january scrabble
Books, K-12

Coming Up in January, 2023!

I’ve just updated my January/Winter Holidays Wakelet — which means that there are a few more new links you can find and some outdated ones that I’ve deleted. It includes resources for MLK Day, Lunar New Year, and Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust Remembrance Day is a new column that I just added. One of the resources I added to that column is a picture book called, Bartali’s Bicycle. This was one of the Texas Bluebonnet Books for which I had the opportunity to write curriculum for a local school district, and it really made an impression on me when I read it. It is the true story of the heroic Italian cyclist named Gino Bartali, who secretly saved countless lives during World War II. Students will be amazed by his daring and innovation, and you can find a link to a discussion guide on the author’s website.

visit the author’s page here

Also, just a reminder that I’m scheduled to present at TCEA in San Antonio with Amy Chandler (Assistant Director of Gifted and Talented in North East Independent School District) on January 30th, 2023, on Digital Differentiation. We’d love to see you in person!

coming soon on white surface
K-12

Top 10 Posts of 2022 and What I’m Planning For 2023

Happy New Year! Someone asked me for my New Year’s Resolution, and I said that I’m not making any — because I truly do try to improve every day. That may sound a bit braggy, but what I actually mean is that I am interested in accomplishing so many things that it’s impossible for me to narrow them down to one goal, or even a few. I’m not really proud of the fact that I can’t focus my curiosity. I even asked Canva’s Magic Write tool to help me come up with a better way to describe this shortcoming, hoping for a more flattering descriptor, but this is what I got:

I kind of like #13, “Jack-of-all-trades, mediocre-at-all,” but, frankly, even that one is a bit generous.

Anyway, I’m doing the standard looking back at the year to see what went well and what direction(s) I should go moving forward. It’s interesting to look at my top 10 posts for 2022. Some of the posts that did well are surprising to me. See what you think:

  1. Fourword Word Ladder Game
  2. Genius Hour Resources
  3. AI Generated Poetry
  4. Name Picker Tools
  5. Getting to Know You Hexagons for Back to School
  6. Blackout Poetry Maker
  7. Let’s Talk About Twos Day
  8. Gifts for the Gifted
  9. Interactive Google Slides Templates
  10. One Pager for Genius Hour in Kindergarten and First Grades

Coming up for 2023 I’ve planned a new self-paced course on Hexagonal Thinking that should be available soon. Based on feedback from workshops I’ve done, this is one of the most useful and flexible tools to elicit deep thinking teachers can use, so seeing that blog post in my top 10 isn’t surprising. In fact, Kelly Hincks recently referenced the post in an article she wrote for the American Library Association about doing Hexagonal Thinking with her students.

I’m also revamping the website to include my own marketplace, where you can download freebies as well as purchase some things I’ve personally designed. The freebies have always been available, but you kind of have to hunt for them on my site, so now they’ll be in one place. (Want to know my most downloaded freebie? Click here to see it!)

I’m also scheduled to present at TCEA in San Antonio with Amy Chandler (Assistant Director of Gifted and Talented in North East Independent School District) on January 30th, 2023, on Digital Differentiation. Come see us at 1:00 that day if you are attending(not sure of the room, yet).

Speaking of North East Independent School District, current teachers will have another opportunity to take the self-paced Genius Hour class we offered last fall for free. Since it was so popular, it’s been arranged to offer it again during the March Super Saturday weekend, and you can earn 4 credit hours! If you are not in NEISD, and would like to take the course on your own, I recommend the Course Bundle I have here. All participants also get invited to our private Genius Hour Facebook Group.

If you want to keep updated on all of these upcoming events and more, be sure you’ve signed up for the weekly newsletter — where you’ll also receive content not posted on the blog and special discounts!

Computer Science, Creative Thinking, K-12, Problem Solving

Let it Snow During Hour of Code!

It’s Computer Science Education Week (12/5-12/11), which means it’s time to do an Hour of Code with your students. I still remember when I first tried it with mine, and I was super worried it would be a complete disaster. I did not know how to code, so how could I facilitate a session of it? However, the Hour of Code tutorials are so helpful that I found myself just as engaged as the students — and we all celebrated whenever we figured out how to solve glitches in our coding.

Since then I’ve dabbled more in coding, and the Hour of Code website has become even better with searchable tutorials that you can filter by grade level, device, and ability level. Of course, there are also “unplugged” coding activities that require no device.

I think every student should get introduced to coding. Just like music or art, it could become their “thing” and they would never know if they don’t get the opportunity to try it out. My students and I also found many lessons in coding that we could apply to our own lives through Systems Thinking (some of which I outlined here).

One of my favorite HOC lessons was one I did with a first grade general education class. I had volunteered to help facilitate HOC on my campus, and it snowed the night before — a very unusual event in San Antonio. So, I switched gears and decided to help the students learn how to code snow in Scratch Jr. on the iPads. Now, there are several ways that you can do this, but I decided that the snow would be a character (or sprite, as Scratch likes to call them) so they could actually code how it behaved. You can learn more about the lesson, and see examples here. Keep in mind that this was a lesson from 2017, so some of the features may have been updated in Scratch Jr.

My Scratch Jr. lesson is one of many that I’ve collected and share on my December Wakelet, which has columns for: Computer Science Education Week, General, Kwanza/Hannukah/Other Winter Holidays, Creative Activities, Puzzles and Games, and STEM. Another popular post on there is my snow globe one, though it isn’t a coding lesson — If I Lived in a Snow Globe, I’d Wear a Bike Helmet to Bed. I’ll keep updating the Wakelet as I find more!

Creative Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

2 Free S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Resources for December

I’ve slowly been working on digitizing and updating some of my materials. Last year, I offered this free S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Through Winter Jamboard. (Here is the Google Slides version if you prefer, so you can print it as a PDF.) S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is a creative thinking tool developed by Bob Eberle, and each letter stands for suggestions to spark innovation: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Another Use, and Rearrange. You can see an example of one of the slides below.

A student example of Substitution from the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Through Winter pack

I do like to be as inclusive as possible with my readers. And it has not escaped me that there is another hemisphere that experiences its seasons at different times of the year than the United States. So, for my southern hemisphere friends (or anyone in the northern hemisphere who likes to switch things up once in awhile), here is my brand new Summer Pool Party S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Jamboard. I also have a Google Slides version for anyone who would like it.

I will be adding this post to my December Wakelet, which also has links related to Hour of Code (NEXT WEEK!) and various holidays coming up this month. And don’t forget that you can see all of my Wakelet Collections on this page!

Critical Thinking, Games, K-12, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted – Building Road Breakthrough

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

For this week’s gift recommendation, I went with a logic game that can appeal to a wide range of ages (3+) for different reasons. It initially appealed to me because I thought my nephew, who is about to turn 3, might like it. It has 2 things that he currently likes — a truck and marbles. Surprisingly, my teenage daughter also found it fun, so this toy definitely scores highly in the area of multi-aged/generational play.

This game scores low on durability because there are many pieces that could easily get lost, including a few marbles. No containers are provided other than the plastic they are packaged in, which isn’t reusable. However, I found a gallon storage bag keeps everything together nicely other than the 4 large pieces that fit together to make the base of the game.

A challenge book is included that scaffolds the puzzles from primary to master. The object is to get the windup truck from the starting tile to the final tile, where it deposits its marble. The colored pictures in the primary level show where to place the tiles, gradually adding more pieces, so young children can work on copying the 2d version to their 3d pieces, and then cheer when their truck reaches its destination. After that level, the puzzles show how to set up some of the tiles, and then the player must figure out where the other tiles need to be placed in order for the truck to have a successful journey. Like many logic games, this toy is technically for one player, but I would suggest that two or three could collaborate on solving the challenges. As I usually suggest, it’s good to go through the challenges in order as the easier puzzles build up skills that are useful in the more advanced ones. Of course, my daughter did not follow this advice; after doing a challenge in each section with some considerable trouble, she went immediately to the last one…

Though I found this particular product on Amazon, there seem to be a lot of other versions out there with slightly different names, so you can definitely shop around.

boy in red sweater wring on notebook
K-12, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Writing

10 Retrieval Activities + 1 Choice Board

You may recall my mention of retrieval practice in my post about the +1 Visible Thinking Routine. To briefly recap, scientific studies show that retrieval practice done in intervals can help learners to retain more information. These activities are like short pop-quizzes in that you are asking students to recall as much as they can without referring to notes or texts. But, while a pop quiz is used for the teacher to assess, the purpose of retrieval practice activities are to help students learn, so they should not be attached to grades. Ideally, they are woven into your teaching day and can take the form of games, classroom warmups, and even exit tickets. The +1 Visible Thinking Routine is one way to do retrieval practice, but I recently discovered some more ideas on Twitter.

It started when I noticed a Tweet from Brendan O’Sullivan (@ImtaBrendan) where he shared a choice board of “settler” activities. Now, I don’t know about you, but the word, “settler” makes me think of dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail or getting obliterated by my family when we play Catan. Once I found out from Brendan that these are a term for activities used “to get your class settled, to give them focus and moving towards learning,” the board made a lot more sense to me. (This is the fun thing about Twitter. Brendan is from Ireland, so I appreciate him helping us non-Europeans learn a new term!) Brendan’s choice board is a nice way to have students do some retrieval practice when class is getting started.

Settler Choice Board from Brendan O’Sullivan

I then noticed a Tweet from Liesl McConchie (@LieslMcConchie) where she shared a link to her mini-book of “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention.” Although it is math-focused, you can easily do the activities in any classroom. For example, I could see using the “Quiz, Quiz, Switch” activity in any grade level or subject (possibly using pictures for students who are pre-readers).

Retrieval Practice example from Liesl McConchie in her mini-book, “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention

You can download more free mini-books from Liesl on her website.

By guiding students with retrieval practice activities, we will not only help them to retain more important information, but we are teaching them a valuable skill they can continue to use as lifelong learners.