Tag Archives: research

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 

Virtual Valentines

I asked my 1st grade gifted students today to try to think from their parents’ perspectives of what they would like for Valentine’s Day besides food or flowers. ¬†The first student said that her parents would want, “my sister and I to stop fighting,” which seemed like a pretty good response. ¬†Then the next student said, “Yeah, my mom would want to rest in peace.” I think I know what he meant, but you can never be sure. ¬†Then another student said, “Beer!” which brought up an interesting discussion as to whether or not that¬†could count – ¬†because “it’s a food!” as some of the students declared…

Sometimes my job just makes me smile ūüôā

Anyway, this all started because we are studying different countries, and learning about the Depth and Complexity icon, “Multiple Perspectives.” ¬†I signed our class up to participate in a Virtual Valentines project, and we will hopefully be exchanging Valentines with a class in another country. ¬†It occurred to me that are probably very few countries that actually celebrate this holiday, but I did some research and found out that several places around the world either have Valentine’s Day traditions or other similar variations.¬†(I’m still trying to figure out why “Love Spoons” haven’t caught on yet in the USA.)

I signed us up for Level 2 of the Virtual Valentines Project, which means that we will not only make virtual¬†Valentines, but try to exchange them with another class. ¬†If that is too much pressure, you can also choose Level 1, which just legally binds you to having your class create virtual Valentines. ¬†Which I read to mean, “I am putting my name down, but my life is crazy and it’s quite possible that by ‘virtual’ Valentines I mean that my students will just create some in their imagination,¬†so I refuse to commit myself to them doing anything that isn’t somehow tied in to standardized testing.”

The Virtual Valentines Project has a resource page, which gives suggestions for tools to use to create your digital cards. ¬†I would add to this list the Quiver App’s free augmented reality Valentine’s Day page, which you can find here.

For more Valentine’s Day ideas, you can look at last year’s blog post. ¬†I’ll probably update and re-blog it in the near future.

valentine

Skype in the Classroom

We have been using Skype for a few years in my classroom.  Sometimes we have chatted with experts for genius hour projects and other times we have talked with classmates who have moved away.  A couple of times we have used it to talk with app developers about products the students were beta testing.

As many educators know, inviting other adults into your classroom, whether virtually or physically, can be extremely unpredictable.  While these adults may be experts, that does not guarantee they are able to impart their knowledge effectively to young people.  They may have great intentions, but might have a hard time keeping your students interested.

This is what is great about using the resources from Skype in the Classroom.  On this site, you can look for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and other classrooms to collaborate with.  The people who have volunteered to have information posted on the site are experienced working with students.  Your chances of having a great Skype lesson are increased when choosing a contact who is prepared to speak to a young audience.

Right before the Winter Break, students in a couple of my gifted and talented classes had successful Skype conversations.  My second graders benefited from a virtual field trip  to Buffalo Bill Center of the West near Yellowstone Park as they learned about animal adaptations, while my 3rd graders spoke with a reporter about protecting the oceans from overfishing.  Both sessions were scheduled through the Skype in the Classroom site after I did some filtered searching based on topics and grade level.  Once they were scheduled, I received e-mails with further details to prepare for the Skypes, and reminders the day before each session.

After each Skype, my students and I felt very gratified that the hosts were willing to volunteer 45 minutes out of their days to help the students understand their topics better. The experts were able to offer perspectives and ideas that were new to all of us, and we agreed we definitely learned quite a bit.  I must admit, also, that I was relieved that the presenters were not only very knowledgeable about their subjects, but excellent at communicating with children.

If you want to use the Skype in the Classroom site, you will need to have a free Skype contact already created, and to register with the Skype in the Classroom site. ¬†If you are a beginner, don’t worry. ¬†There are tons of resources on the site to get you started. ¬†In addition, you will find the people who respond to your interview requests are very happy to help as well.

Take your students to places and people they might not otherwise ever encounter with Skype in the Classroom. ¬†It will deepen everyone’s learning, including your own.

UPDATE 1/8/17: I just found this fantastic blog post that gives suggestions for Skype Virtual Field Trips from Skype Master Teachers!

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A student shares her animal adaptation research with a docent from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Reliable Websites

As my students begin to do research for their Genius Hour projects, I find it important to help them learn how to find good information online. ¬†Over the years I’ve used various lessons and videos, but I recently found this one by Jillianne Jastren that succinctly details what to look for in a reliable website. ¬†Although this video uses safesearch.org as the starting place, my older students often use the Google Explore tool (formerly known as the Research tool) in addition to our own library’s electronic resources. ¬†After watching the video, the students are able to explain the¬†pros and cons of different types of domains and the tell-tale signs of inaccurate or biased websites. ¬†I hear them discussing with their partners whether or not they should trust information that they find on a site or telling them to find a site that is more balanced and less biased. In my opinion, finding reliable websites¬†is a critical survival skill in today’s world – not just for school research projects – and this video gives an excellent brief lesson on how to do just that.

image from Chris Pirillo on Flickr
image from Chris Pirillo on Flickr

This video does direct the viewers to turn in an assignment on Moodle at the end, but it’s easy enough to say, “That doesn’t apply to you.”

Or I guess you could just look at your class expectantly and say, “What are you waiting for? ¬†Follow her directions!”

And they could say, “How are we supposed to put an assignment on a noodle?”

And you could just shake your head and say, “Aren’t you guys supposed to know more about technology than I do?”

And then they will start blurting out how to build rocket ships that make your dinner for you in Minecraft (even though I don’t think that’s really a thing, but I would like someone to teach me if it is).

And your entire lesson will derail spectacularly Рmost likely all of this happening while you are being observed by an administrator.

How you handle things is completely up to you…

Genius Hour Digital Resources

In my never-ending quest to refine Genius Hour for my students and make it meaningful, I have created a few new digital resources that I intend to use this year with my 3rd-5th grade students.  We will be using Google Classroom, so I decided to design some Google Slides presentations that the students can use for collecting research and keeping track of what needs to be completed.  Here is the link to the folder of resources, which you can copy and edit to suit your needs.

My plan:

  • Assign the Research Planner as a copy to each student. ¬†Reflections 1 and 2 are to be done at certain points as students progress through the Research Planner. The Research Planner also has links to some other helpful resources, and a great activity from Ian Byrd to help write good research questions.¬†This slideshow is not their presentation – just a collection of notes.
  • Assign the Exit Tickets presentation as one copy to be edited by the students in the classroom at the end of each Genius Hour.
  • Include the Skype Interview and E-mail templates as assignments for students to complete when appropriate.
  • Once students finish the Research Planner to my satisfaction, they will be allowed to continue to the Presentation Planner. ¬†This includes links to “What Would Steve Jobs Do?” and “The Worst Preso Ever,” both of which are great to show students before they design their presentations. ¬†It also includes links to two TED Talks given by students.
  • After students successfully complete the Presentation¬†Planner, they will be allowed to make their presentations, create interactive portions to follow up on the information given, and rehearse.
  • Finally, they will present!

If you’ve followed my Genius Hour adventures at all, you know that this plan will not work as hoped. ¬†I am pretty sure that it will be an improvement over what I’ve done in the past, though.

Maybe…

Genius Hour Digital Resources
Genius Hour Digital Resources

5 Genius Hour Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The Genius Hour pages on this site seem to be getting a lot of views lately, which is good to see. ¬†As teachers prepare for a new school year, I am hopeful that more Genius Hours will be incorporated into curriculums around the world. ¬†Since I have been doing Genius Hour for several years, I thought it might help for those of you who are new to it to learn some of the giant mistakes I’ve made so you can try to avoid them.

Genius Hour Mistake #1 РAllowing Students to Work on Anything They Want  

I have never known what people meant by “deer in the headlights” until the day I announced to my 5th grade class that they would have the opportunity each week to work on a topic they chose. ¬†Instead of the expected enthusiasm and “what an awesome teacher you are” smiles, I got a roomful of confused panic. ¬†These students had already spent at least 5 years in school being told what to learn every minute of the day. ¬†Suddenly being offered unlimited freedom was more debilitating than empowering. ¬†I learned that I needed to scaffold the process of choosing topics by guiding them through brainstorming passions, and teaching the students how to select a good research topic that was not too narrow or too wide.

Genius Hour Mistake #2 – Telling Students They Could Choose Any Way to Present their Topic

Don’t get me wrong. ¬†One of the most wonderful things about Genius Hour is that the final products can be in any format – even a puppet show. ¬†However, when I told¬†the students to, “Begin with the End in Mind,” I discovered the hard way that most of them only had the end in mind. They couldn’t wait to add their creative touch to the presentations, but that meant that there was little substance or learning in the research. ¬†Now, I don’t even let them decide on a final product until they have shown quality research.

Genius Hour Mistake #3 – Thinking You Can’t Teach During Genius Hour

I wanted Genius Hour to be a sacred time of independent learning, and was reluctant to ever do lessons during that time.  However, when I noticed that many students were encountering similar challenges (such as searching for reliable information), I began to offer mini-lessons during Genius Hour every once in awhile to help everyone get back on track.  They never last more than 10 minutes, but can quickly help to fill in gaps that a large portion of the class may have when it comes to research, copyright reminders, and other general information.

Genius Hour Mistake #4 – Leaving No Time for Reflection

Giving students time for reflection has always been a weakness of mine. ¬†We often get caught up in what we are doing and realize it’s time to go seconds before class is over. ¬†I’ve been working on that for awhile, and one thing I have learned is how essential reflection is for Genius Hour. ¬†It has to be varied, so it doesn’t become boring and rote, but it is so valuable to do it. ¬†Regular feedback throughout the project from the student, peers, and the teacher will definitely help to make it better. ¬†Last year, we did our research in Google Classroom, making it easy for all of us to give each other feedback and improve.

Genius Hour Mistake #5 РNo Presentation Rehearsal

When students finish a Genius Hour project, that should mean that they are ready to present. ¬†However, if it’s left up to them, they will spend very little time practicing, and just inform you that they are done. ¬†After the first couple of years of erratic final productions, ¬†I came across the, “What Would Steve Do?” slideshow that includes the following image.

RehearsalI show this to my students every year. ¬†We talk about the ratios on the slide and how you should spend just as much time on practicing as you do on each of the other steps. ¬†Sometimes, we choose a sample of students from the class and the presenters go to another room to practice in front of them and get feedback. ¬†Keep in mind that some of their presentations are game shows and other interactive ideas, so it’s not always slideshows. ¬†However, students can use slideshows with the simple rule that what they are telling us cannot be text on the slides (another suggestion from, “What Would Steve Do?“)

These are the 5 biggest mistakes that I’ve made while incorporating Genius Hour in my classroom – but there are many more errors I make each year. ¬†Genius Hour/Passion Time/20% Time, or whatever you want to call it, is an inexact, often chaotic process. ¬†It’s hard to decide when to add your voice to the mix and when to stand back. Sometimes everyone needs you at once, and other times you walk around a surreally silent classroom as each student immerses him or her self in research. ¬†I often dread Genius Hour because so much is out of control. ¬†I often can’t wait for Genius Hour because I learn so much from giving the students control. ¬†Genius Hour makes all of us vulnerable and reveals who we really are.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

Musicmap

Musicmap is an incredible interactive website project by Kwinten Crauwels, which endeavors to offer an  encyclopedic collection of music genres and their histories.  When you first visit the site, you will probably be familiar with most of the titles on the home page.  Click on any type of music, however, and you will be able to access many genres that, if they ever crossed the thresh-hold of your eardrums, you would be hard-pressed to identify their names.

Pop music, for example, offered up “Brill Building” and “Shoegaze,” two genres that sound more like commercials for men’s products to me than musical categories. ¬†In case I had any doubt these existed, though, all I had to do was click on either one to get a definition, time context, and a suggested playlist of examples.

I can’t attest to the accuracy or reliability of Musicmap, but I certainly can recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of music and in learning more about its extensive diversity.

Pop Genres, according to Musicmap
Pop Genres, according to Musicmap