Tag Archives: education

Our Magnificent Manifestos

As my 5th grade students wind up the school year, I begin to worry that they will go to middle school next year and forget everything they learned in our GT classroom.  Some of them have been with me for 6 years, so I’m hopeful that a few things will “stick.”  Nevertheless, a visual reminder can be helpful.  Rather than make them all stick pictures of me on their walls at home, I started this project with last year’s 5th graders.  It seemed to make an impact so I decided to repeat it this year.

You can read a little more about the process I used to jump start this year’s manifestos here.  Once the students did quite a bit of brainstorming, I let them jump on to Canva to design their manifestos.  Things were going merrily along until I noticed that many of them were using famous Pinterest quotes on their documents instead of their own words.  There was a bit of groaning when I insisted the manifestos needed to be in their own voice – not someone else’s.  I’m still not sure if that was the right thing to do, but I just felt like it would be more meaningful.  One of my students was quite satisfied with one her rewrites, “Life’s a llama with a neck full of opportunities.”

Another mistake I made was to let them design to the edges.  Last year, the students downloaded their manifestos as images, and we printed them on t-shirts.  The quality was not very predictable, though.  This year, I went to the dollar store and bought each of my 11 students a frame.  When we tried to put some of the manifestos into the frames, though, words got cut off.  (That’s why you won’t see 11 in the picture below; I’m still re-printing some.)

For an investment of $11, I got more than my money’s worth when the students framed their manifestos.  The students were proud of their work and I got the impression that at least some of them might display those manifestos in a place of honor when it goes home.  I also really like having them in the classroom for all of my students to see. (We can’t hang them up because I am in a borrowed room at the moment.)

The next part of the project is for the students to design their “Dream Teams.”  They are using the “Find My Role Model” tool from The Academy of Achievement to find 5 people they admire who embody the statements on their manifestos.  You can see some ideas for how to publish your Dream Team here,

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Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

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Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words

Scholastic Beasts

I am currently offering an online Google Classroom for some students in our district that assigns them one Digital Breakout (Math) a week for 5 weeks.  “Scholastic Beasts” is the 4th one in the series.  For the first three, you can see:

All of these are designed for 4th grade gifted and talented students.  As with the others, you can e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com with the title of the Digital Breakout if you need the answers – but I find that it’s better to not help your students too much!

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Click here to go to the Scholastic Beasts Digital Breakout!

CommonLit Poetry

Back in 2015, I found out about CommonLit from Richard Byrne and pointed people to his post to learn more about this free resource for teachers.  Since then, CommonLit has added a Guided Reading feature that can really be helpful for differentiation in your classroom, Book Pairings, and probably a few other tools that I haven’t mentioned – yet it has continued to be free.  This is huge in the world of EdTech, where teachers often find ourselves priced out of “free” programs.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would remind you of CommonLit, which does have quite a few poetry offerings.  Once you log in and go to the library page, you can see some of the featured poems selected by the staff for this month.  You can also go to the “Browse all Text Sets” page in order to search for particular genres, themes, grade levels (3rd grade and up), and lexiles.

I love looking at the Book Pairings, which offer supplemental short texts to accompany novels.  For example, my 5th graders read The Giver, and CommonLit links to 4 poems that nicely fit with the themes of the book (along with some news articles and informational texts as well). The search page helpfully identifies the genre of each link, its lexile level, and grade level.  CommonLit even gives you advice on which point in the novel would be a good time to add the paired text.

CommonLit offers a Teacher Dashboard so that you can assign passages within the site.  There are also short assessments and suggested discussion questions for each assignment.

Because CommonLit is a nonprofit organization, it promises that its resources will always be free for teachers.  Take advantage of this site to encourage deeper reading, discussion, and connections.

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Go to CommonLit for more information.

Google Expeditions AR

I was a bit disappointed and, yes, a lot jealous, when our school wasn’t chosen to try out the Google Expeditions VR program as it traveled to different cities around the U.S.  I had tried Expeditions at some technology conferences and thought our students would enjoy the unique experience.

With virtual reality, students wear “Google Cardboard” goggles, which have phones inserted in the front.  Once an Expedition is begun by the teacher, the students are basically immersed in the environment as the teacher leads them through a field trip of a place like a coral reef.

The VR experience is great, but most elementary classrooms do not have the equipment to make it a reality.  Since only one student can use a pair of goggles at a time, and the goggles require a phone, the logistics are a bit tricky for the standard K-5 classroom.

Google has recently begun to beta test a new version of Expeditions, which is augmented reality instead of virtual reality.   No VR goggles are required, and tablets can be used.  The AR version is not available to the public, yet, but our school was fortunate this time to be chosen to try this version out. (If you are interested in seeing if your school can beta test Expeditions AR, go to this sign-up form.)

On the day of the beta test, all of the teachers who had signed up at our school attended a 30 minute training with the Google representative to learn how to use the equipment.  (Google provides everything for the sessions that day, including routers so they don’t have to use the school wi-fi.)  During each 30 minute session, groups of 3 students use Android phones that are on sticks (see the pics below) to scan QR codes that are on papers on the ground.  The teacher, who has already chosen from a list of possible Expeditions, leads the students through different images, controlling it all on his/her device.  All students see the same image at the same time.

When the first image appears, there are usually squeals of delight as the students realize that they are viewing a 3 dimensional version of a bee, or a dinosaur, or a volcano.  They can walk around all sides of the image, and even, for some, go inside.  A few students had some difficulty understanding the spatial dimensions, but most quickly caught on.  The enthusiasm of the teachers (many who had never used augmented reality) and the students mounted throughout the 30 minutes as they investigated planets, tornadoes, and some human anatomy.  Throughout the day, students in K-4 had a chance to try out the technology, and all seemed engaged.

Overall, this technology seems like it has potential for wide-spread use in elementary, since it will be available on tablets (iOS and Google Play) for free.  The trick will be to make sure that teachers design pedagogically sound lessons to utilize it rather than depend on the novelty to lead learning.  As augmented reality become more ubiquitous, the oohs and ahs will quickly subside if there is no other substance to the lesson.  As someone who has been using AR in my classroom for years, I am well aware that it is more important to include technology when it supports the lesson than to depend on the technology to be the lesson.

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Counties Work

The iCivics website is an incredible free resource that I have blogged about in the past.  Recently, the site added a downloadable, printable resource called, “My County Works,” for elementary students that gives an overview of the way county governments work here in the United States.  There are other links to lesson plans and activities for middle and high school on the “Teach Local” page of iCivics.  My 3rd graders, who have been studying Systems Thinking, enjoyed playing the “Counties Work” app, which allows the user to be in charge of a fictional county and make decisions about the appropriate ways to spend the budget.  The students had to learn which departments would be assigned particular projects, how spending money and charging taxes would affect their popularity (since they were in an elected office), and the importance of keeping a balanced budget.  Although the game is, of course, a bit simplistic, it does give students an idea of many factors that need to be taken into consideration by officials before approving citizen requests.

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Counties Work app from iCivics available on iOS and Google Play

Kaled It!

I overheard some of my students talking about a cooking show called, “Nailed It!” and decided to make my next Digital Breakout based on that title.  Because we have been having a few glitches with Google Sites in our district, I decided to use Weebly to create this one.  “Kaled It!” is a bit harder than my 1st and 2nd Digital Breakouts.  Therefore, I thought I would give you some of the clues I just posted for my Google Classroom students: Lock 1 can be answered with “The Milk Dilemma.” Lock 2 will be found on “Shopping.” Lock 3 is answered using “Kale Pesto.” If you want to answer Lock 4, then carefully explore the “Meet the Contestants” page.

As with the first two Digital Breakouts I designed, teachers can e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com to receive the answers. (Please put the name of the Digital Breakout in the Subject line.)  However, I agree with the one teacher who told me that she enjoyed not knowing the answers because she didn’t help her students too much!

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Click here to go to the “Kaled It!” Digital Breakout