Tag Archives: education

It’s a Zoo Out There – #TCEA17

Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference¬†ūüėČ ¬†In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.

“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas. ¬†They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years. ¬†The students research animals, draw pictures, ¬†and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned. ¬†Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it. ¬†One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas. ¬†No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.

Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation.  The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.

Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!

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image from: Pixabay 

Visual Hexagons

When I last posted about Hexagonal Learning, I mentioned an article I had seen about using Visual Hexagons, which I was eager to try.  So, as my 4th grade students are beginning a unit on mathematical masterpieces, I thought I would use Visual Hexagons to introduce the topic.

Not my best decision ever.

Here’s what I did wrong:

  • I put together a bunch of images that most of the students could not identify. ¬†This made it difficult for them to figure out how they were connected.
  • I forgot to put a guiding question on the paper.
  • Some of the connections were a bit too abstract. ¬†(I had a picture of a yellow spiral, which I was hoping they would see as a “Golden Spiral,” and that they would relate that to spirals in nature such as the ones on the pinecone picture I included.)
  • Some of the pictures were unrecognizable¬†– such as the aforementioned pinecone which appeared to most of the students to be an orderly collection of rocks or fish scales.

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Did I do anything right? ¬†It depends on what you define as “right.” ¬†And what you define as me doing…

  • I used Canva to make my Visual Hexagons, which made it very simple to pull pictures into the hexagon-shaped image holders.
  • I accidentally printed to the color printer. But that looked better anyway. ¬†So I printed out 4 more.
  • Once the activity got started, I noticed the students were struggling, so I quickly pulled up a backup plan that is a video on Discovery Streaming about nature, math, and beauty.
  • I was trying to decide at what point I should show the video when two men from the district came into the room to replace my wifi – which meant the students couldn’t research on their iPads anymore.
  • I showed the video (effectively damming the stream of students who were now lining up to ask to go to the restroom –¬†a clear sign of a lesson gone awry), which explained nearly all of the pictures and how they related.

As regular readers may note, I generally share things that have worked well in my classroom on this blog, so you can try using those activities as well.  However, I fear that may have given some of you a distorted version of what goes on when I teach.  I have plenty of epic fails.  I like to share the failures that have some sort of potential as long as you avoid all of the pitfalls I seem to have discovered.

Basically, if you learned from reading this that you should always have a backup plan even when you are really excited about a lesson that you are positive will be engaging, I figure my work is done.

But you knew that already, right?

Happy Valentine’s Day from San Antonio!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a link to the Virtual Valentines Project.  Since my 1st graders are studying different continents and countries, I thought they would be the perfect group to match with a Virtual Valentine.  We were matched with a class in Canada, and will be Skyping with them today.

I wanted the Valentines my students made to reflect a little of our San Antonio uniqueness, so I asked the students to brainstorm some special things about San Antonio that our Canadian friends might not have.  This turned out to be harder than I expected.

“Games?” one student suggested.

“Toys?” another student ventured.

After I assured them that Canada is not an isolated planet in outer space without any stores or internet connections, we narrowed things down a bit.

“Barbecue!”

“The Riverwalk!”

“The Alamo!”

We ended up with a fairly long list, and the students could choose one San Antonio feature to include in their Valentines. ¬†It wasn’t until yesterday, though, that I got a chance to look at them closely. ¬†I thought I’d share a few with you ūüôā

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It took me a moment to figure out that this is one of our Riverwalk barges.
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This barge appears to be about to devour all of the ducks.  Since the ducks are larger than the people, that might be just as well.

 

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Unlike most of us who live in San Antonio, I think this student actually visited the Alamo.
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I’m not absolutely sure what’s happening at the top of the ladder inside the Alamo. It could either be someone writing at a desk with a candle or lighting a cow on fire. ¬†I guess I need to brush up on my Texas history. (My daughter just informed me that it’s a cannon. ¬†Oops.)

 

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Yes, we definitely love our tacos in San Antonio!
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It’s rodeo season in San Antonio right now. ¬†As you can see, that isn’t a picture of a cow or a horse. ¬†Apparently, this student’s favorite¬†rodeo experience was¬†the school’s Bike Rodeo.
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This picture pretty much says it all…

Overall, I think their pictures definitely showcase some of our San Antonio flair. ¬†I hope this post makes you smile as much as I did writing it, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

Valentine’s Day Breakout EDU

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. ¬†If you teach in any country that annually celebrates this day, then you know that getting your students to focus will probably be somewhat of a challenge. ¬†You might as well join in the fun – in an educational way, of course. ¬†I’ve already posted this year’s list of Valentine’s Day resources, but wanted to let you know that I will be adding these seasonal Breakout Edu games to the list. ¬†“Anti-Love Potion #9” is designed for elementary students, and, “Where in the World is Valentino/Cupid?” targets middle and high schools. ¬†“Holiday Hijinks” connects to a few different holidays, including Valentine’s Day, and can be used with 2nd-6th grades.

If you haven’t registered with Breakout EDU yet, you can go to this page. ¬†Registering is free, and you need to do so in order to get the password that will give you full access to the games. ¬†And, just in case you haven’t read my original post on Breakout EDU, here you go ūüôā

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image from: Wikimedia

Visit Me at TCEA 2017!

This week, I will be at TCEA in Austin with my fabulous colleague, Angelique Lackey. ¬†We will be presenting together on Tuesday. ¬†Our session is called, “10 Sure-Fire Ways to Light Up Your Curriculum.” ¬†The hour-long session starts at 1:15 in Room 19B. ¬†It is about using the Project Ignite website to introduce your students to 3d modeling with Tinkercad.

On Wednesday, I’ll be solo. ¬†I’ll be presenting, “Code Dread” at 2:30 in Room 13AB. ¬†This session is for anyone who has been intrigued by the thought of using coding in the classroom, but¬†has little experience with programming.

FYI – despite having done numerous presentations I always sound nervous. ¬†Weirdly, the only thing that makes me nervous is knowing that I will sound nervous which, as you can imagine, develops into a nice little self-fulfilling prophecy. ¬†Fortunately, the size of the audience doesn’t seem to impact this, as I am equally as nervous with 2 people or 50. ¬†Unfortunately, medication either makes it worse or makes me slur my words so I’ve learned to just tune out my own voice and never listen to recordings. ¬†Of course, if you attend either session¬†you¬†won’t have those choices – but I promise not to be offended if you walk out ūüėČ

You may not want to walk out, though, because we just found out that we get to use the Qball (wireless, throwable microphone) during our sessions.  So, walking out would mean you not only lose the opportunity of listening to my unique voice, but you would also lose the opportunity to see how horrible I am at throwing microphone balls Рa feat I have never attempted, but I am quite certain will bring back flashbacks of the one time I tried to play softball when I was in 5th grade and managed to bonk myself in the forehead.  I will try not to bonk you in the forehead, but there is no guarantee.

In conclusion, you may or may not want to attend my two sessions at TCEA and you may or may not want to take out extra insurance before volunteering to be in the audience. ¬†If you do decide to brave all of these potential hazards I have mentioned, then please come up and say, “Hi! ¬†I am one of the courageous people who read your TCEA post and still decided to come to your session.” ¬†That way I will know not to aim for you when I throw the Qball ūüėČ

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Full Disclosure – I don’t look anything like my Bitmoji. Except for the brown eyes and hair. And I do sometimes smile. Oh, and my hair is usually parted on the side. Angelique looks exactly like her Bitmoji. (Don’t tell her she looks like a cartoon, though. She finds that offensive for some strange reason.)
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I forget where that QR code takes you, so don’t be upset if it’s a dead end. I should probably¬†check that before I present, but I have plenty of time – right?

Formative Assessment with Music Lyrics

Even though I really enjoy hearing the conversations that go on when my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, my students will tell you that the playlist assessment¬†is actually their favorite when it comes to demonstrating their understanding of a novel. ¬†According to them, they enjoy being able to work independently on this assignment, and to really “dig deep” (their words) into the meaning of lyrics as well as the novels we are analyzing. ¬†

Here’s how our playlist assignments work: ¬†I give the students 5 songs to listen to, in addition to the lyrics from each of the songs. ¬†The students are told to choose one song that they think represents the book the best – in other words, if the book were turned into a movie, this song would be a great theme song. ¬†Then they must justify their answers using at least three different lyrics with at least three different examples from the book. ¬†

A couple of notes: 1.) I like to give students choice, so the first couple of years I did this activity, I asked them to bring in their own ideas for songs. ¬†They never did. ¬†I still offer the option to request a song be added, but the students rarely suggest one. ¬†They seem happier with the ones I recommend. ¬†2.)¬†If you choose to do this activity, you will need to “vet” the best way for the students to access the songs. ¬†Podsnack is a nice site for creating playlists, but won’t play when my students log in. ¬†YouTube lyrics videos work for us, using SafeShare, as long as I have approved the videos beforehand. ¬†Another option is to create a station where students can listen to the songs downloaded on an iPad or iPod.

I’ve done this activity with groups of different sizes, and the silence is eerie when everyone puts ¬†on their headphones and get started. ¬†The students are intensely focused on the assignment. ¬†Some take notes on scratch paper before choosing a song. ¬†Others page through their novels as they listen. ¬†I almost feel useless as the students work because they are so incredibly engaged that there is no need for redirection. ¬†Instead, I periodically give them feedback in Google Classroom to encourage them or remark on their interesting ideas.

My 4th graders do this activity with Tuck Everlasting.  My 5th graders do it with The Giver.  I asked my 5th graders this time if I could share a couple of their responses with you, and they agreed.

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If you are interested in using The Giver Playlist Assignment, here is a link to make a copy.  Within that document is a link to the Exemplars that I used with my students to show them the different levels of responses.

I should probably warn you that, once the students do this assignment, they may request to listen to the music while doing other assignments as well.  Some of them get very attached to the songs!

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating. ¬†If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver. ¬†And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.

You can find details in¬†last year’s post (linked above). ¬†I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections. ¬†My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

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One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting