texture addiction ball game

The Rich Potential of International Dot Day

As some of you may know, I updated my Dot Day resources in August. Depending on your cup half empty/half full point of view, you could see that post as a little late (since I was updating a post from 2014) or a little early (since Dot Day is every year on September 15-ish). I will be adding this e-book link to that post. The Rich Potential of International Dot Day is a free e-book available from Apple Books. Created for this year through a collaboration by Apple Distinguished Educators, the book begins with a quote from The Dot author Peter H. Reynolds, “When the going gets tough, the creative get going! Cheering on educators and parents — everyone who will help kids make the most of this school year!” There are 5 sections of activities in the book: Drawing, Sound & Music, Photo, Film, and AR (Augmented Reality). The creative suggestions are designed to be used with iPads, though there are ways many of them can be adapted using different devices. For example, there is a “Your thoughts in dot” time lapse activity suggested by ADE Miriam Walsh using the Pages app that could also be done with Google Slides and Screen-Cast-o-Matic, and “The Ripple of Your Actions” from ADE Simon Pile merely requires milk and food coloring. Altogether, there are over 30 innovative suggestions in the book for ways to celebrate International Dot Day this year. Whether you are at home or at school, take advantage of one of these opportunities to make your mark on the world.

woman covered with polka dot lights
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids

About 6 years ago, as people who are excited about learning new things can be wont to do, my colleague and I emphatically agreed to piloting a 3d printer on our elementary school campus without actually knowing a single thing about 3d printing. There was a huge learning curve just trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to print out one of its pre-programmed examples. Once we accomplished the extraordinary feat of coaxing our printer to spit out a plastic bolt that we could use for pretty much nothing, we realized that we needed to figure out what meaningful objects we could fabricate – and how to design them. Our research was frustrating. Other than mass producing keychains and other items with school logos, no one seemed to have any idea about what elementary students might be able to do with a 3d printer. (By the way, if you are thinking of purchasing a 3d printer for your classroom, or doing a Donors Choose request, here is an article I wrote on some considerations you should make before you commit.)

That’s when we stumbled across City X. And Design Thinking. And Tinkercad.

And that’s when we learned that we didn’t need a 3d printer.

Don’t get me wrong. They are nice to have, and students love holding their own designs in their hands. But the most valuable part of the learning is the Design Thinking process.

The free toolkit from City X helped us to walk our students through the design process. The premise of the program is that humans have started a new settlement called City X on another planet, and the citizens need help with different challenges they are encountering in this novel environment. You can read more about how my colleague and I used the program here.

The toolkit includes a lot of resources, and was a true blessing for the two of us, as we discovered a way to really engage children while helping them to learn about empathy, problem-solving, and multiple other lifelong skills.

Now there is a City X book (thanks for letting me know about it, Amy C!), written by one of the co-creators of the original project, Brett Schilke. Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids begins with the same idea as the original project, that the mayor of City X is asking for your help with various problems. In this book, however, there is more detail on how to embark on the design adventures as members of “The Irresistible Futures Agency.” It includes 35 challenges in the areas of transportation, environment, communication, food, health, safety, and energy. Each challenge walks students through solving problems for the fictional planet as they make connections to our own, real-world. There are still choices when it comes to who their “clients” will be and what their final solutions entail, but there are additional activities and recommended explorations in each chapter that are perfect for students new to the idea of Design Thinking.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a 3d printer. Students can prototype and test with any number of easily accessible materials such as cardboard and clay. Also keep in mind that the broad categories of each challenge make them relatively easy to integrate with science or social studies curriculum.

Once students experience the City X project, they will be ready to do “real-world” designs using the same framework.

For more of my posts on Design Thinking, click here. Also, this is one of the professional development sessions I offer, and it includes a ton of free resources.

“Foolsball”: a new game you can play in City X
happy multiethnic children discussing structure of primitive organism

Genius Hour Teacher Planner

I am gearing up to do some professional development sessions on Genius Hour this summer, and realized that it might be helpful to have a one-pager for teachers to refer to as they begin planning to do Genius Hour with their students. Genius Hour can come in many forms, depending on your situation, so I thought it might be helpful to have a way to look at the “Big Picture” before designing the details. Most of the planning sheets that I see when I do searches are for the students, but I’d love for you to let me know if you have seen any that are for teachers. I am in the process of updating my Genius Hour resources, including the digital ones, and will let you know when the new and improved page is posted. In the meantime, if you are thinking of doing Genius Hour next school year, feel free to download this planner. Let me know if you see anything that needs to be tweaked! Also, if you are interested in me doing a professional development for your school or district on Genius Hour, Design Thinking, Coding, or Maker Education, please e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com!

Access the PDF for this page here

Hexagonal Reflection

This week, I am revisiting some of my tried and true favorite end-of-the-school-year activities. For today, I want to refer you to my post on hexagonal reflection. This was one of those ideas that could have completely flopped, but was way more successful than I anticipated. The students (2nd graders!) were so incredibly thoughtful in their responses that I regretted not having done this with every class since the beginning of my career. For one of my more recent posts about hexagonal thinking, which may be helpful if you are still doing online teaching, check out, “Using Hexagonal Thinking Virtually.” I know this is deep, and the end of the year is generally fun and games, but if you want to help your students connect the dots of everything they have learned this past year and really seal in new knowledge and insights, please give this a try!

2nd grade student writing to explain hexagonal connections

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 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. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.

Make Your Own Time Capsule

If you have not discovered the Smithsonian Learning Lab yet, you are in for a great surprised. Here are some of the previous posts that I’ve written about the quality educational programming SLL provides. One of their latest projects is to offer a monthly challenge. For this month, it is to “Make Your Own Time Capsule.” I think that most of us would agree that this is definitely a year for the history books, and that describing it to future generations would be a lot more helpful with artifacts. Whether you endeavor to do this at home or at school, the Learning Lab gives you the resources to do it.

You can begin by using the Learning Lab Collection that explains what a time capsule is, and the history of them. Then you can look at a carefully curated sample collection from the National Postal Museum for the year of 1918 – when airmail began (the same year the Armistice was signed, ending World War I, which was the impetus behind our celebration of Veterans Day in the United States). Finally, you can watch a video that shows a unique way to make your very own time capsule. (You may need to be logged in to view these resources. Registration is free.)

With historical and scientific connections, you could easily bring in math and language arts to make this an interdisciplinary unit that would be engaging and relevant for your students – perhaps during those challenging weeks between the end of November and the winter holidays?

If you do something that you would like to share with the world during the challenge period (November 10 – December 8, 2020) , be sure to tag it #SmithsonianEdu.

© Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence