Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Making Across the Curriculum

Making Across the Curriculum is a Google Site created by Rob Morrill on which he has curated ideas for “making” that integrate with different subjects.  If you click on the link for “Project Ideas by Class,” you will find suggestions such as “Loominous Literature” for English and “Living Hinges” for Engineering.  Some of the project ideas are repeated in different curriculum areas, as they are open-ended enough to accommodate numerous interpretations.  Although Morrill designed this site for his school staff, you may find some project ideas for your content area here.

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Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Thursday Appointment

Thursday Appointment is an Iranian short film by a 20 year old director that won an award at the Luxor Film Festival.  Though many of us may not understand the language, we can certainly comprehend the messages of kindness and forgiveness.  I am adding this to my Inspirational Videos for Students Pinterest Board.  Once you’ve watched it, you may want to click here to better understand the tradition that makes this film so beautiful.  This could also lead to a classroom discussion regarding customs in different cultures. I am including the original and a dubbed version here.

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Gimkit – Update

I wrote a descriptive post about Gimkit last year around this time after learning about it at TCEA 2019.  This online quiz game resembles Kahoot, but has some distinct differences which you can read about in my first post.

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Since last February, I’ve used Gimkit quite frequently with my students in grades 8-12.  It hasn’t lost its novelty, and quite a few of my students asked for it every week.  In order to do this, I had to do something that I rarely choose to do with educational resources – I decided to pay for it.  (For a great explanation of why Gimkit has chosen to go this route instead of a full-featured free version with advertising, you can read this blog post.)

Why would I pay for something that is available in other versions for free?  Because this game is different than anything out there.  Not only do students get to “purchase” fun upgrades during the game, but those upgrades can change based on different game themes that the developer (a high school student!) provides throughout the year.  For example, “Thanos” was a such a huge hit with my students last spring that when it was offered again for a limited window of time I scheduled an unscheduled review game just so they could play.  And don’t even get me started on the buzz that “Humans vs. Zombies” created in my classes in October.

In the past year, the developer has:

  • improved importing questions from other platforms, such as Quizziz
  • added “KitCodes” – a mode designed to get your students moving around the classroom instead of just sitting there playing the game
  • bulked up its website and customer support
  • continued to be open to educator and student feedback (you can get a sense of this from blog posts like this)

Gimkit takes risks with new ideas constantly being rolled out.  In December, the company mysteriously touted a “Winter Challenge.”  I told my class we were trying it out, but that I had no idea what we would be expected to do.  I hit the button, and everyone’s screens went black.  The groans were probably heard downtown.  But then numbers started showing up on their screens, and it was clear that this was not a game glitch, that we were supposed to do something.  I had no idea what it was, but that didn’t matter.  The students started talking it out, and collaborating.  As they slowly figured out what was going on, it became clear that some leadership was needed.  Again, my presence was superfluous.  Natural leaders rose to the occasion, and with everyone’s help, the challenge was accomplished.

The Challenge wasn’t even part of my review.  (That began after they completed the Challenge.)  Instead of a waste of time, though, it taught my students so many things that I am constantly yammering about anyway – Growth Mindset, Collaboration, Communication, Perseverance.  Multiple choice quizzes are generally not very deep learning, but this Challenge threw problem solving into the mix, and that was a huge bonus.

Some of my favorite classroom memories have been made using Gimkit in the past year: students choosing wild nicknames so their classmates won’t know who to target, kids snickering as they “ice” each other, groups gathering around a few classroom monitors because they want to see how the champions fare against each other, cheers and groans when the “Thanos Snap” lists its victims, and everyone clapping when we finally solved the Winter Challenge.

I don’t work for them, and I get no compensation for writing this post.  I just really like what Gimkit does for teachers and for students.

Big Ideas for Little Scholars

So here I am again. You may have noticed the (not so) brief hiatus. Or you may not have noticed it. If you’re a teacher, the latter is probably more likely. Noticing things that don’t directly affect your classroom is understandably low on the priority list during the school year.
In case you don’t follow me on other social networks, I recently posted this announcement, “On January 6th, most of my colleagues will return to work in schools and, for the first time in over 28 years, I will not. I decided to retire in December. There are multiple factors, and I still feel torn in two about my choice. However, with several family members about to have surgeries and a daughter about to interview at a couple of colleges out of town I am going to take advantage of the next couple of months to work on personal relationships before I decide on my second career. As the narrator of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, recently said, ‘We often underestimate our ability to reinvent ourselves.’ Hopefully, I’m not OVERestimating it ;)”
I hesitate to call it retirement because, as my husband is quick to point out, I will be returning to work – but the actual job I will choose is a bit hazy at the moment. Here are my thoughts so far:

  • Starting as an intern at an advertising agency like Chandler on Friends,
  • Working as a staff writer for SNL or Stephen Colbert on The Late Show,
  • Training emotional support animals
  • Working at this bookstore if I can convince the owner I’m not a stalker
  • Going to law school
  • Running for office, probably something to do with Parks and Rec since I’ve been binge watching that particular show lately and Leslie Knope is one of my nonprofit heroes

While I sort things out, I figured I’d come back to this blog, which was one of my many hobbies that has fallen by the wayside in the last 18 months. As I was crafting this post, one of my dear friends from the world of Gifted and Talented tweeted a new site that she has begun, and I realized it was the perfect inaugural post for 2020.

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Donna Lasher has put together an amazing resource for parents and educators of advanced students from K-8 on this site, Big Ideas for Little Scholars.  With curriculum links, thinking skills strategies, and project ideas, this website is a dream come true for anyone who is looking for ways to challenge and inspire students.  This site is easy to navigate, and puts everything you need in one spot, including information on how to reach out to other teachers with similar interests.

When I first started teaching gifted children, there was a paucity of information, and I often felt like I was on my own.  Social networking has definitely changed this – to the point that the availability of materials can be overwhelming.  The structure and quality of Donna’s site makes this much more manageable.  It’s definitely worth bookmarking and visiting on a regular basis!

Thanks to Donna for sharing the site!  Like many of us, she has spent the time creating a resource that we hope will help others, especially our students.

Support for Diverse Readers and Speakers

There are many tools out there for students who struggle with reading.  There were several I gathered at TCEA 2019 this year, and I have been meaning to share a curated list.  Here is a quick rundown (a big thanks to Leslie Fisher, who demonstrated these in her multiple sessions):

  • Immersive Reader – Microsoft offers this free suite of reading aids through OneNote or directly through it’s Microsoft Edge browser.  If you install the extension on your browser, you can change the background, break words into syllables, search for certain parts of speech, focus on a line, access a picture dictionary, translate, and read text out loud.  Thanks to Leslie Fisher for demonstrating all of these features!
  • Rewordify – You can change complex text to simpler language by pasting it into the box on this page.  Even better, there are several free learning activities that you can customize and print that offer matching, quizzes, etc…
  • SMMRY – Get a summary of the text you paste into the box.
  • Google Docs Voice Typing – Just go to the Tools in Google Docs to access this feature and make sure you give access to the microphone.
  • Closed Captioning in Google Slides – Did you know that you can offer closed captioning as you present a Slides presentation?  Click here to get the instructions.
  • Microsoft Translator – Download this app to your phone or just use it in your browser to start a conversation with anyone anywhere.  Among its other features, you can use multiple microphones for a conversation, which can be translated into multiple languages at the same time!  You can also use the app to take pictures of text (typed, not handwritten) and translate it.

I hope at least one or two of these tools is new and helpful to you!

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#TCEA2019 – Flippity

Looking back on my blog posts, I see that I’ve never devoted one to Flippity even though I’ve used it for various reasons the last couple of years.  If you haven’t tried Flippity and you like user-friendly tech tools, you should definitely visit the site.  When I first started using it, it was basically an easy way to turn a Google Spreadsheet into flashcards.  Since then, it has added many more features – all for free.

Leslie Fisher reminded me to take another look at Flippity when she mentioned a few of the newer additions to the site.  There is a now a Timeline and a Typing Test.  You can also make a Scavenger Hunt (which is similar to a Digital Breakout, but much easier to create!).  I am eager to try the Badge Tracker for our Maker Space.  I also noticed that there is a Flippity Add-On for Chrome if you are interested.

Each activity offers you a template that you can copy to your Drive.  Follow the instructions on the template and/or the website by typing information into the correct cells.  Publish your spreadsheet, get the link, and the magic happens.

Don’t forget that your students can also create with Flippity.  Though most of the templates are not going to promote deep learning, they are great opportunities for students to practice skills in novel ways.

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screenshot from Flippity.net

 

#TCEA2019 – Machine Learning for Kids

I learned quite a bit about Artificial Intelligence at a TCEA session this year presented by Anita Johnson of Austin ISD.  She explained the difference between Expert Systems (where explicit rules are programmed – think “If…Then” statements) and Machine Learning (where the computer identifies and learns from patterns).    Johnson teaches middle school, and introduced us to a site called, “Machine Learning for Kids,”  which she uses with her students. In the “Worksheets” section, you can find many lessons, categorized by difficulty level, that can be done using Scratch, such as creating a character that smiles if you say nice things and cries if you are mean.

I haven’t had a chance to try this with my students, yet.  It looks like you have an option to create a managed class account or “Try it Now”, but check out this page for details on the pros and cons of each choice.

You can also read this blog post to get more information on how to introduce Machine Learning to kids, and why we should even want to educate them about this technology.artificial-neural-network-3501528_1920.png