Creative Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

May I Help You With Some Resources for This Month?

Well, it happened. May snuck up on me and here we are. It was amusing to wake up to some Twitter drama about Teacher Appreciation Week, which is generally the first week of May, but Google has deemed that it doesn’t start until next week. Supposedly, whoever actually decides these things decided TAW needs to be during the first full week of May, and when the month starts on a Monday instead of a Sunday that doesn’t count. I don’t really know who is in charge of these seemingly arbitrary calendar declarations, but I do think the cherry on top is that it’s actually Principals’ Day. So, Happy Principals’ Day to those of you who are one or are aspiring to be one. And for goodness sake, just appreciate teachers every day and that dilemma will disappear once and for all.

May Wakelet

I do have some Teacher Appreciation links in this month’s Wakelet if you are so inclined. I also have May the 4th (Star Wars Day), Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day resources. And — I know some of you are going to grit your teeth in frustration, but remember some schools actually started their years in late July, early August last year — the link to my End of the School Year Wakelet.

Other Wakelets

If you haven’t checked out my collection of Wakelets, you may find some other desperately needed resources here. From Brainteasers and Puzzles to Fun Stuff, if you are trying to survive testing or just the sheer exhaustion of making it through this many months of the school year, there are plenty of options to help you keep putting some “zing” into your lessons even if you feel like you’ve used them all.

Celebrate with a Pool Party

And, if worse comes to worse you can always download my Summer Pool Party Creative Thinking Packet. It’s free and I’ve used it with all ages to give students the opportunity to practice their S.C.A.M.P.E.R. skills.

from my Summer Pool Party packet
love art dirty texture

7 Ways to Request Feedback from Students about Your Class

I bookmarked an interesting Twitter thread the other day:

When I returned to my bookmark yesterday, I was thrilled by the variety of the responses in the thread. There were many replies, and only one or two that I saw where the teacher reported negative experiences with doing this. I would guess that those outliers might need to fine-tune their methods, as I can honestly say that I’ve made it a practice to get feedback from parents and students for many years through various means and it has nearly always been extremely informative. Even when I asked for feedback from some of my more “challenging” high school classes, I received good information.

Before I share some of the creative student feedback methods you can use, I think it’s important to note how you can set the scene so the feedback is meaningful.

  1. Don’t just ask for feedback at the end of the school year. At least three times a year is good. (I did it every grading period.) Feedback will help you “tweak” and make changes that will benefit the students, and that is most effective if you are doing it during your course and at the end to help you plan for the next year.
  2. Be clear with your students that you are asking for this so you can keep what’s working and make improvements on what isn’t working. This has nothing to do with their grades
  3. Act on the feedback throughout the year, and be explicit about what you are changing and that it’s because of meaningful feedback you received.
  4. In most cases, make it a choice for students to be anonymous or include their names. I say “in most cases” because some of the examples I give below don’t technically allow for that. Some students are afraid of retaliation if they give negative feedback, so the more comfortable you can make them, the more honest they will be.
  5. Be prepared for negative feedback, and that some of it will not be constructive. Analyze it, but don’t take it to heart. Remember that some students will be lashing out for reasons that may have nothing to do with you.
  6. READ the feedback. Refer to the feedback. Bring it up many times in a positive way. Otherwise, students think it was just busywork, and that not only impacts the next time you ask for feedback, but the next time any teacher asks for it.
  7. Do some sort of short review of what’s happened so far in class before you ask for feedback. Lots of things are going on in their lives, and even the most wonderful experiences may have slipped their minds.

Some of the above advice may seem obvious, but I included it because it wasn’t obvious to me at first. The first few times I asked for student feedback did not give me helpful results. Don’t give up if you experience the same. It is very likely that you need to make some adjustments to your process, and extremely worth it when you get it right.

I asked some of the people in Jason’s original thread for permission to share their advice and/or images. Here are some of the suggestions from the thread as well as some others I’ve gathered:

1. Choose words to describe your year.

Gina Ruffcorn takes the words her students submit and makes them into a word cloud to represent the year.

2. Analyze classroom policies.

3. Use Exit Talks.

4. Use Google Forms.

Once the results are in (if it’s not your last day), make screenshots of some results or quotes (without student names ) to project to the class and discuss. This blog post gives sample forms you can download. I used Google Forms as well. During the school year, I would sprinkle in some “fun” questions, like, “What is a song you love to listen to right now?” I would play the songs (if appropriate) sometimes during class.

5. Play “Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe.” I describe it in this post.

Since students work in groups, one advantage is that you can hear their discussions, but they also get filtered down to the most important answers. Here are the questions we used: list 3 important features of this class, list 3 not-so-important features of this class, list 2 very different kinds of features our our class, identify a hidden feature of our class, what’s 1 feature without which our class would be very different, what feature of our class is the hardest to understand (and why), which of our class features are the most interesting to you and why, think of something very different from our class and tell us two ways it’s different and one way it’s similar, and think of something very similar to our class and list two ways it’s similar and one way it’s different.

6. Use Post-Its to brainstorm activities done in class, and then place them on a matrix as in this blog post.

7. Or, after brainstorming what has been done in class, or what could be done, sort them into Start, Stop, Continue columns as you can see here.

I’ll be adding this post to my End of Year Wakelet, though as I mentioned earlier, it’s good to get feedback from your students throughout the year. Also, don’t forget to ask parents for feedback. This can be extremely beneficial as well. Once you receive your feedback, you can use the Taxonomy of Reflection to decide on what changes you would like to make.

black and white laptop

Odds and Ends for Wrapping up the School Year

The problem with an educational system that focuses on testing and performance is that the joy of learning takes a back seat. This is never more evident than in the time following the stressful testing season. School doesn’t end when testing does — but many students don’t see a purpose for being there any longer.

This is a challenge for teachers; in fact I recently saw a post on social media from a teacher begging for ideas for the last few weeks of school when students seem to have “checked out.”

I just beefed up my “End of Year” Collection with suggestions for keeping students engaged as the year winds down. I’ve had a lot of success with many of the activities in this Wakelet, especially the ones that give the students opportunities for self-expression. Hexagonal Reflections (also Reflecting with Hexagons), Designing Manifestos, and Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe were all meaningful and fun. The Self-Designed Hashtag Awards (idea from @jtrayers) were also a big hit. These were all lessons I did with elementary students, but could certainly be adapted. One excellent idea I found for high school that was shared by Susan Barber (@SusanGbarber) on Twitter last year includes a Google Slide presentation she made for her students giving them choices that ranged from making blackout poetry with their college applications to book spine poetry reflecting their feelings about high school.

There will, of course, be days that you might want to show a video. I collected some of my favorite inspirational videos for this time of year here. And if you have the inclination to offer challenging puzzles or participate in some fun and games such as Goosechase Edu or Breakout Edu, I have links for those in the End of the Year Wakelet as well.

Some schools have just a few weeks left, while others will continue late into June. Some of you may be in countries that just began a new year a couple of months ago. Regardless of your situation, you may want to take a few minutes to look over this collection because many of these activities can work at other times of the year as well.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! The best way I can think of to celebrate you is to continue to share free resources and ideas that will hopefully ease some of the stress in your jobs.

man people woman girl
K-12, Motivation, Videos

Inspiration for Graduates

This is actually a reblog of a reblog! No matter what happens, graduation season rolls around every year. I always liked to send my students off by loading them up with as many memories and inspirational motivation as possible, so here are some of my favorites.

As graduation season rolls around once again, I thought I would compile a list of videos that I’ve found over the years that eloquently describe the hopes and dreams I have for my students in the future. I’ve placed the length of each video beside it.  Not all of these are graduation speeches, but they all give one or more of the following messages: Be Kind, Work Hard, and Make the Most of Your Time and Abilities.  Most of these videos (and many more) can be found on my “Inspirational Videos for Students” Pinterest Board.  As always, please preview any video before you show it to your students.


Making It from StoryCorps (2:43)

If You’ve Never Failed, You’ve Never Lived (1:16)

Ashton Kutcher’s Teen Choice Award Speech (4:40), Ashton Kutcher on his Teen Choice Speech (3:15) – better for older students

The Time You Have in Jellybeans (2:44)

212: The Extra Degree Inspirational Movie (2:59)

Kid President Graduation Speech (4:12)

The Real Purpose of Your Life (2:18)

These last two are my all-time favorite videos to show departing students:

Jeff Bezos at Princeton (18:44 – his part starts around 6:27)

Mark Bezos: A Life Lesson from a Volunteer Firefighter (4:40)

For more resources, Amy Borovoy curated a wonderful list last May for Edutopia. You can find it here.

3-5, 6-12, character, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking

Manifestos, Dream Teams, And More

Rounding out this week’s collection of suggestions for things to do at the end of the school year, I have some that I did with my 5th graders over the years. In our district, 5th grade was the final year of elementary school, and some of the students in my gifted and talented class had been seeing me weekly since Kindergarten. So, it was always important to me to help them look back on all of those years in GT and think about what they had learned that they could take with them moving forward.

One activity that we did was to form “Dream Teams” of people who inspired them. You can read more about it in this blog post, and download a couple of the planning sheets we used. At the time of that post, the students used Puppet Pals to present their teams to the class, but there are plenty of other apps and free online tools that will work just as well.

Thinking about their values was a central theme with my 5th graders each year. To make these values more concrete and something that they could refer to as they transitioned to middle school, the students designed manifestos. I have a few posts explaining what we did with these. The students designed them using Canva. (You could just as easily use Google Drawing if you don’t have access to Canva.) The first year, I ordered each of them a t-shirt, with their designs. Some turned out well, and some didn’t. That can also be cost-prohibitive. What seemed to work better was to put them in some frames from the dollar store, as you can see in this post. If I was in the classroom this year, I would give them options to choose their final product, depending on the tools we had available (laser cutter, 3d printer, vinyl cutter, etc…), similar to this “One Word Project” that I did with my high school students. For more background on how I introduced manifestos with my students, see this post.

Another project that I’ve done with 5th graders to help them be a bit more introspective was, “Character Strength Floor Plans.” They loved doing these, and their imaginations could really run wild as they used metaphorical thinking to compare their strengths to the rooms of a house. If I were to do it again this year, I would allow students to choose from Tinkercad, Google Sheets, or CoSpaces to create their designs – or even make their own mini models from cardboard or other materials.

I hope these ideas, or the ones from my other posts this week, will help you to enjoy your last few weeks with your students before your well-deserved break!

Student-designed (5th grade) Character Strength Floor Plan

3-12, Critical Thinking

Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe for Reflection

UPDATE 5/10/2022: For more End-of-Year activities, visit this post from 2022. You can also see the questions I used for Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe during our reflection by going to #5 in the feedback suggestions on this post.

To continue this week’s theme of year-end activities to use with students, I want to remind you of this blog post from 2016. We used “Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe” quite a bit in my class to analyze and synthesize learning, and the open-ended prompts work very well for an end-of-year reflection for upper elementary students. The game comes from Critical Squares: Games of Critical Thinking and Understanding, a book written by Shari Tishman and Albert Andrade for Harvard’s Project Zero, but you can see what the Tic-Tac-Toe game looks like if you go to page 24 at this link. I explain how I used it for reflection in my 2016 blog post, but you will probably find that you can modify it for lots of curriculum ideas. It’s one more way you can still learn and have fun once the year begins to wind down.

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay