Tag Archives: student voice

CoSpaces

Joe Tedesco, the man behind SA Makerspaces for Education, posted about CoSpaces a couple of weeks ago.  CoSpaces is available on the web, and as a free iOS or Android app.  My students and are still investigating its features, so I may be incorrect about what we’ve discovered so far.

CoSpaces Example

Using CoSpaces on a computer (desktop or laptop), you can register for a free account and then create projects.  To experiment, I created one account that my students could also use (if you do this, make sure each student knows how to start a new project or collaborate with someone else on one).  There are tools on the web browser version to “build” 3-dimensional scenes, somewhat Minecraft-ish. For those of us who are spatially challenged, it’s good practice for using other 3-d modeling programs like Tinkercad.  You can also add your own images as well as audio files.

The scenes can be viewed on mobile devices as 3d by walking around with or moving the device to explore the scenery.  If you have a VR headset, you can also experience the scenes this way.  The video on this page is the best way to understand how it works.  At this time, you can only create CoSpaces projects using a web browser and experience they are best experienced through mobile devices.

An intriguing detail about CoSpaces is that it already has a link for educators in its menu – and describes the many ways it can be used in school (such as storytelling or exhibiting research projects).  According to the site, there are plans to offer classroom type accounts to teachers.

CoSpaces shows a great deal of potential for use by students to create – which is one of the main purposes for technology in my point of view.  I have a feeling there are going to be some exciting advances made by this company as it evolves, so you should definitely check it out.

https://cospac.es/Alkj

Genius Camp

Earlier this year, I mentioned a school in Texas that does a school-wide Genius Hour and has student-led EdCamps.  As an elementary teacher of gifted and talented students, I’ve done Genius Hour with my own small classes, but was intrigued by the idea of doing something school-wide.  With some creative scheduling spear-headed by our principal, we have been able to do something along these lines with an entire grade level, and I thought I would share it here.

Every grade level at our school has an extra planning time once a week so the teachers can conduct Professional Learning Communities. To make this work, the “special” teachers (P.E., Music, Librarian, Nurse, Counselor, Reading Specialist, and I) take students for an enrichment time.  This means that I am able to meet with a 5th grade class once a week.

With the help of the rest of the Specials team, we arranged to each meet with the same 5th grade homeroom 5 weeks in a row.  This enabled me to work with one homeroom class to offer what I’m going to call a “Genius Camp” (since it is kind of a hybrid of Genius Hour and EdCamp).

Basically, the students of one homeroom brainstorm things they would like to teach other students. They work on their presentations for 5 weeks.  At the beginning of the 6th week, the students in the other classrooms sign up on a Google form for the sessions they would like to attend.  For the enrichment time on the 6th week, the entire grade level has “Genius Camp” with one homeroom organizing and the rest attending.

Here are what the weeks look like (each enrichment period is 45 minutes long):

  • Week 1 – Brainstorming ideas for sessions
  • Week 2 – Going over “what makes a good session” and signing up for what they want to teach
  • Week 3 – Planning the session, including step-by-step instructions
  • Week 4 – Going over reflection sheets, and practicing sessions
  • Week 5 – Practicing and critiquing each other’s sessions (all materials due this day or students cannot present the next week)
  • Week 6 – Other homerooms fill out Google Form selecting 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice for sessions.  Sessions are presented during enrichment time that week.  (All homerooms meet in cafeteria first to go over expectations.  Reflections are filled out at every session and turned in at the end.)

So far, we’ve gone through one complete Genius Camp cycle. (All but one student in the whole grade level said that they would like to do this again.) Overall, it was successful, but there were some issues:

  • Time is a huge factor.  Some sessions didn’t take up enough time, but most of students felt like they didn’t have enough.
  • Some students were not good at “managing” their peers.  For this round, we will go over pointers for that.
  • Some students felt like they didn’t really learn anything new.

We have four 5th grade classrooms.  The plan is to let all four present and participate, and then possibly do another Genius Camp allowing the outstanding sessions to be offered again.

Most of the students have been very excited about participating and presenting.  They are allowed to present in groups of 1-3 people, so those who aren’t comfortable doing the actual teaching can still help out.

Some of the sessions we did during our first round were:

  • How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
  • How to Make Slime
  • Model Rockets
  • How to Make Sock Puppets

There are logistics to consider, of course.  You need to think about the number of sessions you need to make groups manageable (I limited it to 8 students in a session) and the locations of the sessions. After the Google Form was filled out, I assigned students to sessions and printed name tags with their session titles and locations.  On the day of the session, I made sure all of the required materials were delivered to their locations prior to the beginning of the Genius Camp – including pencils to fill out the Reflection Forms.  We also made sure an adult was present at every session, which means you really need to have a team who is on board and awesome, like mine!

Learning how to make sock puppets at Genius Camp
Learning how to make sock puppets at Genius Camp

 

How to Encourage Students to Question

In my latest article for Fusion Yearbooks, I offer some practical ideas for encouraging questioning in the classroom.  If we want future generations of students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, they must learn the importance of questioning – which is sadly a skill often discouraged by educators.

image from Flickr
image from Flickr

Here are links to some of my other Fusion blog posts:

Share Time

As a teacher in an elementary pull-out Gifted in Talented program, I meet with most of my students once a week.  Making connections with my students is really important to me, and it can be hard to keep track of what is going on in the lives of 50+ children who I don’t see every day.  Several years ago, I started implementing something called, “Share Time,” at the beginning of my classes.  It wasn’t anything novel – just sitting in a circle and giving everyone the opportunity to tell us one thing that they really want to share.  It could be about a birthday, an exciting adventure, an accomplishment – pretty much anything.

My classes are small, so this does not take a lot of time and I love getting glimpses of the lives of my students outside of school.  As an added benefit, it helps to reduce the number of off-topic interruptions later in the day, especially with my younger students.

One thing that frustrated me about Share Time, however, was that the only one interested in the person sharing was me.  The other students were so eager to speak that they rarely paid attention to their peers.  Or, they would hear something that someone said and interrupt to share a similar experience.

So, this year I started something new.  It’s probably one of those things that lots of teachers do, and it just took me 25 years to figure it out on my own.  Now, we go around the circle twice.  The second time gives students the opportunity to share something else, but there’s a hitch – it has to be based on something they heard from someone else in the circle.

For example, if one student says she is starting swim team this week, and 5 students start jumping up and down in their chairs to blurt out the same thing, they don’t.  Now, they wait for their second turn, and say, “When Erica said she was starting swim team this week, that reminded me that I’m starting swim team, too!  I’m on a different team, though – the Hammerheads.”

Implementing this simple addition to our Share Time has really brought it to another level.  The students are more attentive to each other and there are far less interruptions.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I thought it might be helpful for other teachers who have a similar routine in their classes.

image from Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr
image from Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr

School-Wide Genius Hour

My days spent at #TCEA16 last week were motivating and extremely inspiring.  This week, I would like to select a few highlights to share with you.  First up, School-Wide Genius Hour.

Several members of the staff of Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Coppell ISD woke me up on Thursday morning with their incredible presentation about student-led EdCamps and Genius Hours at their school.  Not only did the teachers and administrators impress me, but some of the students also participated through Skype and videos, completely winning me over with their heartfelt comments about their school.

One significant “take-away” that I got from this presentation was that Cottonwood Creek offers a school-wide Genius Hour every Friday.  Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big proponent of Genius Hour, and I even offer a page of resources here.  However, we do Genius Hour within my GT classes – meaning that a very small percentage of our school gets the opportunity to participate.  Cottonwood Creek sets aside an hour every Friday for Kinder through fifth to participate in Genius Hour, with students traveling all over the school to work with others of similar interests.

Some of the Genius Hour projects underway include a Culture Corner, gardening, basketball, broadcasting, and more.  The keys to making this successful seem to be a combination of several things: a great emphasis on students as leaders in the school, parental involvement, requiring students to declare a purpose for their Genius Hour time, and reflections after each Genius Hour.

You can access Cottonwood Creek’s presentation here.  The slides include a list of the amazing educators who presented at TCEA and some pictures and video that will convince you that this idea is good for kids!

image from flickr.com
image from flickr.com

I Hope this Change is Soon Made

In my GT class, each grade level meets with me once a week.  The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders do a cooperative blog post for our class blog at the end of each their GT days. A couple of months ago, one of my students wrote this:

“GT today!” is what we yelped happily this morning. We have been doing genius hour and I would replace Social Studies with time to work on reports on whatever we want. It would be fun to finally have some freedom on the things we do in school instead of a teacher walking in and saying, “We’re going to learn about blah blah blah. Yes there’s only one right answer. GT kids. Bleh. Who came up with the idea of GT. I’m going to have a talk with that rat.” I love having freedom, but most teachers don’t understand that always having that ONE answer just keeps our brains cooped up. It doesn’t help us learn very much. If kids were alowed to enjoy learning they might do it more. our teachers would have a less stressful time trying to get us to listen and learn if we had some time to learn about what we want. It would still be learning and it would be more creative because we have to keep everyone intrested by coming up with different ways of presenting the research from everyone else. I hope this change is soon made.

I asked the student and her mom for permission to publish the student’s request on this blog, and they agreed.

I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to present this young lady’s desire for more control over her own learning and assessment.  She is not the only student who has written about this in my class, and certainly not the only one to express this frustration with our education system.  I have a lot to say, but I am more interested in what you think.

I would like your comments on her suggestion, particularly if you are a classroom teacher.  Is it possible, even with the mandates of a required curriculum and high-stakes testing, even with classes of 22 or more students, and even within a non-flexible school day schedule, to grant this student’s request?  If not, what is one change you would recommend that would make it possible?  If you have done this, or seen it done, in a regular classroom, please comment on the secret ingredients to make this work.

freedomtolearn

Genius Bar Update

A genius explains her global coin collection.
A genius explains her global coin collection.

At the beginning of the school year, I got an idea from an article that I was reading about changing the design of the classroom.  It briefly alluded to a class “Genius Bar,”  (using the term for the Help Desk in Apple Stores.)  I decided to re-purpose the sad-looking classroom bookshelf into a Genius Bar.  You can read more about the transformation here.

In my GT classroom, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are doing a Genius Hour this year.  The kids are excited.  But there is one problem.  For Genius Hour, I insist that they learn about something new to them.  I really want to avoid them using Genius Hour as a means of extending a hobby that they already devote plenty of time to at home.  But some kids really, really want to talk about those hobbies…

If you ever have participated in “Show and Tell”, you know that many students love to be the center of attention, and to “tell” all that they know about something. Sometimes, though, their audience is not quite as interested in the topic.  I’m hoping that the Genius Bar will solve this problem.  I’ve invited the students who reach Level 3 in my classroom (you can read more about our “Level Up” system here) to bring something to show at the Genius Bar during Center Time.  At the beginning of the day, they tell what they have brought, and the other students can sign up to learn about the item.  This way, students who are genuinely interested can learn.

Because I only meet with my students one day a week, only four or five of them had reached Level 3 by the holidays.  They kept forgetting to bring their items on GT day, but finally one student remembered.  She brought some coins from different countries.

Since there was only one “Genius”, I did not have the students sign up.  I approached Center Time with a bit of trepidation, though, because I was concerned no one would want to learn about the coins.  This was 5th grade, and they sometimes like to pretend they already know everything 😉 I already had a speech in my head to console the student: “Sometimes the things that we find fascinating aren’t always interesting to others.  Maybe you can think of a ‘pitch’ to sell it next time if you really want to share the coins.”

I had nothing to worry about.  I should have had the kids sign up – for time slots. When I announced that it was Center Time and that the Genius Bar was now open, just about everyone flocked there immediately.  They listened to the student, examined the coins with and without the magnifying glass, and showed true interest.

So it turns out that, once again, Voice and Choice won out in the classroom.  Our “Genius” got to share something that mattered, and her classmates got to choose if they wanted to hear about it.

When we return to school, I plan to pre-emptively remind the students that “Genius Bar” is not about popularity, and that they should base their choices on interest in the topic.  I decided that each week’s “Geniuses” will give me their topic privately, and students will sign up to learn about the topic without knowing who the presenter is.  And, I will gently remind each presenter that some topics may be more popular than others.

I’ll let you know how it goes!