Category Archives: Student Products

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.

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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. 😉

 

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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…

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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