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Gingerbread House Making: A Fun and Engaging Cross-Curricular Lesson

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I believe that educators can be intentional in setting up environments where learners’ propensity to create flourishes. Some elements that can assist with this kind of unbridled making and creating include:

  • Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization.
  • Choice of projects, methods, materials.
  • Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.
  • Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.
  • Focus on the processes of learning.
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.
  • Acceptance of a learner’s projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s.
  • Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

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This past week I did a gingerbread house making activity (described below) that included math and language arts connections with my two groups of gifted 3rd through 6th graders. It met all of these criteria and resulted in 100% engagement – lots of fun for the students.

When I talk about making in the classroom with teachers, I often say it takes a lot of preparation time but then the students end up working harder than the teacher during class time – which I believe should always be the case. This activity took quite a bit of preparation plus I ended up spending about $50 out-of-pocket money for the supplies. For me, though, it was worth it as I got to see my students experience such joy and excitement creating their gingerbread houses along with joy in doing the math and language arts activities I built into the lesson.

The Gingerbread House Lesson

List of Activities

As a cross-curricular unit, this lesson addressed standards in language arts, math, science and the arts. The general lesson list of activities included:

  1. Showing students the story of The Gingerbread Man.
  2. Asking students to write a story that features a gingerbread house.
  3. Showing students a video about how to make a simple gingerbread house with graham crackers.
  4. Asking students to create a blueprint of their gingerbread house including estimates of their perimeters and area. This necessitated me reviewing how to calculate these.
  5. Having students create their own royal icing from powdered sugar and meringue power – doubling the recipe to include more math calculations.
  6. Giving students lots of time to make their gingerbread houses.

Standards Addressed

Language Arts Standards

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.

Math Standard

  • Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.

Next Generation Science Standard

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Art 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.

Social Emotional Learning Standards

  • Student demonstrates ability to manage emotions constructively. “I can appropriately handle my feelings.”
  • Student demonstrates ability to set and achieve goals. “I can set and achieve goals that will make me more successful.”

Materials

  • computers access (to write their stories)
  • graph paper
  • tape measures
  • markers or colored pencils of different colors
  • graham crackers ( a lot – I ran short)
  • royal icing: confectionary sugar and meringue (see recipe at http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/small-batch-royal-icing/)
  • electric hand mixer
  • gum drops
  • pretzels
  • candy canes
  • skittles or m&m’s
  • mini-marshmallows

Activity Details

Write a Story About a Gingerbread House

This part of the lesson was introduced to students by showing them the story of The Gingerbread House to show them what was possible for a creative story.

They then wrote a story about a gingerbread house. I have an Orthodox Jew in one of my classes so I kept it general rather than emphasizing a Christmas theme. Here is an example story:


Creating Blueprints of the Gingerbread Houses with the Perimeter and Area

Students were shown the following video to help them learn techniques for building their gingerbread houses and to get inspired for the type of gingerbread houses they wanted to make.

We then reviewed the formulas for estimating perimeter and area. As part of their blueprints, they included these estimates using one color marker for the perimeter and one for the area. They were given the option to use the squares on the graph paper or to use the tape measures to figure out their perimeter and area.

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Making Their Gingerbread Houses

Then came the gingerbread house making time. Students were split into groups of three and provided with the recipe for royal icing which they had to double (more math!) to have enough for the three of them. Also on their respective tables were food items for their gingerbread houses: graham crackers, gum drops, candy canes, skittles, pretzels, mini-marshmallows.

As I mentioned above, there was 100% of engagement by the students as evidenced in these photos.

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The only change to this lesson that I would implement when I do it again (and I am definitely doing it again), would be more graham crackers and more time to make them.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 8, 2018 at 6:09 pm

The Importance of Civics Education

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Truth be told, I always disliked history and government classes as a K through undergraduate student. I found it dry, boring, irrelevant, and unimportant. I believe this was due to it all being about memorization . . . memorizing events and dates in history; memorizing the branches of government; memorizing states and their capitols. This type of learning reflects only remembering, the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Now that I am a teacher of gifted education, I believe it is important for my students, for all students to participate in civics education. There is a problem with knowledge of civics by today’s children and youth (adults, too). The Center on American Progress stated in The State of Civics Education:

Civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years. Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. Without an understanding of the structure of government; rights and responsibilities; and methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy. Educators and schools have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure that young people become engaged and knowledgeable citizens.

For civics education to be effective, though, it needs to be engaging, exciting, authentic, and relevant for learners. Here are two civics education practices that can be implemented within the classroom” 

Schools should provide direct instruction in government, history, economics, law, and democracy in ways that provoke analysis and critical thinking skills. These subjects are vital to laying the foundation for civic learning and may also contribute to young people’s tendency to engage in civic and political activities over the long term. However, schools should avoid teaching only rote facts about dry procedures, which is unlikely to benefit students and may actually alienate them from politics.

Schools should incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom, particularly those that young people view as important to their lives. Engaging students in civil dialogue about controversial issues provides opportunities to foster character and civic virtue–important civic dispositions that are the habits of the heart and mind conducive to the healthy functioning of the democratic system. Examples include civility, open-mindedness, compromise, and toleration of diversity, all of which are prerequisites of a civic life in which the American people can work out the meanings of their democratic principles and values (Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools).

Now I am including civics education as part of my gifted education instruction for my 2nd through 6th grade students. There are two reasons I am doing so:

  1. The political climate, not just in the United States, but worldwide has become contentious and toxic. I believe that this is due, in part, to a lack of education in civics.
  2. There are online tools like Brainpop and iCivics that make civics education more interesting and engaging.

The midterm elections provided a great teachable moment for my students to get some civics education. We began with a KWHLAQ Chart developed by (what do I Know, what do I Want to know, How will I find out, what have I Learned, what Action will I take, and what further Questions do I have) developed by Silvia Tolisano. We then watched some Brainpop videos on voting using the follow-up review quizzes. Students were then asked to choose an article from the Newsela Civics category to read, and play iCivics games. Here are the slides of activities I shared with students in our Google Classroom so students could have access and work through the Newsela and iCivics activities at their own pace, making choices of news articles and games based on their own interests.

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Because of student choice and the interactive nature of Newsela and iCivics (I can’t overstate how much all of my students love iCivics), students found the activities engaging. These activities also tapped into higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is a start. I plan on integrating civics lessons throughout the school year. 

The National Center for Learning and Civc Engagement released a guidebook entitled Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning.

The necessary elements of effective civic education include classroom instruction in civics & government, history, economics, law and geography; service learning linked to classroom learning; experiential learning; learning through participation in models and simulations of democratic processes; guided classroom discussion of current issues and events, and meaningful participation in school governance.

Access to this document can be found below; and the NEA has a list of civics education resources found at http://www.nea.org/civicseducation.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 18, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) Displays: A Maker Education Project

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I have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few decades. One of my favorite things about living here is that my town celebrates and embraces Hispanic and Mexican cultural traditions. I have the privilege of working with gifted kids at two elementary schools with over 80% Hispanic students. For the past two years, I did Halloween Wars – based off of the Food Channel show. See Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus for more about this. Because of the cultural heritage of my students and because I find the Day of the Dead holiday so intriguing and beautiful (the movie, Coco, helped bring its beauty to the masses), I decided to focus on having the students create Dia de los Muertos displays this year.

Standards Addressed

21st Century Skills

  • Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts
  • Understanding  other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Getting Started – Gaining Attention

To introduce and show students the traditions related to Day of the Dead, they are shown the following videos:

. . . as well as given time to explore the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Theater of the Dead – http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/ which includes an interactive element to build their own alter or Ofrenda.

 

Writing a Story About Day of the Dead

Students write a story with a Day of the Dead theme. They are given the option to write it alone or with a partner. Here is an example from one of my 6th grade students:

 

Artifacts for the Day of the Dead Displays

Students make the following artifacts and then, in small groups of three students, decide if and how they want to use them in their Day of the Dead displays to reflect the stories they wrote.

Decorated Skulls with Paper Circuits for Eyes

Materials: skull outline and parallel circuit outline (one for each student), 5MM LED lights, copper tape, coin batteries, transparent tape, markers.

Students decorate their paper skulls and then make parallel paper circuits to light up the eyes of these skulls. I found a template of a skeleton skull online. I printed these out – one for each student. I then made an outline of a parallel circuit so that when connected and joined with the top part, the LEDs would show up as pupils of the decorated skull – see below.

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Students first cut out and decorate their skulls with markers. Images of decorated Day of the Dead skulls can be projected via a whiteboard so students can see examples. They then trace their cut out skulls onto the paper circuits template and cut that out. The bottom piece, containing the parallel circuit design, is then wired with the copper tape. The shorter copper tape is taped down from the battery placeholder to the end of its outline, so that the coin battery can be placed on top of that. For the longer piece of copper tape, about 1.5 inches is left at the end near the battery. This extra is folded onto itself so that after the battery is in place, this part of the copper tape can be taped on top of the battery. Having a folded over end piece makes it more manageable. Students should be reminded how to find the polarities of both the LEDs (the longer leg is positive) and the coin battery (it has a + on the top – that side with a little bit larger diameter). Students then tape their batteries and LEDs in place insuring that the positive legs of the LED lead to positive side of the battery and visa-versa. For more about paper circuits, see https://www.makerspaces.com/paper-circuits/. The LEDs are then poked through the eyes of the decorated skull. The top and bottom pieces are then stapled together.

Sugar Skulls

Materials: sugar, meringue powder, sugar skull molds

Sugar skull molds can be purchased from https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/sugar-skull-molds.html. Sugar skulls are incredibly easy to make – just combining the dry ingredients of sugar and meringue power and adding a little water so it becomes the consistency of dampened beach sand. More directions along with amounts can be found at https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/instructions.html. After waiting at least 24 hours for the skulls to harden, students can then decorate them using edible markers or royal icing.

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Skulls from Modeling Chocolate

Materials: white chocolate morsels, corn syrup.

This is another easy recipe to make (see http://artisancakecompany.com/recipe/how-to-make-perfect-modeling-chocolate/ for specific directions) although it is a bit tricky to get the modeling chocolate to the right consistency. Once the modeling chocolate is made, students sculpt it into 3D skulls.

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micro:bit Lit Skull

Materials: micro:bit (one for each team), heavy stock cardboard, (servos with jumper wires and alligator clips if movement is designed)

A micro:bit is mini-computer, half the size of a credit card equipped with 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. The micro:bit features an embedded compass, accelerometer, mobile, and web-based programming capabilities. It is compatible with a number of online code editors across a number of different languages (https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/getting-started-with-the-microbit). For this activity, students cut out a skull with a window in the middle for the micro:bit (see below). They then use https://makecode.microbit.org/ to (1) create a message on the LEDs about Day of the Dead, and (2) code the servo to rotate the skull in a small arc from side to side (see https://sites.google.com/view/microbitofthings/7-motor-control/11-servo-control?authuser=0 for how to do this).

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Tissue Paper Marigolds

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Materials: yellow tissue paper, pipe cleaners.

The directions for how to make these can be found at https://tinkerlab.com/simple-paper-marigolds-dia-de-los-muertos/,

Edible Slime

Materials: sugar free Jello, starch

This is an easy recipe with the slime made by combining sugar free Jello, food starch, and water. Colors are determined by the flavor of the Jello – I like using lime for green slime and strawberry for red slime. For more information, visit https://thesoccermomblog.com/edible-silly-putty/

Miscellaneous Materials

Students are provided with core board and also given candy bones, candy gravestones, and chocolate animal crackers (to be crushed into dirt) so that these items along with the projects described above can be used for their displays, again reminding students that the displays should directly reflect their stories about Dead of the Day – Dia de los Muertos.

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Student Reflection

Students were asked to randomly choose five cards from the deck of my Maker Reflection Cards to reflect on their experiences with this project. They were told that they could discard two of them but would need to answer three of them via a blog post, and I was totally elated when one asked if he could answer more – seven of them! Here are screenshots of his and another student’s reflections.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 6, 2018 at 1:55 am

Choice + Imagination = Fantastic Results

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Destination Imagination (DI) has been recommended by my supervisor for use with gifted students. I teach gifted students at two Title 1 elementary schools.

DI MISSION

To engage participants in project-based challenges that are designed to build confidence and develop extraordinary creativity, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills

DI PRINCIPLES

  • Fun learning: Explore STEM/STEAM concepts in a hands-on environment
  • Creative problem solving: Learn how to think, not what to think
  • Kid powered; team driven: Energize students to own all decisions, creations, and results
  • Friendly competition: Motivate teams to reach for the stars, while also rooting for each other
  • Global diversity: Encourage and celebrate differences in each other, and differences in ideas.

(https://www.destinationimagination.org/vision-mission/)

Destination Imagination has developed Instant Challenges to help spark student creativity. Recently, I had one class of gifted 6th graders do the Fortune Teller Instant Challenge. See below.

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Here is a PDF that leads to the several versions of the Destination Imagination Fortune Teller:  Destination_Imagination_IC_Makers PDF

I only have four students in this particular class and interestingly, each selected a different project:

  1. Tell a Story About Being Very, Very Hungry at a Concert
  2. Make a Cartoon About Getting a New Pet in a Fishbowl
  3. Create a Song About Trying to Fly at an Amusement Park
  4. Create a Commercial About Trying to Fly at an Amusement Park

They (except for the cartoon) recorded their projects in front a green screen and then added background images using iMovie. Here are their finished creations:

They had 100% engagement throughout the project. This is significant as two of the girls sometimes have a difficult time getting and staying focused on their projects during class. I believe this occurred because they were given a choice and they had to use their imaginations.

Choice

I have blogged about giving student voice and choice in the past.

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. (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-choice-leads-to-voice-joshua-block)

Internet accessibility, technologies that permit the user-generated media, and social media allow for unlimited potential for learner choice and voice.

Learner Choice can be facilitated through:

Imagination

I believe that most of student learning should contain some form of them using their imaginations. Sadly, though as Sir Ken Robinson noted over ten years ago, “schools are killing creativity.”

According to research conducted by Kyung Hee Kim, Professor of Education at the College of William and Mary, all aspects of student creativity at the K-12 level have been in significant decline for the last few decades. Based on scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, her study reveals “that children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle” (How America’s Education Model Kills Creativity and Entrepreneurship).

From my blog post, Intentional Creativity:

Embedding creativity into the curriculum can and should be a strong component of content area teaching and learning. In other words, educators don’t need to plan to teach creativity as another part of curriculum.  Creativity is often an integral part of the practices of professionals including scientists, mathematicians, business people, artists, writers, and is an important part of their content area expertise. It follow, then, that learners should be taught in ways that help them think like a scientist . . . like an artist . . .  like a writer . . .  like a business person.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 28, 2018 at 6:09 pm

BreakoutEDU: A Professional Development Workshop

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I recently got the opportunity to offer a professional development workshop for educators of gifted students at the 2018 14th Annual Fall Gifted Education Institute. The description for my workshop was as follows:

BreakoutEDU presents puzzles for students to decipher, each clue leading to another which in turn opens locks attached to a strongbox. BreakoutEdu activities address the unique talents and needs of gifted students in that they require critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. During this session, directly experience two BreakoutEdu activities: (1) Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg, with a social emotional theme of the benefits of being different, and (2) World of Geometry; and learn about the Breakout Edu resources available to teachers.

Here are the slides from my presentation:

Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg

As an experiential educator, I believe that most learning experiences are best begun with an experiential learning activity (for more about this, see David Kolb’s working on the Experiential Learning Cycle). So I immediately had the workshop participants jump in to do a physical BreakoutEDU game, Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg (see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/eggbert-the-slightly-cracked-egg-a-breakout-edu-game/ for a description, set up description, and support materials). I specifically developed this activity for use with gifted students as sometimes they themselves as slightly cracked although I think this book-activity has value for all students – all ages. Here are some photos of the teachers engaged in this activity:

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The Reflection

We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. John Dewey

I then introduced the importance of reflecting on experience (also part of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory), and asked the participants to reflect on their Eggbert Breakout Edu by using the BreakoutEdu reflection cards.

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Digital BreakoutEDU

After sharing resources offered through Breakoutedu.com (see slide deck about) and for our final activity, I asked them to complete a digital BreakoutEDU activity, Escape from the Dungeon. My purpose for introducing this activity was twofold: (1) to show the teachers that BreakoutEDU games can introduce and reinforce some fairly advanced content concepts – this one has students use  geometry concepts and formulas; and (2) to show teachers the use of digital Breakout Edu games where the use of kits aren’t required.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 20, 2018 at 10:20 pm

Why do we group students by manufacture date?

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Ken Robinson once famously said, “Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.” (Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything).

I have the privilege of working with 2nd through 6th graders in my gifted education classes and Kindergarten through 6th grade in my summer STEM and robotics camps. With my summer camps, they get to choose their camp by interest not age. In my gifted program, they select from a menu of content areas so it is also interest- rather than age-driven. I wouldn’t have it any way.

The Problem with Grouping Learners by Age

Grouping students by age or manufacture date is a contrived sorting mechanism. It assumes that same age kids are alike in their intellectual, physical, emotional, and social development; that they have commonalities in addition to their age. Academic standards used by almost all schools are based on the false and incorrect belief of the average student. Todd Rose quoting Mike Miller’s research on brains found that “not a single one was even remotely close to the average. The average represented nobody,” and he added, “Average is widely misleading. In education, there is no such thing as an average student. Our educational system is built on the assumption that there is an average student.”

This critique of age-grading was written in 1912 by Frederick Burk:

It is constructed upon the assumption that a group of minds can be marshaled and controlled in growth in exactly the same manner that a military officer marshals and directs the bodily movements of a company of soldiers. In solid, unbreakable phalanx the class is supposed to move through all the grades, keeping in locked step. This locked step is set by the ‘average’ pupil–an algebraic myth born of inanimate figures and an addled pedagogy. The class system does injury to the rapid and quick-thinking pupils, because these must shackle their stride to keep pace with the mythical average. But the class system does a greater injury to the large number who make slower progress than the rate of the mythical average pupil . . . They are foredoomed to failure before they begin.

In his article, The Science of the Individual (why average doesn’t make sense in school, A.J. Juliani quoted Rose:

This is not a new debate. In fact, this century-old clash of foundational assumptions might be regarded as the cardinal battle for the soul of modern education. On the side of education for individuality, we find some of the most admired and progressive names in American education, including John Dewey, Charles Eliot, and Benjamin Bloom. These “Individualists” were animated by their defining assumption that every student is different and that education should be designed to accommodate those differences.

Grouping by Interests Rather Than Age

I do understand that mixed age groups will have developmental differences but in my programs, they are grouped by interests rather than by age. I find this to be more natural and mimics real world learning as individuals often seek out others in their out-of-school lives who have similar interests. Interest-driven learning is much more motivating and engaging. Community develops naturally due to shared interests. With groups of same aged peers, there may be no connections other than age.

I find the advantages of multiage groups to be:

  • Increased sense of community as learners bond through discussing and participating in interest-driven activities.
  • Increased socialization skills as the kids learn to navigate the learning tasks in their multiage groups.
  • More variety and perspectives. At times, even the youngest kids offer unique ideas of which the older kids hadn’t thought.
  • Older kids helping the younger kids which leads to feelings of importance and responsibility.
  • Decreased behavior problems as the kids become engaged in learning activities they would choose to do outside of school.

In addition, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) lists the following benefits of multiage classrooms:

  • Children are viewed as unique individuals. The teacher focuses on teaching each child according to his or her own strengths, unlike in same-grade classrooms that often expect all children to be at the same place at the same time with regard to ability.
  • Children are not labeled according to their ability, and children learn at their own rate.
  • Children develop a sense of family with their classmates. They become a “family of learners” who support and care for each other.
  • Older children have the opportunity to serve as mentors and to take leadership roles.
  • Children are more likely to cooperate than compete. The spirit of cooperation and caring makes it possible for children to help each other as individuals, not see each other as competitors.
  • Older children model more sophisticated approaches to problem solving, and younger children are able to accomplish tasks they could not do without the assistance of older children. This dynamic increases the older child’s level of independence and competence.
  • Children are invited to take charge of their learning, by making choices at centers and with project work. This sense of “ownership” and self-direction is the foundation for lifelong learning.
  • Children are exposed to positive models for behavior and social skills. (http://www.uwyo.edu/ecec/_files/documents/multi-age-benefits.pdf)

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Beginning the School Year With Connections: 2018

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

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

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

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

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

These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my 2018 gifted classes of 2nd to 6th grade students (some similar to past beginning of the year activities and some new ones):

Thumball Ice Breaker

Learners arere asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.

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

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

Warp Speed

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

Toss the ball around the circle until everyone has caught it once and it is returned to the leader. For Warp Speed, you need to establish a pattern of tossing one object around the group. Once the pattern has been established, ask the group to see how quickly they can move the object through the pattern with each person touching it in the order that has been established. Time this, and give the group several opportunities to improve their time (http://www.lifeway.com/studentministry/2014/07/07/game-warp-speed/).

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

Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker

I found this activity via Caitlin Tucker’s post Padlet: Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker https://catlintucker.com/2018/07/selfie-icebreaker/

First, teachers create a Padlet wall, title it “Time to Take a Selfie,” and provide a prompt with questions for students to answer. Below is a list of questions I have used to encourage students to share something about themselves.:

  • Where is your happy place?
  • What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?
  • What is the furthest place you have traveled?
  • What is something you like about yourself?
  • What is your favorite story (book or movie)?
  • Do you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or a mix? Explain.
  • What is one thing you wish you had more time for in your life?
  • What do you do to relax?
  • When you are not at school, what do you spend most of your time doing?
  • What is your most prized possession? Where did it come from and why do you love it?
  • If you could only listen to one genre/type of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Think about the best class you’ve ever had. What made that class so special?

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(from my student teachers)

Jenga Ice Breaker

This is the Jenga game with the addition of icebreaker questions. It’s very simple to make. I used the Giant Tumbling Timbers for increased suspense but a smaller, generic Jenga game can be used. I found and typed up some icebreaker questions (examples can be found at https://funattic.com/76-fun-icebreaker-questions.htm), and taped them to the game pieces. It’s played like regular Jenga, but you have to answer the question on whatever piece you pull.

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LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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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.

Eggbert the Slightly Cracked Egg: A Breakout Game

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

Topic Theme: This cross-curricular BreakoutEDU activities incorporates English, Math, and Social Studies standards as well as skills such as problem-solving and team building. I use this in the beginning of the year with my gifted students to reinforce that being different has its advantages.

Here are the specific details how to set-up and facilitate this Breakout Edu game: https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/eggbert-the-slightly-cracked-egg-a-breakout-edu-game/

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DIY Operation Cooperation Classroom Quilt

This kit can be purchased from Oriental Trading Post – http://www.orientaltrading.com/diy-operation-cooperation-classroom-quilt-a2-57_9111.fltr Students get their own individual squares and are asked to decorate their individual pieces with symbols of their personal strengths. The class then figures out how to combine all of the pieces to form a class quilt.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 12, 2018 at 6:28 pm

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