Tag Archives: student voice

Me – The User Manual

Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant), other of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, tweeted a link this LinkedIn article by Abby Falik today, “Leaders Need User Manuals – and What I Learned By Writing Mine.”

In the article, Falik includes her own User Manual, which includes these headings:

  • My Style
  • What I Value
  • What I Don’t Have Patience For
  • How Best to Communicate with Me
  • How to Help Me
  • What People Misunderstand About Me

As soon as I read the article, I immediately saw applications for education.  Not only would it be valuable to have this information about the administrators we work with, but also our colleagues and students.  Because many of us are about to begin a new school year, I challenge you to create your own User Manual to share with your students and/or colleagues.  Even better, consider this as an alternative to the usual ice-breakers we assign students to give them the opportunity to make their own user manuals after you share yours.  This could really work for any grade level with adaptations.  Kinder students could do a few of the sections with some rephrasing, (What is important to you?) and by answering with pictures.  Older students could use a program like Canva.com to create a User Manual/Infographic (see my example below).  Could your students who love programming write one in code?  As you can see, there are many ways this could be adapted for different uses.  The most important thing to keep in mind is how it can help us to learn more about ourselves and the people we interact with on a regular basis.

Me- A User Manual.jpg

 

 

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Storybooth

Storybooth is a website that gives students voice in a unique way.  Students who are registered can record stories and submit them.  The Storybooth team chooses submissions to animate and produce as videos with the original narration on the site.  It reminds me a bit of the StoryCorps animated videos – just designed for a younger audience.

As an elementary teacher, I would probably not assign my class to record personal narratives on Storybooth.  Instead, I see myself using some of the videos as a resource for inspirational stories to show my students.  I would urge you to choose carefully, as there is a wide range of topics from cyberbullying to dealing with getting your period for the first time.  If you are a secondary teacher, or a parent or educator who knows a particular student who has a story to tell, however, you might consider encouraging that child to make a submission.  Having your story chosen to be animated is surely a very validating experience!

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 5.18.04 PM
Advice from Storybooth on story submission possibilities

Below is an example of one Storybooth video that I think would be valuable to show students of any age.  If you are doing a lesson on Growth Mindset, friendship, or empathy, “I Wish I Was Invisible” would fit right in.

For more videos, visit the Storybooth website, or you can also check my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Students.

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!

UPDATE 4/25/17 – Here is a link to my April Update on how Genius Camp progressed through the year!

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