One of the advantages of my new school is its location. We are in downtown San Antonio – steps from the Riverwalk, downtown courthouses, parks, museums, and the Central Library. Our students go on many walking field trips, and we try to take advantage of our location whenever possible. Last weekend, the Central Library hosted the San Antonio Mini Maker Faire. A couple of my colleagues who also teach in our Maker Space at Advanced Learning Academy have been working with their students for a couple of months to design projects for the Faire.
Our school emphasizes exhibitions of student work, but this event had the added pressure of being open to the public. The students did not disappoint. Their projects included: a “Soc-Car” game with remote control cars on a soccer field moving ping pong balls, laser cut lanterns, upcycled toys, masks, ornithopters, wooden robots, and screen-printed shirts.
One highlight was “Fruit Guillotine,” admittedly a nerve-wracking demonstration every time as the aluminum blade whooshed down to decapitate bananas. Children were delighted, begging for multiple turns, as anxious parents stood nearby.
Watching the students interact with guests of the Maker Faire was wonderful. I heard descriptions of their design processes, details of failures and problem-solving, and obvious pride in what they had accomplished. Some of them were already prepared with ideas for what they will do differently next year.
Watching my colleagues conduct this project with the students was inspirational, and I am already determined my own students will participate next year. If you have the same opportunity (many cities host similar events), I highly recommend you consider guiding your students through this experience. It is a lot of hard work, but making for a genuine audience is always rewarding.
One of my presentations this year at TCEA was called, “50 Shades of Green,” (thanks to Angelique for that title). I’ve been curating information about using green screens with classes from my own blog posts, tweets, and other shared blogs from educators. The presentation included ideas for activities/lessons, apps and software for editing, and practical tips. There are lots of links for resources, so if you are looking for a comprehensive collection of green screen ideas, feel free to take a look at the presentation here.
My students have done agamographs in the past, but I always called them “pictures that show two perspectives.” It’s nice to learn there is an official name for these that has fewer syllables. There are many ways to integrate this art form into other subjects – showing cause and effect in science or literature, or different historical perspectives, for example. To see great directions for making agamographs, check out this set from Babble Dabble Do. You can see some beautiful examples made by middle school students here. If you are ready to hop on trying this out, you might want to consider making agamograph Valentines.
Of course, if you Google “agamograph” you will find many more examples. Apparently everyone on the internet knew what they were called except me 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!