Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Math Craft

As seasoned readers may know, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of math.  (See here, here, or here for some examples.)  Now that my job title is S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher, I have been looking even more for ideas on how to integrate math and art.

Math Craft is a great place to start.  From mathematical knitting to Sierpinski Christmas trees, there is no shortage of inspiration on this site (though it is a bit heavy on polyhedrons).  Not every post gives you instructions, as some of them feature work by professional artists – but you could always pose the question to your students, “How do you think they made this?”  They may end up making something completely different, but equally as beautiful, along the way.

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CC image from Pixabay
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Year of Engineering

Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms.  In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year.  (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)

After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas.  There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning.  And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.

During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning.  Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.

Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources.  From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me.  My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”

You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site.  Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…

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CC image from Pixabay

Instructables Classes

One of my colleagues pointed out a couple of weeks ago that Instructables offers free classes on many “makerspace” related topics, such as laser cutting, mold making, and 3d design.  I’ve used the site for a few DIY projects, but never knew I could dig deeper with these lessons.  I plan to investigate several of these for my own studies, and now I know that I can also refer some of my students to the site, especially if they want to learn more about something I may not have tried yet.  It’s a good resource for DIY’ers, educators, and students.

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Dialogo

I’m hesitating to recommend any more games because it was recently brought to my attention that a card game I reviewed in January now costs $899 on Amazon.  I know I don’t have a degree in Economics, but I only paid $20 for it 6 months ago, and unless this game is somehow disguising a Bitcoin laundering scheme, I’m not sure why it climbed in price by 4500%.

The game in question, Mockups, is good for practicing Design Thinking.  If that is what you are looking for, you may want to go a less pricier route by checking out Disruptus, also good for Design Thinking practice – and about $874 less than Mockups at the moment.

Or, you could download Dialogo for free.  It’s not really a Design Thinking game, but at least you don’t have to pawn your motorcycle to acquire it.

I’m really working on community building with my classes this year, so when I saw this brief write-up about Dialogo on Trendhunter, I immediately searched for the website to learn more.

Dialogo is a product from the KAICIID Center.  According to its website, the organization “is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote the use of dialogue globally to prevent and resolve conflict to enhance understanding and cooperation.”  The free download is available in 5 different languages, and includes a printable gameboard, instructions, and cards.

Dialogo is meant to be used for encouraging discussion of a particular topic.  The game offers creative, probing questions that can be used for just about any subject. There are also suggestions for reflecting on and facilitating the conversation.  Though the age suggestion is for 10 and up, I think it could be used with younger students with a bit of practice.

So, download Dialogo now, whether you think you can use it or not, before it gets listed for $1000 or something ridiculous.  Good group conversations are priceless – and should stay that way.

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Nothing VENNtured…

Venn Diagrams are pretty ubiquitous in school.  Most students have seen and used the common form of a Venn Diagram that you see below in order to compare/contrast two things.

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image from Wikipedia

To be honest, after a bazillion years of teaching, I’ve gotten quite bored with using this graphic organizer.  However, there are a few people who have thought up some interesting variations on this theme, and I thought I would share some with you.

First up, Venn Perplexors are a series of workbooks that have levels suitable for Kinder and up.  Level A sticks with the concept of students grouping pictures and words into diagrams, but the other levels challenge students to use Venn Diagrams to solve math problems.  It’s an unusual way to do algebraic thinking that is great for students who need some math enrichment.

I’ve posted about “Logic Zoo”, a PBS Cyberchase game here.  It’s fun to play on the interactive board with students in Kinder and 1st.

Another interactive board possibility (for a bit older children) is this one.

Anaxi is a unique game that I included in my Gifts for the Gifted Series in 2016.  Players use translucent cards to create Venn Diagram categories that require some creativity to fill.  It’s challenging, so I would use it with 2nd grade and up.

Today, I had an interesting discussion with my 3rd graders with this puzzler from Math Pickle.  I think this has been my favorite Venn Diagram activity so far.  The free printable has 13 different blank diagrams and a list of 13 groups of 3.  Problem solvers must find which diagram matches which group.  For example, what would the diagram for “reptile, crocodile, and female” look like?  The great thing is that the answers are NOT provided, so we were all trying to figure out the answers and debating our solutions.  I loved the critical thinking that was used for this activity, though it might be better suited for 4th grade and up.  I could definitely see making some of these up for other subjects, too, like geography or social studies.  Also, Math Pickle has some other Venn Puzzlers which look wickedly fun here. (I want to try the polygon ones!)

Lastly, here are some fun and creative Venn Diagrams that are probably best for middle and high school students – or even your adult friends.  Along the same lines are these humorous ones from Math with Bad Drawings.

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image from XKCD

25 Challenging Riddles

My students have a love/hate relationship with riddles.  They groan and complain that I’m asking them to do the impossible, but as soon as they solve one they beg for more.  This is a good time of year for these fun puzzlers from Reader’s Digest.  There are more than a few that are new to me and I plan to add to my repertoire.  The one below, from Cydcor on Flickr, is a variation of a student favorite in my classroom.

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image from Cydcor on Flickr

826 Digital

Dave Eggers, award-winning author of books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, explains in his 2008 TED Talk, “Once Upon a School,” how he conceived the idea of a tutoring and creative writing center that would be part of the community, a place that would offer one-on-one help to the students in the area with writers who would volunteer their time.

 The center, with its pirate storefront and ever-increasing list of dedicated tutors, was a success.  It grew into more centers around the United States, providing “under-resourced communities access to high-quality, engaging, and free writing, tutoring, and publishing programs.”  As quickly as it has grown, however, 826 National has an even more ambitious goal – to provide its inspirational creative-writing resources to teachers everywhere.  To that end, the company launched “826 Digital” in November of 2017, a website that offers innovative “sparks” and lessons ready to be used in classrooms to galvanize generations of writers of all ages.  Aligned with the Common Core, the unique activities include field-tested resources from Dave Eggers, educators, and volunteers at 826 National sites.

826 Digital is a “pay-as-you-wish” site, which means that teachers can become members for free or whatever they choose to donate.  With lesson titles like, “MIRACLE ELIXIR: INVENTING POTIONS TO CURE BALDNESS AND OTHER THINGS THE WORLD NEEDS RIGHT NOW,” students cannot help but be intrigued and motivated to write.  Sparks like, “CHEESY POP SONG POETRY,” and “MONSTER SCATTERGORIES” will contribute to a classroom environment of humor and creativity.

Your students may not be able to go to the original 826 Valencia pirate store, or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, but you can make your own classroom into a writer’s room that encourages imagination by accessing the great resources available at 826 Digital.826digital