Last week, I wrote about a new company called InSpace that is reframing how virtual conferencing can look in education. After I published the post, I was notified that InSpace would offer two free subscriptions to educators who want to try it out. Using a random generator add-on for Google Sheets, I chose the lucky winners today from those who submitted forms. In a fun coincidence, it looks like they are both from the same district in Fargo, ND. So, congratulations to:
Stacy A. and Julia W.!!!!!!!!
My contact at InSpace will be getting in touch with you soon with details.
Thanks to those of you who entered. I know this is a hard time to consider trying something new, so I appreciate all of you trailblazers out there! It’s because of you that education gets better and better every year.
Tony Weaver Jr. is a hero. I don’t use that term lightly. In fact, I hesitate to use it at all. But when I started doing research on a Tweet from @ProjectFoundEd about this man, I discovered more and more reasons to admire him. In this 2020 world of self-serving politicians and celebrities, Tony Weaver Jr. is the humble, talented, and empathetic champion we need.
Every week, I write an anti-racist post, but Tony Weaver Jr. is one of the many Blacks in our country who dedicates his life to anti-racism. Though his activism stemmed from personal experiences, he explains in this TEDx talk, “Why the World Needs Superheroes Who Look Different,” how other young people were his true motivation. In the CNN video that first led me to seek out more information about him, Weaver expresses such honest emotion about his passion for his work that you know his dedication will never waver.
Weaver is the young entrepreneur who started a company called Weird Enough Productions. “We tell stories that inspire people to embrace their quirks, and get hype about being themselves,” it states on the “About” page. Weird Enough Productions is responsible for a project called, “Get Media L.I.T.” which provides a platform for teachers and students (age 12 an up) where they can use comics and lesson plans to learn about social-emotional topics, media literacy, and digital citizenships. The comics feature a group of young people called “The Uncommons,” who are a diverse cast of characters designed to be representative of the many faces in our population. When you sign up for Media L.I.T. as a teacher, you will have a dashboard to which you can add classes, make playlists of the comics, and push out assignments. Each lesson is either categorized as, “Learn, Inquire, or Transform.” This tutorial for getting started is very helpful.
Get Media L.I.T. is exactly the type of material that will appeal to young people – relevant and visually intriguing. It is a great way to teach students about topics that are not generally covered in the curriculum, and to expose them to fictional heroes who look like them. In addition, the “Transform” lessons offer ideas for how the students can apply what they have learned to make the world a better place.
I will be adding this post to my list of Anti-Racism posts on Wakelet. Please consider sharing it with others, especially those who have the power to make a difference in the classroom. You can learn more about Tony Weaver, Jr. here.
UPDATE 11/19/2020: Exciting news! InSpace is offering two free trials for Engage Their Minds readers. Read my blog post about this revolutionary videoconferencing tool that uses proximity based sound and fabulous breakout room options. If you are interested in entering a virtual raffle to receive a trial, please fill out this short form by 12:01 am on 11/22/2020. Winners will be announced on this blog and on Twitter on 11/23/2020.
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.I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students.You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.
If you know children who love riddles, like the ones on TED Ed, and are about 8 years and up, you might want to consider getting them one of the Sleuth and Solve books (there are two) by Anna Gallo and Victor Escandell. Each book has more than 20 short riddles with fun illustrations and the answer behind a card you can fold down. I have only previewed the one with the black cover (not the History one), so I can’t describe both, but I imagine their format is similar.
The riddles use icons to communicate to the reader whether or not they can be solved using logic or imagination, and there are stars to indicate their difficulty levels (six stars being the most difficult). Some of the riddles are familiar, such as “Crossing the River,” while others are definitely new to me. One feature that I really like is that the book describes how it can be played as a game, encouraging families (or groups in class) to keep track of the cases they solve and how many points they earn for each solution based on the difficulty level. As I mentioned in last week’s gift post, you can really maximize the impact of any gift if you, the giver, play along with the recipient. And, don’t assume you will have to “play dumb.” Some of these riddles are quite diabolical.
I am giving you a link to these books from one of our new local bookstores, Nowhere Bookshop. The store is owned by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, also known as “The Bloggess.” Unfortunately, their grand opening coincided with the pandemic, so they have only been able to operate virtually. I’d love for you to support them so they will be able to survive and one day open their doors. If you prefer to support another independent bookstore, you can find some on Bookshop.org.
For those who love mysteries and riddles, here is a link to a past recommendation from this series, Invisible Ink books.
This video is old (2013), but I think it’s a good time to revisit it. It is the first in a series of videos produced by Soul Pancake (the same people who brought us Kid President) on The Science of Happiness. In “An Experiment in Gratitude,” the host shares the results of a study devised to determine how much gratitude affects happiness. The adults who are featured each take a survey to get a base line score for their happiness levels, and are then asked to write a letter to thank someone who has made a positive difference in their life. To their surprise, they are asked to call the person they wrote to and read the letter out loud.
I won’t divulge the results of the experiment, but I think you can predict that expressing gratitude does boost levels of happiness. If you want to get more into the science, here is an article that explains how the two emotions are related. And, if you are not feeling particularly grateful lately (because, you know, pandemic), here is another article on how you can make a conscious effort to change that.
This video is only about 7 minutes long, so it’s a good one for older students. However, be aware that there is some “language” between 5:20-5:27 that may not be considered appropriate by some. If you are looking for some ideas on how to encourage your students to think about gratitude, be sure to check out my Thankful Wakelet, which has many links for all ages. And for more Inspirational Videos, try my Pinterest Board.
UPDATE 11/19/2020: Exciting news! InSpace is offering two free trials for Engage Their Minds readers. If you are interested in entering a virtual raffle to receive a trial, please fill out this short form by 12:01 am on 11/22/2020. Winners will be announced on this blog and on Twitter on 11/23/2020.
When distance learning suddenly expanded from tiny pockets of academia into nearly every school around the world this year, technology companies scrambled to accommodate the new demands on their services. Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and other videoconferencing tools suddenly became lifelines for educators and their students. But these platforms were not originally designed for this type of use in education. Although they have attempted to evolve to meet the needs of their new clients, there are still significant hurdles that educators must overcome to conduct meaningful virtual classes. One company, however, has been designing a platform that is specifically targeted for education. They recently completed their beta testing, and are ready to sign up schools from Kindergarten to Higher Education. That company is InSpace.
I recently contacted InSpace because I had seen their promotional video and I am considering using it with future online classes. A member of their team immediately reached out to me and offered to schedule a demonstration.
When our appointment time arrived, I clicked on a link in the email and signed in with my Google credentials. (I was told later that this is not a requirement, so don’t worry if you are not a Google district.) There was no software to download. I was instantly on the conferencing page on my browser.
Note the background can be changed to whatever you like. Each participant is live in their circle, and those circles can be moved around. (The promotional video shows a warm and inviting study/conference space.) According to my demonstration host, the moveable circles are a deliberate design choice because, “Freedom of movement has been shown to be psychologically important to students.” Participants can also zoom in and out on the entire room. If participants have a question, they can click on an icon at the bottom, and a little raised hand appears on their circle.
One of the revolutionary features of InSpace is how sound is based on proximity. If you move your circle far away from someone, you can no longer hear each other. Want to do a Think/Pair/Share? Your students can pair up virtually on the screen and speak to each other without everyone else hearing it. You can see if people are speaking when a grayish circle appears around their circle.
How about Breakout Rooms? No problem. The host clicks a button and chooses the number of rooms, assigns students a room (or allows them to choose), and students just move their circles to the appropriate boxes on screen. Once in a box, they can only hear the people in their room. The host can see them all at the same time, pop in and out of the rooms, and broadcast to all of them if needed. “Time to start finishing up, everyone!”
Whiteboard and screen sharing can be done in Presentation mode. (They are working to include this in Breakout Rooms as well.)
There is a chat that all participants can use, but the company uses Artificial Intelligence to screen for inappropriate comments. I imagine unsavory language can slip through – but it can also be shouted in a physical classroom.
Privacy is very important to the founders of InSpace, so no personal information is stored, and they also claim that no “Zoom Bombing” will happen.
I was very impressed with the quick onboarding and intuitive design of InSpace. The most notable feature of this product and its company, though, is its commitment to teachers. InSpace was developed to be used in classrooms, and was initially beta tested with college students. There may need to be tweaks for it to be used with younger grade levels, but the company definitely seems open to feedback. Throughout our conversation, my host spoke about what is best for children and learning. That is a significant departure from other, more business-oriented videoconferencing tools.
Each InSpace chat can accommodate up to 50 participants. To find out more about InSpace, including their pricing tiers, you can contact them here: email@example.com