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ChatGPT with My Students

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I love educational technology. When technologies were first available online, I was an early adopter, and often got brutally criticized by administrators and colleagues in my K-6 settings for having students use the internet for research, use web tools, create webpages in wikis, and work virtually with schools in other states and countries (for example, see their work from 2008 at http://weewebwonders.pbworks.com/). Now, similar work is often seen as innovative by colleagues. Boy, have times thankfully changed, but I have not. I still am an early adopter of technologies in that I believe many can benefit students in their learning.

As many in education know, commentary about ChatGPT is appearing on the news, social media, and the internet. As I always do, I am exploring its use in my classes (elementary-level gifted education). This post describes its use in education from the perspectives of ChatGPT, itself, and from a handful of educators. Later, I describe and show the work of my students. I conclude with tools for detecting machine-generated text, and provide a parting shot.

General Ideas for Using ChatGPT in Education

ChatGPT, according to ChatGPT, is a variant of the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) language model that has been specifically designed for generating human-like text for chatbot applications. GPT models are trained on large amounts of text data and are able to generate natural language text that is coherent and grammatically correct. ChatGPT is trained to generate text that is more conversational and appropriate for use in chatbot applications. It can be used to generate responses to user input, initiate conversations, and provide information and assistance to users in a chatbot setting.

According to ChatGPT, there are several potential ways that ChatGPT or similar language models could be used in education:

  • As a tutor or teaching assistant: ChatGPT could be used to provide personalized feedback and guidance to students, answering questions and providing explanations on a variety of educational topics.
  • For language learning: ChatGPT or similar models could be used to provide conversation practice and feedback to students learning a new language.
  • To generate personalized learning content: ChatGPT or similar models could be used to generate customized learning materials for students, such as practice problems or reading assignments.
  • To facilitate collaborative learning: ChatGPT or similar models could be used to facilitate discussions and collaboration among students, providing prompts and guidance for group projects and assignments.

Here are some guides created by educators, Torrey Trust and Andrew Herft, for using ChatGPT in educational settings. They include uses for teachers such as creating lesson plans and assessments as well as how students can use it:

ChatGPT in the K-12 Setting

When specifically asked how ChatGPT can be used by K-12 students, it reported the following:

K-12 students can use ChatGPT in a variety of ways to enhance their learning experience. Some examples include:

  • Asking ChatGPT to explain a difficult concept or topic
  • Using ChatGPT to generate practice questions and answers for studying
  • Asking ChatGPT to summarize a text or article
  • Using ChatGPT to generate creative writing prompts
  • Asking ChatGPT to help with homework by answering questions or providing explanations
  • Using ChatGPT to improve reading comprehension by asking questions about a text
  • Creating interactive quizzes and games to make learning more engaging

It also (thankfully) provided a disclaimer: It’s important to note that while ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for K-12 students, it should not be used as a substitute for a teacher or other educational professional. A teacher can help to provide guidance, feedback, and structure to the learning process.

Matt Miller of Ditch the Textbook also discussed uses of ChatGPT in K-12 education:

More detailed explanations of these can be found in ChatGPT, Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence in Education.

ChatGPT Can Support Students’ Social Emotional Learning

Students and teachers may benefit from asking and discovered various ways it could assist someone with social and emotional skills. It gave helpful answers to all the questions below, and when asked to “regenerate the response” was able to provide additional quality responses. It can be very helpful for anyone who has a difficult time in social situations, is nervous about making friends, is conflicted about how to handle a particular situation.

  • What are some questions I could ask a new friend?
  • What advice do you have for someone starting a new school and wanting to make friends?
  • What are some suggestions for how to say no if a friend asks to copy my homework?
  • What are suggestions to explain to someone what they said or did hurt my feelings?
  • What are small talk suggestions at a party?
  • I am nervous about my test tomorrow; can you give me some relaxation strategies?
  • I want to motivate my group members to help with our project; what are some suggestions to help motivate them?
  • I made the soccer team, but my best friend didn’t make it, I feel bad and don’t know what to do. Do you have any suggestions?
  • I want to practice being kind in the new year. What are some specific ways I can show kindness to others? (ChatGPT to Your Classroom-your-classroom/).

Testing ChatGPT with My Students

In his blog post, ChatGPT, Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence in Education, Matt proposed that maybe ChatCPT should be blocked until the end of the school year because, “We need some space. Some time. A little room to ponder, to sit with all of this. To talk to other educators about what they think. To talk to students and to parents.” For me, the best way to find out about the functionality and effectiveness of any potential classroom-based educational technology is to have students test it out for themselves, so that is what I did with my 4th-6th graders.

I think it is important to be intentional when any educator or I use any type of educational technology. I get frustrated when I see conference presentations about 50 educational technologies in 50 minutes. It becomes about the tool rather than about the pedagogy. When using educational technology in the classroom, instructional goals should be established beyond just learning about the tool. As such, when I asked students to explore ChatGPT, I had two purposes in mind, (1) To be critical consumers of online tools, and (2) To increase their joy of the written word.

They were given the following task:

  • Test out ChatGPT with two of the following
    • A Piece of Your Own Writing
    • Favorite Book
    • Favorite Song
    • Current News Story
    • Historical Event
    • (My students ended up using it to create a written piece to go with an image generated by DALL·E 2, a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language.)
  • For each, try to
    • Create a rap or rock song.
    • Write a three act play, TV show, or movie. Specify the characters.
    • Create a fairy tale.
    • Write a limerick.
    • Create a newscast.
    • Create a holiday.
    • Create a commercial.
    • Make a joke.
    • Get feedback.
  • Rules
    • No violence.
    • No fighting characters.
    • Focus on the positive and kindness.

Students then wrote a blog post that included their results as well as reflections on the following questions:

  • Did it produce desirable results? If so, to what degree? If not, why?
  • What did you like best?
  • Do you think it will lose its novelty? Why or Why not?
  • How can it help you learn better?
  • Why shouldn’t it ever be used in school?

Here is a slide deck of their work that they posted on their Fan school blogs (note: I instructed them to indicate that the images and text were generated by AI:

A summary of my students comments about using ChatGPT at school:

  • ChatGPT should not be used in school because then kids will use it instead of writing themselves, which defeats the purpose of practicing to write, a skill that is vital in later life.
  • On the other hand, it could help me learn proper grammar and advanced words.
  • It can help you learn by giving you examples and thoughts.
  • The results were very desirable because it was very good grammar and a realistic image, I rate it a ten.
  • I think this website will help me learn better by including proficient and highly advanced words.
  • I think ChatGPT should never be used in school because it takes no work other than typing a few words into a search bar and then you push a button and the website does all the work for you.
  • I think a reason why you should not use this for school work is because you will get in trouble.
  • I like it because it is so cool the way that it creates a story just by describing something.
  • I think you shouldn’t use AI at school because you are basically cheating. 

I then asked students to create a pledge for using ChatGPT for work related to school:


Detecting Machine-Generated Text

Teachers, rightfully, are fearful of the potential for students to cheat using ChatGPT to generate essays, homework assignments, etc. To help offset this problem, apps and tools are being develop to help detect

  •  GPTZero.me rolled out their new model that includes sentence highlighting and much faster processing. GPTZero now highlights sentences for you that are more likely to have been written by AI, a key feature that teachers have been requesting. File uploads have been added You can upload a PDF, docx, or txt file where GPTZero will read the text and detect AI plagiarism!
  • AI Writing Check is a free service developed by Quill.org and CommonLit.org to enable educators to check if a piece of writing submitted by a student was written by the AI tool ChatGPT. This algorithm is designed to detect AI-generated writing. We estimate, based on testing with 15k essays, that this tool is accurate 80-90% of the time. For this reason, we’d like to encourage teachers to exercise caution when using this tool to detect academic dishonesty. AI Writing Check is a stopgap tool measure for educators to use this school year until more advanced AI detection tools are made widely available.
  • Giant Language Model Test Room (or GLTR) is another tool that can be used to predict if casual portions of text have been written with AI. To use GLTR, a piece of text simply copy and pasted into the input box and anaylze is hit to generate a report.

Parting Shot

Many of the same fear and arguments that are being leveraged against ChatGPT in education settings have been leveraged against other technologies in the past. Wikipedia is one of those examples. I loved it when it first came out, but I knew lots of teachers who banned Wikipedia in their classrooms.

“Big-picture, AI will cause a shift students will deal with for the rest of their lives. They’ll wrestle with questions of humanity, questions of obsolescence, ethical questions. Let’s [teachers] help them with this” (http://ditch.link/ai via @jmattmiller).

The presence of disruptive technologies like ChatGPT should cause us to reflect on our learning goals, outcomes, and assessments, and determine whether we should change them in response, wall off the technology, or change the technology itself to better support our intended outcomes. We should not let our existing approaches remain simply because this is the way we have always done them. We should also not ruin what is great about writing in the name of preventing cheating. We could make students hand-write papers in class and lose the opportunity to think creatively and edit for clarity. Instead, we should double down on our goal of making sure that students become effective written and oral communicators. For better or worse, these technologies are part of the future of our world. We need to teach our students if it is appropriate to use them, and, if so, how and when to work alongside them effectively (Advice and responses from faculty on ChatGPT and A.I.-assisted writing)

These technology-driven disruptions will not be smooth, even if they can make us better off in the long run. Among the worst things we could do would be to let the drawbacks of these technologies deny us their benefits. In addition, the net effect of these changes will not be felt equally, so we all had better improve our capacity for compassion soon. The impact of ChatGPT and similar tools on education and the workforce may not yet feel much different than the trends of recent decades, but the depth and breadth of the changes brought by AI tools is accelerating and may be something new entirely (With ChatGPT, Education May Never Be the Same). 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 22, 2023 at 9:37 pm

Student and Teacher Motivational Needs in the School Setting

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Motivation is not only important in its own right; it is also an important predictor of learning and achievement. Students who are more motivated to learn persist longer, produce higher quality effort, learn more deeply, and perform better in classes and on standardized tests. It’s commonsense, but it’s also reinforced by hundreds of studies (An Important Piece of the Student Motivation Puzzle).

The topic of teacher and student motivational needs is too often given tangential thought and discussion. I know that teachers, curriculum specialists, and administrators believe in its importance, but I rarely see it brought up in readings and professional development. I propose that it is at the core of learning and as such, needs to be forefront of all teaching and learning.

In addition to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, motivation theories of William Glasser, David McClelland, and Fredrick Herzberg have application to a school environment. Looking at theories of motivation can create a broader perspective as well as give educators additional ideas for meeting their own and their students’ needs. In this post, I discuss some of these motivational theories and propose an integration of these theories. This discussion is relevant for both teachers and students. If teachers aren’t getting their growth needs met, then it is very difficult for them to help their students get theirs met.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Note: When referencing Maslow, it is important to note and acknowledge that Maslow was heavily influenced by Blackfeet ideas but did not credit them for that influence. For articles that discuss this, see https://elink.io/p/9155b1f.

Every teacher I’ve met has studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs so I won’t include any detailed explanation as part of this discussion. As a review, I included some resources that follow:

Resources:

Take-Aways:

Almost all teachers know about Maslow and believe in the validity of this theory. A key point is that there are deficit and growth needs. I believe that most schools do a great job insuring that students’ (and teachers’) deficit needs are met. Most students would say that they aren’t hungry (due to free and reduced programs), have a roof over their heads, enough light, and a chair to sit on. Even though there are still too many exceptions, most would also say that they don’t feel unsafe by peers or teachers. Too many teachers and students, though, would say that school doesn’t address their growth needs; that they don’t spend enough, or even any, time pursuing personal interests and talents.

Willian Glasser’s 5 Basic Needs


William Glasser’s theory isn’t studied or discussed as much as it was a decade or two ago. He identified basic motivation needs: Survival, Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun. Survival and Belonging are similar to those identified by Maslow but Power, Freedom, and Fun are different and are important in the discussion of student and teacher motivators.

Power: Power is a sense of em­powerment, worthiness, self-efficacy, and achievement, and an outer sense of being heard and respected and feeling competent and attaining recog­nition. Power in a school setting may be defined by the stu­dent’s (and teacher’s) ability to make choices and be an equal contribu­tor in learning. Students (and teachers) want activities to be relevant and to bring them competence and pride.

Freedom: Freedom is the need for independence and autonomy; the ability to make choices, to create, to explore, and to express oneself freely; to have sufficient space, to move around, and to feel unrestricted in determining choices and free will. To achieve this, students (and teachers) need indepen­dence, options, choices, autonomy, and liberty in both physical and psychological aspects. Ideally, it will include having the freedom to create, having time to generate one’s own thoughts, and sharing what’s been have created in the context of learning.

Fun: Fun is the psychological need for enjoyment-the desire to enjoy a job, to have a sense of humor, to engage in a hobby, to have interests, and to feel excitement about a work project or leisure time activity. Having fun includes experiencing enjoyment, pleasure, relaxation, laughter, and learning. In addition, the combination of laughing and learning can maximize the relationship that educators have with students.

(Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249832861_Our_Five_Basic_Needs)

Resources:

McClellands’ Learning Needs Theory


Resources:

In his research, Mclelland states that people have three primary needs: need for achievement, need for affiliation, and a need for power.

Need For Affiliation: The need for affiliation is a need to have positive social relationships with other people. These are your classic extroverts who love the company of others. Everyone has some need for affiliation, but for many, this is a high need. For people who need affiliation, the task is not essential to them. Instead, people who need affiliation respond to situations in which people depend on them. For students, this can be situations such as group projects and or team sports. Nothing can cripple high affiliated people then isolation. In addition, students who have a low need for affiliation will equally cause issues if they are always expected to socialize and be a part of the group.

Need for Achievement: The need for achievement is how strongly a person wants to have success at completing a task. High-achieving people feel a personal responsibility when they are expected to do something. High achievement people like to take on projects that have a moderate success rate. In other words, high achievement individuals hate something that is too easy but equally loose motivation for suicide tasks that have a low success rate. High achievers also have a desire for feedback. This is because they want to know if they have achieved success.

Need for Power: The need for power is a need to control, which means to influence other people. McClelland indicates two types of power, and these are personal power and social power. Personal power is a power to control others and is often political with a secret agenda. Social power is also seeking to influence others but to achieve the goals of the group or organization (Source: https://educationalresearchtechniques.com/2021/02/03/learned-needs-theory-and-students/) .

Note: Both Glasser and McClelland discuss the power need. Glasser’s explanation and description makes more sense to me in terms of this discussion.

Key Take-Aways from Glasser’s and McClelland’s Theories

There is some overlap of these two theories. Schools often work toward helping students develop a sense of affiliation and belonging especially after the pandemic with a greater focus on implementing social emotional learning. This is less so for power and freedom needs. I love that Glasser included fun. Sadly, way too often there is an emphasis on compliance within schools which is the antithesis of power and freedom – sometimes it is also the antithesis of fun and play.

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory


This is a good overview. It includes a comparison to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Resources:

Frederick Herzberg, a behavioral scientist, proposed a two-factor theory or the motivator-hygiene theory. There are some job factors that result in satisfaction while there are other job factors that prevent dissatisfaction. The opposite of “Satisfaction” is “No satisfaction” and the opposite of “Dissatisfaction” is “No Dissatisfaction.

Hygiene factors are those job factors which are essential for existence of motivation at workplace. These do not lead to positive satisfaction for long-term. But if these factors are absent/if these factors are non-existant at workplace, then they lead to dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors are also called as dissatisfiers or maintenance factors as they are required to avoid dissatisfaction. These factors describe the job environment/scenario. The hygiene factors symbolized the physiological needs which the individuals wanted and expected to be fulfilled. 

The hygiene factors cannot be regarded as motivators. The motivational factors yield positive satisfaction. These factors are inherent to work. These factors motivate the employees for a superior performance.These factors are called satisfiers. These are factors involved in performing the job. Employees find these factors intrinsically rewarding. (Source: https://www.managementstudyguide.com/herzbergs-theory-motivation.htm)

Take Aways:

This theory was developed with a business setting in mind. The two factor model can be applied to a school setting, too. When teachers and students have their survival and safety needs met (Herzberg’s hygiene factors), they may not be dissatisfied with the school but that doesn’t mean they are satisfied it. The goal of every teacher and administrator should be to create motivator-based factors and an environment whereby every teacher and student is motivated to be there and learn; where everyone in the school setting has the potential to be quite satisfied with their roles and jobs.

Student and Teacher Needs Ladder Framework

As someone who has been passionate about and studied human motivation for decades, I propose an integration of these motivational theories. I developed this framework to put a greater emphasis on growth and actualization needs in the school environment. A ladder and steps are used as the metaphor as I prefer a more physical-oriented depiction than a hierarchy or pyramid, which is difficult to impossible to climb. Including both a ladder and steps symbolizes that there are multiple ways to climb to high levels. (Note: This framework is appropriate for grades 2nd/3rd up.)

It has the following characteristics:

  1. The overall goal is to intentionally bring self-directed, self=determined, and joyful learning into the school environment.
  2. Experiencing as state of flow and student-centered learning are important aspects of motivation and increase as one goes up the ladder of needs. For more about flow, see What did you do in school today? and Flow – A Measure of Student Engagement.
  3. The needs ladder is split into safety and growth needs with a greater break down and emphasis on growth needs. I believe as Herzberg does in a two factor model. If student and teacher safety needs are met, then they are not dissatisfied with school but they aren’t satisfied with it either. Schools, as I’ve mentioned, typically do a good job with addressing needs. I believe it is now time to put a greater focus on growth needs so that both teachers and students are motivated, satisfied, and happy with their schools.
  4. This differs from Maslow’s model in that teachers and students can and will move up and down the ladder depending on the situation and class setting.
  • Basic Survival
    • Students and teachers have a safe physical environment and are fed if they are experiencing food insecurity. When school is unsafe for these students, their motivation is survival on a day-to-day basis.
  • Extrinsically-Motivated Compliance
    • Student and teacher needs are centered around avoiding punishment and/or receiving rewards, or because it is the expectation. It might be all both teachers and students know as compliance has been the expectation through their school careers. Motivation is strictly based on extrinsic elements.
  • Physically and Emotionally Safe with Peers, Teachers, and Staff
  • Connection to School Community
    • This is the transition from safety needs to growth needs. For some teachers and students, it is solidly a growth need, connection to peers and other school personnel meets core growth needs. For others, it helps to create a safe place but it may not personally meet growth needs.
    • The underlying core need is Affiliation, Love & Belonging – The need for affiliation and to love and belong includes the need for relationships, social connections, to give and receive affection and to feel part of a group.
  • Engagement and Excitement
    • Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education (https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/).
    • The core underlying need is Fun. The need for fun is the need to find pleasure, to play and to laugh.
    • There is potential to experience flow and joy.
  • Empowerment
    • Empowerment is the “process by which individuals and groups gain power, access to resources and control over their own lives. In doing so, they gain the ability to achieve their highest personal and collective aspirations and goals” (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 1998, p. 91 as cited in What is “empowerment” in education?).
    • The underlying core need is Power. To be powerful is to achieve, to be competent, to be skilled, to be recognized for our achievements and skill, and have a sense of self worth.
    • Empowerment occurs when teachers and students are given choice. John Spencer’s video provides some good suggestion 10 Ways to Empower Students With Choice.
    • A flow state is typically experienced; joy may or may not be present.
  • Intrinsically-Motivated Mastery
    • Motivation stems from internal sources – the increased self-esteem, Confidence and recognition that comes from successful performance (Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutatgogy – a Continuum and Comparison).
    • The underlying core need is Power. To be powerful is to achieve, to be competent, to be skilled, to be recognized for our achievements and skill, and have a sense of self worth.
    • This can occur through teaching self-directed strategies. It can be mastery of content or of a skill, or in the case of the teacher, learning and successfully teaching new content or skill. It may be interest-driven or not. For example, I have a student who often expresses a disdain for math, yet he prides himself on being able to get correct answers of his math problems.
    • Flow State is evident and observable. Joy may or may not be present and observable.
  • Actualization of Interest and Talents
    • Motivation, not only comes from being able to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents, but through developing self-efficacy, knowing how to learn, embracing creativity along with the ability to use these qualities in novel as well as familiar situations and working with others will be he thing that takes place (Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutatgogy – a Continuum and Comparison).
    • The core underlying need is Freedom, the need for independence, autonomy, to have choices and to be able to take control of the direction of one’s life while at school.
    • This can be facilitated through self-determined strategies. The goal is not only for students but for teachers whereby they have the permission, space, resources, and time to pursue their own self-determined learning and teaching
    • A flow state and joy are evident and observable, almost palatable.

The higher levels of Intrinsically-Driven Mastery and Actualization of Interests and Talents can be facilitated through self-directed/andragogy and self-determined/heutagogy teaching and learning strategies respectively.

Resources to Learn More About Self-Directed/Andragogy and Self-Determined/Heutagogy Teaching and Learning Strategies

Needs for BIPOC Students

It is important to add to this discussion a special note about addressing the human needs of BIPOC students. Here are some suggestions as identified by BMEsTalk (Black Male Educators):

  • Allow what you know about each individual to inform your expectations and attitudes towards them. Who they are as a singular person, as part of their culture, and where they’re at developmentally. See the whole being they are. 
  • This is a powerful position to take! Every teacher should desire to become familiar with the experiences of BIPOC students so they’re more aware of the unique challenges they face. As an educator, this knowledge can be shared, and racial equity can be advanced. 
  • Give BIPOC students safe and brave spaces to share difficult topics such as racial inequality, bias, and social injustice. You are being invited into a world that is not your own. You can learn so much from your students to further a racially equitable future for them and the students around them. 
  • As their current significant influence in their lives, educators should reinforce and redirect the language and conversation to model support for a student sharing their Black or BIPOC experience. When difficult topics arise during class time, you or your students may feel uncomfortable. Lean into the discomfort. Beyond the discomfort lies the opportunity to learn and educate more on these crucial issues. (https://bmestalk.com/social-emotional-learning-for-black-students/)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 3, 2023 at 1:31 am

Winter Holiday Display: A Great STREAM Project

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I love celebrating the holidays and calendar events with my gifted students from my bilingual, Title 1 school. I ask them to make artifacts and displays that showcase both their talents and the holiday (see my blog posts about Dia de las Muertos and Pi Day for examples.) Not only are the projects fun, engaging, and exciting, they also provide opportunities for students to gain STEM/STEAM/STREAM knowledge and skills that address interdisciplinary standards. For this year, 2022, they created displays that included components for Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa. To do so, they . . .

  • researched different components of the holidays, and created posters to go with the displays
  • used art and engineering to make kinaras, gingerbread houses, and dreidels
  • wired and used LEDs to light up their kinaras and gingerbread houses
  • programmed micro:bits and Circuit Playgrounds to go with their displays

Introduction

I live in New Mexico. Knowledge of Hanukah and Kwanzaa is limited by our state population. so I began this project with holiday themed Kahoot quizzes (the kids love Kahoots). I think Kahoot quizzes are a great way to introduce new information to students. Here is a list of the ones I did with students:

During the quizzes, I visited websites to show students more information about the content being covered.

ELA Common Core Standards

  • Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being and that are basic to a particular topic.

Researching the Different Winter Holidays

This is is the R in STREAM which translates into reading and writing. “STREAM adds one more layer to STEM and STEAM: reading and wRiting. Advocates of STREAM see literacy as an essential part of a well-rounded curriculum, as it requires critical thinking as well as creativity. STREAM projects are similar to STEM or STEAM, but fold in the components of reading and writing” (STEM vs. STEAM vs. STREAM: What’s the Difference?).

After selecting from a list of holiday-related topics, students researched, selected key points, and found applicable images to create posters for the displays. Here are the posters they created (noting that we are a bilingual Spanish class so some of them are in Spanish):

ELA Common Core Standards

  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being and that are basic to a particular topic.

Hanukah Dreidels

Kathy Ceceri developed the Circuit Playground Dreidel – https://learn.adafruit.com/CPX-Mystery-Dreidel/overview. Kathy has them cut out their cardstock dreidels from a PDF. I created a template in Cricut so they could be cut out ahead of time. Here is a link to it https://design.cricut.com/landing/project-detail/6380fecebf31eaf51e587127. Due to the complexity of the code, students were provided with the one developed by Kathy.

Another kind of dreidel was made using CDs – see https://minds-in-bloom.com/make-dreidel-out-of-cd/.

Finally, students get to play the dreidel game (happening this coming week).

Standards Addressed

Next Generation Science Standards – Engineering

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Social Studies Standard

  • Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Making Kinaras

“The kinara is a seven-branched candleholder used in Kwanzaa celebrations in the United States. During the week-long celebration of Kwanzaa, seven candles are placed in the kinara—three red on the left, three green on the right, and a single black candle in the center. The word kinara is a Swahili word that means candle holder. The seven candles represent the Seven Principles (or Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa. Red, green, and black are the symbolic colors of the holiday” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinara).

Students created the kinara by making tissue paper candle holders to make the kinara candles. See the Lighting section below on how they were lighted.

Standards Addressed

Social Studies Standard

  • Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

Making Gingerbread Houses

Making gingerbread houses is typically associated with Christmas time and it is a great activity for students. I purchased kits at deeply discounted websites like Five Below prior to the Christmas session. This means that the kits are quite old but they aren’t for eating, they are for display. To add another element of fun, I cut out the doors and filled them with Isomalt. This permitted students to add lights inside to micmic how a house might look like during Christmas (see next section on lighting).

Standards Addressed

Next Generation Science Standards – Engineering

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Lighting Up the Kwanzaa Kinaras and Gingerbread Houses

Students learned some basics of electrical circuits using blinking LEDs. For their Kwanzaa Kinaras, they made simple LED/3V Lithium battery connections – see https://youtu.be/pIDB56RYT5M on how to do this.

To light up the inside of the gingerbread houses, the students combined 3 pre-wired LEDs (resistor built in) and a 9v battery in a series circuit (there wasn’t enough power for more than 3 in the circuit). One of the pre-wired blinking lights was placed in each of the gingerbread houses. The basics of how to do this can be found via this tutorial – https://youtu.be/DcN0Xlw7nko.

During the process of making and testing their circuits, we discussed how circuits worked, polarity, and conductive/insulting materials. The following video can help explain electrical circuits to younger students – https://youtu.be/HOFp8bHTN30

Standards Addressed

Next Generation Science Standards – Energy

  • Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

Lighting and Signage Using micro:bits

micro:bits were used to create signs wishing happy holidays. They were also used to light up Neopixel rings and strips.Here are some resources for the micro:bit component of the display:

Standards Addressed

Computer Science Standards

  • Create programs that include sequences, events, loops, and conditionals.
  • Modify, remix, or incorporate portions of an existing program into one’s own work, to develop something new or add more advanced features.

Next Generation Science Standards – Energy

  • Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

Math Connection

Although, I didn’t do so this year, I have included a math component to gingerbread house making in the past whereby students needed to learn about and calculate the perimeter and area of their creations (see Gingerbread House Making: A Fun and Engaging Cross-Curricular Lesson).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 12, 2022 at 12:38 am

A Chess Class for Elementary Students (with a DIY micro:bit -Driven Chess Clock)

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Each week a master math teacher from Math Amigos comes to my GT classroom for an hour to present conceptual math problems. High ability math students from 4th through 6th grades attend. A few weeks ago he presented a problem that included chess knight moves. One of the students mentioned how much she loves to play chess. I asked her if she’d like to lead a chess class. She agreed. Out principal liked the idea and ordered some chess sets. It is being offered to the 4th to 6th graders as a 45 minute class each week. About a dozen students expressed interest. I was personally excited as this was a true example of my penchant for student voice and choice (for more about this see my blog post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice).

Below is a video clip of its soft start where she and another students are teaching some of their classmates how to play.

Some Academic and SEL Benefits of Chess

  • Develops Logic, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Playing chess requires a lot of “if-then” logical analysis and “what-if” scenarios, all necessary ingredients for developing logical and critical thinking. In addition, studies show that chess boosts creativity, most dramatically in originality. Researchers attribute this boost to the process of imagining all the possible move alternatives which trains the mind to play with possibilities … the cornerstone of original thinking.
  • Increases Concentration & Memory. Studies conducted by the University of Memphis have found that children who play chess significantly improve their visual memory, attention span, and spatial-reasoning ability … all important factors for success in school.
  • Develops Decision Making and Problem-Solving Skills. Chess helps kids learn and practice thinking through and finding solutions to complex problems. The game of chess is a game of problem-solving, planning, and foresight. Being able to think through changing variables and formulate a plan based on various possibilities are invaluable skills necessary for the game, and more importantly, for life!
  • Improves Reading and Math Skills. Research continues to support the intellectual benefits of chess. Playing chess develops problem-solving skills in kids. studies have shown that because chess requires children to use cognitive processes such as decoding, analysis, thinking, and comprehension (all skills required for reading), chess playing kids greatly improve their reading skills over non playing kids. Also, one research study showed that substituting one hour of mathematics lesson a week with a Chess lesson showed an improvement in the mathematics test score of students in the research group.
  • Teaches Strategic Thinking, Planning, and Foresight. To be able to fulfill larger tasks in life, kids need to learn how to create a ‘plan of attack’ and outline plausible, step-by-step ways to achieve goals. During a game, players must strategically map out a plan and then execute it successfully in order to win. 
  • Greater Awareness of the Consequences of Ones Actions. Research suggests that children playing chess are more likely to understand the consequences of their actions.
  • Teaches Flexibility and How to Stay Calm Under Pressure. The game of chess has an inherent quality of calming down its participants as they play – studies show that playing chess makes people feel more relaxed than other games (like checkers). In chess, you have to think on your feet and make a decision about which move is best in any given situation- this teaches children how to stay calm under pressure.
  • Improves Social Skills and Emotional Intelligence. Kids who learn chess improve important abilities like sportsmanship, respect, fairness, patience, leadership, confidence, and a healthy self-perception.

Sources for above and for more information about the benefits of chess, see:

Something Extra – Creating a Chess Clock

Having students learn about and use timed chess games has the potential to increase engagement and the benefits of playing. “The importance of a chess clock is that – it will build urgency for chess players and for beginners I believe this will help you become a stronger chess player and very strategic in playing chess games once you get used to playing with a chess clock” https://chessdelights.com/importance-of-a-chess-clock/).

I love doing physical computing in my classroom and have discussed the benefits in https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2019/03/11/scratch-and-makey-makey-across-the-curriculum/. This along with the price of chess clocks prompted me to learn how to make a chess clock using micro:bits.

Materials for this project:

Directions for setting up the hardware/box can be found at https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/microarcade-kit-experiment-guide/experiment-2-button-reaction-timer except I connected both wires from the button to the same P#, e.g., both wires from the red button to P0, both wires from the blue button to P1. This permits the micro:bit to be reset after each move. It displays the number of seconds for a move, and it is reset following a move by pressing the 1st button. As such, each player needs to keeps track of total amount of time via a paper and pencil. The students are making two clocks – one for each player.

Here is the MakeCode used – https://makecode.microbit.org/_hU4M2ixcYThom

Parting Shot: I have only played chess a half dozen times in my life but several students do. It is the students running the class, and this thrills me to no end.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 27, 2022 at 11:41 pm

Dia de Muertos & Halloween Displays: A Meow Wolf-ish STREAM Lesson

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I have the privilege of teaching gifted education in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two unique characteristics of living and working here is (1) there is a strong Mexican population who have retained their beautiful culture – language, culture, food, and holiday, and (2) it is the birthplace of Meow Wolf, unique and immersive art installations with multimedia elements and a mysterious narrative throughout; whose mission is to inspire creativity in people’s lives through art, exploration, and play so that imagination will transform our worlds.

Because of these unique elements in my community, each year I ask the students to create Dia de los Muertos and/or Halloween story-driven and technology-enhanced displays which are put in the front foyers of my schools for the students and visitors to enjoy. They are project-based, high engagement (as students can draw on their individual strengths within their teams), and focus on student voice and choice. In other words, these projects become strong STREAM (Science, Technology, wRiting, Engineering, Art, Math)-based lessons which translates into being interdisciplinary. I believe all lessons should be interdisciplinary as I discuss in https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/all-lessons-should-be-interdisciplinary:

Standards Addressed

Due to the project’s cross disciplinary nature, standards were addressed from several disciplines:

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.6 – With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.10 – Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Science Standard

  • NGSS: 4-PS3-2. Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

GSS Engineering Standards

  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and
  • constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • Develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

National Standards in Gifted and Talented Education

  • 1.1. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents recognize their interests, strengths, and needs in cognitive, creative, social, emotional, and psychological areas.
  • 1.5. Cognitive, Psychosocial, and Affective Growth. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate cognitive growth and psychosocial skills that support their talent development as a result of meaningful and challenging learning activities that address their unique characteristics and needs.

The Lesson

One of the schools where I teach (I teach at two schools) has a large Mexican (self-identifying term) population and as such, each grade has a bilingual class. My students from this school were asked to create stories and displays based on Dia de los Muertos.

The events were as follows:

  • Write a Thematic Story
  • Review Possible Projects for Story
  • Create Artifacts and Display

Write a Story About Dia de los Muertos or Halloween

With the older students, grades 4 through 6, I reviewed the story arc and explained that they needed to include all of those elements within their stories. With the younger kids, grades 2 and 3, I talked about characters, setting, and plot and reinforced including these elements in their stories. There were 2 to 4 students per group, so they collaborated on their stories using Google Docs. What follows is one of the stories written in English and then translated into Spanish:

English Version


Spanish Version


Links to Other Stories

Story as a Storyboard That Comic

One student requested and created his group’s story as a comic as his other two groups members wrote their story out on Google Docs. Here are a few of his cells.

The rest can be view at https://www.storyboardthat.com/portal/storyboards/cdamm/classroom-public/unknown-story3

Review Possible Projects for Story Display

For possible artifacts to create their story-driven displays and as a way to honor voice and choice, students could select from the following projects:

If interested in a specific project, I would either provide the interested student and/or group with a link to a tutorial or give a mini-lesson on it.

Create Artifacts and Display

Individual groups selected a combination of the following artifacts:

  • micro:bit Characters
  • Neopixels – micro:bit driven
  • Servos – micro:bit driven
  • Sugar Skulls
  • Paper Circuits Skulls and Pumpkins
  • Laser Cut Objects Out of Wood
  • Cardboard Construction Kits
  • Jack-O-Lanterns Lit by Circuit Playgrounds 
  • Hummingbird Bits for Servos and Lights

Here is a slideshow of the students’ creation efforts:

Personal Reflection

The joy both my students experience throughout the lesson is palatable. I love listening to their excitement as they develop their stories. I love watching their smiles as they create their elements for their stories. I love seeing their bodies shake with excitement when their displays are complete, and I love witnessing their pride when the other students excitedly approach and comment on their displays.

Because I have students in my gifted program throughout their elementary years, I love seeing their excitement when we begin this project each year. I always try to introduce some new possibilities for their display elements each year. For example, this year I introduced and taught Hummingbird Bits which I learned about during a PD workshop this past summer. In addition, since I blog about this project each year as a means to document both students’ and my learning, I can see my own progress. Here is the blog post from the first two years I did it – Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus. During the first year, I provided students with cookies, ping pong balls, LED lights, gummy worms, candy skeletons – no physical computing. So, for me, it is great to see my own growth, too.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 31, 2022 at 12:40 am

Beginning the School Year with “Who I Am” Projects

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It’s the start of a new school year. I am often baffled why teachers (all levels including college) jump right into covering content when the students are in a state of disequilibrium . . . wondering about the other students, the teacher, and the classroom climate. As such, I begin my classes with experiential, personal connections activities. During the first days of class, the messages I want to give my students, through these activities, include:

The Activities

Here are some of the activities I am doing with my students during the first weeks of school:

  • Bio-Bags
  • Toss and Talk Balls
  • All About Me Posters
  • Vision Statement
  • Family Picture Book
  • Kahoot Selfie
  • Fake Instagram
  • Mask of Symbols
  • Comic – the Change I’d Like to See in the World

Time is built in for students to do a show and tell of activities completed. They can decide which activities they want to do and in what order. See the following punchcard for more about this.

Punchcards for Accountability

Students receive their own punchcard (see below – printed on cardstock). When they finish an activity (they can be completed in any order), they come to me to show me. I ask them: (1) Did you fully completed the activity? and (2) Do you believe it is of a quality you believe is your best work (to avoid the let’s get it done quickly mentality)? If they say “yes” to both questions, I give them the hole punch so they can punch the two holes related to that activity.

Activity Descriptions

Bio-Bags

To begin, students bring an old but sentimental t-shirt to class. The shirt is made into a tote bag (see https://www.instructables.com/No-Sew-T-Shirt-Tote-Bag-1/).

Students are then given the following directions (taken from BioBags: Linking Literature and Life):

Choose any written works that have been important to you or that you love (you must have at least five written works) and bring them to school. You might bring the first book you could read by yourself, a letter that you like to read over and over, a special recipe, a favorite trading card, etc. Please try to include a variety of written works. You will get to tell the class why each
of the works is special to you and how it has impacted your life. Examples include:

  • A story or a book that you used to love listening to when you were younger
  • First books you were able to read by yourself
  • Hobbies- any written works you could share that fit with those hobbies (e.g., a program from a play, a scorecard, a trading card, a how-to book, directions for a favorite game)
  • Any special letter or e-mail received
  • Favorite song lyrics
  • A diary or a journal
  • Any special certificates or awards you’ve won
  • A favorite dish recipe
  • Any books that you love to read over and over

Toss and Talk Balls

For this activities, pairs of students receive a beach ball and a sharpie. They make Toss and Talk Ball, and then play it with their classmates.

Here is a list from which the students can choose: https://museumhack.com/list-icebreakers-questions/

Vision Statement

For this activity, students create a Vision Statement about themselves using Canva or Adobe Express. Directions for doing this using Canva and examples can be found at: https://our3lilbirds.blogspot.com/2017/05/how-to-make-one-page-profile-ellie-style.html. Note that this activity was designed for parents to create visions statements for their special needs children (as is seen by the poster to the left). I am adapting it for my students so that they create their own Vision Statement/Profile sheet using the same sections as this poster and populating them with their own information.

Vision Statement

The template:

Student Examples


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, I show the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They use these materials to create LED-enhanced All About me Posters.

Kahoot Selfie

Most teachers and students these days know about Kahoota 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).

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:

Family Picture Book/ Cuadros de familia

This activity fits quite well with the Hispanic (the identifier used by the population with whom I work) heritage of the majority of my students. It begins by showing the students the following video:

They then use the following handout to create their books (taken from https://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/family-traditions-class-book):

A few adaptations that are used within my class are: (1) they can make the book as long as they choose, and (2) they can decide if they want to combine their books with other students in the class.

Mask Making

The full lesson for this activity can be found at Facing History’s What Aspects of Our Identities Do We Show to Others? which students are given access to work through independently:

Students will be making a mask that will be displayed in the classroom. The purpose of the mask is to answer the question, “Who am I?” To make their masks, students first have to decide how they want to present themselves to the class. Which aspects of their identities do they want to emphasize? Which aspects of their identities do they wish to conceal? Completing the Mask-making Preparation Worksheet can help students answer these questions before they begin crafting their masks. Before they begin, show students the materials they can use. In addition to markers and paper plates (or mask DIY which like Colorations® Cardstock Masks), old magazines are especially useful for this activity because students can cut out words and images. Also, inform students that they can decorate both the outside and the inside of the masks. They can use the outside to represent the aspects of their identities they openly show to the outside world and the inside to represent the more private aspects of their identities.

Here is the worksheet that goes along with this activity:

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:

Reflecting on the Activities

Once they successfully finish an activity, they are asked to reflect on it prior to going to the next activity. I use the blog platform, FanSchool (formally Kidblogs) to have them do so. FanSchool also has a direct connection for Flip (formally FlipGrid) so students who prefer to talk rather than write can do so. They show their project (inserting an image for writing, showing and telling for a Flip recording). During their reflections, they answer at least three of the following questions:

  • What did you enjoy about the activity? What didn’t you enjoy?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What were the most difficult parts of the activity? Why?
  • What were the most satisfying parts of the activity?
  • What positives can you take away from the activity?
  • How have you been challenged during the activity?
  • How do you feel about what you made? What parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike?

Standards Addressed

Common Core State Standards – ELA

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.6
With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

21st Century Skills

THINK CREATIVELY
• Use a wide range of idea-creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
• Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)

REASON EFFECTIVELY
• Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
• Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
• Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts)
• Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness a priority as well as assess their impact

MANAGE GOALS AND TIME
• Set goals with tangible and intangible success criteria
• Balance tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) goals
• Utilize time and manage workload efficiently

WORK INDEPENDENTLY
• Monitor, define, prioritize, and complete tasks without direct oversight
• Be self-directed learners

NAGC (Gifted Education) Standards

1.1. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents recognize their interests, strengths, and needs in cognitive, creative, social, emotional, and psychological areas.

1.2. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate understanding of they learn and recognize the influences of their identities, cultures, beliefs, traditions, and values on their learning and behavior.

1.3. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate understanding of and respect for similarities and differences between themselves and their cognitive and chronological peer groups and others in the general population.

1.5. Cognitive, Psychosocial, and Affective Growth. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate cognitive growth and psychosocial skills that support their talent development as a result of meaningful and challenging learning activities that address their unique characteristics and needs.

3.2. Talent Development. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate growth in social and emotional and psychosocial skills necessary for achievement in their domain(s) of talent and/or areas of interest

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 14, 2022 at 7:09 pm

Physical Computing with micro:bits and Makecode

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I am quite fond of facilitating physical computing activities with my learners as I’ve discussed in Scratch and Makey Makey Across the Curriculum . For that post I created the following graphic to represent the benefits of physical computing. I think it is important to extend the use of coding and microcontrollers into creating physical objects for the following reasons:

benefits of physical computing

Standards Addressed

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • Develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

micro:bit Activities

The following slide deck contains the list of micro:bit activities completed by my summer campers. It includes the Makecode for the more advanced projects:

Here are examples of student projects:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 23, 2022 at 1:30 pm

Lip Syncing Characters Using micro:bits and Hummingbirds

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I am quite fond of facilitating physical computing activities with my learners as I’ve discussed in Scratch and Makey Makey Across the Curriculum . For that post I created the following graphic to represent the benefits of physical computing. I think it is important to extend the use of coding microcontrollers into making physical objects for the following reasons:

benefits of physical computing

Lip Syncing Characters with a micro:bit and a Servo

I was excited to find Cecilia Hillway‘s (she’s so very talented!) Lip-Syncing Characters With Micro:bit – https://www.instructables.com/Lip-Syncing-Characters-With-Microbit/. Here is her video overview of her processes:

. . . and here are some examples of what my students did over the school year and what Cecilia’s kids did this summer:

Cecilia’s provided a Makecode graphic for the project:

I recreated this Makecode – https://makecode.microbit.org/_aRfexJ44aEpk

Lip Syncing Characters with a Hummingbird

A Hummingbird by Birdbrain is a kit of lights, sensors, and motors which allows students to create personally meaningful robots out of any materials. As part of her Instructables, Cecilia described her use of Hummingbird to add more features to the Lip Syncing Characters. It was a bit complicated for me so I used the kit to add a second servo to have her arm move and a flashing light to highlight my character’s name.

With the help of the folks from Codejoy, a Makecode was created for this project.

Here is the makecode – https://makecode.microbit.org/_1Ex1vYcqbF0r

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 18, 2022 at 12:37 pm

The Joy of Watching a Lesson Come Alive

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Number one on my love list of teaching is spending time with my fantastic students. High on my list is also my love of designing and creating learning activities for my students. I get such joy in seeing my designs come to life in the hands of my learners. Recently, I designed a pinball machine using a pizza box, Strawbees, Makedo screws, and an optional micro:bit scoreboard. The full directions can be found at: https://www.instructables.com/Cardboard-Pinball-Machine-Using-a-Pizza-Box-Strawb/.

I got to test my new learning activity with my summer campers during my Toy Making camp. As is usual, when kids get to jump in and try the activity out for themselves, they far exceeded my vision and expectations for it.



As I observed the campers making the pinball machine, I found such joy in witnessing:

  • 100% engagement. All students were actively and joyfully engaged. It reinforced my belief that there is a human need to create. I wrote about this in The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create.
  • Their creativity. I was in awe about the directions they took with this; how much they added their selves to the base project.
  • Their ability to create the project without direct instruction. About half of them were able to just fly with it without my assistance; by just studying my prototype.
  • Their eyes light up when their projects worked as they envisioned them.
  • Their interest in their peers’ projects.
  • How valuable experiential learning is. I wrote about this in The Imperative of Experiential and Hands On Learning:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 3, 2022 at 11:27 pm

Toy Take Apart and Repurposing: A Creative Problem-Solving Lesson

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Toy Take Apart and Repurposing is always a great favorite both with my gifted students and with my campers during my summer Toy Hacking and Making camp. I purchase battery-operated toys from ebay and thrift stores. Because I am always seeking ways to improve my lessons, I was excited to add the repair mindset reflection, the micro:bit driven Plushpal, and circuit jewelry to this activity this past spring. These additions seemed to really enhance the lesson.

This lesson was driven by the following references and resources:

Toy Take Apart

Learners began by taking their battery operated toys apart. They were instructed to take it apart so all of the components were separated and to sketch the parts as they did so.

Repair Mindset Reflection

The Repair Exploration tool is designed to cultivate a sensitivity to and curiosity about how objects and systems work by looking closely at them (https://resources.makered.org/resource/cultivating-repair-mindset-toolkit).

After learners completed taking their toys apart, they were asked to used this tool to reflect on their learning. They put their answers directly on the paper where they made their sketches.

micro:bit PlushPal

PlushPal is a tool for creating interactive toys using the micro:bit. Using PlushPal, you can program your stuffed animal to respond with sounds based on custom gestures you create.

Link to the PlushPal Guide – https://www.notion.so/scientiffic/PlushPal-Guide-06def1796fd4420389ea33a5eb9ac897. The following video shows some learners trying out PlushPal:

Circuit Jewelry

In order to reinforce the concept of repurposing, learners got to use a circuit board from their toy (comes in all battery-operated toys) to make some jewelry.

Invention Literacy: Repurposing Toys Parts

Invention Literacy, as coined by Jay Silver of Makey Makey, “is the ability to read and write human made stuff.” To be invention literate, it means you’re able to look at the world around you and think about how something works. When students put on the hat of an inventor, they can see how the world works, and have the confidence to invent new parts of the world (https://sphero.com/blogs/news/invention-literacy).

The following video shows Theo repurposing-inventing his toy parts into something functional:

The following images show students repurposing-inventing their toy parts into a prototype for a new game:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 23, 2022 at 11:35 pm

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