Playdough Surgery

Child cutting play dough with plastic knife

I couldn’t believe the brilliance of the Twitter account of @TheBreakfasteur when I came across it during a late night of doom scrolling. According to the bio, the author is a “doctor mom feeding little bodies and brains.” This physician creates elaborate playdough models so that her child can practice surgery. When you listen to the little voice during the videos, you can hear the curiosity and interest as well as the precise vocabulary that rolls off the child’s tongue. It makes me wonder if I had experiences like that as a child if my path in life would have been completely different (doubtful – the “Force” was always strong in me to be a teacher). Watching the child use two spoons as a defibrillator to get the heart pumping after a coronary bypass was almost as inspiring as watching an episode of The Good Doctor — and far less traumatic.

You can see everything from a tonsillectomy to a kidney transplant by visiting The Breakfasteur’s YouTube channel. The videos are short (about 2 minutes or less), and include text showing the proper names of the anatomical parts. The notes in the description often give you references to real surgery videos you can watch, as well as some ideas for recreating the surgical tools with household items. If you have a child intrigued by science, or want to arouse a child’s interest in science, these videos are a fabulous way to do so.

Ada Twist, Scientist is Now a Television Series!

It has been five years since I first reviewed Ada Twist, Scientist on this blog, and I even recommended it back then for my Gifts for the Gifted list in 2016. The book, which is one in a series of collaborations between author, Andrea Beaty, and illustrator, David Roberts, in the Questioneers Series, is a delightful story about a young girl who embodies the curiosity and experimental personality of a S.T.E.M. hero in the making. Now, Ada and her friends (Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck, who also star in their own books by the dynamic duo of Beaty/Roberts ) are featured in a new animated series on Netflix that officially drops on September 28, 2021 — but don’t despair if you don’t have a Netflix subscription. You and your students can watch two episodes right now on YouTube: “Cake Twist” and “Garden Party.” The adorable cast of characters plus the real-life scientists who appear at the end of each episode will engage pre-school and lower elementary students while showing them how to brainstorm, problem-solve, and deal with mistakes. This mixture of fictional and authentic role models that are brought to you by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, are the perfect inspiration for our next generation of change-makers!

Ada Twist, the book, has a website with teaching materials. (Hey, Netflix or Higher Ground, if you want a teacher to write some materials for the animated series, reach out!) And, don’t forget that I have a Wakelet collection of books for Maker Ed and Design Thinking in case you are looking for more resources!

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Back to School S.C.A.M.P.E.R. (Digital Versions)

I am slowly updating a lot of my materials, and I just completed my “Back to School S.C.A.M.P.E.R.” A quick recap of S.C.A.M.P.E.R.:  S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is an acronym used to help one remember some great tools for creative thinking. “Substitute” is the first tool, followed by “Combine”, “Adapt”, “Modify”, “Put to Another Use”, “Eliminate”, and “Rearrange.” I originally created a TPT packet several years ago, after being inspired by Miss Trayers in this post. But I am trying to offer more of my materials for free and digitally.

S.C.A.M.P.E.R. makes a great activity any time of the year, and especially during the first few days of school as you try to learn more about your students and how they think. I would often do the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. prompts on my own while they worked so they could learn a little bit about me as well. They can be used as warm-ups, in centers, and even reward activities.

I have developed a few S.C.A.M.P.E.R. products over the years, and my students love it when I pass out the activity pages.  My more recent updates include Google Slides and Jamboard versions, such as this one for the Winter Holidays and my St. Patrick’s Day set.

There are always several students that wow me with their unique responses.  You can see some student examples from a few years ago here.

I used a template from SlidesGo to make my updated Back to School S.C.A.M.P.E.R., as well as illustrations from

Here is the link to the Google Slides version of Back to School S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

And here is the link to the Jamboard version.

Speaking of Jamboard, I will be adding this to my Wakelet of Jamboard templates. For more Jamboards that promote creativity, I definitely recommend the ones by Julia Dweck, all of which she has linked here.

Click here for the Slides version.

One-Pager for Genius Hour in Kindergarten and First Grades

Many of the Genius Hour resources that I and others have made assume a basic level of reading and research skills. Of course, with Kindergarten and 1st grades, many students may not have those foundational skills. I wanted to round up a few suggestions for primary teachers, so I went in search of resources that I could summarize and/or link to in case you want to save yourself a bit of time.

Of course, Joy Kirr’s Livebinder for Genius Hour is always my first stop because I definitely don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are many examples of Genius Hour projects from every grade level, as well as links to teacher blog posts that are very helpful. This post is not comprehensive, but might be a good place to begin for some suggestions. As I say when I speak with other teachers, Genius Hour can look dramatically different from room to room while still maintaining the goal of student-directed learning, and its structure should vary based on student needs. It is not a free-for-all time, but it’s also not an “I’m going to tell you what you need to learn, how to learn it, and how to show you learned it” time.

There are three basic steps to Genius Hour: Wondering, Finding and Noting Information, Presenting. With younger students, I would take a very gradual release approach for each of those steps. Begin with whole group modeling, and slowly transition to giving more freedom of choice as students grasp the concept.

How does one begin Genius Hour with the youngest of our students? It’s actually quite easy because they naturally wonder about the world, and haven’t had this curiosity stifled as it often is in later grades. Another Genius Hour expert, Denise Krebs, wrote about transitioning her students from large groups with common interests to smaller, more focused groups in this post. You could also try these suggestions for a “Think, Wonder, Explore” time. Or, try a Wonder Wall, like this teacher. Of course, a favorite way to start is with a picture book. Here are some great recommendations from Gallit Zvi, who wrote The Genius Hour Guide Book with Denise Krebs.

But, wait! What if my students can’t write? You, as the teacher, could write for them, of course. To make this less overwhelming, you could have small groups settle on Wonders. Or, you can do what many of the articles I read seemed to recommend – link your students with Buddies. Whether they are students from another grade level or parent volunteers, Buddies can foster a great sense of community while helping with some of the challenging tasks during Genius Hour time. Another idea is to partner with your librarian. You can also try a rotation process, like this teacher does.

Can students this age really come up with research questions? Sure! Again, modeling with the whole group a few times is key before starting to let students work independently or in small groups. Since these students are new to research, you don’t need to insist on “thick” research questions with complex vocabulary from all of them, but certainly differentiate for advanced students with higher Bloom’s questions. Here are some question stems you could use.

And then they’re going to research? But they can’t even read! This is another phase where rotations, Buddies, and/or your librarian can be essential. One tip that I like from teacher Renee Dooly is to use QR codes to help students find digital information. I used to introduce different types of resources to my students one at a time. For example, I checked out a bunch of books by the same publishing group about different countries, and showed them how to find the information in those books. They had a choice of country, but we stuck to the same type of resource and presentation. As they learned about other resource types, those choices were added in on other projects later in the year. Also, don’t forget about free tools like Immersive Reader, which are getting built in to many online educational resources.

What about methods for presenting what they learned? Some teachers have one way for all students to present, such as using Book Creator. Others give a limited number of choices, as you can see in this blog post. Once the whole class has learned how to do something, make that a new option. Or, get together all of the students who want to do the same type of presentation, such as a video, and give a mini-lesson. (Buddies are good for this, too!) Got a classroom iPad? Record your mini-lessons, upload them to Google Drive, and give students QR codes to scan when they are ready to watch.

Genius Hour can be done with younger students, but a lot of scaffolding is needed. The good news is that students who get this exposure in younger grades will really be able to take the skills for self-directed learning and blossom with them in later grades.

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Genius Hour Research Notes

First, I want to think my colleagues in Arkansas for a great session last Thursday! I presented “From Jaded to Joyful: Galvanizing Students with Genius Hour,” and the participants could not have been more welcoming and gracious. (Here is my new link to some of the PD sessions I’m offering. More sessions are being added!)

As I mentioned last week, I am doing some updating on my Genius Hour Resources. I’ve taken some of the free downloads down from the website that had broken links and other issues. But I also added something new, which is the Teacher Planner. I want to thank Joy Kirr, who is the amazing person behind the Genius Hour Livebinder for sharing that resource on social media and commenting on the post with an excellent suggestion to read a post that she wrote — the perfect companion to the Teacher Planner.

Over the weekend, I began to redo some of the Google Slides files that I had originally created to help guide my own students through Genius Hour. The first set is now ready to go. Feel free to make a copy and use it with your own students. I developed “Genius Hour Research Notes” because I wanted to help my students keep a digital record of their process from the beginning, and to give them a way that they could work on Genius Hour independently. Also, they were having a hard time separating their learning from their presentation of their learning. My plan is to have the next slide set, which students use to plan their presentations, updated and ready next week.

One more note: I was listening to the Smartless podcast with this week’s guest, Jose Andres, and he made a comment about the way they plan their World Kitchen pop-ups at disasters and other locations that need them that I thought was a good way for teachers to look at things, especially during projects like Genius Hour. In fact, I think it’s a skill we should teach our students, too.

Make Code Arcade Beginner Skillmap

The Arcade Beginner Skillmap is a new resource from Microsoft’s Make Code which is perfect for students who want to learn how to design their own video games. It is free, and includes step-by-step tutorials for using block coding to make greeting cards, clicker, and collector games – all within your browser. I don’t have a minimum age suggestion, but would recommend that users have basic reading skills to help them through the tutorials. Once completing the beginner skillmap, burgeoning young game designers may want to work on one of the other skillmaps on the arcade, make their own project from scratch, or take advantage of one of the other tutorials. Then, keep their momentum going by showing them the hundreds of Hour of Code tutorials available on