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Starting the Year with “All About Me” Activities

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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.

This year given remote learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, I developed technology-enhanced “all about me” activities that my learners could do remotely. These types of activities are even more appropriate than ever as a substitute for the typical “what I did over the summer” assignments.

Book Creator All About Me Activity Descriptions

The following Book Creator of descriptions and examples of all about me activities is shared with my learners, grades 3 through 6, via our district’s Open Access website:

All About Me: Getting to Know Our Students

This format provides my learners with a kid-friendly presentation of their All About Me activities.

Detailed Activity Descriptions

Bitmoji Learning Environment

Bitmoji classrooms have become a bit of a craze. They are described in more detail in the Edutopia article, Educators Turn to Bitmoji to Build Community and Engagement. A legitimate criticism leveraged against them is that they are teacher-centric. It is the teacher doing the work. I believe that if learners are not doing as much or even more creating than consuming, then this is a problem. As such, I am asking my students to create their own optimal learning environments. To begin, I ask learners to have a look at mine.

I ask them to note my sofa, picture of my cats, bookcase with books and art materials, my refrigerator with my diet Coke, plant, and window. Then I provide each of my learners (I only have 12 of them) with a Google Slide template, Build Your Own Bitmoji Classroom, developed by @HollyClarkEdu and @themerrillsedu. To their template I add a variety of Bitmojis I created for them due to them being under the age of 13. To learn how to create bitmojis for your learners, see this post by Matt Miller, https://ditchthattextbook.com/bitmojis-for-your-students-how-to-create-and-share-them/.

Personalized Feelings Chart

I start all my classes, both elementary school and college classes, with an emotional check in. I discuss this in more detail in Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar. Last year, I had my elementary students make their own feelings pillows for our emotional check-ins (made with felt of different colors, sharpies, yarn for sewing, and stuffing). They loved them. This year, due to remote learning, they are making their own personalized feelings chart. They start by identifying 8 to 12 feelings they typically experience using the Mood Meter developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence:

They are asked to select a few from each color. They use either Adobe Spark or a Google Slide to create their own. I show them how to do image searches with each platform and my own personalized feelings made with Adobe Spark as an example:

Lego Selfie

I learned about the Lego Selfie through a post on Aaron Maurer’s Coffee for the Brain. Most of my learners love Legos and have them at home so I think this would be a great choice for them. For those who do not have them at home, they can use the virtual Mecabricks or choose a different activity. Examples of Lego Selfies can be seen at https://photos.app.goo.gl/N1AJSchhanykYgTq7.

Kahoot Selfie

Most teachers and students these days know about Kahoot, a game-based learning platform that makes it easy to create, share and play learning games or trivia quizzes. For this All About Me activity, learners create their own Kahoot Selfie with 5 or more Kahoot quiz questions about themselves, each question having a four possible answers with only one of them being correct. Here is a template to help them with planning – https://kahoot.com/files/2017/07/kahoot_paper_template-1.pdf and an actual Student Selfie Kahoot that they can duplicate and edit with their own questions and answers (they will need their own account to do so).

Nature Materials Self-Portrait

To get my learners away from their computers, one of the All About Me activity choices is to go outside to collect natural materials to create a self-portrait. They have to collect and use at least two dozen objects from nature as part of their design.

Comic Strip: A Change I’d Like to See in the World

For this activity, learners create a comic strip of at least 6 cells that describes a change they’d like to see in the world. I really like StoryboardThat and have an account for it so this is the platform my students use. Here is an example I found so learners can have an idea what to create:

Source: https://www.storyboardthat.com/storyboards/williamhjr/anti-racism

Flipgrid Video: My Hero and Why

Flipgrid, as most educators know, is a social learning platform that allows educators to ask a question, then the students respond in a video. Students are then able to create video comments to one another’s posts. For this activity, learners first watch For the Heroes: A Pep Talk From Kid President. They then access our class Flipgrid to create a video that describes their hero.

Here is a link for you to make your own copy – https://admin.flipgrid.com/manage/discovery/details/24147.

Fake Instagram Account

Because my learners are elementary age, they don’t (or shouldn’t) have their own Instagram account. This activity allows them to create their own (fake) one. The blog post, Fake Instagram Template with Google Slides (FREE), describes the process for doing this. This template – https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1_gupBqIZBToioNFgbAb4nFVlsJgbdW5xneccto6pcFk/edit?usp=sharing – can be used by going under file to make a copy.

Here is my example:

Google Tour Creator

For this All About Me activity, learners create their own 360 degree virtual tour using Google Tour Creator. They need to include at least 6 geographic locations where they’d like to visit. This Google Tour Creator Tutorial video can help you and/or the learners use this tool. Here is the example I created – https://poly.google.com/view/8HpqhXYHzN4.

Aggregating Their Artifacts

Learners are instructed to aggregate all of their All About Me artifacts on a Google Site they create (we are a Google district). For artifacts that aren’t web based like the Lego Selfie and Nature Self portrait, they take photos of them to upload into these photos into their site. A Google site provides me with a way to check their work and give feedback. The learners will also have them all in one place to show their families and easily revisit at a later date.

All About Me Class Badge Progress Chart

The following chart is used to keep track of each student’s progress. They are required to complete the Bitmoji Learning Environment and Personalized Feelings Chart. They can then choose four out of seven others. They can work on the activities in any order they choose. Once completed, I check them and award the badge using this chart to indicate its completion for the individual students.

Here is a link in case you want to make your own copy – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HNDc202wJE50BGh97CteNdpt8tOGTYg96DOeP49YvGc/edit?usp=sharing

Personal Progress Chart

Learners are asked to make a copy of the following progress chart which is in the form of a Netflix playlist template (created by the talented @MeehanEDU) in order to create their own playlists of completed activities for this unit as well as ones we’re doing later in the school year. You can also make a copy and adapt it for use with your learners.

Here is a link to the template – https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/19Nkwml_hHK6N2KNyHxynOjkUltp_ld9AMGQ0K05y2yI/edit?usp=sharing.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 23, 2020 at 12:16 am

Reimagining Education: A Call for Action

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Many of us have been discussing educational reform for decades. Given the unprecedented time of COVID19 and its effect on education, it is a perfect time to revisit and reimagine the purpose, operations, and skills related to a powerful education. Some of the issues that have emerged and are still emerging include: the social emotional health of learners, a realization that students aren’t able to be independent and self-directed learning, and an awareness of inequities that exist in the United States. It has become blatantly obvious that students can’t learn effectively at home – especially without teacher direction throughout the school day.

It’s a perfect time for educators to reimagine an education they wish they had during their own school years so that their learners can have such an education.

Here is what I propose that should be components of a reformed/re-formed education:

  • Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency
  • Learner Voice and Choice
  • Just-In-Time Learning
  • Whole Person Learning
  • Educator as a Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities
  • Interest-Based Affinity Groups
  • Use of the Learner’s Community
  • Vigorous, Authentic Tasks
  • Executive Function Skills Development
  • A Focus on Social Emotional Health
  • Anti-Racist Awareness and Actions

Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency

Learners of all ages beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade can engage in self-determined and self-driven learning where they are not only deciding the direction of their learning journey, but also producing content that adds value and worth to related content areas and fields of study.

The learners in a self-directed learning environment where learner agency prevails:

  • Determine what they want to learn and develop their own learning plan for their learning, based on a broad range of desired outcomes.
  • Use their learning preferences and related technologies to decide how they will learn their material based on their own desired outcomes.
  • Form their own learning communities possibly using social networking tools suggested and/or set up by the educator. Possible networks, many with corresponding apps, include: Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Instagram, TikTok, blogging sites, Youtube, and other social networks.
  • Utilize the expertise of educators and other members of their learning communities who can introduce content-related resources and suggest online tools that the learners could use to demonstrate and produce learning artifacts.
  • Demonstrate their learning through methods and means that work best for them. It could include blogging, creating photo essays, doing screencasts, making videos or podcasts, drawing, singing, dancing, etc.
  • Take the initiative to seek feedback about their work from educators and their peers. It is their choice to utilize that feedback or not.

Learner Choice and Voice

Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (Student Voice Leads to Student Choice)

Some strategies for giving learners voice and choice can be found in the following infographic:

Just-In-Time Learning

Currently, most schooling focuses on just-in-case teaching and learning. Students are asked to learn material throughout their schooling just-in-case they need it someday. I contend that after students learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, they are asked to learn way too much content that may never use.

Just-in-time learning is a concept that has become popularized in connection to organizational development. “Just-in-time learning is an approach to individual or organizational and development that promotes need-related training be readily available exactly when and how it is needed by the learner” (Just-In-Time Learning).

Kids (and adults) who need to access information in order to learn something or improve their performance – think video gaming, cooking, learning to play an instrument, fixing something, making something – often go directly to the Internet, most notably Youtube, to get some form of tutorial. This is just-in-time learning. Information is needed “then and there,” which motivates the learner to seek that information “then and there.”

In self-directed, interest-driven education, just-in-time learning becomes the norm. The educator, as truly the guide on the side, encourages and assists learners in engaging in just-in-time learning as a natural part of their learning process.

Whole Person Learning

As someone whose roots is in outdoor and experiential education, I believe a good learning experience engages the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social aspects of the learner. The focus becomes on helping educating the whole learner – not just their brain or intellect. Some have called this head, heart, and hand learning.

The 21st century is placing great demands on our students and educational system. To meet those demands, we recognize that educating the head (cognitive domain), exclusive of the heart and hand (affective and behavioral domains), is no longer educational best practice. It is the education of our students’ heads, hearts and hands that will genuinely prepare them for success in college, career and civic life. (Educating the Head, Heart, and Hand for the 21st Century)

Many researchers (Henting, 1997; Bruner, 2000; Stoll and Fink, 2000; Faultisch, 1999) believe, that quality education and successful education reforms can be achieved by changing the learning culture (with attention paid to the completeness and integrativity of a human being), especially in the context of lifelong learning which integrates all three domains of learning: cognitive (head), affective (heart) and psychomotor (hands). (“Head, Heart and Hands Learning”- A challenge for contemporary education)

Obviously to engage the head, heart, and hands, sitting at a desk won’t do it. Simply put, learners needed to move their bodies and have an emotional connection to the material to increase its stickiness.

Educator as the Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities

The educator, in a reformed model of education, 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.

he educator’s role truly becomes that of guide-as-the-side, coach, resource-suggester, and cheerleader as learners create their own learning journey. The educator has more life experience, knows (hopefully) about the process of learning, and has more procedural knowledge about how to find, identify, and use informational resources and social networking for learning purposes. Not only, then, does the educator help steer students in some more productive directions, s/he models the process of self-determined learning increasing the students’ aptitude for this type of learning. Learners, themselves, then also become mentors, teachers, and model learning for one another sharing best practices and strategies for effective learning.

Interest-Based Affinity Groups

Young people often find their own interest based affinity groups online. These include kids gathering via Discord or Twitch.tv to discuss video games, marginalized youth finding others like them through social media, and even groups as specific as those who share their art anime with one another for feedback.

Interest-based, affinity groups groups have been described in the report, an agenda for RESEARCH AND DESIGN A research synthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network:

The primary driver of participation for interest-driven activity is a sense of personal affinity, passion, and engagement. Learning in this mode is generally knowledge and expertise-driven, and evaluated by the metrics internal to the specific interest group, which can often be subcultural or quite different from what is valued by local peers or teachers.

If interest-based affinity groups are promoted in the educational setting, groups will naturally emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. The groups would be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There would be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member emerges as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

John Dewey, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Use of the Learner’s Community

Schools tend to be separate from the community – often not physically but in its use of its resources. The educator as a tour guide of learning possibilities assists the learner in locating and utilizing their community including local businesses, museums, parks, social service agencies, historical associations but it can be as simple as the learners going outside to do a science, writing or art project. Learning in the community is a form of place-based learning:

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging
personalized learning for students. More specifically, Place-Based Education is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” (What is Place Based Learning)

For learners new to using their community as part of their learning process, the educator’s responsibility is to assist learners in both navigating through their communities and to identify community resources that can help with their learning process.

Vigorous and Authentic Learning Experiences

Providing authentic and vigorous learning experiences to all learners should be the highest prior for all administrators, curriculum developers, and teachers.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?).

In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school. For related discussions, see 21st century skills, relevance, and vigor (Authentic Learning).

The bottom line, in my perspective, is that learners view their experiences as having relevancy to their own lives, that they address their interests and needs. The following graphic shows some of the benefits of authentic and vigorous learning.

Executive Function Skills Development

Most educators would agree that a purpose of education is to assist learners in developing life skills which will translate to their lives outside of the school setting.  These include goal setting, organizational skills, time management, and strategies to learn new things.  They are skills or ability sets that are important for students to learn any content area knowledge.  These are often discussed in the context of executive functions:

In their book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,” Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD state “These [executive function] skills help us create a picture or goal, a path to that goal, and the resources we need along the way”(p 2).  They identify 10 types of executive function skills that work together; namely: Sustaining attention, shifting attention, inhibiting impulses, initiating activity, planning and organization, organization of materials, time management, working memory and emotional control http://kooltools4students.weebly.com/at-and-executive-functioning.html

Most young people, themselves, would note there are skills that could assist them in being more successful in both school and out of school settings.   Most would agree that organization skills, goals setting, and time management are relevant to other areas of their lives.

Executive functions and self-regulating skills development should be part of the school curriculum regardless of the age and demographics of the student body.  Using and teaching these skills often have the advantage of becoming intrinsically motivated and self-directed as well as often making sense to students as something that has meaning and relevancy.

Here are some additional resources to assist learners in developing their executive function skills:

A Focus on Social Emotional Learning

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

Here are some resources for bringing social emotional learning into the school and into the classroom:

Anti-Racism Awareness and Actions

When you’re essentially [teaching] a kid to be anti-racist, you’re deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and Racism. You’re deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals. You’re deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures. And we should value them all equally.

It’s important for parents and for educators to be intentional about preparing our young people for the world that they are inheriting and living in. To not talk about it is a disservice to all young people. So not just black students who need to learn about their blackness and their history, but white students as well and nonblack people of color need to know our country’s history and talk explicitly about it.(How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist?)

Some anti-racist learning activities can be found at:

Parting Shot

Educational stakeholders such as administrators, educators, parents, and community members might look at this or a similar list of proposed educational reform actions, and say, “This is unrealistic. It can’t be done.” To them I say, “None of you expected the changes that COVID19 would force upon you and your students/children, but you made those changes. Not all have been successful, but most were successful to some degree. It demonstrates, though, that significant change is possible when all stakeholders work together.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 13, 2020 at 11:03 pm

A Beautiful Boy

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During Fall 2020, I taught gifted education at the high school on our south-side. The south-side is known for its low income housing and its primarily Hispanic population. As an itinerant gifted education teacher, I work at several schools. Our district has extremes of schools – high income communities at one extreme, that have the characteristics of private schools, to the other extreme of Title 1 schools with 100% free and reduced lunch programs. I choose to work at these schools. For three years previously, I taught at Title 1 K-6 schools. I wanted to give high school a try. I really wanted it to work but it ended up being too difficult for me. I realized I can better serve younger students. Too many of my students (noting that they were identified as gifted) have mentally and intellectually checked out of school and were flunking many of their classes. Their emotional needs were too vast and deep to be able to concentrate on their academics. For example, I spent an afternoon with two 9th grade gifted girls who were my caseload, one had gotten into trouble for missing for two days. She had been holed up with a 19 year old guy who wouldn’t take her home. They told me stories about their lives that were absolutely heartbreaking – sexual abuse as children, abusive foster care homes, a father in jail for murdering someone, their own sexual promiscuity and drug use.

This leads me to a beautiful boy, Ivan. He was in a STEM class I taught that one semester. He showed up . . . sometimes. At one point, he was gone for a few weeks. I checked to see why and found it he was in juvenile detention. He was on probation (I am not sure why). Because he skipped school, he broke his probation and was put in juvie. He told me that he got in trouble in middle school due to anger problems, but all I saw was a kind, gentle and soft spoken young man. He told me about only living with an older brother because his mother lived in a town up north with “some guy.” He also told me he thought a lot about what was going on in the world and spent time on the internet looking up these things he thought about.

Although he rarely did work in my class, spending most of his time on his cell phone finding and listening to music, I really, really liked him. I couldn’t help but light up when he walked into the classroom, which was typically late. There was something special about him. I missed him when he was in juvie for two weeks, so much so that when he returned to school and my classroom, I yelled hooray, jumped up, and gave him a big side hug. He smiled at me with his big, bright smile and gave me a big side hug back.

Even with a label of gifted, school met none of his needs. He was only interested in writing and performing rap. He wrote, recorded, and published one of his songs onto an online music platform (I now wish I knew which one). I asked him to play it for me during class. I loved it. His eyes shined with joy and pride when he told me about it and even more so when the other students in the class and I listened to it. Such a beautiful boy!

He was such a beautiful boy. I used past tense, “was,” because this past week we got an email from the high school principal that Ivan was murdered due to gun violence.

I have spent the week wondering. I wonder if the schools better addressed his passion for music with his days spent at school writing lyrics, composing music, and recording and publishing his rap songs – maybe he would have been in a recording studio rather than roaming the streets in the very early morning hours. I wonder what would have been different if the schools focused more in his social-emotional needs than on his academics. I wonder what would have been different if the schools better addressed the socio-cultural factors and hardships that he faced everyday – maybe the cycle of violence and poverty could have been broken. Finally, I wonder what kind of man Ivan would have turned out to be since he was such a beautiful boy (young man).

Parting Shot: I sent the high school principal the photo of Ivan that I took of him working on an Arduino (bottom of post). She sent the news my photo. I guess they asked her for one. It was my final gift to him – being able to show him to the world as engaged in a school project; showing him at his best – I have a hunch there are possibly no other photos like this of him. RIP, Ivan – you really did rock!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 18, 2020 at 2:53 pm

Anti-Racist Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students

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I am planning to do anti-racist activities with my elementary students (5th and 6th graders) this coming fall.

When you’re essentially [teaching] a kid to be anti-racist, you’re deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and Racism. You’re deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals. You’re deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures. And we should value them all equally.

It’s important for parents and for educators to be intentional about preparing our young people for the world that they are inheriting and living in. To not talk about it is a disservice to all young people. So not just black students who need to learn about their blackness and their history, but white students as well and nonblack people of color need to know our country’s history and talk explicitly about it.(How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist?)

During this unit, designed for grades 4 through 8, students will gain an awareness of inequities, privilege and racism in the United States, and how to use their voice to express their wants, needs, and rights (most of my students at my Title 1 school are Hispanic) as well as how to be allies to Black communities through anti-racist actions.

The activities I plan to do (can be completed using social distancing) with my students include:

  • Introduction Using Bitmoji Classroom
  • Antiracist Children’s Talking Books
  • I Am Poem
  • Make a Podcast or Write a Song
  • Quilt
  • Online Book/Zine or Scratch Game

Introduction

Learners are given access to the following Google slide and asked to explore the resources independently.

Anti-Racist Children’s Talking Books

Learners read each of the following anti-racist children’s books either independently or as read alouds. (I bought a set for my classroom.) To view the full set, access the link to the Wakelet aggregate.

Each learner chooses one book to make it into a talking book. To introduce them to their task of making a talking book using the microcontroller, Makey Makey, they are shown the content found within the web article, Makey Talking Book From Scratch, which includes a video, written instructions, and images.

Once they use Scratch programming to record the reading of their selected books, they program it to correspond to different Makey Makey keys. They can add sound effects available on Scratch to correspond with each of their reading segments. Next, they wire their books with copper tape. They then connected the Makey Makey to their book’s copper wires using alligator clips. Learners can then take their talking books into classrooms with younger grades so they can play their books.

In lieu of and as an extension to this activity, learners can create laser cut or 3D printed characters from these books, using Make “Joy” Using Google Drawings & Tinkercad, as a reference guide.

I Am Poems

Learners search through Stories of 40 Incredible Kids Who Have Changed the World and identify one BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) young person about whom they want learn more. After doing some more research about their selected young person, they write an I Am poem from the perspective of that person. An alternative for older students is to do this activity choosing a Black activist. A sample list can be found at https://www.biography.com/people/groups/civil-rights-activists.

Here is the template for the I Am Poem with an online version found at https://freeology.com/worksheet-creator/poetry/i-am-poem/.

Using Adobe Spark (a free and easy option to create multimedia presentations), they create a multimedia presentation that incorporates both images and a recording of them reading their poems. Here is an example (not made with Adobe Spark but still a good example of what can be done):

Podcast

For this activity, learners created a podcast and/or write a song related to anti-racism. They can create a opinion piece where they discuss their thoughts and opinions about anti-racism, they can create a show where they interview other learners about their thoughts, or they can write and record a song.

Learners are asked to listen to the podcast, Art for Activism with the Butterfly Effect and listen to the song wrote and sung by Keedron Bryan called I just wanna live for inspiration. (These resources can also be found in the bitmoji classroom.) For older and more mature students, there are the Generation Justice podcasts. These are created and produced by a group of high school and college students, “

Here are some resources about podcasting and recording with students:

Quilt

The inspiration for this activity comes from the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Here are some examples that young people created:

Learners design their quilt blocks on Powerpoint slides basing it on anti-racist messages they would like to convey. The slide dimension should be 12″ x 12″, the size of the finished quilt block. Powerpoint allows for shapes to be merged to create some more complex shapes. (Google Slides doesn’t have this function.) These shapes are cut out from fabric using a Cricut machine or laser cutter. These pieces are glued onto a piece of 15″ x 15″ fleece. Learner quilt pieces can be combined using the no sew method described here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTWc01iyoHg. Students are asked to write an artist’s statement similar to the examples above.

Online Book-Zine

Learners complete this unit by creating an online book or zine that describes the actions taken or the plans for actions to be taken in order to educate others about anti-racist practices. Here is an example.

Open Your Eyes: See What the World Could Really Be

Book Creator is a great tool to use for this. The illustrations can be drawn and painted (like the example) using Paint Online or Sumopaint. As an alternative, students can do a series of comics using a tool such as Storyboard That. These art pieces are downloaded as images and then uploaded to Book Creator where they can add text.

Scratch Video Game

An alternative to above, learners can create a Scratch game about the actions they can take regarding educating others about anti-racist practices. Here are some examples with the theme of Black Lives Matter.

Learners can create their sprites and backgrounds either with the Scratch painting tool or upload images they make with papers and colors.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 12, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Virtual Team Building Activities

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I, like many others, was forced to move a face-to-face college class to virtual synchronous meetings in Zoom. This term I am teaching a group dynamics course. One of my goals is to have my students experience similar dynamics and processes as they would face-to-face. Typically, I do this through experiential group activities. My task has become converting these experiences to a virtual environment.

What follows are descriptions of some of these activities:

  • Ice Breaker Wheel
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Two Truths and a Lie Via Flipgrid
  • I Am Poems
  • Padlet Partner Interviews Partner Interviews
  • Team Contracts
  • Flippity Scavenger Hunt – Virtual Escape Room
  • Body Part Debrief (ala Michelle Cummings)

Ice Breaker Wheel

During the webinar, each student is given a link to the ice breaker wheel. Each student takes turns spinning it to get a question and then provides an answer to the rest of the group.

Never Have I Ever

During the virtual meeting, never have you ever questions are asked. If individual students have experienced it, they jump out of their chairs. There are lots of websites that have these questions including https://icebreakerideas.com/never-have-i-ever/. Here is a list from that website:

Never have I ever . . .:

  • Dyed my hair
  • Baked a cake from scratch
  • Fallen down in public
  • Had braces
  • Built something out of wood
  • Been to Disney World
  • Eaten a Krispy Kreme donut
  • Screamed during a scary movie
  • Been to a professional sporting event
  • Rolled down a hill
  • Toilet papered someone’s house
  • Laughed so hard I cried
  • Burned myself with a curling iron
  • Gotten seasick
  • Eaten food that fell on the floor
  • Shared a sucker with my dog
  • Had chickenpox
  • Shopped at Home Depot
  • Spied on my neighbors
  • Plucked my eyebrows
  • Ridden in a limo
  • Had a pet fish
  • Lied about my age
  • Bought something at a yard sale
  • Made a prank call
  • Gotten a tattoo
  • Had food come out my nose
  • Had a massage
  • Locked my keys in the car
  • Ridden a horse
  • Been lost
  • Been to Europe
  • Built a fire
  • Been skydiving
  • Played golf
  • Had a manicure
  • Made mashed
  • Made all A’s in school
  • Eaten a bug

Two Truths and a Live via Flipgrid

Many have played Two Truths and a Lie. For those who have not or who have forgotten the directions, here they are:

To get started, give out the instructions to the group by letting them know that each person will introduce themselves by stating two truths and one lie. They don’t have to be intimate, life-revealing things, just simple hobbies, interests, or past experiences that make each person unique. The lie can be outrageous, wacky, or sound like a truth, making it even harder for the other participants who have to guess which statement is a lie (https://www.thoughtco.com/2-truths-lie-idea-list-1-31144).

To do this online, each student records her/his two truths and a lie using Flipgrid (The teacher is the only one who needs an account. Here is more information how to use Flipgrid – https://flipgrid.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360007460474-Getting-Started-Educators). The other class members make their guess for which is the lie via the comment function in Flipgrid. Here is an example:

I Am Poems

Students are provided with an “I Am” template, – https://freeology.com/worksheet-creator/poetry/i-am-poem/. Once the poems are written, participants are given a link to a shared Google Slide presentation (shared with anyone with a link can edit) that you started. They are asked to use one of the presentation slides to compose their poem and include a photo or image that symbolizes the essence of their identity. After all participants complete this task, the presentation, one poem at a time, is shared in the webinar platform.  Students read their poems to their classmates when it comes up in the Google Slide presentation.

What follows is an example from my class.

Padlet Partner Interviews

Padlet is used for this activity. (The teacher is the only one who needs an account. For more information about creating Padlets, see https://jn.padlet.com/ ). Students are split into partners (several of the webinar platforms allow for breakout rooms). They interview one another. They can come up with their own questions or they choose some from https://museumhack.com/list-icebreakers-questions/. Once done interviewing, the interviewer puts the summary of her or his interview on a Padlet sticky note and then selects an image (there is a Google search tool within Padlet) that represents the essence of that interview. When the whole group reconvenes, each group member shares one cool thing learned about her or his partner. Below is an example Padlet (screenshot).

Team Contracts

Team contracts are good to use if the group or team will be working together for multiple class sessions over a period of time such as for weeks or months. Groups are given the instruction to come up with norms that will make this a group where individual team or group members feel a sense of safety to disclose information about themselves and also to feel willing to take risks. The class is broken into smaller breakout groups of 3 to 5 people per group. One group member acts as the media specialist. They add norms and graphics based on their small group input and consensus of ideas.

What follows are example team contracts completed during a Zoom session. The following two examples were completed by small groups using technology – the first one with https://www.canva.com/ and the second one with a Powerpoint slide.

The next example was done with one person cutting out letters and adding key terms that her team members brainstormed.

Flippity Scavenger Hunt – Virtual Escape Room

Flippity,net has a template for creating a virtual scavenger hunt/escape room. Here are the directions for how to do so https://flippity.net/ScavengerHunt.htm.

I created one for my group dynamics course if you want to try it out.

(Hint: Some of the answers are open-ended. Some require specific answers. To make it through the entire series of locks, #6 is courage and #7 is active listening.)

Debrief

It is important to put a sense of closure at the end of the virtual group sessions. To do so, a prompt can be given to the students that helps them think and respond about their significant take away from the virtual class session. Each participant is given an opportunity to answer the prompt one at a time in an “around the group” fashion.

What follows are a few developed by Michelle Cummings of Training Wheels. The first is the Dice Debrief. Team members spin a dice and that number role indicates which question they will answer on the following graphic. If someone doesn’t have a dice, they can use a virtual one by just googling “virtual dice.”

The following debrief prompt, developed by Michelle Cummings, is the body part debrief. Each student picks one of the body parts and the corresponding question to answer for their session closing comment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 30, 2020 at 1:14 am

A mis niños y niñas especiales: To my special students

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This is a love letter to you, my special, smart, and beautiful students. You have touched my heart so deeply and profoundly that words cannot adequately convey how much you mean to me. I write this note, so you know the hopes and dreams I have for you.

You come to a school that is known as a Title 1 school meaning that a lot of students at our school come from economically disadvantaged families. You may not know this as the teachers and staff at our school demand that you receive educational resources and a quality education; the same kind of education that students receive at schools in the wealthier parts of our school district. My hope for you is that you always realize that true wealth is not measured by how much money one has but in how much one stays open to learning and gives of oneself to make the world a better place.

You come to a school that, before the state stopped rating schools, had C and D ratings (due to standardized test scores). You did not know that because when you or anyone else walks into our school, you are greeted with smiles and kindness. The walls throughout the school walls are filled with the wonderful academic work from our K-6 students.

During our gifted classes, as you know, respect for each other takes precedence over everything else. You are different ages, different genders, and different ethnicities. Conflicts happen as they do in life. You handled them with great sophistication, never calling one another names, talking about how the conflict made you feel, and discussing actions to avoid similar conflicts in the future. My hope is that you take this respect and ability to discuss your thoughts and feelings in other parts of your life now and in the future.

We live in a state that is 55% Hispanic and a school that is 85% Hispanic. Your Mexican customs and culture are so very beautiful. It has been a privilege to learn about the Mexican food, music, dance, art, and holidays. I hope you will always be proud of your culture and will freely share it with others who are unfamiliar with it. I owe you an apology in that I didn’t use curriculum materials and resources that featured the Mexican culture. You should have learned more about Mexican writers, artists, scientists, mathematicians, culinary artists, and athletes. I am making a commitment to use such materials during our next school year. To the few of you who are moving onto middle school and won’t be in my gifted classes any longer, I am deeply sorry. I can only wish that your future teachers will use and create such materials. My hope for all of you is that you will educate your children, relatives, friends, and others about your beautiful Mexican culture.

You come from a state that is 55% Hispanic and a school that is 85% Hispanic. Your background and culture are accepted here in New Mexico. You may not be accepted if you end up going to school or living in a state without a majority of a Hispanic population. I’ve had students in the past who told me stories of being shocked when living in another state where there were prejudicial acts against them such as being followed throughout a store; just because of the color of their skin. I hope, as MLK stated, that you will live in a world that you will not be judged by the color of your skin, but by the content of your character. My hope for you, in any case, is that you have developed the resilience that comes with loving and being proud of who you are regardless of what others may think. Black and Brown lives really do matter.

You come from families with parents who do not have college degrees. My hope for you is that, if you choose to, you will go to college. In my discussions with your parents, that is their hope for you, too. Even though you haven’t had some of the same advantages as wealthier students, you are smart enough, creative enough, and motivated enough to be successful in any college you choose; that you can keep up and even surpass other students at that college.

I write this note to you in times of unrest in the United States due to the murders of Black men and women by the police. I write this note in hopes that you will become an adult who works for justice for all. I know this is a lot of pressure, but my hope and faith come from knowing you will be our future leaders.

I leave you with this Mexican Dichos (Proverb):

You can’t succeed if you don’t try.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 9, 2020 at 5:17 pm

Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar

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I always start my classes with some form of emotional check-in regardless of age or grade level. I do so in my college classes as well as in my elementary gifted classes. I think this is even more imperative given the stress students are experiencing due to COVID19. The 10 to 15 minutes it takes is so worth the class time.

Some of the benefits of emotional check-ins discussed in the Edutopia article, A Simple but Powerful Class Opening Activity, include:

Students know that every voice matters: The emotional check-in gets every student’s voice into the room at the start of each class. Although students can always say “pass” instead of sharing, each student has the opportunity to be heard every class session. The check-in is also a great opportunity to practice active listening, turn-taking, and following group norms.

Students develop awareness of others’ emotions—and how to respond to them: When students share their emotions during the check-in, they give their classmates a snapshot of their emotional state. And if I hear a student say that “I didn’t sleep much last night” or “I feel like I can’t focus today,” I can adjust my interactions with that person accordingly.

The check-ins also acknowledge that how students are feeling is important to the educator, that they matter as human beings who have feelings and emotions.

One of my college classes moved from face-to-face to Zoom this semester. What follows are some of the check-in activities I have done with them.

Feeling Charts

Students use a feeling chart to describe how they are feeling. A side benefit of using feeling charts is that they help students increase their feelings vocabulary.

Source: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry

Share a Rose; Share a Thorn

Each student shares a Rose, something good or positive, from the day or week; and a Thorn, something not-so-good or positive, from the day or week.

Four Types of Care

Students, during the check-in, take turns using the four types of self care graphic to describe strategies they are doing or would like to do to be physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy.

5 Step Check-In Process

The teacher leads students through the 5 step check-in process described in Emotional Check-ins: Why You Need Them:

  1. Tune into your body.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Ask the question. Use the simple question, “How am I feeling?” Make it even more specific by tacking on the phrase “right now” or “in this moment.” 
  4. Use descriptive words to capture how you feel. 
  5. Brainstorm what might be contributing to those emotions.

Then each student is given an opportunity to share what came up for them during the exercise.

Mondrianfy Your Feelings

Students are instructed to find a slide that has shapes and colors that Mondrian used in his artwork. They then use those shapes to create an abstract representations of their feelings. I learned this through Dan Ryder. See below for an example:

Find an Object

Students are asked to find something in their home environment that represents how they are doing; how they are feeling right now. Each student is given an opportunity to share their object via the webinar screen and describe why they selected it. Below are images of my college students doing this check in.

Pear Deck

Pear Decks are very similar to a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation. But instead of simply static, informational slides, you get to create Interactive Slides that let every student respond to your questions or prompts. Once PearDeck is activated, through the Google Slides add-on, students are given a code to access the Pear Deck. There they interact with each slide through typing, drawing, and using a draggable icon depending how the teacher set up the slide. What follows is the Pear Deck I used for a check-in at the start of one of my classes.



Create an Image Based Timeline of Feelings

Students create a timeline of images that represent: how you felt last week; how you feel today; how you want to feel this coming week; and finally, what strategies you can use to get to how you want to feel this coming week. Students then share their images via their webinar cameras and discuss their meaning with the rest of the class. What follows are (1) the prompt for this activity, and (2) sample student pictures:

Gif Image

Using Giphy students do a search for different feelings and emotions they are currently experiencing, and then select one or more Gifs that represent those feelings. They then take turns to do a screenshare of their selected Giphy and explain why they selected it.

Padlet Check-In

Padlet is an application to create an online bulletin board that you can use to display information for any topic. You can add images, links, videos, text, and drawings. Below is a Padlet I created for an emotional check-in.

Emoji Soundboard

Students choose one or two of the emojis+sounds found at https://www.classtools.net/soundboard/ to describe how they are feeling.

Mentimeter

Menitmeter allows teachers to engage and interact with students in real-time. It is a polling tool wherein teachers can set the questions and your students can give their input using a mobile phone or any other device connected to the Internet. Their input is displayed on a slide in a selected format: Word Cloud, Speech Bubbles, One-By-One, and Flowchart. In the case of check-ins, it can be used to have students put in responses to a question related to how they feeling at the start of class and their responses then are shown to the class via a slide. The example below shows a slide with a Word Cloud of emotional check-in responses.

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called “topics,” and their students can post video responses. For an emotional check-in, students record a short video about how they are feeling.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 16, 2020 at 10:02 pm

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.

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

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