Category Archives: Teaching Tools

It’s a Zoo Out There – #TCEA17

Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference¬†ūüėČ ¬†In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.

“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas. ¬†They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years. ¬†The students research animals, draw pictures, ¬†and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned. ¬†Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it. ¬†One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas. ¬†No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.

Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation.  The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.

Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!

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image from: Pixabay 

Visit Me at TCEA 2017!

This week, I will be at TCEA in Austin with my fabulous colleague, Angelique Lackey. ¬†We will be presenting together on Tuesday. ¬†Our session is called, “10 Sure-Fire Ways to Light Up Your Curriculum.” ¬†The hour-long session starts at 1:15 in Room 19B. ¬†It is about using the Project Ignite website to introduce your students to 3d modeling with Tinkercad.

On Wednesday, I’ll be solo. ¬†I’ll be presenting, “Code Dread” at 2:30 in Room 13AB. ¬†This session is for anyone who has been intrigued by the thought of using coding in the classroom, but¬†has little experience with programming.

FYI – despite having done numerous presentations I always sound nervous. ¬†Weirdly, the only thing that makes me nervous is knowing that I will sound nervous which, as you can imagine, develops into a nice little self-fulfilling prophecy. ¬†Fortunately, the size of the audience doesn’t seem to impact this, as I am equally as nervous with 2 people or 50. ¬†Unfortunately, medication either makes it worse or makes me slur my words so I’ve learned to just tune out my own voice and never listen to recordings. ¬†Of course, if you attend either session¬†you¬†won’t have those choices – but I promise not to be offended if you walk out ūüėČ

You may not want to walk out, though, because we just found out that we get to use the Qball (wireless, throwable microphone) during our sessions.  So, walking out would mean you not only lose the opportunity of listening to my unique voice, but you would also lose the opportunity to see how horrible I am at throwing microphone balls Рa feat I have never attempted, but I am quite certain will bring back flashbacks of the one time I tried to play softball when I was in 5th grade and managed to bonk myself in the forehead.  I will try not to bonk you in the forehead, but there is no guarantee.

In conclusion, you may or may not want to attend my two sessions at TCEA and you may or may not want to take out extra insurance before volunteering to be in the audience. ¬†If you do decide to brave all of these potential hazards I have mentioned, then please come up and say, “Hi! ¬†I am one of the courageous people who read your TCEA post and still decided to come to your session.” ¬†That way I will know not to aim for you when I throw the Qball ūüėČ

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Full Disclosure – I don’t look anything like my Bitmoji. Except for the brown eyes and hair. And I do sometimes smile. Oh, and my hair is usually parted on the side. Angelique looks exactly like her Bitmoji. (Don’t tell her she looks like a cartoon, though. She finds that offensive for some strange reason.)
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I forget where that QR code takes you, so don’t be upset if it’s a dead end. I should probably¬†check that before I present, but I have plenty of time – right?

Formative Assessment with Music Lyrics

Even though I really enjoy hearing the conversations that go on when my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, my students will tell you that the playlist assessment¬†is actually their favorite when it comes to demonstrating their understanding of a novel. ¬†According to them, they enjoy being able to work independently on this assignment, and to really “dig deep” (their words) into the meaning of lyrics as well as the novels we are analyzing. ¬†

Here’s how our playlist assignments work: ¬†I give the students 5 songs to listen to, in addition to the lyrics from each of the songs. ¬†The students are told to choose one song that they think represents the book the best – in other words, if the book were turned into a movie, this song would be a great theme song. ¬†Then they must justify their answers using at least three different lyrics with at least three different examples from the book. ¬†

A couple of notes: 1.) I like to give students choice, so the first couple of years I did this activity, I asked them to bring in their own ideas for songs. ¬†They never did. ¬†I still offer the option to request a song be added, but the students rarely suggest one. ¬†They seem happier with the ones I recommend. ¬†2.)¬†If you choose to do this activity, you will need to “vet” the best way for the students to access the songs. ¬†Podsnack is a nice site for creating playlists, but won’t play when my students log in. ¬†YouTube lyrics videos work for us, using SafeShare, as long as I have approved the videos beforehand. ¬†Another option is to create a station where students can listen to the songs downloaded on an iPad or iPod.

I’ve done this activity with groups of different sizes, and the silence is eerie when everyone puts ¬†on their headphones and get started. ¬†The students are intensely focused on the assignment. ¬†Some take notes on scratch paper before choosing a song. ¬†Others page through their novels as they listen. ¬†I almost feel useless as the students work because they are so incredibly engaged that there is no need for redirection. ¬†Instead, I periodically give them feedback in Google Classroom to encourage them or remark on their interesting ideas.

My 4th graders do this activity with Tuck Everlasting.  My 5th graders do it with The Giver.  I asked my 5th graders this time if I could share a couple of their responses with you, and they agreed.

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If you are interested in using The Giver Playlist Assignment, here is a link to make a copy.  Within that document is a link to the Exemplars that I used with my students to show them the different levels of responses.

I should probably warn you that, once the students do this assignment, they may request to listen to the music while doing other assignments as well.  Some of them get very attached to the songs!

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating. ¬†If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver. ¬†And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.

You can find details in¬†last year’s post (linked above). ¬†I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections. ¬†My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

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One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting

Monday Morning

I truly believe that it is not my job as an educator to tell students what they should think or how they should feel. ¬†Much of my¬†job is to teach them how to think: how to analyze, how to problem-solve, how to be self-aware so they can choose the type of thinking that would be useful for them in different situations. ¬†My job is also to teach my students¬†how to listen to and to understand other points of view, that our own perspectives can change, and that it’s important to be mindful and respectful of those who don’t agree with us.

With these things in mind, I have been collecting a few resources over the last couple of days that may help teachers in the light of recent events.  For the students who are concerned or fearful, for the ones who are angry or defensive, we as teachers can give two things: empathy and information.  Here are some resources you may be able to use as arguments about the recent immigration ban and the border wall dominate the news (You will, of course, need to determine which resources are suitable for your students.):

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image from BK on Flickr

Valentine Resources for the Young at Heart

I’m not actually a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, believe it or not. ¬†If you search “Valentine” on this blog, though, you would suspect otherwise. ¬†I’ve collected quite a few resources to use in class based on this holiday – mostly because my students seem to love it so much. ¬†In fact, I’m pretty sure kids get a lot more of enjoyment out of it than adults!

In case you missed it, here was¬†my 2016¬†Valentine blog post – which pretty much linked to everything I had curated so far. ¬†Since then, I’ve added:

Some new ones that I’ve just discovered:

I imagine a few more will pop up in the next couple of weeks.  If so, I will be sure to share them with you!

UPDATE 2/13/17 – Here are a couple Valentine’s Day Breakout EDU activities!

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image from Pixabay

Virtual Valentines

I asked my 1st grade gifted students today to try to think from their parents’ perspectives of what they would like for Valentine’s Day besides food or flowers. ¬†The first student said that her parents would want, “my sister and I to stop fighting,” which seemed like a pretty good response. ¬†Then the next student said, “Yeah, my mom would want to rest in peace.” I think I know what he meant, but you can never be sure. ¬†Then another student said, “Beer!” which brought up an interesting discussion as to whether or not that¬†could count – ¬†because “it’s a food!” as some of the students declared…

Sometimes my job just makes me smile ūüôā

Anyway, this all started because we are studying different countries, and learning about the Depth and Complexity icon, “Multiple Perspectives.” ¬†I signed our class up to participate in a Virtual Valentines project, and we will hopefully be exchanging Valentines with a class in another country. ¬†It occurred to me that are probably very few countries that actually celebrate this holiday, but I did some research and found out that several places around the world either have Valentine’s Day traditions or other similar variations.¬†(I’m still trying to figure out why “Love Spoons” haven’t caught on yet in the USA.)

I signed us up for Level 2 of the Virtual Valentines Project, which means that we will not only make virtual¬†Valentines, but try to exchange them with another class. ¬†If that is too much pressure, you can also choose Level 1, which just legally binds you to having your class create virtual Valentines. ¬†Which I read to mean, “I am putting my name down, but my life is crazy and it’s quite possible that by ‘virtual’ Valentines I mean that my students will just create some in their imagination,¬†so I refuse to commit myself to them doing anything that isn’t somehow tied in to standardized testing.”

The Virtual Valentines Project has a resource page, which gives suggestions for tools to use to create your digital cards. ¬†I would add to this list the Quiver App’s free augmented reality Valentine’s Day page, which you can find here.

For more Valentine’s Day ideas, you can look at last year’s blog post. ¬†I’ll probably update and re-blog it in the near future.

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