User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Civic Engagement for Young People During Social Distancing

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Many of us feel a bit helpless to help others out during these coronavirus social distancing and isolation times. This also true for kids and young people. There are actions they can take as part of their home schooling. They can participate in civic engagement and activism activities.

Civic engagement is defined as “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference (https://youth.gov/youth-topics/civic-engagement-and-volunteering).”

Quite frequently, not only do state standards permit teachers and schools to support student activism, but they encourage student activism as a means by which to develop civic understanding. Although standards vary from state to state, many of them are modeled on the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (NCSS, 2013), which specifically endorses student activism:  “Civics is not limited to the study of politics and society; it also encompasses participation in classrooms and schools, neighborhoods, groups, and organizations . . . In civics, students learn to contribute appropriately to public processes and discussions of real issues. Their contributions to public discussions may take many forms, ranging from personal testimony to abstract arguments. They will also learn civic practices such as voting, volunteering, jury service, and joining with others to improve society. Civics enables students not only to study how others participate, but also to practice participating and taking informed action themselves” (https://kappanonline.org/student-activism-civics-school-response-singer/).

Civic engagement and activism in normal times has benefits, but in these times of coronavirus and social distancing-isolation, the benefits are amplified as such engagement can move young people from feelings of helplessness to feelings of empowerment.

Even in social isolation, there are actions young people and kids can do. The following activity guide can provide ideas and give some structure to civics activity engagement.

The following PDF has links with more information about how to do that challenge:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 24, 2020 at 2:06 am

Increasing Student Participation During Zoom Synchronous Teaching Meetings

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Due to Coronavirus, many schools are moving online, and teaching through Zoom meetings. If it is only being used to present content to students, then why not just record videos and have students watch them on their own? The value of Zoom meetings is that the educator can create synchronous interactive conversations and activities. My goal is to have all my students actively engaged throughout the meeting. Below are some the activities I have used during my. teacher education Zoom meetings although they can be adapted for any age group and age level (3rd grade and up), and in training professionals. Along with the tools that come with Zoom, I also use online web tools and applications to increase interactivity and engagement. All tools I describe below are free and work on any device, any browser.

Whole Group Discussions

Whole group discussions should be just that – discussions. I believe that the teacher can use this forum for short lectures but, again, they should be short as the power of synchronous Zoom meetings is that it permits interactivity and active learning. Questions about class content can be posed with student responses elicited through verbal responses and/or through the Zoom group chat.

A favorite whole group activity I do is to have a group video viewing party. For this activity, I begin with a short overview of the video and a question of what they should look for during the video. Student responses are put in the chat during and/or after the video.

Whole group activities and discussions can also be used for Breakout Groups follow-up to share what they discussed and did. In this case, I inform the Breakout Groups to decide on a spokesperson or two to report to the whole group.

Breakout Groups

One of the best tools in Zoom is the ability to put students into smaller, self-contained breakout groups. Some ways to use the Breakout Rooms include:

  • To discuss a prompt or questions provided by the teacher or another student.
  • To do online research about a given topic.
  • To discuss a real life scenario or case study. This can be done in a jigsaw strategy whereby different groups are given different case studies. When they are brought back into the whole group, each Breakout Group shares their thoughts and conclusions.
  • To create projects using some of the web tools such as Google Slides, webbing tools, or comics that I discuss later. Time is then given to each group to share what they produced with the rest of the class in a whole group setting.

Quizzes

My students of all ages, kids and adults, absolutely love the competitive, real time quizzes – Kahoot and Quizziz. Both of these online tools – applications have huge archives of teacher created quizzes. They also let teachers create their own and remix the quizzes other teachers have created.

Kahoot

Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform, used as educational technology in schools and other educational institutions. Its learning games, “Kahoots”, are multiple-choice quizzes that allow user responses.

Mentioned Kahoot and any student who has played it just lights up. I like using it at the beginning of a session prime students about what they will be exploring during the session or in the middle to re-energize them.

Quizziz

Quizziz offers self-paced quizzes to students. During my Zoom sessions, I do live Quizziz quizzes where the students answer quiz questions on their own yet compete with one another. It is similar to Kahoot but Kahoot is teacher directed, it displays the questions and answers on the teacher’s device; whereas Quizizz is student directed, it displays all the information on the student’s device.

Polling

Polling web tools can get real time information about students’ opinions, thoughts, and ideas which can be shared with them immediately.

Google Form

Google Forms can be used for student surveys and polling. More information about how to do this can be found at How to Make a Survey With Google Docs Forms. What I really love about using Google Forms for surveys and polls is that immediate feedback can be presented to the students through the response tab.

I like using Google Forms to check in with students and to inquire about what topics they would like to discuss.

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is a live student-response tool that offers whole-class participation and assessment through teacher-designed surveys, polls, and discussion boards. Tutorial guides can be found at https://www.polleverywhere.com/guides and video tutorials at https://www.polleverywhere.com/videos.

An example I did recently was polling the student teachers with who I work about special education services at their respective schools (see screenshots below).

Web Tools

There are lots of free, relatively easy-to-use web tools that students can use in Breakout Groups to create products about a class topic. The benefits of doing so include:

  • Students get to be creative during the synchronous meeting.
  • Creating products with visual elements helps deepen the learning.
  • Students have fun during the synchronous meeting.
  • Community is built as students work together on such tasks.

Before I give them their task and send them into their Breakout Groups, I give a screen share tutorial on how to use the tool. There are also lots of online video tutorials that can be shared with students.

As mentioned above, the smaller Breakout Groups share what they did with the whole group. To insure that the others pay attention, I ask them to share in the chat the favorite thing or what they learned from the smaller group presentations.

Shared Google Slides and Docs

Having students help create a shared Google slide show is one of my favorite activities. Individual or small groups are asked to take a slide of a shared Google Slide presentation to report on a given topic. I give some broad guidelines including finding and adding both content and images. The following video explains this process.

Below is an example that focuses on classroom management. In Breakout Groups, they were give a topic. Breakout groups 1 and 2 were given the topic. , groups 3 and 4 Classroom Environment, and 5 and 6 Instructional Strategies. They were given several online articles as references and also encouraged to use their own experiences.

Padlet – A Collaborative Sticky Note Board

Padlet is a website and app that allows kids to curate information onto virtual bulletin boards using a simple drag-and-drop system. Students, alone or in groups, can start with a template or a blank page and add videos, text, links, documents, images — basically anything — to the wall and organize it, like a page full of Post-it notes (https://www.commonsense.org/education/website/padlet).

I typically use Padlet as a whole group activity. What I like about it is that the students can easily see the responses, images, links that their classmates have posted.

For example, I love starting my first Zoom meeting with the Padlet: Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker developed by Catlin Tucker. Below is one I did with a group of teachers with whom I worked.

Made with Padlet

I have also created and used Padlets for partner interviews, where they posted the results of their partner interviews, SEL strategies, technology in the classroom, classroom management, and collaborating with the community.

Collaborative Webbing – Mind Mapping

“A mind map is a diagram for representing tasks, words, concepts, or items linked to and arranged around a central concept or subject using a non-linear graphical layout that allows the user to build an intuitive framework around a central concept (https://www.mindmapping.com/mind-map.php).

I like to use Coggle in Zoom Breakout Groups. Coggle is an online tool for creating and sharing mind maps and flow charts. It works online in your browser. It is easy to use and permits real time collaborative.

To collaborate, one of the group members starts a Coggle and then invites others by clicking on the + sign in the upper right hand corner and sends email invites.

Below is an example the student teachers did in a breakout about SEL strategies for the classroom.

Comic Creator

Students can be asked to create a comic strip in their Breakout Groups to depict a given topic. My favorite is comic creator is Storyboard That but it has a bit of a learning curve for those who are less technology savvy. Although Make Belief Comix lacks some of the tools and options that Storyboard That has, it is much easier for students to use, so I have moved to using Make Belief Comix in my Zoom meetings. For more technology savvy groups, though, I recommend Storyboard That.

Once back in the whole group. students do a screen share of their product and explain it’s content to the rest of the group. For example, a here is a comic about differentiating instruction using Storyboard That.

As mentioned earlier, Breakout Groups then do a show and tell of their mind maps, comics. The following video shows how to do a screen share. The teacher needs to make sure they have “All Participants” enabled under the sharing settings.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 20, 2020 at 1:42 am

My Educational Learning Plan for the Coronavirus-Induced Hiatus

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I, like many of you, have gone into a somewhat involuntary social distancing and isolation (mostly) due to my school and health club closures and recommendation to stay away from crowds. It’s just my cats and I (gives new meaning to home alone). Having a plan to engage my mind and body is of utmost importance. I am sharing my plan of activities, which are almost all free, as it may give other educators some ideas. If you have additional ideas, please share them in the comments.

Working Remotely with My Gifted Elementary Students

I work with gifted students one day a week. Our state and thus my district made an extremely quick decision to close the schools – heard last Thursday night and was told to send home with students Chromebooks along with lessons on Friday, a half day. Obviously most of the teachers didn’t have time to develop lesson plans and learning activities. I met with my learners quickly on Friday, as so much was going on, and asked them to check in with a shared Google doc and our Google Classroom. What follows are the general tasks they are being asked to do during our regularly scheduled gifted day.

  • Writing Children’s Book Narrative – Prior to the school closing, my learners spent quite a bit of time learning how to write a children’s book using a Dr. Seuss type of writing style (yes, I know he is controversial but I like his writing style). The goal is to have them write their stories, illustrate them with cut out shapes made with a Cricut or a laser cutter, and then create Makey Makey Talking Books out of them. They just reached the point of writing their own narratives when the school closed. I asked each of them to share their stories with me via a Google doc. They were instructed to add to their stories during our hiatus, that I would provide feedback and suggestions directly on their shared Google docs. Then when we return, we can jump into creating the illustrations.
  • Newsela – For those who don’t know, Newsela is best-in-class library of high-interest, cross-curricular current news and nonfiction texts.. They have offered all teachers access to Newsela ELA, Newsela Social Studies, Newsela Science and the SEL Collection for FREE for the rest of the school year. At home, my learners are being asked to do the same thing they do in class – pick an article of personal interest, read it, and take the quiz where they need to get at least 3 out of 4 correct. If they don’t, they need to choose another article to read and follow the same procedure.
  • Prodigy Math Game – For those who don’t know, Prodigy is no-cost math game where kids can earn prizes, go on quests and play with friends — all while learning math. With Prodigy math homework is disguised as a video-game. My learners love it. I typically don’t give them class time to play it as I prefer hands-on, learner-to-learner interactive math activities. Since they will be at home, I asked them to play it for an hour during our typical gifted days to keep up with and improve their math skills.
  • Code.org – My 4th graders have working through the Code.org Course F . They were asked to continue working on this through our hiatus while my 5th and 6th graders were asked to join and work on the Code.org CS in Algebra.
  • Maker Camphttps://makercamp.com/project-paths/ and the Maker Stations Home Pack (see download below) : Since we do a lot of making in my gifted classes, I am requesting that my learners pick a project or two to try at home. It has been posted as an assignment via Google Classroom and they have been asked to post pictures of it. I will later (at school or at home depending how long the school closing lasts) ask them to blog about their processes.

Here is their schedule that I posted in Google Classroom for them.

The online applications – Newsela, Prodigy, and Code.org – have teacher dashboards so I can track progress and give them feedback. For their writing, I can give feedback directly on their Google docs, and for their maker projects, they are to post pictures to Google classroom.


Professional Development – Virtual Style

I plan on doing some PD in my pajamas – in other words, virtual style.

Attending Some Virtual Conferences

  • 2020 Share My Lesson Virtual Conference – is a free virtual conference from March 24-26, with over over 30 webinars focusing on instructional strategies across the curriculum, social-emotional learning, activism, STEM, and trauma-informed practices. This is a fantastic conference. I attend every year. The sessions and presenters from professional organizations are top notch!
  • CUE Spring Conference – Computer-Using Educators (CUE) is a California-based non-profit that offers a premiere educational technology conference each spring. This year, because of coronavirus, they are going virtual offering sessions from March 19 through April 5. There is a $75 fee for the virtual conference.

Taking Some Online Classes

  • The Power of Mathematics Visualization – There is a nominal fee for this course but it looks good and might help me develop some interesting strategies for teaching mathematics to my gifted students.
  • Code Academy Pro – They are offering Pro free to students and teachers. It’ll give me an opportunity to learn some advanced code.

Doing Some Maker Projects

Because I use lots of maker education projects in my gifted education classes and our school has a new STEAM lab, this forced hiatus is giving me the opportunity to try out some new projects including:


My Physical Health

I work out in group fitness classes several days a week. It verges on addiction. When I don’t get to do so, I get stressed out. Plus, it provides me with needed social interactions. So when my health club decided to limit their services, I became distraught. Luckily, though, I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, so I plan to go on lots of hikes and am fixing up my bicycle to ride – hoping that the weather permits it. I am going to do online fitness classes. Oh, and, of course, cleaning my house from top to bottom will add an other fitness element. I absolutely know my physical workouts and health will positively affect my mental health.

Stay healthy, happy, and wise!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2020 at 7:46 pm

Sometimes Kids Just Need to Play During School

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Teachers get so much pressure to meet standards and prepare students for state mandated tests, that I believe they forget their students are just kids. Because of this pressure, too many teacher education and professional development strategies stress the concept of time on task. For example, see Identifying (and Engaging Students in), Time-on-Task Activities, Increasing Time on Task, and Time on Task. This has some importance in teaching and learning but it shouldn’t always be the professed key to good instruction. This leaves little time for play. Play is important for students of all ages and grades.

This week I was reminded of the importance of playing and having fun; and that play and fun are determined by the kids, themselves. I planned a math lesson based on visual patterning, The concluding activity was for them to make a Fractal Tetrahedron, a marshmallow-toothpick tower. I had planned to have them work on it during a series of math classes, but they asked to stay through lunch and recess to work on it.

I started working with this group of gifted middle school students in January. I always have a goal of engaging learners as I believe it is the foundation of all good learning. I have had difficulty engaging them even with the use of Breakout EDU escape boxes, art activities, and games. Some engaged. Some did not. This marshmallow-toothpick activity brought a new energy into this group. All of them participated. They worked together. They laughed. They excitedly kept building and building. They added pieces to it that weren’t part of the plan. They played and had fun. A new group and classroom dynamic emerged which I believe was due with just letting them play with this project.

I discussed the beauty of spontaneous play (lots of play is spontaneous) in An Education Filled with Wonder:

One day I was substituting for a 2nd grade class.  It had begun to snow as we arrived to school that morning.  By mid-morning, a few inches covered the ground.  It was time for recess but, as expected, a voice came over the intercom to state that recess would be inside within each teacher’s classroom.  I heard the kids moan as they came to school dressed for snow with boots and winter jackets.  I threw caution into the wind.  I asked the kids to bundle up so we could go outside.  The kids became . . . well, kids.  They ran through the fresh snow in the huge back-of-the-school play area with no other students out there. They examined the footprints they created in the snow.  When one found something of interest, they called the others over to see.  They caught snow flakes with their tongues and made snow angles.  There were no conflicts nor arguing as was common to this group of kids.  They just ran, played, and laughed together as a unified group reminding me of a flock of geese.  I watched them with a tear in my eye, one that reflected the beauty I was witnessing. 

I wonder (even though I intuitively know the answer) whether learners in their adulthoods will better remember the types of activities I described above or their very structured time-on-task classroom activities.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education discussed the importance of play in Playing to Learn: How a pedagogy of play can enliven the classroom, for students of all ages:

Play and school can seem diametrically opposed. School is structured, often focused on order; play, by definition, is not.

But within this paradox of play and school, educators can find meaningful learning opportunities, advancing students’ academic skills as well as the social skills that will allow them to thrive in adulthood and enjoy their childhood now, according to researchers from Project Zero (PZ), a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“Play is a strategy for learning at any age,” says Project Zero’s researcher Mara Krechevsky. While older students and their teachers might have more curricular demands than younger students, playful learning still has an important role to play — it might just look different.

There is a universality to play: children are often more relaxed and engaged during play, and it’s enjoyable — all aspects that facilitate learning.

I think most educators innately know about the importance of play but according to many of them, they don’t have the time during the school day to permit kids to play outside of recess . . . but I ask, “What are the costs of not permitting them to play?”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 7, 2020 at 6:42 pm

Universal Skills for Learners: Increasing School Relevancy

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Kids are learning – but for way too many it occurs outside of the school environment rather than during school. Given today’s technologies, it makes sense and is exciting that learning occurs after schools hours, but for exciting, engaging, and profound learning not to occur during school hours is, simply put, a travesty.

I contend that school, especially in the latter part of the 20th century, had a high degree of irrelevancy but in today’s highly connected world, it is absurd, verging, in my perspective, as unethical practices. We are asking today’s students to spend so much of their school lives doing tasks that are unconnected to the the skills that need now and in their future lives.

. . . and the kids agree as studies have indicated.

Gallup has conducted more than 5 million surveys with students in grades five through 12 over the past several years. These students have come from every state and from a range of rural, suburban and urban school settings. Almost half of students who responded to the survey are engaged with school (47%), with approximately one-fourth “not engaged” (29%) and the remainder “actively disengaged” (24%). A closer look at the data by grade level reveals a disturbing trend. Engagement is strong at the end of elementary school, with nearly three-quarters of fifth-graders (74%) reporting high levels of engagement. But similar surveys have shown a gradual and steady decline in engagement from fifth grade through about 10th grade, with approximately half of students in middle school reporting high levels of engagement and about one-third of high school students reporting the same (School Engagement Is More Than Just Talk).

Just 54 percent of middle schoolers and 46 percent of high schoolers think their studies are relevant, according to new data from the nonprofit YouthTruth. Relevance was rated lowest on the survey of various measures of student engagement: if students take pride in their work, if they enjoy going to school, if their schoolwork is relevant, if they try to do their best, and if their teachers’ expectations help them with that goal (Only Half of Students Think What They’re Learning in School Is Relevant to the Real World, Survey Says).

Over five years ago, I wrote a post entitled Universal Skills All Learners Should Know How to Do in order to discuss those skills I believe are important for learners during this era. For this post, I revisited it. I revised it to now include financial literacy and civics.

I think most administrators and educators (and learners) would agree with the importance of most of the skills on this list to assist learners to be successful now and in their futures. Sadly, though, too few of these skills are directly and intentionally taught to learners: writing, speaking, and for more progressive schools, engaging in the arts and the computer science related skills. Is the current school system model really the best we can do?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2020 at 8:32 pm

The Benefits of the Copy Stage of Making

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In Learning in the Making: How to Plan, Execute, and Assess Powerful Makerspace Lessons, I propose a model for the stages of making.

I believe that the heart of making is creating new and unique things. I also realize that in order for this type of making to occur, there needs to be some scaffolding so that maker learners can develop a foundation of knowledge and skills. This post focuses on the Copy Stage of this model.

  • Copy – make something almost exactly as someone else has done.

In this age of information abundance, there really is an unlimited number of DIY resources, tutorials, Youtube videos, online instructors and instructions on making all kind of things. These resources provide a good beginning for acquiring some solid foundational skills and knowledge for learning how a make something one has never made before.

For a recent classroom activity, I wanted students to learn about and use Adafruit’s Circuit Playground. Some students made a Circuit Playground Dreidel (they learned about dreidels from an Orthodox Jewish student who was in my class and they loved it!) using the directions found at https://learn.adafruit.com/CPX-Mystery-Dreidel, and others made the Circuit Playground Scratch game with the directions found at https://learn.adafruit.com/adabot-operation-game/overview. I provided them with these directions and the expectation that the learners follow them pretty much on their own with me acting as an explainer and coach when they ran into difficulties. Here is a video of my learners enjoying their newly made dreidels.

The benefits of beginning maker activities with the Copy Stage includes:

  • Basic Skill Development and Acquisition
  • Foundational Skills for More Advanced and Creative Projects
  • Following Step-By-Step Directions
  • Positive Problem-Solving When Obstacles Occur
  • Asking for Help From Peers
  • A Sense of Accomplishment About Finishing a Project
  • Enjoying the Use of Finished Products They Made

There has been a fair amount of criticism leveraged against “paint-by-numbers” types of STEM and maker kits. This criticism revolves around the stifling of the creativity of learners. I contend that learners need foundational skills so that they can be freed up to be creative. Think about learning how to cook or play an instrument. The basic and foundational skills need to be there in order for the makers to go in directions that are new and creative for them. For example, I spent several decades as a ceramic artist, making wheel thrown and altered pottery. I needed to know how to throw a decent bowl before I could go in that direction (and yes, my pottery in this image began as wheel thrown cylinders).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 18, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Going On A STEM-Maker Journey WITH My Students

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Last semester, I worked with a few high school students to create a project for the New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge. Being a learner-centric, process-oriented educator (hence, the name of my blog – User Generated Education), I embraced the following practices during this project.

  • Learners selected and developed their problem statement and guiding question.
  • Learners naturally tapped into one another’s strengths, managing their strengths without any intervention from me. Some were good at problem conception, others at envisioning solutions, others at research, and still others at creating the graphics.
  • My role was that of resource provider and feedback provider. I shared and explained the challenge requirements, reviewed the qualities of valid websites, gave feedback on their research and written work, and provided them with materials and tools such as Arduinos.
  • Community resources were used reinforcing that communities contain experts – that teachers don’t have to be experts at everything. We visited the local makerspace so the learners could learn and use their 3d printers and laser cutter.
  • Given the nature of this project-based, problem-based format, grading was based strictly on class participation using the criteria of, “Worked on the project during class time.”

Although, I often approach my classroom instruction using the practices as specified above, this one took me even farther from a place of knowing. They selected CO2 emissions and a chemistry-based solution of which I knew very little, so I was not a content expert. We learned about this together. I had a little experience with Arduinos but not lots so I was not a technology expert. We learned a lot more about how these worked together. We went on this journey together and I loved being a co-learner with my students.

Here is a highlight video of their project:

Much to my chagrin, they did not win an award (19 awards were given to the 43 entries). Their rewards, though, cannot be overstated:

  1. They learned some concrete and practical skills from going to the local makerspace, and getting instruction on their 3D printers and laser cutter. They also helped them work out some difficulties they had troubleshooting problems with the Arduino part of the project.
  2. They experienced the rewards and frustrations of working on a months long project including persistence, having a growth mindset, dealing with failure, and following through with a project through its completion.
  3. One of the students has pretty much checked out of school. She was mostly fully engaged throughout the duration of this project.

Even though their excitement about attending and presenting their project was obvious during the hour long ride home as they spent that time brainstorming ideas for projects for next year’s Governor’s STEM Challenge.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 13, 2020 at 1:24 am

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