Category Archives: K-12

Exact Instructions Challenge PB&J

One of the funniest writing professional developments I ever attended included a live demonstration of the teacher following written instructions for making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.  By following only the instructions on the paper, the teacher ended up making a huge mess.  The point was to show that we often forget some important specifics when writing a “How To” paper.   YouTube’s Josh Darnit has a video you can show your students to get the point across without having to stick your own hand in a jar of Jiffy.  He assigns his children the task of creating “exact instructions” for making a PB&J sandwich, and chaos ensues.

I showed the video to my students in Robot Camp, and they immediately understood the connection – that programmers can’t assume the robot or computer knows what they are thinking, and if something goes wrong you need to go back and fix your mistake instead of blaming it on the device.

You should note that this particular video is labeled, “Classroom Friendly,” and I can attest that it is appropriate.  I can’t vouch for any other Josh Darnit videos or “Exact Instructions” on YouTube.

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Reflecting with Hexagons

I think that the deepest discussions I ever hear in my classroom happen when we do Hexagonal Thinking.  If you haven’t heard of this strategy, I explain how I use it with my 4th graders in this blog post.  Last year, I did a post on using Hexagonal Thinking to reflect on the school year.  In the past, my 3rd-5th graders have used Hexagonal Thinking.  This year, on a whim, I decided to try it with my 2nd graders.

My 2nd graders have never done an activity like this before.  It was our last day of class together, and I wanted to help them sum up the things they have learned in our Gifted and Talented class this year.  Because they were new to Hexagonal Thinking, I conducted the activity in a slightly different way.

First, I went to this awesome Hexagon Generator, and asked the class to help me brainstorm words that represented things they have learned in GT.  Here is what they came up with:

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I did this right before their recess time, so I could make some quick copies for everyone while they played.

When we got back to the classroom, I paired up the students and gave them the paper.  Now this is where I really departed from my traditional lesson.  Instead of asking them to cut up the hexagons and place them where they wanted on a new sheet of paper, I asked them to make connections between words that were already sharing sides.  We went over a couple of examples so they could understand that I didn’t want them to say things that used the words in the explanation, (such as creativity goes with problem solving because you need to be creative to problem solve) but to think about the qualities that each word shared.

You know how you sometimes come up with an idea right before class and you start executing the idea and realize about 3/4 of the way through explaining it that it was the dumbest idea ever and now you need to figure out how to get through the next 45-minutes without anyone crying – including you?

That’s how I felt as I started monitoring the partner discussions.  Expecting 2nd graders to “go deep” on the last day of class was not a brilliant decision on my part.  There were comments like, “Well, bridges goes with stability because they need to stay up or they will fall down.”  True, but not what I was going for.

And then something kind of magical happened.  I heard partners saying, “No, no, that’s not what she wants.”  And I started reading some of their notes.  And I realized that these kids can think deeper than I can when given the opportunity.

A few of their comments:

  • Stability and Support – “You have to be strong and stand up for your friends.”
  • Creativity and Perspective – “You have to think the way others think to make them happy.”
  • Perseverance and Adaptations – “They both don’t give up trying to survive.”
  • Perseverance and Adaptations – “Sometimes you need to change to work together.”
  • Ethics and Perspectives – “When you don’t look at different points of view, sometimes you get in a fight.”

You can see the working drafts one pair used below.

The great thing about this activity was hearing the students use the vocabulary, like “ethics” and “perspectives” correctly, and being able to tell from their comments if they really understood these topics.

If you still have some time with your students before closing out the year, I definitely recommend this activity!

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Tooth Traditions Around the World

Silvia Tolisano of the Langwitches Blog shared in this post how a teacher from Argentina is trying to help her first graders learn about the “tooth” traditions of other countries.  Students are invited to add to this Flipgrid their own stories about what happens when they hit that favorite milestone of losing a tooth. Similar to the other lessons that I’ve shared that help students to learn about commonalities and differences throughout the world, this is a wonderful idea for crowd-sourcing knowledge from our young people about a topic that means quite a bit to them!  Unfortunately, there is a disadvantage for those of us who are mono-lingual, as several of the videos that have already been shared may be in a language you do not know.  (I tried using Google Translate on my phone with some interesting results…)   Maybe including some hand-drawn pics like the one below might help.

I enjoyed hearing Maggie H.’s comparison of England and India (I think my students will be horrified to hear that some children plant their teeth!).  Considering the wide variety in monetary value that teeth seem to bring just within my tiny class, it might also be fun to research the currency exchanges mentioned and do some math along with your geography lesson.

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image from Cathy Meier on Flickr

Doodle 4 Google 2018

You have less than 2 days to vote for this year’s Doodle 4 Google contest winners.  This year’s theme is , “What inspires me.”  This is a great opportunity to show your students the incredible creativity that is exemplified by the chosen finalists from K-12. And, even though the deadline to enter has passed, you can take advantage of the free educator materials to guide your students as they create their own Google doodles.  Are you done with standardized testing for the year?  Looking for ways to engage your students as the school year comes to a close?  This is definitely one way to do it!

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Building the Seed Cathedral

Thomas Heatherwick demonstrates amazing feats of design, architecture, and engineering in this TED video that I showed my 2nd graders (studying structures) this week.  After the revelation I had a few weeks ago that my students aren’t entirely sure of the importance of creativity, I wanted to be certain that they saw these examples of unique designs that defy all norms.  The favorite, which literally has gotten “oohs and ahs” from every audience I’ve shown it to so far, is the bridge.  (Go to about 3:33 on the video to see that directly.)  Almost as popular with my students are the apartment buildings near the end of the video that demonstrate that not all tall buildings are wider at the bottom than the top!

Meet Your Cubelets Units

My students are fascinated with Cubelets.  It would be easy to just dump the box of Cubelets on the floor and walk away for 45 minutes because they would use all of that time to explore.  Exploration time is great, and I definitely recommend it (maybe not for 45 minutes), but you won’t maximize the learning potential of these modular robots without offering the students some guidance and some carefully worded challenges.

Modular Robotics recently unveiled an updated version of its Cubelets lesson plans that can help teachers from PreK-12 find ways to make the most of Cubelets.  The lessons are not detailed, but they are perfect for any educator who is new to using Cubelets in the classroom and looking for how to introduce them to the students, and there are tons of ideas for taking it further.

If you are not familiar with Cubelets, here is a post I did that I included in my Makerspace Essentials list.  I don’t think that you should spend a lot of money on “things” for a Makerspace or a classroom, but if you can get a grant or have the budget Cubelets are one of the few products that I recommend purchasing.  They provide an endless supply of entertainment and education.

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image from GCPL on Flickr

Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

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Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words