Art, Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Motivation, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Lessons Learned When Offering Summer Learning


Regular readers may have noticed a few blog posts I have done this summer regarding an online class that I offered my students through Edmodo.  This is the second year that some colleagues and I have gotten together to do this, and I thought I should share a little bit more about the project in case any of you might consider doing it for your own students.

The group of teachers involved in this particular enterprise are all elementary Gifted and Talented teachers in my district.  We chose to create this program for free for our students, and are not paid to participate.  Last year, 9 teachers volunteered their time.  This year, there are 6 of us.

Each of us chose our own topics and length of the courses.  We created a catalog, and sent it out to our students (3rd-5th graders) in April, giving them plenty of time to choose a course.  Because there were fewer classes this year, we decided we would only be able to offer the program to our own students, rather than all 3rd-5th grade gifted students in the district as we did last year.  Fewer students than expected signed up, so we extended the deadline and allowed them to sign up for a 2nd course if they were interested.  We used a Google Form for registration.

By far, the “Programming with Scratch” class was the most requested.  If you have read any of my posts about teaching students to code, then you know I am a huge proponent of introducing programming to elementary students.  My belief that there is a desire to learn this amongst our young people was certainly reinforced by the number of people who signed up for this course, taught by my colleague, Kacie Germadnik.

Last year, I also taught a programming course – using Tynker.  But I decided to go a different direction this year.  After jumping into the Maker Revolution during the past school year, I saw many students enjoyed the opportunity to create in a variety of ways.  So, I came up with “Make a Theme Park” as my class.

The premise was that the students would create imaginary theme parks, and would focus on one portion per week for four weeks.  To motivate them, and because I am probably one of the least creative people I know, I thought I would invite some other talented people to give them some ideas each week and “judge” their creations.

I debated the judging part, I must admit.  Just to be clear, the only prize was an Edmodo badge and a mention on this blog.  However, I still struggle with the idea of external vs. internal motivation.  I’ve asked for feedback from the participants now that the class is over, and I’m still getting responses.  So far, though, they seem to like the judging aspect.

Our judge/mentors were: Joey Hudy (Theme Park Ride), Braeden (Theme Park Mascot), Michael Medvinsky (Theme Park Song), and Sylvia Todd (Theme Park Game).  I want to thank them one more time for their awesome contributions.  They, too, donated their time to this project – and they all have precious little time to donate! You can see specifics about each of their weeks by going to my most recent post about the course and following the appropriate links.

From past experience with Science Fairs and other huge home projects, I thought I would have two categories for each week – Family and Individual.  My daughter and I posted projects in the Family category each week.  No one else did.  So, I guess 2 categories was a bit much…

The students posted their entries on a Padlet each week.  This worked fairly well.  They could post pictures and/or video.  One recommendation I would make for videos is a little trick I learned after the first week.  If you are using an iPhone to make your video, record in landscape with the home button on the right.  Then your video won’t post upside-down or sideways on the Padlet.  We did have problems with longer videos being posted on the Padlet, so you might want give students other options such as uploading to Google Drive or Dropbox just in case.  The advantage of the Padlet was that the judges were able to see all of the projects in the same place.

Things that Went Well:

  • amazing creative ideas and use of many types of materials and media (from using Scratch to compose a theme song to muffin pans and wrenches)
  • great input and feedback from our guest judges
  • a purpose and outlet for students that hopefully showed them ways to be producers rather than mindless consumers over the summer
  • I was able to monitor and post to the class even when I was, myself, away on vacation!

Things that Didn’t Go Well:

  • a lot less students ended up participating than who had signed up for the course
  • there were a few issues with the mentors/judges using Edmodo as 3 of them had never used it before
  • uploading large videos to Padlet caused a bit of stress to some of the students
  • having a Family category

The feedback I’ve received so far from students who participated has been excellent.  Of course, the number who signed up compared to the number who actually completed the course is not very encouraging.  Is this a result of disinterest – or students who found it too difficult to fit it in with summer camps and family vacations?  Should I open the course up to even more students next year, or give it up all together?  Should I offer more interaction between our guest judges/mentors – such as Google Hangout – or is that asking too much?

I would certainly welcome suggestions for improving the program.  We will be getting feedback from the students and their parents as well.  Knowing me, I won’t do the exact same thing next summer – but I think that I would definitely like to modify this course in a way that would encourage more participation.  Please feel free to offer advice or ideas in the comments below!

By the way, if you like the idea of an online Maker course, don’t forget that the Google/Make free online course started this week!

Education, Independent Study, K-12, Motivation, Research, Teaching Tools, Web 2.0

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Online Learning

sample pages from our course catalog, which can be found here
sample pages from our course catalog, which can be found here

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about offering more opportunities to my students using online tools.

I am so excited about a pilot project that we are doing in my school district this year.  A group of us (elementary gifted and talented teachers) got together, and decided to offer some online classes to our students for the summer.  The classes are FREE, and anyone in our 3rd-5th gifted classes throughout our district was allowed to sign up for one.  We had 320 students sign up for this first summer.  We would have had more if we had not cut off the registration date or if we had opened it up to more grade levels.  This tells me that there is a thirst for knowledge that motivates our students to learn even when they are not in school.

You can visit a sample of our course catalog here.  I removed the links and the teacher names to ensure privacy, but I want to give a huge shout-out to all of the teachers involved, as they are doing this on a completely voluntary basis during their summer.

We are using Edmodo as the vehicle for delivering our courses, and I am just in the process of realizing the potential of this web application (also available as an app).  As I mentioned in yesterday’s Genius Hour post, there are so many students out there who want to learn more than what is being offered in their regular classrooms.  Edmodo gives us the opportunity to give them more options, allowing us to schedule assignments and posts that they can access on their own time.  There are certainly other online class sites out there, but this is what our district happens to be using at the moment, and it serves our purposes very well.

Thrilled as I am about our summer program, I would like to see it expand.  I would also like to implement a similar program throughout the school year.  So, my goal for this following school year is to try offering some courses for my own students that can be done on their own time – or, if a classroom teacher agrees, in place of work that they have already mastered in the regular classroom.

Please understand that I am not envisioning these courses to be MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course), or to replace the physical teaching environment.  I want to keep the courses small and personalized.  I want the courses to enhance what my students are already learning, and to fuel their desire for finding out more on topics that interest them.

I plan to write a reflection about our summer experience in a couple of months (most of the classes began yesterday), after I get feedback from the students and teachers.  In the meantime, if you think you might like to try something like this, feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

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click here to view the live (sample) catalog on Flipsnack