Spaceteam Revisited

It has been about 4 years since I first wrote about Spaceteam, and there have been a few changes since then.  The app is now available on both Google Play and iOS, and there can now be up to 8 people involved in a single game.  What hasn’t changed is that it is still fun!

When you play Spaceteam, everyone playing must be on the same wi-fi network.  Once all of the players get past the “Waiting Room” in the app, each person gets a different dashboard with gadgets that usually have gibberish labels.  In order to get to the next level, instructions must be followed.  However, the instructions on your screen are usually for other players – so you must call them out.  This means you will be shouting out ridiculous sounding directions such as, “Turn off the novacrit!” with the hope that the player who has a “novacrit” will hear you and turn it off.  Not all of the commands are gibberish, however.  It’s funny listening to someone impatiently yelling, “Darn the socks! Someone needs to darn the socks!”

Due to the unusual vocabulary, this game is best suited for 4th grade and up.  The app has a 9+ rating, but I have not seen anything inappropriate pop up on the screens.  The biggest danger seems to be that people might inadvertently pronounce something incorrectly.

Why play this app in your classroom?  Well, it’s a great brain break.  It’s also fun for team building.  In addition, it can be the introduction to a great conversation about listening.  One of the things my students learned was that, when you expect to hear one thing and someone says something else, you may miss it.  (This happens a lot in Spaceteam due to differences in perceived word pronunciations.)  They also learned that little can be accomplished when a lot of people are yelling, and that communication is definitely more difficult in high-pressure situations.

Spaceteam also has a Spaceteam ESL app designed specifically to help English language learners work on vocabulary.  Again, there is a lot of shouting involved, but it beats memorizing word lists.

For many of us, the end of the school year is drawing near.  If you are looking for novel ways to keep student interest, you may want to try Spaceteam.

EV3 Vending Machine

I just had to share this Lego/EV3 vending machine created by one of my 5th grade students.  He is in my GT class as well as our campus Robotics Club.  He owns an EV3, and spent his spare time last week making this contraption to dispense Starburst candies every time you deposit a quarter.  There are other versions on the internet, where he got the idea, but he apparently created his machine using his own design.  Super cool!

Snotes

I was reading @chucktaft’s recent blog post on Social Studies Out Loud about his recent Breakout Edu experience, and almost missed a list of new-to-me digital tools near the end of the article (click here to see my blog post explaining Breakout Edu).  Taft offers a few different ways to leave clues for fun Breakout Edu experiences that I hadn’t seen, and one of them is Snotes.*

Snotes allows you to make short hidden messages.  The only way to read them is to turn them certain ways – both horizontally and vertically – which can be done physically or digitally.  There is a Snotes app (for both iOS and Android), which allows you to digitally send Snotes secret messages, and there is a Snotes Quotes app, which is a trivia game.

After trying out Snotes, you can register for a free account, which will allow you to make more Snotes. Or, you can pay $1.99 for a bunch of extra features like an “expanded secret decoder.”  Not really sure what that means, but it might be worth two bucks to find out.

It’s quite possible that I typed “snots” instead of “Snotes” somewhere in this blog post, although SpellCheck seems to have found enough “Snotes” to make that unlikely.

There are some other great clue suggestions on Chuck Taft’s site that you might want to check out.  You could use them outside the classroom, too.  My daughter hasn’t had a Christmas or Easter, yet, when she hasn’t had to solve puzzles to find at least some of her treasure…   (She’ll probably get her revenge on me when I die by encoding an evil message on my tombstone.)

*Unfortunately, the website may be blocked in your district, but you can always create Snotes at home to use for school, or use the app.

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15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep

My students, especially my 4th and 5th graders, love math challenges.  If I can, I find ones that don’t show the answer so we can all try to figure them out.  I think it’s good for the students to see me struggling (and I really do!), and how I handle frustration over particularly devilish problems.  Last week, my 5th graders and I spent a good 30 minutes on this “easy” problem on Steve Miller’s Math Riddles page. (Technically, they had an excuse since they hadn’t exactly learned the math skill needed to solve the problem – yet.)

If you are looking for some unique math problems that will feel more like brainteasers than standardized test practice, here are some sites that I haven’t mentioned before:

And here are some that bear repeating (*sites include activities for primary grades, K-2):

With more and more articles coming out every day about the importance of modeling a good attitude toward math (like this one and this one), it seems kind of as simple as 1+1=2 to come to the conclusion that the people who have fun doing math will be more inclined to do it more often.

UPDATE 4/26/17 – I can’t believe I forgot to include this one: Estimation 180. So, there’s a bonus for you!

polyhedrons
image from: fdecomite on Flickr

Cultivating Communication in the Classroom

In this recent article from Huffington Post, the writer poses the following questions to students preparing for their future careers:

  • “Are you adaptable?
  • Can you quickly learn a new skill?
  • Can you draw on different, seemingly unrelated knowledge and then connect that knowledge in a meaningful, creative and effective way?
  • Can you throw yourself into a job or career and learn quickly without needing a supervisor to hold your hand?”

In essence, employers are rarely interested in how well potential employees can memorize or fill in the right bubbles on standardized tests, but in their abilities to be flexible problem solvers who are able to leverage available resources (or create new ones) to meet unprecedented challenges.

Lisa Johnson’s new book, Cultivating Communication in the Classroom, offers teachers tools they can use to prepare secondary students so that they will thrive in the “real” world that will envelop them after high school, and be able to answer the each of the above questions with a confident, “Yes!”

Lisa Johnson is well known in the ed-tech community as TechChef4U.  As an instructional technologist, writer, presenter, and even jewelry-maker, Lisa’s creativity and massive portfolio of shared resources have already made a huge impact on innovative educational practices.  She continues to add to her legacy with her new book, a practical but fun guide to infusing curriculum with important 21st century skills.

In each of the 7 chapters in Johnson’s book, you will find great visuals, industry insights on the value of each topic, and plenty of use-it-right-now resources.  One of the unique features is the inclusion of  “Communication Catchers,” which can be printed and folded just like those fortune tellers that seem to fall in and out of fashion as often as tides ebb and flow.  The Communication Catchers, designed for student use, are great tools for reflection and review of the key topics covered in the book.

Throughout chapters on topics such as e-mail etiquette and social media involvement, Johnson is careful to remind us that educators who ignore or ban technology in the classroom will not be doing their students any favors.  Instead, we should be teaching our students how they can benefit from responsible use of unlimited information and the ability to communicate in so many ways.

Although Johnson’s book is targeted for a secondary audience of teachers and students, much of it can easily be adapted to students in higher elementary as well.  To be honest, many adults, whether or not they are educators, could benefit quite a bit from its wisdom.  I would even recommend this book to parents so they can guide their children through the complexities of our digital age.

If you want to learn more about how to prepare your students for a world that requires critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, then I highly recommend you purchase and read Cultivating Communication in the Classroom by Lisa Johnson.

Full Disclosure: I did receive a digital copy of this book to review.  However I received no compensation, and all opinions are my own.

cultivatingcommunication
Click here to purchase.

A.I. Duet

Today’s Frivolous Friday post is in honor of my colleague, Angela Leonhardt, who is a music educator extraordinaire.  She just made it to the finals for our district’s Teacher of the Year.  That honor and many more are well-deserved by this wonderful teacher, who enriches our community with her dedication.  If I had any music composition skills, I would play her a magnificent fanfare with this A.I. Duet experiment from Google.  Unfortunately, even A.I. can’t mask my ineptitude, but I’m sure that someone with Angela’s talent can find a way to make beautiful music with this fun tool.

H/T to Mental Floss for sharing A.I. Duet with its readers.

withoutmusic
image from Raphael Love on Flickr

 

What to do When Genius Hour Sucks

I’ve been doing Genius Hour for several years with my gifted and talented students in 3rd-5th grades.  Yet, every year I end up thinking that I could have facilitated it better. Because I want to keep improving, I’ve documented some of my ups and downs on my Genius Hour Resources page.  It helps to look back at some of those posts and remind myself that Genius Hour doesn’t always go well and that I’ve come a long way from my first Genius Hour attempt – when my 5th graders rewarded me with blank stares after I announced they could study anything they wanted.

Yes, Genius Hour sucks sometimes.  There are some days I dread it because I know the chaos will drain all of my energy, or because I just can’t think of any other way to explain how to summarize research without copying, or because everyone will have a Genius-Hour-Emergency-that-only-Mrs. Eichholz-can-handle at exactly the same time, or because a student will refuse to believe me when I say that no one wants to read 1000 words in tiny text on a slide that is going to be read out loud anyway, or because I have to keep repeating, “Yes, I know you are passionate about meat [or other randomly chosen topic], but how will you convince your audience that they should care?”

Yep.

Exhausting.

So, I try to remind myself of all of the obstacles we’ve already overcome, that the students will become more independent if they are given more opportunities to practice being independent, and that we are all learning. A lot.

The other day I felt a bit defeated because I realized I was wrong when I thought I had figured the solution to getting more substance out of the presentations rather than fluff. A few students did practice presentations for a “focus group” of peers, and my heart sank when it became apparent that, once again, the fluff far outweighed the stuff.

During a break, I quickly Googled student Genius Hour presentation videos online to see if I could find an exemplar to give the students.  As I watched several videos, I realized that they also didn’t meet my expectations.

The logical conclusion?  My expectations are too high.  I was being too hard on these kids.  After all, what did I expect – a TED Talk?

Whew! What a relief.

I came home and started preparing my next blog post, looking up some articles I’ve bookmarked on Pocket.

How to Get the Best Work From Your Students,”  caught my eye.  I clicked on it.  And discovered the harsh truth.

I’m not done yet.

I have done a lot of what Eric White suggests.  I am creating rites of passage, critiquing the critiques, etc…  But this is where I need to dig in and keep going – not give up.  Yes, I have high expectations.  Yes, it may take several rewrites and rehearsals for the groups to meet my expectations.  After watching Eric’s video of the student who had revised several times, I see it is worth it.  The sense of pride she felt when she met those high expectations was visibly joyful.

So, if Genius Hour isn’t working for you, and you feel somehow guilty that you aren’t doing it right, you are not alone.  Maybe we are the only two teachers in the world having trouble with it, but at least you know there is someone else out there who questions its worth.  I can also tell you, though, that I’ve seen it work.  That’s why I keep trying and why I think you should, too.

I Don't Know What I'm Doing
image from: Duncan C on Flickr

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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