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!
I’ve been doing Genius Hour for several years with my gifted and talented students in 3rd-5th grades. Yet, every year I end up thinking that I could have facilitated it better. Because I want to keep improving, I’ve documented some of my ups and downs on my Genius Hour Resources page. It helps to look back at some of those posts and remind myself that Genius Hour doesn’t always go well and that I’ve come a long way from my first Genius Hour attempt – when my 5th graders rewarded me with blank stares after I announced they could study anything they wanted.
Yes, Genius Hour sucks sometimes. There are some days I dread it because I know the chaos will drain all of my energy, or because I just can’t think of any other way to explain how to summarize research without copying, or because everyone will have a Genius-Hour-Emergency-that-only-Mrs. Eichholz-can-handle at exactly the same time, or because a student will refuse to believe me when I say that no one wants to read 1000 words in tiny text on a slide that is going to be read out loud anyway, or because I have to keep repeating, “Yes, I know you are passionate about meat [or other randomly chosen topic], but how will you convince your audience that they should care?”
So, I try to remind myself of all of the obstacles we’ve already overcome, that the students will become more independent if they are given more opportunities to practice being independent, and that we are all learning. A lot.
The other day I felt a bit defeated because I realized I was wrong when I thought I had figured the solution to getting more substance out of the presentations rather than fluff. A few students did practice presentations for a “focus group” of peers, and my heart sank when it became apparent that, once again, the fluff far outweighed the stuff.
During a break, I quickly Googled student Genius Hour presentation videos online to see if I could find an exemplar to give the students. As I watched several videos, I realized that they also didn’t meet my expectations.
The logical conclusion? My expectations are too high. I was being too hard on these kids. After all, what did I expect – a TED Talk?
Whew! What a relief.
I came home and started preparing my next blog post, looking up some articles I’ve bookmarked on Pocket.
I have done a lot of what Eric White suggests. I am creating rites of passage, critiquing the critiques, etc… But this is where I need to dig in and keep going – not give up. Yes, I have high expectations. Yes, it may take several rewrites and rehearsals for the groups to meet my expectations. After watching Eric’s video of the student who had revised several times, I see it is worth it. The sense of pride she felt when she met those high expectations was visibly joyful.
So, if Genius Hour isn’t working for you, and you feel somehow guilty that you aren’t doing it right, you are not alone. Maybe we are the only two teachers in the world having trouble with it, but at least you know there is someone else out there who questions its worth. I can also tell you, though, that I’ve seen it work. That’s why I keep trying and why I think you should, too.
As our school year begins to wind down, my 5th grade gifted students are attempting to synthesize all that they have learned by determining what they “know for sure.” While browsing the examples on Laura Moore’s TCEA Hyperdoc website (click here for my original post about her Hyperdoc presentation), I found this “Manifesto Project.” When I showed it to my students, they were excited about designing their own manifestos. We did a lot of brainstorming and discussion before the students started working on Canva. The examples I am showing you are just rough drafts (including mine), but I think they are off to a great start! Knowing the personalities of these students, I am very impressed by how the students were careful to choose words and designs that really reflect their values and beliefs.
I remarked that it might be fun to make each manifesto into a t-shirt, and the students got super excited about the idea. So, if anyone has done something like that before, please give me suggestions in the comments below!
If you are interested in more ideas for using Canva in the classroom, here is a link to their lesson suggestions.
I am such a geek. Last night, I was researching mandalas for an upcoming lesson with my 4th graders. I remembered that Richard Byrne had just published a post about a new online magazine creator, so I thought it might be fun to try it out and let my students collaborate on the magazine. Then, I started looking for images to put on the magazine cover, and came across a mandala that used words instead of symbols. There was no information on how it was created, so I did a search for word mandalas – and that is how I landed on Mandific. (I still haven’t discovered how the original word mandala picture I found was made, but that’s okay.)
Type a word into Mandific, and it will create a mandala for you using the letters of the word. You can adjust the color, the spacing of the letters, and the design. See if you can figure out my word in the mandala below.
Then, I continued my search (I won’t tell you how long I spent on Mandific before remembering my actual mission.) I found MyOats.com. Still not exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me another alternative for including words in a mandala.
As you can see, I didn’t spend a lot of time on that one because I had suddenly become obsessed with finding the perfect word mandala generators.
My next attempt was with using the word cloud generator, Tagul.
I also tried Tagxedo, which will allow you to upload your own image to make into a word cloud. However, I had so many problems with it not loading correctly on three different browsers, that I finally moved on to some iPad apps.
WordFoto has always been a favorite of mine. I uploaded a photograph of a mandala from the web, and then added some text. If you are not familiar with WordFoto, here is a post I wrote about the app.
My last word mandala attempt was created with the TypeDrawing app. I uploaded a mandala photo, and then traced the main lines with words and some of the symbols offered in the app. After completing my drawing, I changed the photo opacity setting so that only my drawing shows. I have to say that this was my favorite creation.
I will keep you posted on what we use! If you have any other ideas for word mandalas (that don’t require expensive software like Photoshop), please let me know in the comments below.
Mark your calendar for May 2, 2017, this year’s Global Day of Design. This project, spearheaded by educators A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, encourages classrooms all around the globe to participate in innovative thinking and creating during one 24-hour period. According to Juliani, over 40,000 students participated in last year’s Global Day of Design, an impressive number that we could surely double this year.
Ideally, every day should be one that includes innovation for our students. However, the reality is far from this. Hopefully, just as Hour of Code has promoted awareness of the need for more computer science education, the Global Day of Design will encourage more educators to integrate Design Thinking into the curriculum.
Juliani’s post gives a link to register for the Global Day of Design, as well as many resources. The official website for the project also has a registration link and the bonus of at least 12 free design challenges with the promise of more to come.
In a related post, my colleague Sony Terborg recently wrote about the concept of “The Producer Mindset,” and also linked to the Global Day of Design. Like Terborg, many forward-thinking educators agree that it is imperative that we move away from the factory-based system of education to instead provide students with opportunities to create and think for themselves. Design Thinking is a great framework for educators to refer to when embarking on introducing innovation in the classroom, and I would recommend the Global Day of Design as just the beginning that will hopefully eventually lead to a new generation that is comfortable designing 365 days a year.
A favorite project that seems to dwell in the memories of my gifted and talented students from year to year is the time they made Leprechaun Traps in Kindergarten. It’s how I introduce our “Inventor Thinking” unit and ties in, of course, with St. Patrick’s Day.
As I introduced the project yesterday to my newest group of Kinder students, I was met with the usual enthusiasm. There was lots of excitement generated as they brainstormed ways to entice a leprechaun into their trap, and even more as they thought of ideas for ensnaring him.
And then one girl said,”What if I don’t want to trap the leprechaun? What if I think that’s mean?”
For a moment I was speechless. In all of my years of doing this project, none of my students have ever questioned if it was humane or not.
Interestingly, I am the person who carries spiders outdoors rather than smush them – and the person who grabbed a rat snake behind its head when it snuck into our house and flung it outside. I yelled at my husband in the middle of the night when he grabbed a huge pair of hedge clippers to battle a rat that had snuck into the house.
The ethics of trapping leprechauns never once crossed my mind.
My friend over at Not Just Child’s Play, Joelle Trayers, provides examples like this one of ways to discuss ethics with Kindergarten students. Yesterday was only my third meeting with my current Kinder class, so ethics had not entered into our class vocabulary yet. However, I couldn’t miss the opportunity at this point. After a slight pause, I said, “That’s a very good question. What do the rest of you think? Is it okay to trap the leprechauns or is it mean?”
Whether a coincidence or not, the issue was decided by gender. The girls were firmly in defense of the leprechauns and the boys had no intention of being swayed from dreaming up diabolical ways to trap them. (I have, several times, reminded the students we are “just pretending,” but that hasn’t deterred their strong feelings on the subject.)
The girls decided they are still making traps, but they are going to give the leprechauns a reward and an escape route instead of imprisoning them, especially since we will be gone for Spring Break. The boys are more interested in how they can combine Legos with their cardboard boxes than they are about the fate of the leprechauns.
So, a word of warning to any leprechauns in the vicinity of our school in the upcoming weeks: Beware of complex Lego staircases that seem to lead to nowhere. The boys outnumber the girls in my class, and I’m not really sure what they intend to do if you actually do fall into one of their clever contraptions.