Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Greg Tang Math Resources

Don’t tell anyone, but Greg Tang Math penetrated my incredible resistance to e-mail spam and persuaded me to visit the site out of curiosity.  I’m not really sure why the persistent e-mails that I kept trashing finally grabbed my attention, but I obviously wouldn’t be writing this post if they hadn’t eventually been successful.  (If you happen to be a spammer, please don’t think I am encouraging you to try the same strategy;  I can promise you that it was a one-time-thing…)

The good news is that I actually found some unique math materials on the site.  There are plenty of free resources that you can download, and even some interesting online math games.  For gifted students, the Kakooma and Expresso pages are great challenges. (There is also an online version of Kakooma on this page.) In addition, there are some printable math games on the resources page.

Of course, there are plenty of things you can purchase on the site.  Otherwise, what would be the purpose of the e-mail barrage?  But I think that you will agree that there is a generous dose of free materials, which makes some advertising bearable 🙂

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outthink hidden

Hidden Figures, a movie recently released about the three African-American women who were instrumental in the John Glen’s historic orbit around the earth, is based on a the book of the same name by Margot Shetterly. By showcasing the contributions made by these women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan – virtually unknown names until now – the book and movie remind us that many people who have significantly influenced our history are omitted from the history books because of racism, sexism, and ignorance.

In an attempt to correct this, IBM has created a website devoted to the movie – as well as to revealing other “hidden figures” in the field of S.T.E.M.  The company’s interest is partially due to the fact that it was one of IBM’s early mainframes that aided the women with their calculations.

On the IBM website for Hidden Figures, there is information about the movie and some video clips.  In addition, IBM partnered with the New York Times’ T Brand Studio to create a free interactive augmented reality app that can be downloaded in iTunes or Google Play. According to the site, there are markers at 150 different locations in the United States that you can scan with the app to learn more about amazing S.T.E.M. pioneers who never got due honors for their work.  You can also find markers in the New York Times.  Don’t despair if you don’t subscribe and don’t happen to live near one of 150 sites selected. After downloading the app (“outthink hidden”), visit the IBM site here, and you can scan the marker online.

Within the app you can search for nearby markers, scan, take pictures of the 3d images, and listen to audio about each included figure.  If you are using the online marker, click on the icon in the top right corner to change the figure who appears when you scan it.

If you are interested in more S.T.E.M. inspiration, one of my Gifts for the Gifted recommendations last month was this incredible book by Rachel Ignotofsky.  I also have a S.T.E.M. Pinterest Board.  In addition, if you are looking for more augmented reality activities, here is my collection of educational apps and lessons.

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Bessie Blount Griffin, Inventor & Physical Therapist (scanned with T Brand AR app)

 

The Pulitzer Center

In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned how our class has connected with experts through Skype in the Classroom.  One of the experts was a science reporter named Erik Vance, who helped my 3rd graders really understand the impact overfishing has had on ocean ecosystems. (The students are working on a Genius Hour project about protecting the coral reefs.)  Mr. Vance was matched with us after we scheduled a request for an interview on the topic on Skype in the Classroom.  Our request went to the Pulitzer Center, and a member of their staff, Fareed Mostoufi, arranged for Mr. Vance to speak with the children at our requested date and time.  You can read about the interview here.

The Pulitzer Center in its own words, “promotes in-depth engagement with global affairs through its support for quality international journalism across all media platforms and an innovative program of outreach and education.”  In addition to virtual class visits and curricular resources for all grade levels, the Pulitzer Center has a “Lesson Builder” for educators, which is free to use.  You can use the lesson plans already available in the Community, such as “Visualizing the Drone Debate,” or, “Interpreting Global Issues Through Picasso’s Guernica,” or build your own lessons with the online tool.  You will need to register and log in (free) in order to build your own lessons and save them.

If you are trying to “flatten” your classroom, and to educate your students as global citizens, The Pulitzer Center is an excellent resource to help you get started.

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Screen Shot of Some of the Model Lessons Available from The Pulitzer Center

 

Skype in the Classroom

We have been using Skype for a few years in my classroom.  Sometimes we have chatted with experts for genius hour projects and other times we have talked with classmates who have moved away.  A couple of times we have used it to talk with app developers about products the students were beta testing.

As many educators know, inviting other adults into your classroom, whether virtually or physically, can be extremely unpredictable.  While these adults may be experts, that does not guarantee they are able to impart their knowledge effectively to young people.  They may have great intentions, but might have a hard time keeping your students interested.

This is what is great about using the resources from Skype in the Classroom.  On this site, you can look for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and other classrooms to collaborate with.  The people who have volunteered to have information posted on the site are experienced working with students.  Your chances of having a great Skype lesson are increased when choosing a contact who is prepared to speak to a young audience.

Right before the Winter Break, students in a couple of my gifted and talented classes had successful Skype conversations.  My second graders benefited from a virtual field trip  to Buffalo Bill Center of the West near Yellowstone Park as they learned about animal adaptations, while my 3rd graders spoke with a reporter about protecting the oceans from overfishing.  Both sessions were scheduled through the Skype in the Classroom site after I did some filtered searching based on topics and grade level.  Once they were scheduled, I received e-mails with further details to prepare for the Skypes, and reminders the day before each session.

After each Skype, my students and I felt very gratified that the hosts were willing to volunteer 45 minutes out of their days to help the students understand their topics better. The experts were able to offer perspectives and ideas that were new to all of us, and we agreed we definitely learned quite a bit.  I must admit, also, that I was relieved that the presenters were not only very knowledgeable about their subjects, but excellent at communicating with children.

If you want to use the Skype in the Classroom site, you will need to have a free Skype contact already created, and to register with the Skype in the Classroom site.  If you are a beginner, don’t worry.  There are tons of resources on the site to get you started.  In addition, you will find the people who respond to your interview requests are very happy to help as well.

Take your students to places and people they might not otherwise ever encounter with Skype in the Classroom.  It will deepen everyone’s learning, including your own.

UPDATE 1/8/17: I just found this fantastic blog post that gives suggestions for Skype Virtual Field Trips from Skype Master Teachers!

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A student shares her animal adaptation research with a docent from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Integrative Thinking

I first read about “Integrative Thinking” in this article by Katrina Schwartz on Mindshift.  The article outlines three thinking/problem-solving tools that are taught through the I-Think Initiative at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management: Ladder of Inference, Pro/Pro, and Causal Models.  Integrative Thinking involves using these tools and others to consider solutions for problems by thinking about other perspectives as well as metacognition.

What fascinates me about the examples in Schwartz’ article is that these methods are being taught to students as young as first grade, and the students are applying them in productive ways that could be useful to many adults.  By becoming aware of how our own experiences can funnel our inferences and assumptions, and deliberately trying to reach outside of these, we are able to think more creatively.  It seems like a monumental task, especially for students who are still learning how to read, but it can be done.

You can view an interesting Ted Ed video on the “Ladder of Inference,” embedded within Schwartz’s article, that gives a great example of how we often use the ladder to our detriment.  Teachers who have been trained by through the I-Think Initiative give other examples of how the thinking tools have made dramatic differences in their classrooms.

As we continue to prepare our students for the future, I think that it’s imperative that we teach them metacognition and offer them critical thinking methods that will help them to be problem-solvers who can adapt to the fast-paced world in which they will eventually become the decision-makers.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/13970275618
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/13970275618

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Swish

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.

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When ThinkFun sent me the game Swish to review, I knew right away that it would be a challenge for me.  I have a hard time with spatial reasoning – which is why my students can easily leave me in the dust when we play another spatial reasoning game, Set.

There are several differences between Swish and Set, however.  First of all, Swish is the second game in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series this year that has transparent cards. (See “Anaxi” for the first.)  Although both Set and Swish require you to look closely at the attributes of shapes on the cards and to collect sets that fit certain criteria, the Swish cards’ transparency is strategic because they must be stackable to create winning sets.  You must “swish” all of the ball shapes into matching colored hoop shapes on the cards.  A swish could consist of two cards, but you may be able to combine even more. (Apparently, you can make a swish of up to 12 cards!)

When our family played the game, my daughter had about 5 pairs of swishes before my husband and I could even get our eyes to focus on the cards.  It wasn’t long before she was collecting swishes with 3 or 4 cards stacked on top of each other.  Apparently, she is some kind of 14-year-old Swish Savant who isn’t bothered one bit by humiliatingly crushing the parents who brought her into this world;)  Fortunately, the creators of the game built in a cunning solution to this, which is that you can differentiate for the ability levels of the players.  Foundational players may only need to look for two stackable cards while advanced players can be required to find swishes that contain at least 3 or 4 (or 12!) cards.

Swish is for 2 or more players, ages 8 and up.  Younger players may want to begin with Swish, Jr.  Swish has won numerous toy awards, and is great for home or the classroom.  You can see reviews of more ThinkFun games and others on my Pinterest Board here.

Swish from ThinkFun
Swish from ThinkFun

Tuck Everlasting and the Wheel of Life

On Monday, I wrote about Tarr’s Toolbox and one of the resources you can find there, the “Wheel of Life.”  My 4th graders have been reading Tuck Everlasting (R.I.P. Natalie Babbitt, who died October, 2016), which uses wheels and circles for symbolism throughout the novel.  They have also been discussing the attributes of the main characters, so I thought the “Wheel of Life” would be a fitting activity to try with them.

There are many ways this activity can be done, and Russel Tarr has great suggestions on his blog.  Because it was their first time doing this, I gave the students character traits to copy on their wheel, and deliberately asked them to put them in the same spots on their wheels.  Then I “secretly” assigned each student a character to plot the points for, and told them to hold off on writing the name of the character at the top.  I deliberately assigned the same characters to several students so we could compare their responses later.

When everyone was done, we went around the room and tried to guess the character by how each student’s Wheel of Life looked.  It was almost eerie how easy it was – until we got to one student’s graph.  After several wrong guesses from her classmates, she finally had to reveal her character’s name.

Jaws dropped and there was immediately the beginning of a debate. However, an unexpected interruption happened before we could discuss the varied opinions, making us table our questions until next week’s class.

The conversation associated with this activity is so deep and rich.  I can’t wait to continue it next week.  I also see some other extensions that we can do, such as creating graphs for our own personalities to compare and contrast with the characters in the story.

The experience with this lesson reminded me of the great learning that happened last year when we used Hexagonal Learning to examine our literature.  If you are looking to integrate higher levels of Bloom’s into your lessons, I highly recommend both of these activities.

Click here to go to Russel Tarr's Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable
Click here to go to Russel Tarr’s Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable

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