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Teaching Elementary-Level Learners About the Brain

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Judy Willis in How to Teach Students About the Brain writes:

If we want to empower students, we must show them how they can control their own cognitive and emotional health and their own learning. Teaching students how the brain operates is a huge step. Even young students can learn strategies for priming their brains to learn more efficiently.

Teaching students the mechanism behind how the brain operates and teaching them approaches they can use to work that mechanism more effectively helps students believe they can create a more intelligent, creative, and powerful brain. It also shows them that striving for emotional awareness and physical health is part of keeping an optimally functioning brain. Thus, instruction in brain function will lead to healthier learners as well as wiser ones.

Here is a run down of the learning activities I did with my gifted elementary students to teach them about their brains:

Introduction to the Brain

  • Learners played a concentration brain game I created. Cards were created that had parts of the brain images on one of the paired cards and the definitions on the other. Games cards included: cerebral cortex, frontal cortex, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, occipital lobe, cerebellum, limbic system, hypothalamus, amygdala, neuron, axon, dendrite, neurotransmitters, synapse. Students were asked to read aloud the definitions when they match a pair. An alternative is to play Neuro-Jeopardy found at


Learning about the Brain Lobes

  • Learners completed a jigsaw puzzle I created about the brain lobes and their functions.


  • Using the Smartboard, the interactive website,, about the brain lobes was shown to the learners.
  • Using this website and brain anatomy posters on the wall as references, learners, in small groups, created their own model brains using dough (that they made themselves) for the lobes and sticky notes/toothpicks to label the lobes and their functions.



Learning About Neurons

  • Neurons were introduced to the learners through this Neuroscience for Kids webpage –
  • Learners made their own neurons out of licorice, fruit roll ups, and min-Reese’s cups on top of wax paper and labeled the parts of the neuron on their wax paper. This was inspired by the Neuroscience for Kids webpage –  Learners were then asked to show how their neurons would correctly connect to one another as they would be in the brain.



Finishing Up with a Creative Writing Activity About the Brain








Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2016 at 1:44 am

Teaching Grammar-In-Context

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Archaic Ways of Teaching Grammar

We construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.

Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages.  As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn languages.

It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better.  Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum. (Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?)

Learning Needs a Context

I often discuss and blog about teaching content within a context, that learning needs a context. . .

How often have students been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts; get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?

The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts including memorizing grammar rules.

floating facts

The key to increased understanding is providing a context for the facts and the rules. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts and rules. This is especially true for abstract concepts such as grammar rules. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.context

Providing a Context for Grammar Instruction

I teach gifted elementary level classes with a good portion of the students being English Language Learners. This translates into ELA grammar making even less sense for them than for English only learners. I do a lot of maker education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and STEAM (adding arts to it) activities with them, and ask them to document their learning through taking photos and blogging about those activities using their Chromebooks. Because of the article about grammar and talking with the school’s literacy coach, I decided to bring grammar-in-context into my classrooms. How I’ve done this is through projecting individual blog posts onto the Smartboard. The writer of the blog opens his or her blog post in an editing mode. Another learner reads the blog post out loud. The rest of the learners make suggestions for improvement as it is read out loud. I help guide them asking questions like:

  • Does that sound right?
  • Is that the correct verb for that noun?
  • What tense should that verb be?
  • What type of punctuation in the different pauses?
  • Is that spelling correct?
  • Is that possessive? If so, what is the punctuation?

. . . and again, these questions and the suggested edits are done in the context of the individual learners’ blog posts that have already been composed.

Here is an example of one such blog prior to editing:


. . . and here is the edited version:


It is not perfect but, as can be seen, is much better.

Some of my observations from this process that I noted includes:

  • Learners eagerly volunteer to have their blog posts reviewed. First, they really enjoy having their posts read out loud. Second, I believe this is also due to the focus being on improving their means to communicate better not for a grade.
  • The learners know that their blogs are viewed by their own classmates and their sister school (I teach gifted education at two schools and have opened my Kidblog to both schools to view one another’s posts). They have authentic audiences and what to present their best selves.
  • As it becomes a group exercise, the other class members seem to enjoy the challenge and become engaged in offering corrections and improvements.
  • To keep up the motivation and make it manageable, I only do 2 or 3 during any giving sitting.




Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 14, 2016 at 9:26 pm

Introducing Design Thinking to Elementary Learners

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Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)

I use the following activities to introduce elementary students to the design thinking process. The ultimate goal is for the learners to work on their own, self-selected problems in which they will apply the design thinking.

Introducing the general design process to elementary student occurs through showing the following video about the engineering process:

The Task: Build the Highest Tower

The Goal

The goal of this activity is to have learners practice a simple version of the engineering design process.



The Task

In teams of 3 to 4 members, learners are asked to build the highest tower out of 50 small marshmallows and 50 spaghetti noodles.

The Process

As a team, ask learners to sketch out possible solutions

Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results. (Design thinking… what is that?)


Prototype and test ideas

After brainstorming and sketching possible designs, learners begin the process of building this spaghetti-marshmallow towers.


Revisit the design process

After some time prototyping, a time-out is called so learners can reflect on what is working and not working. Learners are encouraged to see what the other groups have created to spark new ideas.

Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. (Design thinking… what is that?)

Return to the building and testing process

Next Step: Introduction to Empathy

As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. (from the d-school)

The second part of the introducing elementary-level learners to the design process is introducing them to empathy and its connection to the design process.

The Goal

To have learners discover and explore the elements of empathy as it relates to design.

The Process

Introduction to Empathy

For younger kids (but even the 5th and 6th graders seemed to enjoy it):

Warm-Up: Great Egg Drop

Preparation and introduction:

Learners are asked to draw a face on an egg and are given the following directions: “Pretend the egg is alive – has thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Your job is to use the straws to create a protective covering for the egg so it will not crack when dropped from a 10 foot height. Address the following questions prior to building your egg structure:

  • What do you think your egg is feeling about his or her upcoming drop?
  • What do you need to make your egg’s journey less stressful?
  • What can you do to reassure your egg that everything will work out okay?
  • What forces do you need to consider in order to keep your egg safe? Consider gravity, rate of descent, impact.

Example Responses from a 6th grade group:


The Task

To begin, assemble groups of 4 or 5 and give each group various materials for building (e.g. 5-20 straws, a roll of masking tape, one fresh egg, newspaper, etc.)  Instruct the participants and give them a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to complete building a structure, with the egg inside in which the structures are dropped from at least 10 feet in elevation and then inspected to see if the eggs survived. The winners are the groups that were successful in protecting the egg. ( and


Delving Deeper: An Environment for a Gamibot

Lead learners through the following steps:


  • Develop the Backstory for the Gamibot: Report via a Blog Post or Voki
  • Create an Environment for the Gamibot Out of Natural and Art Materials. Make sure it fits your Gamibot’s backstory creating an environment that is tailored for your Gamibot. Be ready to explain why it fits your Gamibot.



Squishy Circuits: Designing for a Human Being

The Goal

To put everything together by creating a design for another human being.

The Task

Learners design a squishy circuit product based on the specifications given to them by a classmate – the client from all of the available colors of Play-Doh (conductive clay), modeling clay (insulating clay), and LED lights.

The Process

Lead learners through the following steps:


  • As partners, decide who will be the designer and who will have a product designed for him or her – the client.
  • As a designer, find out the following from the client:
    • What do you want me to build?
    • What size do you want it to be? It needs to be scaled in some way. (Note: learners are given graph flip chart paper with 1″ squares and taught about scale, e.g., 1″ = 1′, 1″ = 2′, etc.)
    • What color Play-Doh? Modeling clay? LED lights.
  • Construct the design while your client gives you feedback. The client is not permitted to touch the Squishy Circuit during the design process.
  • After completion, roles are switched.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 25, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.


Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Tangrams: A Cross Curricular, Experiential Unit

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Now that I am back in the classroom two days a week teaching gifted elementary students, I can do and report on the cross curricular units I plan and implement. There are several guiding factors that I use to design my units:

  • They need to be hands-on and experiential.
  • Learner choice and voice is valued.
  • They need to address cross curricular standards. It is like life. Life doesn’t segment content areas into separate entities.
  • They do not depend on the use of worksheets. Worksheets tend to address a single standard or skill. Plus, learning how to do worksheets is NOT a life skill.
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process.
  • Reading and writing are integrated into the learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories, and writing stories, narratives, journalistic reports.
  • Educational technology is incorporated but with a focus on using it to interact with real world physical objects and people.
  • A reflective component is included.
  • The educator becomes a facilitator whereby activities are introduced and then the learners become the active agents of their own learning.
  • The goal is to create the conditions for learners to say they the best day ever.

Tangrams: Cross Curricular Unit

The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qīqiǎobǎn; literally: “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It is reputed to have been invented in China during the Song Dynasty,[1] and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. . It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. (


The students will be able to:

  • Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Develop and portray characters including specifics about circumstances, plot, and thematic intent, demonstrating logical story sequence and informed character choices. (ELA and Visual Arts)
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)


Learning Activities

Read Grandfather Tangrams + Learners Create Tangrams for Each Story Character


Each learner is given a set of tangram puzzle pieces and a set of cards that shows how to make each tangram animal in the story. Grandfather Tang is read to the learners either directly from the book or through so it can be projected. The story is stopped each time there is a reference to one of the Tangram animals. Learners construct that animal using their own set of Tangrams.

Check-In with Tangrams


One of my morning activities with learners is to have them check in as to how they are doing that day. The check in for this unit is to create a Tangram that represents how they are feeling. Selections are made from a sheet given to learners:


Giant Puzzling Tangrams



Making the props for this activity is worth the trouble as it is a very high engagement, high learning, high reward activity. To set it up, an area is chosen that is about 50 yards long (outside or in a gym) and the giant Tangram shapes are placed in a pile at the start of this area. Learners are given a card that has the design of a Tangram at the beginning of this area. They need to produce that Tangram and then all get on top of that shape. Their goal then becomes to cross the designated area using the Tangram pieces as stepping stones. If they fall off, they must go back to the beginning and start again. When they reach the end of the designated area, they are given another Tangram shape they need to construct prior to stepping off. This translates into the need for them to maneuver the Tangram pieces into the design while standing on pieces.

Tangoes Tangram Card Game – Paired Challenge


Next, the learners play the Tangoes card game in pairs. The object of Tangoes is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle in a challenge with another learner in a race to solve the puzzle. It helps build visual spatial skills as the cards don’t have demarcations for the individual Tangrams. I promote some cooperative work as I ask the partner who figured out the answer to help his or her partner to do so, too.

Make 3D Tangrams


Learners are given the printed out templates for a set of 3D Tangrams and construct them.

Create a Story from 3D Tangrams – Take Photos and Write a Blog Post


Learners think of a story using their 3D Tangrams and take photos for the scene(s) of their stories. They then upload these images to their blogs and write about their story.



(Postscript: Wow – I didn’t review their blog posts until after school. We are definitely going to discuss this student’s blog post during on next class session. Great teachable moment to discuss this real life situation of one of their classmates.)

Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg: A Breakout EDU Game

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There is a new platform for immersive learning games that’s taking classrooms across the world by storm. Based on the same principles as interactive Escape The Room digital games — which challenge players to use their surroundings to escape a prison-like scenario — Breakout EDU is a collaborative learning experience that enhances critical thinking and creativity while fostering a growth mindset in students. Gameplay revolves around a Breakout EDU box that has been locked with multiple and different locks including directional locks, word locks, and number locks. After listening to a game scenario read by the teacher, students must work together to find and use clues to solve puzzles that reveal the various lock combinations before time expires (usually 45 minutes). (Stretch student collaboration skills with Breakout EDU)

I developed my own game which is adapted from Oh, the Places You Will Go

Title: Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg

Story: Uses the children’s story, Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg. Cast out of the refrigerator because of a small crack, Eggbert sets out into the world, using his talent for painting to try to blend in. Eventually he realizes that cracks are everywhere and reminds us all that our flaws are perfectly natural.

Topic Theme: This cross-curricular BreakoutEDU activities incorporates English, Math, and Social Studies standards as well as skills such as problem-solving and team building.


This cross curricular activity address the following standards. Students will:

  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (ELA CCSS)
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (ELA CCSS)
  • Understand how latitude and longitude are used to identify places on a map. (Social Studies)
  • Describe and compare the physical environments and landforms of different places in the world (e.g., mountains, islands, valleys or canyons, mesas).
  • Use personal experience as inspiration for expression in visual art. (Visual Arts)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)


  • Copy of Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg
  • Breakout EDU Box (Large Lock Box)
  • Directional Lock (speed dial)
  • Five Digit Letter Lock
  • UV / Black Light Flashlight
  • Invisible Ink Pen
  • Small Locked Box with Three-Number Combo
  • 3-Digit Lock
  • 4-Digit Lock
  • Key Lock
  • Computer or Tablet
  • Printouts: Plane Tickets, Maps, Longitude-Latitude Coordinates, Quotes, We Broke Out Card
  • Silly Putty – one per student

Steps to Set Up:

  • Set the directional lock to Up-Down-Up-Down. This represents the directions and times that Eggbert goes up and down walls.
  • Set the lock box to 3-4-7. The plane tickets have the clues for the 3 number lock box. The plane tickets are cut apart from the print out to make three tickets. This number, 3-4-7, is on the tickets and can be found as the seat numbers. The order of the numbers can be found in one of two ways: (a) the seat letters, a – b – c, and/or (b) the places Eggbert visits, from the Refrigerator to New York City, from New York City to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, from Grand Canyon Arizona to Hilo, Hawaii.
  • Put the encrypted message, and the weblink to how to do the encryption in the lockbox. The encrypted message is JE VYDT JXU AUO, BEEA JE FEIJUH JXHUU QDT VYDT JXU SHQSA (which decrypted means “to find the key, look to poster three and find the crack”).
  • Tape the key to the key lock behind word “crack” on the poster 3 quote – tape this poster to the wall.
  • Set the four number combination lock to 8-7-3-1. This matches the coordinates on the map found in the support materials. Cut out the four longitude-latitude coordinates from the bottom of the map and place those near the maps. FYI – all of the numbers on the map correspond to canyons in the United States.
  • Set the word lock to P-R-I-D-E. Using the invisible ink pen, circle letters P – R – I – D – E on the posters 1 and 2 of quotes.
  • (Optional) With a Sharpie, draw a crack on each silly putty egg  – one for each participant. Put silly putty and We Broke Out sign in the Breakout box.
  • Attach the hasp to the breakout box and to the hasp lock attach the directional lock, the key lock, the word lock, and the four number combination lock.

Video Overview on the Set Up

Support Materials

With the Students


  • Go through the hints one at a time as a group. They can work with a partner or two of they choose. I emphasize not telling the answer until everyone has it. I strive to have everyone in the class participate by insuring that all have the correct answer prior to attempting to solve that clue – unlock that particular lock.
  • Once they open the box and find the silly putty in the eggs, instruct them to sculpt something that makes them unique.


  • For reflection, have the students blog about their experiences. If they are using iPad or Chromebooks, they can take a photo to go with their blogs.


  • Further study: Students can look up the latitudes and longitudes to find out which canyons and gorges were represented.

Slideshow of Our Breakout Edu:

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 4, 2016 at 1:56 pm

The First Days of School: Setting the Climate for Year

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I have written before about the beginning of the school year, Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.

I begin all classes focusing on having the students make connections between each other and with me.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way. I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.

As we begin this new school year, I want to share my own ideas for what I believe represent best practices for doing so. I have the following goals for beginning the school year:

  • To have the learners get to know one another and if they do know one another, to deepen that understanding.
  • To have the learners get to know me as an educator.
  • To set the climate that the classroom will experiential, engaging, fun, and student-centric.
  • To begin the process of having learners learn to solve problems as a group and work cooperatively with one another.
  • To begin creating a supportive climate – where learners support one another and I support their learning efforts.
  • To give the message that social-emotional learning is important.
  • To have the learners take ownership of their classroom.

What should also be obvious from this list is what is not on it – namely a focus on content-driven instruction during the first days of school.

These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my gifted class of 2nd to 6th grade students:

Morning Check-In

I believe in including classroom activities that build emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. I begin my mornings throughout the school year with emotional check-ins, a way for each learner to check in with how they are doing that day. I use props such as feeling cards to do so. On this first day, I used Stones Have Feelings, Too.


For more ideas on the types of check-ins I have used, see Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning.

Thumball Ice Breaker

For the second activity, the learners were asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.


A learner tosses it to another learner. The catcher then responds to the prompt closest to her or his left them. After doing so, the learner throws it to another learner. I typically do two to three rounds where each learner gets the ball during a round. Example prompts include:

  • Three Wishes
  • Happiest Memory
  • Three Yummy Foods
  • Three Gross Foods
  • Favorite TV Show or Movie
  • Best Book or Author
  • Great Vacation Place
  • Funniest Cartoon

Warp Speed

As a former adventure educator, I have a fondness for team building and group problem solving activities, and regularly incorporate them into my classroom. A good list of these types of activities can be found on Teampedia.

During on first day together, I facilitated Warp Speed with the learners.

Toss the ball around the circle until everyone has caught it once and it is returned to the leader. For Warp Speed, you need to establish a pattern of tossing one object around the group. Once the pattern has been established, ask the group to see how quickly they can move the object through the pattern with each person touching it in the order that has been established. Time this, and give the group several opportunities to improve their time (


As each effort was timed with the 3 second penalties per drop, I had them practice mental math. I showed them their times as recorded via my iPhone, asked them to multiple the number of drops times 3 and then add this total to their time. On subsequent efforts, I asked them to subtract the difference. Later they compared their improvements.

LED Enhanced All About Me Posters


I like using the All About Me posters at the beginning of the school year as it lets me know a lot about the learners in a very short time. I also use them to decorate my classroom walls. Since I have been involved in maker education running a maker summer camp, I showed the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They used these materials to created LED enhanced All About me Posters.

Autobiographical Activities

The All About Me Poster was actually the beginning of their autobiographical activity unit. The learners were provided with a Google Doc with the following:


Choose Three:

  • Magnetic Poetry – refrigerator magnet words to write a 5 line poem or a Haiku about yourself.
  • Get Anagrams for Your Name – (list 15 of them)
  • Do an A-Z book – each letter needs a word and an picture to describe you.
  • Write out 10 equations about you represented by number.
  • Make a T-shirt tote – and bring three objects from home in your tote for a show and tell.
  • Do I Am Poem on notepaper add to a decorated self portrait.


The learners began these activities at the end of our day by starting their magnetic poems, A-Z books, and Word Clouds.

IMG_4894IMG_0559 2

Final Thoughts

There were three things that happened during this first day that especially made me so grateful and excited about being a teacher.

First, one of the girls has a twice exceptional label – gifted and autistic. I was told that she might take weeks to start talking in class. Also, given her attributes, peers relationships, at times, at strained or even nonexistent. She loved all of the hands on activities especially the LED lights. After a bit of quietness during the beginning of the morning, she talked throughout our time together. What was especially cool was that a few of her classmates from her regular classroom came to get her for a visit to the school nurse. When they came into my classroom and saw her LED enhanced poster, they got very excited. Another teacher noticed the kids going down the hall and heard the them talking about the project – asking this girl all about. The other teacher knows that girl from past years and told me it warmed her heart to see her excitedly share her learning . . . and the other kids listening to her. I smile ever time I picture it.

Second, one of the boys worked very hard at creating his magnetic poem – see above. He read it several times to different students as he created it. I loved the pride and joy I saw in his face when saw and heard his peers’ reactions. It was definitely priceless.

Finally, there was a boy in the class who is new to the school. I met his mom during the morning prior to coming to my gifted class (it meets a full day per week) and she told me that he was not at all happy at this new school, that he wanted to go back to his old school but that was happy about coming to the gifted program. His total excitement and engagement as well as his connections to the other students in the program throughout the day brings a tear to my eye. It really seemed as though he found his tribe; a place where he belongs.

I wholeheartedly believe that the only reason these events occurred was due to my focus on the learners and on establishing our community during on first day together.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 27, 2016 at 1:44 am

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