illuminated gratitude quote on board
3-12, Creative Thinking, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Writing

Gratitude Zines

Since this is the month of American Thanksgiving, November classroom activities often revolve around gratitude in the States. Austin Kleon, a Texan author famous for his Blackout Poetry among other things, has the perfect free download for you. He is a proponent of all things creative, and “zines” are excellent gateways to encourage imaginative writing and illustrations. If you have not run into “zines” before, here is a quick introduction from the University of Illinois, who basically describes a “zine” as “a small-scale, self-published publication, similar to a magazine, which can focus on a variety of topics.” Kleon has a page of examples and free downloads here.

I learned about Kleon’s Gratitude Zine on Twitter from Maria Galanis (@mariagalanis), when she shared a video tutorial of how to make the printed page into the tiny book.

You can get the free download by going to Kleon’s newsletter. (I highly recommend subscribing when the popup displays, but you don’t have to.)

Click here to go to the free download on Austin Kleon’s newsletter.

I’ll be adding this idea to my November collection of resources. If you are looking for some more creative and critical thinking activities related to the season, here is another post of free ideas.

picture of cartoon creature standing in front of ocean with eyes closed and a timer in top right corner
K-12, Teaching Tools

Classroom Zen

I have mixed feelings about websites like “Bouncy Balls” that you can use to monitor noise in the classroom. They work by enabling your computer microphone and more noise triggers things to happen on the screen, such as balls bouncing. I mean, even I want to be super loud just to see the effect, so I don’t think they are the most reliable solution if you need your class to be quiet. It seems like these tools might be more effective if they only reacted to protracted moments of quiet. I also think measuring “noise” shouldn’t be equated with measuring the number of students who are on task. And, of course we want students to self-regulate as much as possible. However, sometimes tools like these are a fun novelty and you can always give your students a few minutes to trigger the noise response (which can also help with calibration) and get it out of their systems before quiet time.

Classroom Zen is another option for encouraging quiet moments. It has 4 different scenes (mountains, desert, beach, valley) that each have a cartoonish character who peacefully stands in the middle with eyes closed until things get loud. Then it opens its eyes and a cartoon bubble displays that says, “Quiet, please!” Since it’s not quite as stimulating as other, similar noise monitors, it may be easier to encourage peacefulness in your classroom with this tool.

screenshot from Classroom Zen

There are also a few other options on the site: Breathing Techniques and Brain Breaks. The Brain Breaks are an opportunity for the students to be loud, as they will vote for their choices using noise.

screenshot from Classroom Zen

Like the classroom timers and name picker tools I mentioned in my last post, these are all options for keeping things fresh and fun so you can put them in your toolbelt and try them out when you feel the need for something different in your classroom.

Independent Study, K-12, Research, Teaching Tools

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Back in 2015 the United Nations adopted 17 goals that they hoped the world could achieve by the year 2030.

If you have students who are doing Genius Hour/Passion Projects, etc…, the Global Goals are a great entry point that can help them to determine what is meaningful to them. For example, my fifth graders did their Genius Hour projects based on, “What breaks your heart?” and they could use the Global Goals to drill down to specific actions that could be taken to make change. Another example of a project related to the Global Goals, which I describe in this blog post, was the Art Drop Day my colleague facilitated with his high school students.

I have a Wakelet Collection of resources for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It can be a bit overwhelming when you first start delving into them, so I have some suggestions if you are just beginning. The World’s Largest Lesson has a page specifically aimed at those who are introducing their students to the Global Goals for the first time here. It includes videos and lesson plans, and even a link to teaching younger children about the goals. For access to even more ideas, you can visit their resource page, where you can do filtered searches.

There are also a couple of e-books on my list. This one is a cute story that introduces the goals (good for younger children), and this one explains each goal in simple language.

One resource that I found is great because it gives practical suggestions that anyone can do in their everyday lives to help with each goal. I also like this video, which shows students that there are three ways that you can help: invent, innovate, and campaign. That could be another way for students to funnel Genius Hour projects, by having them conclude with one of those three actions.

We are inundated daily with news of things going wrong in the world. By introducing students to the SDG’s, we can empower them to make even small changes that are steps toward righting those wrongs so that they can feel less helpless and overwhelmed.

wildlife of flock of penguins gathering together
Independent Study, K-12, Science, Websites

Zooniverse

Zooniverse bills itself as the “largest platform for people-powered research.” It hosts a multitude of projects to which volunteers can contribute data that will help researchers in various fields. You may have heard of citizen science. Zooniverse takes this concept, and extends it to literature, art, and other areas of study as well.

Many of the resources are targeted toward college students, but there are several projects that would be suitable for younger children and a wonderful way to encourage them to learn more while feeling like their actions have a purpose. For example, the first project that I investigated was “Penguin Watch.” The goal is to identify Rockhopper adults, chickens, and eggs, as well as any other animals that may appear in the images that you are shown. Once students understand the task, it is just a matter of clicking on the right color and then the animal in the image to make the count. It’s actually slightly addictive and strangely therapeutic.

Screenshot from Penguin Watch Project on Zooniverse

One incredible second grade teacher, Fran Wilson, developed an entire unit for her students around another project, “Floating Forests.” In a science lesson on habitats, she began by sparking the children’s interest in sea otters. As the students learned more and became more invested in the preservation of this delightful creatures, they did research and other hands-on projects before the teacher eventually introduced them to a way that they could help by counting kelp forests on satellite images. Her blog post is an excellent blueprint for a way to engage students in something that they find meaningful and relevant. She provides many links as well as examples of student work along the way.

In 2020, Zooniverse provided this blog post of online learning resources that they had curated from their site, including a list of age-appropriate projects for 5-12 year olds. Please be aware of their note, “there is no age limit for participating in Zooniverse projects, but children under the age of 16 need parent or guardian approval before creating their own Zooniverse account.” I was able to participate in the Penguin Watch project without an account, so it is possible to use the site without signing in.

If you are a secondary teacher, there are also ideas for you in the blog post of online learning resources. In addition, I found this Edutopia article describing a lesson that high school biology teacher, Robin Dawson, did with the Snapshot Ruaha Project.

You may decide that Zooniverse won’t work as a class activity, but keep it in mind for independent projects, such as Genius Hour. Also, explore the project types as they are not all science — and not all based on imagery. For example, I found a fascinating one on the “Maturity of Baby Sounds.” I would even suggest, in some instances, having Zooniverse as an option in a calming area in your classroom where students can go if they are feeling like they need to cool down or are over-stimulated.

black and white penguin
Photo by Jack Salen on Pexels.com
K-12, Philosophy

Philosophy Toolkit

One of the resources that I have linked in my Philosophy for Kids Wakelet collection is Philosophy Toolkit from Plato. You can search for philosophy lessons by grade level or topic. The lesson quality is inconsistent, as some are basically just suggestions for discussion, while other provide more resources. However, at the very least you will get ideas for engaging questions and recommendations for related activities.

Why bother with teaching philosophy at all? Obviously it’s not on any elementary report cards. But the word itself means “love of wisdom.” And, of course we want our students to love learning and to seek out knowledge. According to the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University, “In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.”

Chances are that you are already engaging in philosophical discussions in your classroom without formally calling them that. Team-building activities, conversations about literature, news, non-fiction materials, and social studies lessons all lend themselves easily to philosophy. If you use Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity, the multiple perspectives and ethics icons also prompt philosophical dialogues.

Since the toolkit can be a bit overwhelming, I thought I’d recommend one of the suggestions, “Joy and Heron.” It includes a 4-minute animation that’s adorable, and would be good to show students of any age, ask them to retell the story, and then discuss the ethics of what the dog chooses to do once it realizes the heron needs food. Right from wrong, empathy, and friendship are all potential topics to cover. If you print the PDF, related lessons in the toolkit will also be recommended.

I know that time is at a premium for teachers, but if you have a moment to explore this toolkit, I think that you will find some real gems.

group of classmates greeting each other
K-12, Teaching Tools

Free Resources for Community Building with Students

One of the frequently visited posts on this site is “SEL and Community Building with Slides.” Of course, as students return to school throughout this month and next, community building is key to starting the year right, and needs to be done throughout the year in order to strengthen connections. On Twitter recently, Dr. Catlin Tucker (@Catlin_Tucker) shared a Google Slides presentation of questions to use with students to start conversations. These are similar to the “Sign-Off Questions” shared by Ester Park (@MrsParkShine). I updated my SEL post with Dr. Tucker’s link, as well as another one from Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) who commented in that same thread with a link to her page of “Question of the Day” suggestions. You can find these links, and more, on my Back to School Wakelet. Whenever people denigrate social media, I want to defend its value as I think about all of the incredible resources like these that are shared by generous, creative educators!