  Reflections 1 and 2 are to be done at certain points as students progress through the Research Planner. The Research Planner also has links to some other helpful resources, and a great activity from Ian Byrd to help write good research questions. This slideshow is not their presentation – just a collection of notes.
  • Assign the Exit Tickets presentation as one copy to be edited by the students in the classroom at the end of each Genius Hour.
  • Include the Skype Interview and E-mail templates as assignments for students to complete when appropriate.
  • Once students finish the Research Planner to my satisfaction, they will be allowed to continue to the Presentation Planner.  This includes links to “What Would Steve Jobs Do?” and “The Worst Preso Ever,” both of which are great to show students before they design their presentations.  It also includes links to two TED Talks given by students.
  • After students successfully complete the Presentation Planner, they will be allowed to make their presentations, create interactive portions to follow up on the information given, and rehearse.
  • Finally, they will present!

If you’ve followed my Genius Hour adventures at all, you know that this plan will not work as hoped.  I am pretty sure that it will be an improvement over what I’ve done in the past, though.

Maybe…

Genius Hour Digital Resources
Genius Hour Digital Resources

The L.E.A.D. DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher’s incredible 5th grade GT students are currently hosting a “pop-up” museum at their school.  Inspired by San Antonio’s new hands-on children’s museum, the DoSeum, the students designed their very own interactive exhibits, and invited select guests to visit.  Here is the invitation they designed.

The L.E.A.D. (Learn, Explore, And Discover) DoSeum consists of three rooms: The Seeker Space, Puzzle Parlor, and Tech Town.  You can see descriptions of the rooms in the invitation linked above.

LEAD DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher chronicled the process of creating the L.E.A.D. DoSeum from its inception.  You can read her blog posts and see pictures of the DoSeum here.

I think that this is such a wonderful idea, giving students the opportunity to take charge and plan with an authentic audience in mind.  It’s also nice to do near the end of the school year, as other teachers on the campus will probably be more than happy to take their students on a tour!  Even if you don’t have 3 rooms to spare, you could consider working with other teachers for the last couple of weeks of school to split your students into teams to each design an interactive museum room in their classroom.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. Lasher and 5th grade GT students!

 

Encouraging Young Entrepreneurs to Change the World

Suzanne Horan and her 5th grade class of gifted and talented students were recently showcased on our district website for an outstanding project they did this year.  They each planned, researched, and developed products that could make a positive difference in the world.  From a 3-d printed model of a staircase that collapses into a ramp for those who are wheelchair bound, to improved fitting for a prosthetic leg, these imaginative and empathetic students created an array of marketable products that could truly be practical and helpful.

The students dressed up for presentation day because they knew their work would be evaluated by an objective panel of judges who would score them based on, among other things,  their research, passion for their topic, uniqueness of their product, and its usefulness.  For the next stage, Mrs. Horan has invited a patent lawyer to speak to the class about the steps to take to market their products.

This is exactly the type of project that students need to be doing.  It is relevant, based on student interests, and incorporates a multitude of thinking skills.  I would like to bet these 5th graders will never forget this experience, and that it will inform many of their later important decisions in life.

To read more about the fabulous inventors in Mrs. Horan’s class, you can visit our district website, or their class blog for some great pictures from the presentation day!

A student in Mrs. Horan's class shows others his idea for collapsible stairs
A student in Mrs. Horan’s class shows others his idea for collapsible stairs

#EngineerThat

KQED Science has a challenge for students ages 11-18.  Design a solution to a problem that is in the world around you, and share it on social media using #EngineerThat.  (Students under the age of 13 must share through a parent’s social media account.)  If you have questions about the contest, there is a live webinar being held this Thursday, January 7th, at 4 PM PST.  The deadline for contest submissions is January 24th 2016.

This sounds like a fun activity to help promote creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  For more information, visit their website. Even if you don’t think your students will be competing, it is a great challenge to share with them to see what they might create.  There is also a short introductory video.

On a side note, I was exploring the KQED Science site, and found the “Do Now” section to be a great resource for science-related current events that offer opportunities for student voice.  If you read my student’s blog post yesterday, you might be interested in the the topic, “What Would You Study About the Ocean? Students Weigh In.”  I found all of the titles intriguing, and definitely recommend you take a look at them if you teach middle or high school students.

Image from Wesley Fryer at sppedofcreativity.org
Image from Wesley Fryer at speedofcreativity.org

I Hope this Change is Soon Made

In my GT class, each grade level meets with me once a week.  The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders do a cooperative blog post for our class blog at the end of each their GT days. A couple of months ago, one of my students wrote this:

“GT today!” is what we yelped happily this morning. We have been doing genius hour and I would replace Social Studies with time to work on reports on whatever we want. It would be fun to finally have some freedom on the things we do in school instead of a teacher walking in and saying, “We’re going to learn about blah blah blah. Yes there’s only one right answer. GT kids. Bleh. Who came up with the idea of GT. I’m going to have a talk with that rat.” I love having freedom, but most teachers don’t understand that always having that ONE answer just keeps our brains cooped up. It doesn’t help us learn very much. If kids were alowed to enjoy learning they might do it more. our teachers would have a less stressful time trying to get us to listen and learn if we had some time to learn about what we want. It would still be learning and it would be more creative because we have to keep everyone intrested by coming up with different ways of presenting the research from everyone else. I hope this change is soon made.

I asked the student and her mom for permission to publish the student’s request on this blog, and they agreed.

I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to present this young lady’s desire for more control over her own learning and assessment.  She is not the only student who has written about this in my class, and certainly not the only one to express this frustration with our education system.  I have a lot to say, but I am more interested in what you think.

I would like your comments on her suggestion, particularly if you are a classroom teacher.  Is it possible, even with the mandates of a required curriculum and high-stakes testing, even with classes of 22 or more students, and even within a non-flexible school day schedule, to grant this student’s request?  If not, what is one change you would recommend that would make it possible?  If you have done this, or seen it done, in a regular classroom, please comment on the secret ingredients to make this work.

freedomtolearn