Category Archives: Student Products

An Invitation

As some of you may know, I made a giant leap outside of my comfort zone this year – leaving a job I had done for 19 years in a district where I had worked for 27.  All 27 of those years were spent teaching elementary school, and now I teach students in 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 10th.

I haven’t said a lot about the school where I now work, so here is a brief summary:

Advanced Learning Academy is an in-district charter school in San Antonio Independent School District.  The school serves PK-12, but only grades 4-12 are housed on the campus where I work, Fox Tech High School.  The Fox Tech campus also hosts a Health and Law magnet school and CAST Tech High School.

ALA opened its doors 3 years ago, a combined endeavor between SAISD and Trinity University.  It is a school “for students who seek academic challenge with greater depth and complexity and opportunities for acceleration.”  Trinity interns work along with the faculty to provide Project Based Learning activities, Design Thinking, and a variety of enrichment activities.

ALA is diverse, with students who live a few blocks away to students who live outside of the city.  No area is “zoned” for our campus, so the only students who attend are those who have applied.

The first, and best thing (in my opinion), that I noticed when I joined the staff here at ALA was the extreme dedication of each and every teacher.  No one is here for “a job.”  They are here because they want to do what is best for children and they want to improve their craft.  The quality of teaching on this campus has completely humbled me.  Know this: if your child attends ALA, his or her teacher will do everything possible to help that student reach his or her potential.

Project-Based Learning means that our Robotics students collaborate with their Humanities peers to create interactive works of art, our Engineering students work with architects to design the new playground and build a chicken coop for the lower campus, and Biology students work with another Robotics class to produce “Operation” games to represent the body systems they have researched.

somearemoreequal
Flyer for Student Art Exhibition at 1906 Studio

Design Thinking means that our students know what it means to make a prototype, test it, fail, and revise.  They have time to “go deep” into curriculum, and they often present to their peers, their parents, and outside experts.  We are working on craftsmanship to develop products that will enhance our campus, and will be lasting legacies.

IMG_6811
Student artwork, created in the MakerSpace for the Some Are More Equal exhibit. (Lasercut, woodwork, robotic movement – all created by students)

Enrichment Activities include field trips – lots of them.  Our campus is located downtown, a block from the Central Library, and within walking distance to the Riverwalk, the Tobin Center, and Hemisfair Plaza.  Our students go on at least one field trip a month, often more.  In addition, the grade levels have built in time for students to take “Wonder Courses,” which they can select based on interest.

IMG_6881.JPG
ALA students choose the 5 supplies they would take when fleeing their homes.  This was a Doctors Without Borders event hosted at Main Plaza (to which our students walked) from school.

Because of our unique structure, high school students can visit the 4th/5th grade wing to give students feedback on their video game designs, 5th graders can join 6th and 7th graders in programs like Speak Up, Speak Out, and students in grade 4-12 could work together to produce the musical, Shrek.

So, what’s the downside, you ask?

Transportation may be an issue, depending on your location.  There are in-district transfers on buses, but this may mean a long-ish ride for the student.

Because we are small, we cannot offer the number and variety of electives that larger high schools provide.  We do have athletics, a mariachi band, and a theater program.  The only foreign language we offer is Spanish.

Every child is different.  I would have thrived at ALA as a teenager, but my daughter, who wants to be in 10 million clubs and take Latin, would not choose to be here (especially with her mom as a teacher).

This is an invitation to consider our school if you live in the San Antonio area.  You do not have to be an SAISD student to apply.  The application window for our campus is November 26, 2018 – February 8, 2019.  To learn more about the application process, including opportunities to tour (which I highly encourage), click here.

Advertisements

Peer Feedback

I have students in various grade levels working on design projects this year, and it only seemed right that they would give each other feedback.  The 4th and 5th graders were working on designing video games, and the 8th-12th grade engineering students were more than happy to play the games and critique them.  My two periods of engineering students are designing a playground for the 4/5 students, so it seemed only fair that the younger students give the older ones input on something that would ultimately impact them.  Finally, I had the engineering students give feedback to their contemporaries (in opposite classes).

In the past I’ve used graphic organizers like, “Two Stars and a Wish,”  or Glows and Grows, or deBono’s Thinking Hats.  The most success I’ve had is using Thinking Hats, but even then the feedback is often vague.

Sonya Terborg recently did a post on a tool called, “The Ladder of Feedback,”  and I decided to try it with my older students.  It has been, by far, the most successful peer feedback tool that I have seen in the classroom.  The steps on the ladder help students to consider a project more deeply, and the sentence stems were perfect prompts for the students to consider at each stage.

Sonya also mentions some other resources in her post, including a Mind/Shift post that has practical suggestions on how to guide your students through the process of crafting meaningful feedback.

If you ever wondered the age that students need to be in order to give constructive feedback to each other, Austin’s Butterfly will show you how even young children, once they have had some practice, can positively influence the outcome of a peer’s project.

One piece of advice from this article on TeachThought  that I intend to use the next time we do peer reviews is to give feedback on the feedback.  This may also encourage the students to be thoughtful on future critiques – a valuable skill in a school that focuses on Project Based Learning.

good-2204244_1280.png
CC image from Pixabay

IDEO Lifeline Cards

If you really want to take your feedback, reflections, critiques, etc… to a whole new level, you should consider using these IDEO Lifeline Cards.  I haven’t used them with my students yet, but just asking myself the questions made me think about my own work differently.  The cards are free (and quite beautiful), so download them while you can.  Even if the questions are a bit too high level for your particular student age group, applying them to your own life is an intriguing exercise and may give you some insight you have never considered.

eye-1173863_1920.jpg

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:

Photo May 30, 1 35 37 PM

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!

Photo May 30, 1 36 41 PM

Photo May 30, 1 36 51 PM

 

 

You Just Won a Trip to Turkey!

I finally got around to trying this Mother’s Day idea this year – with a bit of green screen magic mixed in.  My GT first graders have been researching different countries, so they each made a Mother’s Day video for their moms incorporating some of their research.  After talking about perspective, and what they thought their moms would like to see in each country, they selected some highlights from their library books.  Then they made short videos “congratulating” their moms on winning trips to their respective countries.  We used some Creative Commons images and videos from Pixabay and Discovery Ed to create their final “Winning” montages.  You can click on the link below to see an example.  (Note: The video quality is a bit off because the young lady was wearing a bluish-green shirt that day – a little difficult to balance with our green screen program without making her a talking head!)

turkey.PNG
Click here to see Olivia’s great video!

Mom’s Dream Home Cards

Most of my 2nd graders finished up their Mother’s Day Cards yesterday.  You may remember that I posted the idea of asking the students to design floorplans for Dream Homes for their moms.  I wasn’t sure exactly how they would be presented when I wrote that post, so this is the design we ended up with.  It is basically two pieces of cardstock folded “hamburger” style.  For the inside one, we cut a tab to make a pop-up card.  The pop-up was the design for the outside of the home.  The top flap of this card was glued to the inside of the top flap of the other card.  Then we glued the floor plans to the back of the inside card and the inside of the back card.

Okay, that sounds confusing.  Maybe pics will help?  Here are examples of 2 different student cards (Student 1 chose to make up her own haiku after learning about them earlier this year!):

Photo May 07, 11 13 44 AM
Top of Card 1 (I printed out the short poem for everyone to glue to their cards.)
Photo May 07, 11 13 55 AM
Pages 1 & 2 inside Card 1
Photo May 07, 11 14 07 AM
Pages 3 &4 inside Card 1
photo-may-07-11-28-23-am.jpg
Top of Card 2
Photo May 07, 11 28 32 AM
Pages 1 & 2 of Card 2
Photo May 07, 11 28 49 AM
Pages 3 & 4 of Card 2

Causal Modelling

I’ve been lately trying to use more Integrative Thinking in class.  It bring about really deep discussions, and I like to see the students make visual models of their thoughts.  In the past few weeks, I have been working on “Causal Modelling” with my 3rd-5th graders with varying degrees of success.

You can see a short video of Causal Modelling in action here.  Basically, students try to consider all of the possible reasons for a particular situation or problem.  In the video, the topic is, “People Struggling to Afford Food.”  With student input, the teacher makes a web with this topic in the center and several nodes that name possible causes.  It quickly develops in complexity as the students volunteer causes for the causes and begin to see connections among causes.

This blog post by Heidi Siwak shows several examples of causal models diagrammed by her 7th graders for issues varying from gun violence (very topical!) to unfinished homework.

To start causal modelling with my own students, we worked on creating a class causal model about why Nemo gets lost in Finding Nemo.  Then I put students in groups to generate causal models about the fiction we were reading in each grade.  For my 5th graders, this meant they explained an event from The Giver.

causalmodel2

After doing group causal modelling about fiction, I asked each grade level to apply it to “real life.”  My 3rd graders brainstormed recurring problems, such as a sibling interrupting them when they are playing with friends, and came up with multiple causes.  After breaking it down this way, they could see potential ways to avoid some of the precipitating events (sibling needing attention, for example), and potential solutions.

With my 5th graders, I had a different idea.  After reading this post from Heidi, I realized that the personal manifesto activity they were working on was the perfect opportunity for them to get a picture of why they believe what they believe.  Since we were about to have a 3-day weekend when many would be visiting with extended family, I sent them home with a rare homework assignment: pick one of your belief statements and do a causal model for why you believe it.  Think about your own experiences, what your parents believe, and even ask your grandparents and parents why they believe it (if that’s where it came from).

One student said to me, “What if it’s not from your parent?  What if it’s from you?”  I asked, “What’s the belief?”  She said, “Taking risks.”  So I explained how, when I was young, I had volunteered to do a monkey bar race at an amusement park.  Sneakily, the proprietors had greased the bars, so I fell off when I reached for the 2nd bar, landing in a pool of water.  I was humiliated.  Afterward, my mother bought me a coveted stuffed animal in the souvenir shop – not to make up for the embarrassment, but to reward me for trying.  That’s when I learned that it’s more important to try and fail than to do nothing at all.

The students came back from their weekend, nearly all having done the assignment in one form or another.  Some wanted to share it publicly, and some wanted to have a private audience with me to speak about the personal reasons for their beliefs.  I would definitely say that I learned a lot about each of them, and I hope that they learned more about themselves.

Overall, causal modelling helps students to grasp that “wicked problems” (as Heidi calls them) cannot be solved with sweeping generalizations.  “Why don’t they just…” rarely addresses all of the causes, or all of the deeply held beliefs that led to those causes.  It might help a few of our current leaders to keep this in mind. 😉