Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Halloween Activities from Minds in Bloom

Rachel Lynette, over at the “Minds in Bloom” blog, offers some fun Halloween activities for critical thinking.  One of them is a Halloween-themed list of “Would You Rather?” questions.  For these, I would recommend that you encourage your students to justify their answers, and possibly have a contest for who can give the most unusual reason for his or her response.  (For another way to use “Would You Rather?” questions, check out this post.)

Rachel also has a free “GHOST” Scattergories-type game that you can print.  As an extension, you could have the students make their own spooky versions by changing the letters on top and the categories.

And, finally, incorporate some disgusting math into your Halloween plans by giving your students some “Witches’ Brew Math.” Boiled eyeballs, anyone?

Eyeball Punch - image from Flickr
Eyeball Punch – image from Flickr

Carve a Pumpkin with Hopscotch

The Hopscotch app (iOS only) has long been a favorite for my student coders.  They have lots of tutorials, and the students who participate in a couple of those often ask if they can code their own projects after learning the basics.  If you have some iPads in your classroom, you may want to let some or all of your class try the “Carve a Pumpkin with Hopscotch” tutorial.

Carve a Pumpkin with the Hopscotch app
Carve a Pumpkin with the Hopscotch app

It’s best if you can allow pairs of students work at their own pace, rather than try to keep the whole class on the same steps at the same time.  Keep in mind that the app has been updated a couple of times since this tutorial was made, so some of the tools may be slightly different.

Empathy Series

Last year, Class Dojo produced a series of short animated videos that taught about what it means to have a Growth Mindset. Yesterday,  they released the first video in their new “Empathy” series, with two more expected during October.  Each video is around 4 minutes long and includes a discussion guide that also has suggestions for carrying on the conversation at home.

My elementary students enjoyed the mindset videos from Class Dojo last year, and even ask to watch them again.  Since empathy is part of the Design Thinking process, and something we regularly discuss in our GT classes, I definitely plan to show this series as well.

If you want to delve more into teaching empathy, Joelle Trayers has a plethora of posts that include picture book suggestions and activities on the topic.

Screen shot from Class Dojo video, Empathy #1
Screen shot from Class Dojo video, Empathy #1

No Man is an Island With Pineapples

Our state has a new appraisal system for teachers, and goals for professional growth are a huge part of it.  Within 24 hours on the Twittersphere I came across two great suggestions for helping teachers with this process.

First, I read a post by Jennifer Gonzalez on “Cult of Pedagogy.” Jennifer describes something called a, “Pineapple Chart.”  This chart is displayed in a central location at the school such as the lounge, and gets its name from the tradition of pineapples representing hospitality.  Each week, a blank chart is hung, and teachers can fill in spots to invite the staff to observe special lessons that they are doing that may be of interest.  No one is required to invite, and it isn’t mandatory to attend.  If one does choose to (inobtrusively) pop in on one of the lessons, there is no minimum time and no responsibility to take notes.  If you think what you are teaching might be of interest, put it on the chart.  If you want to learn about something in particular, visit a teacher who can model it for you.

Not quite as casual as the Pineapple Chart is Robert Kaplinsky’s “Observe Me” sign.  (H/T to Jodi Harris for sharing this!) Teachers who hang these on their doors are also inviting people into their classrooms, but they are asking for feedback on specific goals they list on the signs.  If there isn’t time for enough people to do live observations, there is even a sign version that offers a QR code that links to videos of the teacher’s lessons.  Along with the “Observe Me” sign, some teachers even include a clipboard with copies of the rubrics used for appraising the selected goals.

Watching our colleagues teach gives us new ideas for improving our own teaching.  Getting feedback from our colleagues is also invaluable.  Both of these suggestions are wonderful ways to promote professional growth and are probably far more effective than the traditional staff development model.


The Boy Who Learned to Fly

Ever since watching “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” I have been a huge fan of Moonbot Studios.  In this video for Gatorade about Usain Bolt, Moonbot once again captures the imagination with vivid imagery and animation.  In seven minutes, the story of Bolt’s journey from a young boy in Jamaica to a world champion unfurls.  It’s inspirational and a fitting tribute to a man who literally lives up to his name.

For more inspirational videos, click here.

Screen Shot from The Boy Who Learned to Fly
Screen Shot from The Boy Who Learned to Fly

Beauty’s Beak

Deborah Lee Rose is an author who recently worked with a raptor biologist, Jane Veltkamp, to write the non-fiction book, Beauty and the Beak.  The book will be published in 2017, but you can already access related S.T.E.M. materials here.

Beauty, who had much of her beak shot off by a poacher, was almost euthanized because of her inability to survive.  Jane Veltkamp and her team collaborated to save Beauty, and the eagle is celebrating her 15th birthday this year.

One important part of Design Thinking is empathy, and the story of how Beauty’s rescuers cared for her and found a way to replace the eagle’s beak using the technology of 3d printing is an excellent illustration of empathy at work.

There are so many lessons to be learned by the story of Beauty, from the perils of poaching to the fantastic feats that can be accomplished by those who work together to beat the odds.  This is a tale that is relevant and inspiring, and sure to make an impact on your students on multiple levels.

Beauty Before and After
USFWS Photo by Glen Hush – Beauty Before and After

How to Encourage Students to Question

In my latest article for Fusion Yearbooks, I offer some practical ideas for encouraging questioning in the classroom.  If we want future generations of students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, they must learn the importance of questioning – which is sadly a skill often discouraged by educators.

image from Flickr
image from Flickr

Here are links to some of my other Fusion blog posts: