Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference 😉 In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.
“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas. They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years. The students research animals, draw pictures, and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned. Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it. One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas. No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.
Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation. The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.
Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!
When I last posted about Hexagonal Learning, I mentioned an article I had seen about using Visual Hexagons, which I was eager to try. So, as my 4th grade students are beginning a unit on mathematical masterpieces, I thought I would use Visual Hexagons to introduce the topic.
Not my best decision ever.
Here’s what I did wrong:
I put together a bunch of images that most of the students could not identify. This made it difficult for them to figure out how they were connected.
I forgot to put a guiding question on the paper.
Some of the connections were a bit too abstract. (I had a picture of a yellow spiral, which I was hoping they would see as a “Golden Spiral,” and that they would relate that to spirals in nature such as the ones on the pinecone picture I included.)
Some of the pictures were unrecognizable – such as the aforementioned pinecone which appeared to most of the students to be an orderly collection of rocks or fish scales.
Did I do anything right? It depends on what you define as “right.” And what you define as me doing…
I used Canva to make my Visual Hexagons, which made it very simple to pull pictures into the hexagon-shaped image holders.
I accidentally printed to the color printer. But that looked better anyway. So I printed out 4 more.
Once the activity got started, I noticed the students were struggling, so I quickly pulled up a backup plan that is a video on Discovery Streaming about nature, math, and beauty.
I was trying to decide at what point I should show the video when two men from the district came into the room to replace my wifi – which meant the students couldn’t research on their iPads anymore.
I showed the video (effectively damming the stream of students who were now lining up to ask to go to the restroom – a clear sign of a lesson gone awry), which explained nearly all of the pictures and how they related.
As regular readers may note, I generally share things that have worked well in my classroom on this blog, so you can try using those activities as well. However, I fear that may have given some of you a distorted version of what goes on when I teach. I have plenty of epic fails. I like to share the failures that have some sort of potential as long as you avoid all of the pitfalls I seem to have discovered.
Basically, if you learned from reading this that you should always have a backup plan even when you are really excited about a lesson that you are positive will be engaging, I figure my work is done.
Like many people, the first time I experienced the Virtual Reality of Google Expeditions, I thought it was pretty cool. Like many teachers, however, I wondered about the practicality of using it in my classroom. Getting VR viewers, like Google Cardboard, doesn’t seem to be a big deal. But getting devices that fit in them (in other words, smartphones) and also that work with our district network turns out to be a bit more of a challenge. This is especially so for elementary school, where smartphones are not quite as ubiquitous has in many secondary schools.
I was so focused on solving the problem of getting devices that I didn’t realize that we could still use Expeditions in our class without the VR feature. We have plenty of iPads in our class, and you can actually get some decent 360 degree footage without being immersed in the scene. It’s not quite as awe-inspiring, but certainly more engaging than still photos in a textbook.
This Smore from Karly Moura has several great links for beginners in case you are planning to embark on a journey of your own. My favorite link leads to a list of available Expeditions that has incredible details on each tour. After searching the internet up and down for something like this, I am thankful to Jennifer Holland and Lauren Carroll for creating and updating the document, as well as Karly for sharing the link!
Hidden Figures, a movie recently released about the three African-American women who were instrumental in the John Glen’s historic orbit around the earth, is based on a the book of the same name by Margot Shetterly. By showcasing the contributions made by these women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan – virtually unknown names until now – the book and movie remind us that many people who have significantly influenced our history are omitted from the history books because of racism, sexism, and ignorance.
In an attempt to correct this, IBM has created a website devoted to the movie – as well as to revealing other “hidden figures” in the field of S.T.E.M. The company’s interest is partially due to the fact that it was one of IBM’s early mainframes that aided the women with their calculations.
On the IBM website for Hidden Figures, there is information about the movie and some video clips. In addition, IBM partnered with the New York Times’ T Brand Studio to create a free interactive augmented reality app that can be downloaded in iTunes or Google Play. According to the site, there are markers at 150 different locations in the United States that you can scan with the app to learn more about amazing S.T.E.M. pioneers who never got due honors for their work. You can also find markers in the New York Times. Don’t despair if you don’t subscribe and don’t happen to live near one of 150 sites selected. After downloading the app (“outthink hidden”), visit the IBM site here, and you can scan the marker online.
Within the app you can search for nearby markers, scan, take pictures of the 3d images, and listen to audio about each included figure. If you are using the online marker, click on the icon in the top right corner to change the figure who appears when you scan it.
Dr. Pauline Dow (@PaulineDow), an Associate Superintendent in our district, shared this recent TED Talk by Steven Johnson, “How Play Leads to Great Inventions,” in a tweet this week. Steven Johnson, you may remember, is an author I’ve mentioned on this blog because I was fascinated by his book, How We Got to Now. Johnson is adept at tracing innovations back through time to discover the (often surprising) building blocks that made them possible.
In this October, 2016, TED Talk, Johnson claims that necessity is not always the mother of invention – and that play may be just as, if not more, important when it comes to generating new ideas. I’m pretty certain that Sir Ken Robinson would approve this message.
I will be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers. Click here to see more.
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.
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.
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.
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.