Category Archives: Student Products

My Brain on Open-Ended Projects

Thanks to some inspiration on Twitter from Jessica Hirsch (@jhirschcusd), I thought it would be a neat idea to have my 4th grade gifted students try to create Makey Makey Operation games with shapes.  (They are on a Geometry unit in their regular classrooms, so this seemed like a good time to try it.)  As my classroom once again became a Disaster Zone Lab of Innovative Thinkers, I realized that I pretty much go through the same thought process every time we embark on these adventures. I tried to make a visual of it, which you can see below.  I ran out of space at the end, so don’t assume that these things always end on a high note…


We will hopefully complete the project next week, and I will blog more specifics about it.  If you aren’t familiar with Makey Makey, you can see my post from earlier this year about the Onomatopeia Poetry the students created with Scratch and Makey Makey.  And yes, my brain went through the same steps for that one, too!


Build to Learn

Sometimes random themes show up in the various social networks that I follow.  Today, I came across two completely different posts that appealed to my appreciation for creative ways for students to show their learning.

First, I saw this tweet:

I like the idea of making poetry 3-dimensional, and I could see lots of ways to go with this idea.

Then, I saw a tweet from Russel Tarr about “Tubular Timeline Towers,” an idea one of his students designed for an open-ended homework assignment.  What a great way to represent something chronologically!

The wheels are turning in my brain as I try to think of variations on this theme!

Genius Camp 2017-2018

In addition to doing Genius Hour with my 3rd-5th grade gifted students, I have been guiding 5th grade students through what I like to call, “Genius Camp” during our school’s weekly enrichment time for the past year and a half.  For my first post on this, which explains the logistics of the time, you can read here.  Basically, I work with one 5th grade homeroom for 45 minutes per week for about 6-8 weeks. (It was 6 weeks last year, but we changed the timeframe this year.) During the last session, the students teach lessons to the rest of the students in 5th grade.  It’s kind of a Genius Hour/EdCamp hybrid because there are students choosing what they want to present and other students get to vote on which session they would like to attend.  (You can go to this folder to make copies of all of the templates listed below.)

  • Week 1 – Intro. to Genius Camp, brainstorming ideas for sessions
  • Week 2 – Going over “what makes a good session” and brainstorming more ideas
  • Week 3 – Signing up for sessions (in groups of 1-3 students), Planning the session, including step-by-step instructions
  • Week 4 – Completing planning sheets, giving peer feedback and revising
  • Week 5 –Going over reflection sheets, and practicing sessions.  Send out reminder letter.
  • Week 6 –Practicing and critiquing each other’s sessions (all materials due this day or students cannot present the next week)
  • Week 7 – Other homerooms fill out Google Form selecting 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice for sessions.  Sessions are presented during enrichment time that week.  Each participating student receives a label with name, session name, and location.  There is an adult supervisor at every location.

As you can see from this post that I did toward the end of last school year, Genius Camp has not been perfect.  But I have seen many, many successes that have outweighed the obstacles.  My favorite part has been witnessing students shine who often don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate their interests or their strengths during the school day.  Every 5th grader gets to participate in Genius Camp, and I enjoy discovering their passions.  Many times I hear comments from the adult supervisors like, “I had no idea so and so has such a natural talent for teaching!” or, “I never knew so and so knew so much about World War II!”

If you can find a way to bring Genius Camp to your school, whether through enrichment time, an after-school club, or by carving out time in a regular class, you and your students will find that it is time well spent.

Photo Mar 30, 2 01 40 PM.jpg
Students learning how an engine works during Genius Camp

Using Flippity for Makerspace Challenges

Although it’s great to allow students to use their imaginations, they will generally feel overwhelmed if you give them infinite choices.  For example, if you say, “Build something out of Legos,” many students will either spend most of their time figuring out what to build or attempt to build something they have already done in the past.  So, a couple of years ago I thought I would randomize some Makerspace Building Challenges for my students by using a tool called Flippity.  Instead of building “something,” they might be urged to build an amusement park ride or a shelter for a natural disaster, for example. You can find my post on using the tool here.

In this recent post from Laura Fleming, you can find even better Makerspace Challenges using Flippity.  Her first version randomly selects building techniques and materials to spark the imagination.  Her second version uses S.C.A.M.P.E.R., which is a great innovation tool that I describe a bit more in detail in this blog post.  Laura gives full instructions for how to use her Flippity challenges and how to modify them for your own use in her post.

I have a post on 5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges here.  For my list of Makerspace Essentials, including Laura’s book, Worlds of Making, click here.  (Laura also has a new book, called The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces.)

image from Pixabay

Scratch Jr., BrainPop, and PBS

When participating in Hour of Code in our GT classroom this week, the 2nd graders were introduced to the free Scratch Jr. app on our iPads (also available on Android and on the Chrome Web Store ).  Before we started exploring the app, I thought it would be good for them to learn a little bit about computer programming.  BrainPop Jr.  has a great free video that explains computer programming and some of the terminology.  As an added bonus, the sample screen in the video looks very similar to the Scratch Jr. interface, so this particular video was an excellent introduction to our lesson.

You can find Hour of Code lessons for Scratch Jr. here.  Additional lesson ideas can be found on the “Teach” tab of the Scratch Jr. site.  As I was looking up resources to use with my students, I also found this PBS site that includes lessons integrated with some of the popular PBS kid shows, as well as printable task cards.

Scratch Jr. works very well as a starting point for block coding for primary students.  My 2nd graders quickly found many “cool” things that they could do after about 10 minutes of exploration on their own.  Familiarizing themselves with this app will make the transition to Scratch (a web based program for computers that does not currently work on mobile) almost seamless.

image from Wes Fryer on Flickr

Remote for Google Slides

I had a remote.  I lost the remote.  I found the remote.  It stopped working.  I lost it again, and found it again, and forgot that it wasn’t working.

And repeat.

When you go somewhere to do a presentation, you never know what the setup might be.  Sometimes your computer ends up being anchored to an inconvenient part of the room and a nice person volunteers to be your “driver” so you can stand in front of everyone.  But then you find yourself using sign language or gestures that may look a bit awkward every time the slide needs to be advanced.  Sometimes you can project on to a smart board, but your touch seems to send it into some sort of frenzy and advance your slides too quickly, making everyone wait while you try to find the previous slide and they don’t even care because it’s after school and they just want to go home and you break into a sweat trying to find the right slide and end up starting all over again and going really fast while you try to come up with some banter to distract everyone from the fact that you are a Loser of Remotes and Slides and Your Sanity.

At least that’s what some people tell me happens sometimes.

“Remote for Google Slides” is a Chrome extension that allows you to use any device with internet access to control your slides.  I tried it out yesterday with my students who were doing presentations and I was pleasantly surprised to find this free tool worked so well.  It didn’t completely eliminate awkward moments as there are a couple of steps you need to do before you start (see instructions here), but the actual presentations were smooth sailing once the remote was set up.  Students could easily advance the slides and they seemed less stiff since they could move away from the projection screen as they spoke.

Since the extension requires you to use the same website on your device that will be the remote, you may want to just save the site as a bookmark to your screen.  Then, all you have to do is tap the icon and enter the PIN that is on your presentation.

There is nothing fancy about this.  You can’t use your device as a mouse, and I doubt you can click on links within your slides and then return to the presentation.  But, if you have a bare-bones Slides presentation and want to save yourself money spent on lost remotes, this might be worth trying.

UPDATE 12/7/17: As one reader pointed out (thanks, Kim Nilsson!), there is a potential for security issues when using this.  You can read this post here for more details.  Whenever you give an extension access to your account, you should remember that granting access does make your account more vulnerable.  Always weigh the benefits and risks before doing so.

How the Audience Looks When I Can’t Find My Remote (image from sergesegal on Flickr)

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – Extraordinaires

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

If you have a child who enjoys drawing, Extraordinaires may be just the gift for him or her.  This unique kit encourages Design Thinking by providing Character cards (Extraordinaires), Project Cards, Think Cards, and Idea Pad, and a case. (Included supplies vary, depending on the set.)  Children can choose an Extraordinaire and a Project to design for that character.  Empathy is encouraged by suggesting the designer should first study the Extraordinaires card closely to learn anything that might be helpful in creating a personalized design for the character.  Think Cards can be used to help the designer consider improvements or tweak that can be made to the design.  Inventing a “backstory” for the character is also recommended.

We have used the Buildings Set and the Design Studio in my 2nd and 4th grade classes.  The students really enjoy choosing from the unusual cartoon-like Extraordinaires, and quickly become close to the fictional characters they’ve selected.  These sets definitely spark the imagination – especially for children who love to invent, draw, and/or write.

There are currently three Extraordinaires sets available at different price points.  There is also a free app available that allows designers to see and share projects.  If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you can download a sample project for children to try.

If you want your child to spend more time “unplugged” and creating, Extraordinaires is definitely a worthwhile gift option.


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