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.
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.
My 5th graders spend the last semester examining their own beliefs, developing manifestos, and researching a Dream Team of people who exemplify what they stand for. We use some of the “This I Believe” curriculum to help them identify their values. Yesterday, my students and I listened to one of the short radio essays archived on the website for the podcast. It is called, “30 Things I Believe.” In this particular episode, a first grader, Tarak McLain, reflects on his Kindergarten 100th Day Project. While most students bring collections of 100 objects, Tarak brought in 100 things he believes. For the podcast, Tarak shares 30 of those beliefs. My students and I enjoyed listening to his earnestly read list, and talked about what they agreed/disagreed with. We also discussed which of Tarak’s beliefs might change as he grows up.
Tarak would be about 16 years old now. I wonder what his thoughts are on the manifesto created by his 7-year-old self.
Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential. The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.
If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words. For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study. As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.
You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here. Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate. You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary. Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty. For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.
The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos. Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.
Back in 2015, I found out about CommonLit from Richard Byrne and pointed people to his post to learn more about this free resource for teachers. Since then, CommonLit has added a Guided Reading feature that can really be helpful for differentiation in your classroom, Book Pairings, and probably a few other tools that I haven’t mentioned – yet it has continued to be free. This is huge in the world of EdTech, where teachers often find ourselves priced out of “free” programs.
Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would remind you of CommonLit, which does have quite a few poetry offerings. Once you log in and go to the library page, you can see some of the featured poems selected by the staff for this month. You can also go to the “Browse all Text Sets” page in order to search for particular genres, themes, grade levels (3rd grade and up), and lexiles.
I love looking at the Book Pairings, which offer supplemental short texts to accompany novels. For example, my 5th graders read The Giver, and CommonLit links to 4 poems that nicely fit with the themes of the book (along with some news articles and informational texts as well). The search page helpfully identifies the genre of each link, its lexile level, and grade level. CommonLit even gives you advice on which point in the novel would be a good time to add the paired text.
CommonLit offers a Teacher Dashboard so that you can assign passages within the site. There are also short assessments and suggested discussion questions for each assignment.
Because CommonLit is a nonprofit organization, it promises that its resources will always be free for teachers. Take advantage of this site to encourage deeper reading, discussion, and connections.
I was a bit disappointed and, yes, a lot jealous, when our school wasn’t chosen to try out the Google Expeditions VR program as it traveled to different cities around the U.S. I had tried Expeditions at some technology conferences and thought our students would enjoy the unique experience.
With virtual reality, students wear “Google Cardboard” goggles, which have phones inserted in the front. Once an Expedition is begun by the teacher, the students are basically immersed in the environment as the teacher leads them through a field trip of a place like a coral reef.
The VR experience is great, but most elementary classrooms do not have the equipment to make it a reality. Since only one student can use a pair of goggles at a time, and the goggles require a phone, the logistics are a bit tricky for the standard K-5 classroom.
Google has recently begun to beta test a new version of Expeditions, which is augmented reality instead of virtual reality. No VR goggles are required, and tablets can be used. The AR version is not available to the public, yet, but our school was fortunate this time to be chosen to try this version out. (If you are interested in seeing if your school can beta test Expeditions AR, go to this sign-up form.)
On the day of the beta test, all of the teachers who had signed up at our school attended a 30 minute training with the Google representative to learn how to use the equipment. (Google provides everything for the sessions that day, including routers so they don’t have to use the school wi-fi.) During each 30 minute session, groups of 3 students use Android phones that are on sticks (see the pics below) to scan QR codes that are on papers on the ground. The teacher, who has already chosen from a list of possible Expeditions, leads the students through different images, controlling it all on his/her device. All students see the same image at the same time.
When the first image appears, there are usually squeals of delight as the students realize that they are viewing a 3 dimensional version of a bee, or a dinosaur, or a volcano. They can walk around all sides of the image, and even, for some, go inside. A few students had some difficulty understanding the spatial dimensions, but most quickly caught on. The enthusiasm of the teachers (many who had never used augmented reality) and the students mounted throughout the 30 minutes as they investigated planets, tornadoes, and some human anatomy. Throughout the day, students in K-4 had a chance to try out the technology, and all seemed engaged.
Overall, this technology seems like it has potential for wide-spread use in elementary, since it will be available on tablets (iOS and Google Play) for free. The trick will be to make sure that teachers design pedagogically sound lessons to utilize it rather than depend on the novelty to lead learning. As augmented reality become more ubiquitous, the oohs and ahs will quickly subside if there is no other substance to the lesson. As someone who has been using AR in my classroom for years, I am well aware that it is more important to include technology when it supports the lesson than to depend on the technology to be the lesson.
“Digital Breakouts” are similar to the physical game, where students use clues to try to open locks. However, in a Digital Breakout, the students input the lock codes online, usually into a Google Form, rather than using tangible locks. One of our NEISD Instructional Technology Specialists, Heather Miller (@SATechieTeacher) recently used this technique for a PD she presented to our staff, and inspired me to try to create a few of my own for my students. This “Fibonacci Thief” DBO (I’m guessing it was designed by a Mrs. VanKirk in Milton SD based on the URL) is an example of a Digital Breakout that uses Google Forms embedded in a Google Site.
If you haven’t used Google Sites, don’t be intimidated. You can actually make a simple Digital Breakout just using Google Forms and inserting some images. This excellent video explains how to create “locked” Google Forms in a matter of minutes.
This page offers more video tutorials if you want to add some complexity to your Digital Breakout, such as embedding the form in a Google Site with pages for different clues. It also includes a crowd-sourced document of resources for making fun images and clues. Kari Augustine’s Breakout EDU Pinterest Board is another place that you can find ideas for generating interesting graphics and codes. A couple that I found over the weekend that I plan to try are:
As soon as I create a couple of my own Digital Breakouts worth sharing, I will post them to this blog!