One of my absolute favorite bloggers, Joelle Trayers, posted some pictures last week of some Hashtag Awards her Kinder students designed for themselves. Of course, I couldn’t wait to try the idea myself! I met with my 1st graders today, and we had a short discussion about hashtags. Then they designed their own hashtag awards. In a way, this is similar to a 6 Word Memoir activity because it helps me to learn so much about what is important to my students and how they see themselves. I might try this at the beginning of the year next time!
One of the things I wanted to try this year was to ask my students to do hexagonal thinking as they reflected over what they had learned. Since my 4th graders had already done some hexagonal thinking this year, I thought they might like to experiment with this activity.
First, they visited our class blog where I have been posting pictures from throughout the year. I showed them how to filter the categories to find all of the blog posts from their class. Then they chose pictures that were meaningful to them and saved them to their home drives.
After choosing 4-5 pictures, the students signed in to my account on Canva, and created their own blank “A4” projects. Once the project opened, they were directed to use the search window to find a hexagon frame. In Canva, frames have a cloud and blue sky in them.
What I like about frames is that you can drag pictures into them, and they will take the shape of the frame without overlapping.
After the students added a hexagon frame, they resized it and copied it so several could fit on one page. Once their frames were arranged, they uploaded their pictures and set them in the frames. Then they used text designs to explain the connections between pictures that shared sides.
You can see a couple of examples below. They would probably make more sense if you had been in my class this year, but this gives you the general idea.
This went better than my last visual hexagon activity, but I think I will improve it next year by giving a few more guidelines for the “connector” texts so the students will try to find unique parallels that aren’t readily apparent.
One of the biggest changes I made to our Genius Hour projects this year was to insist that the students do practice presentations for small audiences before they do the “real thing” – kind of like the “Alpha Testing” often used on products before they go on to “Beta Testing” and then full release. In the past, my students have always given one presentation, and this was the summation of their learning. After watching Austin’s Butterfly last year, I realized that this was unfair to all of us. Even though the students were getting peer and teacher feedback throughout the Genius Hour process, their final products were, well, FINAL. A most of those final products had room for improvement. Some of them had mansions of rooms for improvement…
A few weeks ago, I wrote, “What to do when Genius Hour Sucks,” because some of the practice presentations deeply disappointed me. Now, many of my students are ready to try again after making revisions based on class feedback, and I’m not feeling defeated anymore. They really took the suggestions that were made to heart, and have shown great improvement. A few of them are ready to share with a bigger audience – classmates in their homerooms, students in younger grades, administrators, and parents. Some of them will need to do a third practice, but have still made great strides.
It’s kind of incredible to see students make such an effort – particularly when they are not graded on these projects. I believe they are motivated by their interests in the topics they chose, and by the knowledge that people outside their usual sphere will be viewing their presentations. I also believe that our systematic feedback and time for multiple opportunities to practice has made a huge difference. In school we often tell students what they could have done to improve – and then give them no time to try out those improvements.
Want to see one of the student products? Here is a Scratch presentation that one of my 4th graders did on sleepwalking. (She did a verbal introduction to our class, telling a personal story about why this topic was important to her.) Just press the green flag, and you will see what she came up with. Her product has been Alpha and Beta tested, and is now ready to share with the world!
About three years ago, we tried out a tool called, “Flipgrid” for a project that my students were doing for Genius Hour. We were using a trial version and I decided against a paid subscription and I didn’t think I was ready to invest in that at the time. However, I am seeing a lot of features that make Flipgrid a potentially exciting classroom tool. Basically, Flipgrid allows you to create a topic, and other people can add videos to respond to the topic. All of the video responses are collected on one page, which makes it easy to access them. This means that people can reply asynchronously, (as opposed to a Skype interview, for example) which allows for participants from all over the world to add videos when it is convenient in their time zones. For global learning, this can be an invaluable tool.
Recently, Flipgrid started offering a free account. Although it obviously offers less features (you are limited to one grid instead of unlimited, for example), it is still something worth trying. One grid still allows unlimited topics. Another way that you can experience Flipgrid for free is to participate in its “Explorer Series.” In the first edition of this series last October, Flipgrid offered weekly videos from an Antarctic marine biologist along with questions to which students could respond. Flipgrid just launched the second edition, which will be two weeks of posts from Mike Billington of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. The first topic is, “What is a common bird in your community? What can you do to support their environment?” Mike’s first video shows him with a live bald eagle, a site many students don’t get the chance to see. It would be interesting to connect this experience with Beauty and the Beak, and certainly a great way to make the last few weeks of school engaging and educational.
In a recent post by Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the Cult of Pedagogy blog, she gives an incredible list of things to do on “Lame Duck School Days.” You know, like the day after you’ve finished all of your standardized testing for the year, or the two weeks before the end of school when all of your textbooks and sometimes your computers have been collected for “inventory,” or the hour before you go on your final field trip the day before the last day of school.
One of the suggestions given by Jennifer is an “unconference” where, “Using a chunk of hours or a whole day, teachers and students plan short lessons on things they are interested in outside of school (crafts, yoga, cooking, martial arts, music, dance, technology), then sign up for time slots like an EdCamp.”
We have been doing this type of event at our school with our 5th graders this year, and Jennifer’s post reminded me that I owe you an update on its progress. As regular readers may know, I try to give you the good, the bad, and the “please avoid these mistakes if you value your sanity” about projects like this.
First of all, here is the first post that I did in October about our Genius Camp. If you read it, you will see that I gave some precautions along with the positive outcomes at that point. Since that post, all four of our 5th grade classes have each taken a turn “teaching” sessions at Genius Camp. We have now embarked on the 2nd round, which consists of shorter rotations since the students have some experience. Now, each class meets twice before presenting on the third week (before, it was 5 meetings with Genius Camp on the 6th week). The other change that we are making for this round is that the students are being judged using this rubric. The adults who monitor each session are doing the judging, so we can choose some exemplary sessions the students can demonstrate for this year’s 4th graders (who will be leading their own sessions next year).
Some things that haven’t gone well so far (2 homerooms have completed their second round):
Some students are getting silly this time of year, and prefer to generate what they think are humorous ideas, such as (and I promise you someone suggested this), “teaching how to bounce a ping-pong ball into a red cup.” For many reasons, I rejected that proposal… Also rejected, “how to play poker – but we won’t call it that.”
For the first time this whole year, I had two groups who did not bring supplies on time – so the people who selected their sessions had to be placed in other ones at the last minute. Even though every student had originally given 3 choices when filling out their session surveys, many of their choices were full at that point. This resulted in a bunch of students going to sessions that were not interesting to them.
Also for the first time this whole year, I had to exclude some students from participating because they would not stay on task to plan their sessions.
Two students chose to go to a different session than what they were assigned, resulting in behavior issues the student teachers shouldn’t have had to address. (Every student wears a label with name and session title, but these were not checked, unfortunately.)
After some of these experiences, I’ve come close to declaring, “I guess we just can’t have nice things,” and shutting the whole experience down. However, there are some kids – maybe even more than the number of kids who want to sabotage the activity – who seem to actually love participating and teaching the sessions. So, I’m trying to keep these positive moments in the forefront of my mind:
When her teacher came to check on the session one Special Ed. student was leading, the girl who exclaimed proudly, “It’s going so well!!!!” (and it was)
The girls who confided, when they were placed in Football for Beginners due to scheduling snafus, that they “actually learned a few things!”
The boy who wore a suit to teach his session on drawing – and did a fine job
The boy who built a working engine model for the students to try in his group’s session, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Engines,”
The girl who doesn’t like dancing in front of people, but agreed to teach a dance with her partner after I told her that I regret always caring too much about what other people think of my dancing,
The boy who whispered to the adult monitoring his session, “Now I know what teachers go through,” when he kept asking his group to quiet down so they could hear instructions.
My principal, who monitored a session on making video blogs, and allowed his “teacher” to record him doing the mannequin challenge.
I’m pretty sure there are more that I could add to the second list.
It would be so much easier to show movies or give out worksheets during these last weeks of school. But I can’t help thinking that this is the last chance that we have to teach students some important lessons before they move on to middle school. For some of them this might be their chance to show that they are really good at doing something that isn’t academic or to learn that they enjoy being in a leadership role. For others, they may develop more empathy for people who teach – or for people trying to learn something new.
I know that the readers of this blog live in many countries, so I try to write posts that might be applicable no matter where you are. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to learn that many nations celebrate Mother’s Day in May, as does the United States. Here are some lesson ideas to consider that will simultaneously honor mothers as students learn something new.
Mother’s Day Trip (I am considering doing this with my 1st graders, who just researched different countries. It would be funny to make the video sound like the mom just won a roundtrip vacation to the country on a game show or in a sweepstakes!)
Mother’s Day Shopping Spree – Speaking of winning things, a fun math/writing lesson could be to have students “shop” for their mothers online with a budget. They would have to make sure they stay within budget as well as justify each gift they would purchase. I would use one store site (such as Target.com) that offers many types of items, or curate some ahead of time for younger students. Mothers may enjoy seeing what their children would buy for them if money were no (or, almost no) object!
I just had to share this Lego/EV3 vending machine created by one of my 5th grade students. He is in my GT class as well as our campus Robotics Club. He owns an EV3, and spent his spare time last week making this contraption to dispense Starburst candies every time you deposit a quarter. There are other versions on the internet, where he got the idea, but he apparently created his machine using his own design. Super cool!