If you are a fan of helping students learn how to be critical thinkers, then you will appreciate the Slow Reveal Graphs site. Rather than presenting a full graph to students and asking them to interpret it, teachers use Slow Reveal Graphs to allow the students to discuss, think, wonder, and predict as each stage of the graph is shown – hopefully resulting in deeper learning. (This technique is similar to the one used in the New York Times’ “What’s Going on in this Graph?” feature.) Courtesy of Jenna Laib (@jennalaib) and other contributors, The Slow Reveal Graphs website has examples of different types of graphs (Circle, Bar, Line, etc…), many of which have links to slide decks that have already been created for the slow reveal. “How Long Can Animals Hold Their Breath Underwater?“, for example, begins with a bar graph that has no title or labels and incrementally adds them as you advance each slide. The slides also have suggested discussion questions in the notes.
In case you are thinking this site will only appeal to math teachers, I should note that there are three special categories of Slow Reveal Graphs: Social Justice, Save the Planet, and Incarceration in the U.S. Of course, any of the graphs on the site can be used in multiple subjects, including ELA.
To read more about how Slow Reveal Graphs are used in classrooms, from primary to high school, visit this list of bloggers who have written about SRG’s in the past.
My usual bag of tricks has not been extremely successful at my new school, especially in my engineering classes. I didn’t bank on the fact that middle/high schoolers don’t want to appear interested even if they are – and most things that I have to share with them are apparently not even worth sitting around and appearing disinterested, judging by the steady stream of students asking to go to the bathroom.
I even tried the Hour of Code with a group. But nothing I said could convince them that making games might be just as, if not more, fun than playing them.
It has definitely been a bit humbling. Sometimes depressing. Often humiliating. I’m still trying to convince a lot of these students they can trust me, and they become immediately suspicious whenever I introduce something new into the mix.
Our high school students went on a trip last week, so the 8th graders were stuck with me. I assumed (correctly) that they were not going to want to “work” (their current tortuous project is to design something in Tinkercad) while their classmates were kayaking. So, I decided to try a BreakoutEdu with them.
I chose a fairly simple challenge since I knew most of the students had never done one before. And I dangled the idea of a reward at the end. (A couple of chocolate candy Kisses)
I had two goals for them: collaboration and perseverance.
As I set them free to look for clues, I waited with bated breath for the inevitable, “This is too hard,” or, “This is boring.”
It didn’t happen.
The challenge took them about 30 minutes. Nobody fought. Nobody gave up. Nobody surreptitiously kept taking out a phone to check Snapchat.
And no one asked to go to the bathroom.
After they finished, and we were reflecting as a class, one student said, “This is a great way to learn. Every teacher should do this!”
But the kicker came from one of my other students, someone who always tries to figure out what’s in it for her before she applies any effort.
“Can we do this again?” she asked. “And you don’t even have to give us a reward,” she promised me. As she popped a candy Kiss into her mouth.
I decided to help my students design their own manifestos again this year. (Here is the link to last year’s post about this.) To get them started thinking about their core beliefs, I first showed them this video from Gretchen Rubin, which I found out about from Larry Ferlazzo.
Then I started giving them words, and just asked them to write or draw whatever came to mind in their notebooks. For example, “Leadership,” was one of the words.
When I said, “Mistakes,” I added, “and try not to just write what your teachers always say – like, ‘We always learn from our mistakes,’ or “Making mistakes helps us to grow.'”
There was silence. Finally, one student said, “You’re really the only one that says that to us, Mrs. Eichholz.” Several of the others nodded in agreement. Then someone mumbled under their breath, “And means it.”
I was stunned. I know I’ve heard other teachers say this. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve seen quotes in their classrooms. It’s repeated all over social media. How could I be the only one they are hearing this from? How could these 5th graders, many who had attended this same school for six years, not have heard this message from anyone but me?
When I thought about it, I came up with several reasons. First of all, many of these students have attended my weekly pull-out class for years. I’ve definitely been consistent about saying that we need to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. In fact, it’s on my own manifesto that I made last year:
Secondly, and more importantly probably, I don’t just say it. I make a daily effort to praise the hard work that students do in my class and the mistakes they’ve learned from. I let them use pen whenever they want so they often have a permanent record of their mistakes. I try not to praise students who finish first, even if they get the whole thing correct. Instead, I say, “Gosh, I guess I need to make it harder next time!” I constantly tell my students about my own mistakes. Sometimes I do hard riddles or math problems with them so they can see all of my “mess ups” as I try to figure them out. Finally, we spend a lot of time on improving things – getting and giving feedback and making things better.
In a regular classroom, these things are hard to do. The way our school system is set up, you are rewarded for perfection, not struggle. Unfortunately, students know that you’re still going to get points taken off if you make a mistake, so it makes it difficult for them to embrace them. And there is rarely time to spend on improvement if you want to stick to the scope and sequence.
I just read The Culture Code (a book I’ll be reviewing next week on this blog), by Daniel Coyle. In the book, Coyle tells the story of Johnson and Johnson’s manifesto – which they call, “The Credo.” The first part of the “Credo” states, “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” According to Coyle, the company regularly reviews this “Credo” to make sure it still aligns with their mission. It informs important decisions. For example, when the Tylenol poisoning crisis happened, Johnson and Johnson took all of its Tylenol off the shelves at a cost of $100 million, despite the advice of many experts who thought this was not necessary. It initially cost the company quite a bit, but they stood by their “Credo.” When the public realized that this corporation valued the lives of its customers over its bottom line, market shares in Tylenol actually began to rise.
Like Johnson and Johnson, we educators need to decide what our beliefs are and make our actions consistent with them to the greatest extent possible. If we want students to be willing to take more risks, become independent thinkers, we have to stop penalizing them for it.
“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:
My daughter (15) and I love to play word games. A couple of years ago, she received a game called, “Linkee” for Christmas. “Linkee” has cards that give four trivia questions. After answering the four questions, players try to figure out what the answers all have in common. When they figure it out, they shout, “Linkee!” If they are right, they win the card, which has a letter on the back. The first person to earn all of the letters that spell “Linkee,” wins.
We love the game (even though no one else will play with us). However, a lot of the references are a bit too difficult for elementary aged kids. You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered there is another version of “Linkee” specifically designed for younger children. “Dinkee” is for ages 8 and up. If you want to get a sense of the game, you can visit this site, where there are sample cards as well as a free downloadable version.
I played “Dinkee” with my eighteen 2nd grade students yesterday, and they loved it. They worked as tables to try to earn the cards, and it seemed the only regret was that we didn’t have time to finish the game. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of recommended games for kids.
If you question the value of a game like this in school, then you might want to read this article, which gives a pretty compelling argument about the benefits of making connections.
thinkLaw is a curriculum that aims to teach critical thinking skills through the use of real legal cases. The program’s founder, Colin Seale, won the “Shark Tank One Day Challenge” in 2016. thinkLaw is aligned with US standards for grades 5-12, but some of the lessons can be used with younger students. To purchase the full curriculum, you will need to contact the company. However, you can download a free sample and purchase other segments on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.
When looking at the free sample that is offered, “The Chair,” I realized that it fit in beautifully with an ethics discussion my students and I conducted last week about Tuck Everlasting. In the story, one of the main characters (spoiler alert!) hits another character over the head with a shotgun. At the time, we talked about whether it was ever okay to hit someone and, if so, under what circumstances is it acceptable? “The Chair” walks students through a real legal case from the 1950’s, in which the aunt sued her 5-year-old nephew for pulling a chair out from underneath her. Students learn legal terms such as: plaintiff, defendant, liable, and battery. They find out the four criteria for the legal definition of battery, and weigh the evidence to determine if the nephew should be held liable.
When it comes to Depth and Complexity, this thinkLaw lesson incorporates many of the icons: Multiple Perspectives, Big Idea, Details, Ethics, and Trends, to name a few. Students are polled a few times throughout the lesson to see how their thinking changes as they get more information. After learning the outcome of the case, they are given a similar case to analyze using their new skills.
At first, I couldn’t quite gauge the interest of the students. The conversation was hesitant, but everyone seemed to be absorbed in learning more. (There are 7 students in this class.) It wasn’t until recess time that I learned the impact of the lesson…
Me: “Okay everyone. It’s recess time. We are going to have indoor recess because of the weather. You can play foosball, Osmo, or one of the other games.”
They moved toward foosball, and then one student said, “Let’s have court!”
Suddenly, furniture was being moved, parts were being assigned (judge, attorneys, plaintiff, defendant, witness), and a new scenario was proposed. For the entire recess time, with no input from me, the students applied everything they had just learned to their imagined court case.
Instead of playing foosball.
Kind of funny when you think about it. Holding court during a recess. (very bad legal pun – sorry)
Experienced teachers know that we often don’t know what has made a real impression on our students. If we do find out, it may be years later when a student visits and says, “Remember when…?” This time, however, I received immediate proof that this lesson is likely to stick.
Want to find out who won the real legal case? Download the free sample for yourself here! Also, check out some of their other lessons (not free, and I haven’t reviewed them) that could be great for this time of year, including an MLK Jr. one, Valentine’s lessons, Superbowl, and Winter Olympics. (I’ll be doing, “Always Watching” with my 5th graders next week because it ties in so well with The Giver.)