Category Archives: Student Products

International Dot Day 2016

International Dot Day, 2016, falls on September 15-ish.  I never feel like the school year has truly begun until we celebrate Dot Day.

Here are some of my past posts about Dot Day:

I hunted on Pinterest to find some ideas I hadn’t seen before, and this is what I found:

There are plenty more creative people out there with Dot Day activities to share.  So, don’t forget to get out there and, “Make your Mark!”

image from Flickr
image from Flickr

5 Genius Hour Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The Genius Hour pages on this site seem to be getting a lot of views lately, which is good to see.  As teachers prepare for a new school year, I am hopeful that more Genius Hours will be incorporated into curriculums around the world.  Since I have been doing Genius Hour for several years, I thought it might help for those of you who are new to it to learn some of the giant mistakes I’ve made so you can try to avoid them.

Genius Hour Mistake #1 – Allowing Students to Work on Anything They Want  

I have never known what people meant by “deer in the headlights” until the day I announced to my 5th grade class that they would have the opportunity each week to work on a topic they chose.  Instead of the expected enthusiasm and “what an awesome teacher you are” smiles, I got a roomful of confused panic.  These students had already spent at least 5 years in school being told what to learn every minute of the day.  Suddenly being offered unlimited freedom was more debilitating than empowering.  I learned that I needed to scaffold the process of choosing topics by guiding them through brainstorming passions, and teaching the students how to select a good research topic that was not too narrow or too wide.

Genius Hour Mistake #2 – Telling Students They Could Choose Any Way to Present their Topic

Don’t get me wrong.  One of the most wonderful things about Genius Hour is that the final products can be in any format – even a puppet show.  However, when I told the students to, “Begin with the End in Mind,” I discovered the hard way that most of them only had the end in mind. They couldn’t wait to add their creative touch to the presentations, but that meant that there was little substance or learning in the research.  Now, I don’t even let them decide on a final product until they have shown quality research.

Genius Hour Mistake #3 – Thinking You Can’t Teach During Genius Hour

I wanted Genius Hour to be a sacred time of independent learning, and was reluctant to ever do lessons during that time.  However, when I noticed that many students were encountering similar challenges (such as searching for reliable information), I began to offer mini-lessons during Genius Hour every once in awhile to help everyone get back on track.  They never last more than 10 minutes, but can quickly help to fill in gaps that a large portion of the class may have when it comes to research, copyright reminders, and other general information.

Genius Hour Mistake #4 – Leaving No Time for Reflection

Giving students time for reflection has always been a weakness of mine.  We often get caught up in what we are doing and realize it’s time to go seconds before class is over.  I’ve been working on that for awhile, and one thing I have learned is how essential reflection is for Genius Hour.  It has to be varied, so it doesn’t become boring and rote, but it is so valuable to do it.  Regular feedback throughout the project from the student, peers, and the teacher will definitely help to make it better.  Last year, we did our research in Google Classroom, making it easy for all of us to give each other feedback and improve.

Genius Hour Mistake #5 – No Presentation Rehearsal

When students finish a Genius Hour project, that should mean that they are ready to present.  However, if it’s left up to them, they will spend very little time practicing, and just inform you that they are done.  After the first couple of years of erratic final productions,  I came across the, “What Would Steve Do?” slideshow that includes the following image.

RehearsalI show this to my students every year.  We talk about the ratios on the slide and how you should spend just as much time on practicing as you do on each of the other steps.  Sometimes, we choose a sample of students from the class and the presenters go to another room to practice in front of them and get feedback.  Keep in mind that some of their presentations are game shows and other interactive ideas, so it’s not always slideshows.  However, students can use slideshows with the simple rule that what they are telling us cannot be text on the slides (another suggestion from, “What Would Steve Do?“)

These are the 5 biggest mistakes that I’ve made while incorporating Genius Hour in my classroom – but there are many more errors I make each year.  Genius Hour/Passion Time/20% Time, or whatever you want to call it, is an inexact, often chaotic process.  It’s hard to decide when to add your voice to the mix and when to stand back. Sometimes everyone needs you at once, and other times you walk around a surreally silent classroom as each student immerses him or her self in research.  I often dread Genius Hour because so much is out of control.  I often can’t wait for Genius Hour because I learn so much from giving the students control.  Genius Hour makes all of us vulnerable and reveals who we really are.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

Iterationists

I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.”  When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me.  Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).

“Iteration”  is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking.  Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied.  Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.

What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them.  As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.

In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”

by Krissy Venosdale
by Krissy Venosdale

 

Undercover Robots Camp – Pageant Edition

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had our second session of Undercover Robots Camp last week.  The theme was, “Pageant Edition,” with the scenario being that the Dash robots had been sent on their first undercover assignments to the Annual Robot Pageant, where they were to investigate a potential saboteur.

Only a few of the students had attended our first session, Spy School, the week before, meaning that there were various levels of skill.  This is what I love about programming with open-ended challenges, especially with the Dash robots.  The activities allow for the contributions of all abilities.

The week was interspersed with design and logic activities.  Of course, costumes needed to be created since it was a pageant. Puzzles needed to be solved to find the identity of the saboteur.  I even borrowed some ideas from Breakout EDU.

One of the favorite activities was the pageant interview.  The students had to program their robots to respond to my questions – but they didn’t know what the questions would be!  I told them to come up with three responses: a plural noun, a verb ending in -ing, and a name of a place.  I had a set of questions for each robot, who also had to be programmed to come out on stage and then leave the stage.  I embedded an example below (make sure your volume is high so you can hear the robot responses).

The students also had challenges to program their students to do an art project, launch ping-pong balls into cups to gather evidence, and to save the other contestants from the saboteur. The latter is when the students learned that less can be more, as the least elaborate contraption attached the robot actually “saved” the most plastic figures (see the pic with the colored pencils attached to the robot below)!

During the week, we also worked on choreographing a final dance number for the pageant.  It’s good we started early because there were many, many, many flub-ups!  The video embedded below is what we showed the parents.  Unfortunately, it still didn’t go quite as planned; we learned that “tired” robots get a bit rebellious about their programs as their batteries wear down!

I absolutely adored seeing everything the students accomplished last week, and I can’t wait to do Undercover Robots Camp again next summer!

The L.E.A.D. DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher’s incredible 5th grade GT students are currently hosting a “pop-up” museum at their school.  Inspired by San Antonio’s new hands-on children’s museum, the DoSeum, the students designed their very own interactive exhibits, and invited select guests to visit.  Here is the invitation they designed.

The L.E.A.D. (Learn, Explore, And Discover) DoSeum consists of three rooms: The Seeker Space, Puzzle Parlor, and Tech Town.  You can see descriptions of the rooms in the invitation linked above.

LEAD DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher chronicled the process of creating the L.E.A.D. DoSeum from its inception.  You can read her blog posts and see pictures of the DoSeum here.

I think that this is such a wonderful idea, giving students the opportunity to take charge and plan with an authentic audience in mind.  It’s also nice to do near the end of the school year, as other teachers on the campus will probably be more than happy to take their students on a tour!  Even if you don’t have 3 rooms to spare, you could consider working with other teachers for the last couple of weeks of school to split your students into teams to each design an interactive museum room in their classroom.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. Lasher and 5th grade GT students!

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Making Zombie-bots

With my students, brainstorming generally begins with zombies.  So, even though our theme for the district Robotics Showcase was, “Trash Trek,” practically the first idea that was thrown out was zombies.

Now, one of the main rules of brainstorming is not to judge, but I immediately broke that rule.

“Umm, what do zombies have to do with trash?”  I asked.  Apparently, a lot of things – because the room was instantly filled with student voices calling out every connection they could think of between zombies and trash. (I just want to say it’s a little disconcerting to find out how many 4th and 5th graders have watched The Walking Dead when I don’t even allow myself to watch it.)

We finally settled on creating a challenge board which involved a robot taking a walk through a park, and he is suddenly chased by zombie hippies (don’t ask me where the hippie part came in), and the only way he can escape them is by pushing a bunch of rubbish out of his way into a recycling bin so he can get to the militarily protected part of the park.  (Important because we happened to have lots of plastic army men, so it would be a shame not to include them.)

Admittedly, a stretch.

As we planned what props to use on the challenge board, the students were, not surprisingly, more invested in the zombies than the trash.  “We should make them jump out at the robot,” one student said. He was new to this, and didn’t realize that we would not be at the board as other students tried to solve the challenge. I explained that we were not physically dressing up as zombie hippies, and in fact, would be working elsewhere during the zombie hippie attack.

“Why don’t we use the Ozobots?” one of the students asked?

“Yeah! We can attach the zombies to them and they can move around the board!”

And so, a new idea was born.  The problem was, the Robotics Club hadn’t learned how to use Ozobots, yet…

“Okay, Maker Club,” I announced the following Monday.  “We’re going to help out the Robotics Club by making zombie hippies.”  After I explained the idea, the Maker Club happily got to work.  They created tracks for the zombie hippie bots and drew suitably terrifying zombie hippies of all shapes and sizes.  Much testing was needed to see if the tracks had been coded correctly, and if the zombie hippies were light enough for their bots to carry them. Some students made zombie hippie tubes, and others made cut-outs to ride the Ozobots.  Some tracks had the zombie hippies dance, while others had them slow down, and then leap forward with zeal to grab your brains.

Some things we learned that don’t work very well:

  • Zombie tubes.  Great concept, but too much drag on the Ozobot.
  • Inconsistent tracks.  When you glob a bunch of black in one part of the track, this apparently makes your zombie hippie bot freeze – which is a lot less ominous, unfortunately.
  • Covering the Ozobot power button with your zombie hippie.  Kind of hard to activate the zombie hippie when its leg is taped over the power button.

The Robotics Club was quite impressed by the Maker Club’s contribution.  (Some Maker Club students also helped to make the park trees a bit more stable for our board, too.)  The Maker Club was happy to help.  And the participants in the Robotics Showcase from other schools were appropriately fearful of our fearsome zombie hippies, but still able to meet the challenge of avoiding them and picking up the trash.

To summarize:

  • Zombies should never be written off just because they are zombies.
  • Kids have way better ideas than I do.
  • It’s totally more fun to make with a purpose, especially if it involves using your expertise with coding to design zombie hippie bots.
  • I don’t think Robotics Club will ever make a static challenge board again.

For more information about Ozobots, visit their website, especially their STEM education page which offers lessons and other resources for teachers.

Photo May 21, 9 14 08 AM
In retrospect, this is a terrible picture. I should have gotten a closer-upper photo of the zombies. But since I’ve already written the post, you will just have to take my word for it that they were fierce-looking.  The zombie hippies, I mean.  Not the people.

Google Slides Q & A

My 5th graders are polishing up their Genius Hour presentations, and one of the students was trying to incorporate a poll into his presentation.  He was just going to switch windows in the browser during his presentation, but I was sure there must be a way to actually embed one into Slides.  We did some research and found a Chrome extension for Poll Everywhere that does allow this.  However, there were still a few more hoops to jump through to accomplish it than I thought necessary, including setting up an account.

The very next week, Google announced a new Q&A feature for Slides.  “Exactly what I was looking for!” I declared, and then proceeded to try to use it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it – and all of the articles I found announcing Q&A’s arrival failed to mention how one could actually activate the feature.  I became more and more frustrated which is taking less and less time lately as the it’s-the-end-of-the-year-you-better-get-it-done-now feeling is currently commandeering more and more of my brain cells each day.

Twitter to the rescue.  Someone quickly responded to my tweet for help that I needed to be in presentation mode to activate Q&A.  And they said it nicely, which was kind of them since I probably should have figured that out in the first place😉

I still don’t think Q&A actually fits what my student and I envisioned, but it does allow you to ask a question and have people respond, with the responses being listed in order of popularity (the audience can “like” each other’s responses).  When you activate Q&A, a link is shown at the top of your slide so the audience can type it in to record their response.  You could also use this as a backchannel where audience members can ask questions or make comments.

This article by Jonathan Wylie gives information about how to use Google Slides with an iPad or iPhone.  You might also want to read this blog post from Google that shows different uses for Google Q&A.  To use Q&A on a desktop or laptop computer, start Presentation mode, and then go to the bottom left of the slide, where you will see a “Presenter View” option.  Click on that, and then choose the tab for Audience Tools. (By the way, there is a new laser pointer tool that’s kind of fun to try, too!)

image from opensource.com on Flickr
image from opensource.com on Flickr