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Halloween Displays: A Perfect STREAM (Science, Technology, wRiting, Engineering, Art, Math) Lesson

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Wow, wow, wow! My students finished their displays in time for Halloween after spending many, many hours working on them. Now, they are in display cases in the lobby of our elementary school. I am so proud of them and rightfully, they are very proud of themselves, too. They worked so hard on them.

A little history . . . I love Food Channel’s competitions and Halloween Wars tops my list. This is where I got the idea for this lesson. Each Halloween season, I become enamored with the passion, creativity, talent, and skill of the sugar, cake, and pumpkin artists on this show. This led me into wanting to bring this type of passion into my classrooms; so several years ago I started a yearly Halloween Wars during each Halloween season (none during our COVID shutdown, though); and yes, it’s a team competition which makes it even more exciting for the students. Needless to say, I was thrilled to bring it back this year allowing a new group of students the opportunity to experience it. As mentioned in the title, I believe this to be a perfect STREAM (Science, Technology, wRiting, Engineering, Art, Math) lesson. This post describes the learning activities and standards addressed.

Background Information

The principles that drive my instructional approach. regardless of theme, include:

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for learners.
  • There is a game-like atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up, and a sense of mastery or achievement during the instructional activities.
  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for learners.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another.
  • Learners don’t need to be graded about their performances as built-in consequences are natural.
  • There is a natural building of social emotional skills – tolerance for frustration, expression of needs, working as a team.
  • Lessons are interdisciplinary (like life) where multiple, cross-curricular content areas are integrated into the instructional activities.

These have been further discussed in A Model of Good Teaching?

The goals included the following:

  • To work in a small group to create a Halloween scene using art work, LEDs, microcontrollers, servos, food items, and miscellaneous materials.
  • To work as a small group to craft a story about their scene.
  • To introduce and reinforce ideas, concepts, and skills associated with maker education, STEM, STEAM, and STREAM.
  • To engage in a friendly team competition whereby collaboration in their small groups would lead to success in the competition.

Descriptions of the Individual Components

Science Related Activities and Standards

Learners did several activities that involved LED circuits (simple LED lights, LED Tea Light Spider Pumpkins, and Paper Circuit Skulls) and circuits with microcontrollers (see Technology section).

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.

Technology Related Activities and Standards

For their displays, learners used servo socks to make parts of their display turn, micro:bits and servos to make milk carton robots, and Circuit Playground to make a flickering light to put inside their carved pumpkins. They needed to code their micro;bits and Circuit Playgrounds.

Computer Science Standards:

  • 1B-CS-02 – Model how computer hardware and software work together as a system to accomplish tasks.
  • 1B-AP-10 – Create programs that include sequences, events, loops, and conditionals
  • 1B-CS-03 – Determine potential solutions to solve simple hardware and software problems using common troubleshooting strategies

wRiting – Language Arts Related Activities and Standards

Learners wrote stories that drove their displays. They did so in Google docs so they could write collaboratively. My “rule” was that they could only use elements in their displays that were part of their stories. This necessitated that they revisit their stories throughout this lesson.

ELA Standard:

  • 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.

Example Stories:

Engineering Related Activities and Standards

Overall, engineering was used throughout this project from creating display artifacts – one student built a cardboard refrigerator with working parts and the milk carton robot to figuring out how to hang and arrange things on their display board.

NGSS 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.

Arts Related Activities and Standards

The entire display was an arts related activity, but I include a specific art activity, the Spooky Halloween 3D Art Project.

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.

Math Related Activities and Standards

Learners made their own Sugar Skulls and Gummy Legos (Bears) using recipes I projected on the Smartboard. They were asked to cut the recipes in half or thirds.

Math Standard:

  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.NF.B.7: Apply and extend previous understandings of division to divide unit fractions by whole numbers and whole numbers by unit fractions.

It was so much fun to find and design these activities but it was even more fun watching the learners do them all. I can’t wait until next year!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 2, 2021 at 1:41 am

Watching Them Learn

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I have been very intentional in the public school teaching jobs I have chosen. First I was a PE teacher, now I am a gifted education teacher. I chose these jobs because I believe in active, hands-on, and joyful learning. I love being able to provide them with learning experiences not based on preparing them for toxic tests, but on how humans learn naturally outside of school settings. I also base many of my learning activities on my belief on the need for humans to create which I discuss more in The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create:

The conclusion I came up with is that the human need to create is innate; and that too many people, starting during their childhood public education, stop creating. When they are given the opportunity, permission/invitation, materials, and methods, they fully embrace making and creating.

  • I love watching them go through all of the crafty materials trying to find the right ones for their projects.
  • I love watching them try to figure out how everything fits together in their projects.
  • I love watching them struggle to get something to work that matches their mind’s eye, and the joy they experience when they do.
  • I love watching how fully engaged they become in their learning, how they get into a flow, and how nothing else exists in the world.
  • I love watching how when I give them a math challenge, the students gather around the interactive Smartboard in order to solve the challenge.
  • I love watching how the collaborative projects build friendships, and the joy they feel in just being with one another. They ask to spend lunch together in my classroom. They ask to come to school on days off.
  • I love watching the pride that shows on their faces when their projects are completed.

I have the best job in the world. I get to have a front row seat to witness these beautiful human beings do what they are supposed to do – LEARN – really learn.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 17, 2021 at 7:12 pm

Student Choice and Voice Can Equal the Best Day Ever

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As is true for a lot of progressive educators, I have a belief in and attempt to practice the implementation of student voice and choice:

Sometimes this means fully letting go of the reins so learners become completely self-directed. I had the privilege of witnessing this in action one afternoon last week. I use the word, “witness,” as it was totally due to the actions of one student.

As I do every Thursday, I “pulled-out” 4th-6th graders for gifted and talented services. During the morning they built and experimented with Wiggle Bots. One of the students, Sean, also began experimenting with some of the materials in an attempt to build a toy bow (out of skewers) and arrow (out of jumbo straws). I asked him to focus on making his Wiggle Bot but told him he could continue his experimentation during lunch (they voluntarily spend lunch with me on Thursdays). They stay with me after lunch for an hour+. I do math challenges with them during those times. Sean asked if he could continue to work on fine tuning his bow and arrow instead. Then, the other kids asked if they could do so, too. Being a learner-centric educator, who values student choice and voice, I said, “Sure, go for it.”

I am so happy I did! They played with the continual improvement of their straw arrows; iterated through testing, and modifying them; and tried out different materials for their tips and tails in an effort to create increased distance and accuracy . . . again with little intervention from me. They went outside to test their work, and later, to play games with their arrows that they made up – most notably one that mimicked the video game Among Us. Seeing such joy in their social interactions warmed my heart. I know how important allowing for social time is for this age group especially after last year’s isolation due to remote learning – just as important or even more important than content area instruction.

I witnessed their creativity, innovation, flow, positive social interactions, excitement, engagement, and joy during this student-driven activity. Sean was visibly very excited that not only was he successful in making his bow and arrow, but more so that the other students followed his lead to participate in these learning activities that he initiated. The pride I saw in him was what prompted me to write this post. I was so happy with him and for him. One student even said at the end of the day, “This was the best day I ever had at school,” and this came from a student who absolutely loves and excels at school. When I heard the student state this, I jumped with joy. It wasn’t due to anything I did. It was only that I stepped back and let the students take over their learning.

I’ve discussed that one of my goals in my classroom is to create the conditions for having students experience and express that they had the best day ever:

During this particular afternoon, I believe the following occurred:

  • Built on learner interests and passions
  • Used whole body and hands-on learning
  • Allowed learners to work with others if they choose
  • Encouraged and acknowledge a broad range of emotions
  • Celebrated both effort and success
  • Respected the process – let go of the need to create the best day ever

My reflection is that I believe I typically do a good job of giving voice and choice but it is often within a more structured STEM, STEAM, maker education activities (see my book, Learning in the Making, for more information about this). I’d like to figure out more ways to “follow the child” like they do in Montessori environments. I have a lot of craft and STEM materials accessible in my classroom. I need to try out the suggestion made by Sean that day, “We should spend an afternoon just exploring, playing with, and creating things using these materials.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 3, 2021 at 9:35 pm

Offering Electives to Elementary Students

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Electives, as we all know, are classes that students choose to take. Electives are typically chosen based on interests, passions, a need to learn something new, and/or because of future goals. It is not clear to me why elementary students are rarely offered elective courses.

In addition to empowering practical skills, electives can help students find hidden talents or passions. In fact, several studies show that students are more likely to get a degree or major in a course they took as an elective. Electives offer options that allow individuals to seek out interests. Being able to choose a class is huge, and this tends to keep kids motivated to learn (Beyond the Classroom: Electives in school — essential or entertaining?).

Other benefits of electives include:

  • They honor student voice and choice. Obviously, the act of allowing students to choose desirable electives gives them both voice and choice. Electives should also be designed so the types of activities offered to students embrace their voice and choice.
  • Given that students select their electives, they become interest and passion driven.
  • They are self-differentiating. First, the act of selecting electives of personal choice can be considered differentiation by interest. Second, within the electives themselves, students choose to work on personal projects that are often based on both their ability levels and interest levels.
  • They are authentic and relevant. The types of elective offered should mimic the types of activities used by professionals in a related career field. Students will then see what they do during their electives as having real world applications.
  • Electives assist students in seeing the big picture of the content being studied. By showing them the types of learning activities that will be part of the elective, they get to see more of the big picture of the elective; the smaller pieces of the bigger elective topic. I never understood why elementary students aren’t shown the bigger picture of a lesson, unit, or course. At least, college, and some high school, students are given a syllabus which tells them what they will learn during the course.
  • Because elective classes offered to elementary students should be STEM/STEAM process based, they have the potential situate historically underserved and disenfranchised young people to be more competitive with more privileged youth in college. The types of electives offered to the students assist them in developing the “21st century” skills of creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration as well as the ability to persevere, iterate, ask for help, and see themselves as capable learners. It gives them the extra boost that many of the more privileged youth get through their extra-curricular activities.

I am a lifelong learner. I have a very strong need to learn new things. Summers give me the opportunity to learn new things that I can offer to my students during the following school year This summer was no exception. I learned about artificial intelligence, e-textiles, and hydroponics. Now, I can offer these new things as well as some others related interests and passions as electives this coming school year

I have the privilege of teaching gifted elementary students at a few Title 1 schools. I understand that I have more freedom than the classroom teacher to develop and teach my own curriculum. I see my students for two 2-hour blocks during the week. So I plan to explain to them that they can choose two to three electives per semester. The selection of electives is up to them. This year I prepared the following slideshow to show my students the electives from which they can choose. (Note: I know that teachers have to teach to so many standards and use district mandated curriculums. I still believe they can carve out some time during the week to offer electives. I think students have a lot to gain to see their teachers teaching about their personal interests and passions. They get to see their teachers actually being lifelong learners and the benefits it entails.)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2021 at 12:02 am

The Role of Kits in Maker Education and STEM Learning

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There has been a fair amount of criticism leveraged against “paint-by-numbers” types of STEM and maker kits. This criticism revolves around the stifling of the creativity of learners. I contend that learners need foundational skills so that they can be freed up to be creative. Think about learning how to cook or play an instrument. The basic and foundational skills need to be there in order for the makers to go in directions that are new and creative for them. 

This past spring we returned to face-to-face teaching but students could stay remote if they and their parents chose that. Half of my student selected that option. I was able to purchase DEUXPER Science Experiments DIY Kits – one for each learner – through DonorsChoose. For the students at home, I delivered the kits to them.

The kids in both groups thoroughly enjoyed making the projects. There are several benefits for learners in making from a kit:

  • I discussed stages of being a maker learner in my book Learning in the Making: How to Plan, Execute, and Assess Powerful Makerspace Lessons. As described for the Copy Stage, doing prescribed, step-by-step, procedural projects helps with scaffolding. They help build foundational skills for learners to be able to make more complex, open-ended, and self-driven projects.
  • Following Directions or Step-by-Step Procedures – This is a life skill in that putting things together is a beneficial for later in life. Lots of things folks purchase come in parts that have to be put together.
  • Learning How Things Work – By seeing the individual parts of a project prior to them being combined into a whole, working project, learners get to see how things work.
  • Perseverance – For more complicated kits (which I use), the learners almost always have a challenge to face. I will not directly help them. I ask them to persevere. I also suggest they ask one of their peers for assistance. Learners really enjoy giving one another tips for constructing their projects.
  • Feelings of Accomplishment – in completing a difficult task. The looks of joy and pride in completing their projects were a beautiful site to see. It was also fun seeing the joy they had in playing with the projects they created.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 16, 2021 at 8:28 pm

Scratch Monster Mash Up: A Language Arts/Technology Project

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This project was developed by Colleen Graves. I found information about how to do it at the Makey Makey blog post entitled, Scratch Coding Literacy Project Ideas for Makey Makey micro:bit Inventions. She designed it to be used with Scratch programming and the micro:bit micro-controller. I asked my students to create their monster mash ups using only Scratch programming. Scratch programming permits remixing of projects. I gave my learners a version of the project Colleen Graves shared so that they could remix hers and concentrate on creating their creatures and the accompanying text.

Standards Addressed

  • 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.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.

Introduction

Students are shown and explore the book. Myth Match: A Fantastical Flipbook of Extraordinary Beasts. “ou might have heard of the unicorn and the griffin, but what about the unifin? This fantastical flipbook collects together magical and mythical creatures from all over the world, then lets you mix and match their fronts and backs to create even more wondrous beasts of your own!” See the video below for some examples from this book.

Main Activity: Creating Monster Mash Ups in Scratch Programming

Specific directions as to how to do this can be found in Colleen Grave’s blogpost, Scratch Coding Literacy Project Ideas for Makey Makey micro:bit Inventions. Below are some artifacts for this project.

The Template for the Writing Part

Some Examples of Monster Mash Ups Created in Scratch

A Finished Scratch Example (click on the image or the link below it)

https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/506818063

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 29, 2021 at 2:03 am

Increasing Engagement, Creativity, and Innovation with Minds-On/Hands-On Activities

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COVID has forced many teacher to do remote learning in a virtual environment. Some have struggled with student-centric and hands-on learning. I have always been an experiential educator. Translating that to a virtual environment has been a little challenging but definitely doable.

Experiential-based minds on/hands on learning . . .

The ultimate goal is to get students at any level of education to become as mentally and physically engaged as possible in the learning process, regardless of the subject they are studying. The basic idea is for students to break out of their usual passive mode of learning that primarily involves listening to a teacher, taking notes and answering the occasional question. Instead, they are asked to in fact DO something during the learning process that has them actively using ALL of their senses. Doing something also means involving a student’s brain in thinking about what is going on around them as he or she tries to learn. All this active involvement makes for a powerful combination that dramatically enhances learning (The Importance of Hands-on, Minds-on Learning in Science).

The characteristics and qualities of experiential-based minds-on/hands-on activities include:

  • Open Ended Tasks Presented – “Open-ended tasks have more than one right answer, solution or outcome and can be completed in more than one way. Different learners may use different types of thinking; and there are no predetermined correct outcomes. Open-ended learning activities are provocative and stimulate divergent thinking about a topic (Open-Endedness).
  • Focus is on Process Rather Than Product – To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the learners. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like. By doing so, learners get the overt message that the focus is on processes used during the learning activity.
  • Engagement of Mind, Body, and Heart Occurs – Too often students are asked to engage in academics with their brains leaving behind their bodies and hearts. This is especially true as students enter higher grades. Hands-on/minds-on activities obviously use learners’ brains and hands; and because of the engagement of these areas, learners emotions, their hearts, are also often engaged.
  • Productive Struggles and Persistence – Hands-on/minds-on activities often challenge the learner due to their open ended nature. There are no single “right” answers. As such, they often have productive struggles with the learning task. Learners enter into uncharted waters as they work to create artifacts that are new to them, their classmates, their teachers, and sometimes for society. Given this limited “history,” learners often experience and work through struggles. Since they persist through theses struggles, they become productive struggles.
  • Learner-Initiated and Directed – When presented as self-directed learning, educators, as mentioned above, give learners an open ended task, like develop a new type of transportation for use on another planet or design an assistive technology for someone with a disability. Learners, then, being self directed, take initiative and responsibility for their learning, set their own goals, select and manage their resources, and assess the degree of personal success.
  • State of Flow Results – A flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity [Flow (psychology)]. I love it when I hear a student say at the end of class, “Is it time to go already?” This to me is evidence that a state of flow occurred from the learner.
  • Learning Comes from Natural Consequences, Mistakes, and Successes – Because this type of learning elicits new information for the learners during each step of their learning process, each step provides them with data. It gives them information about the degree of success or lack of success about the actions they took. They naturally gain insight about whether or not to keep going in the direction they have been, or whether they should change course due to lack of significant progress.
  • Increased Creativity and Innovation – Because of everything mentioned above, learners’ creativity and innovation flourishes.

Design Thinking: Sketching New Inventions for Clients

Consider the rapidly changing world we live in. To thrive in the future students will need to be adaptable and flexible. They will need to be prepared to face situations that they have never seen before. Design Thinking is one of the best tools we can give our students to ensure they:

  • Have creative confidence in their abilities to adapt and respond to new challenges.
  • Are able to identify and develop innovative, creative solutions to problems they and others encounter.
  • Develop as optimistic, empathetic and active members of society who can contribute to solving the complex challenges the world faces (What is Design Thinking? A Handy Guide for Teachers).

Probot

Protobot generates random product and service ideas

My students were each given this link. They were told that they could click on the link repeatedly to get a design they felt comfortable sketching.

Nope or Dope Cards

Nope or Dope cards is usually used as a party game. I used it to have students select a client or buyer and combine several products for that client. Since we were virtual, I would select cards from my deck for each student. They then sketched their prototypes for the type of client and a combination of selected product cards.

Extraordinaires Design Studio

The Extraordinaires® Design Studio is a powerful learning tool that introduces children to the world of design, teaching them the foundations of design in a fun and engaging way. Your clients are The Extraordinaires® – over the top characters with extraordinary needs – and it’s the job of your student or child to design the inventions they require to fit their worlds.”

Here are some student examples of this activity:

Flipgrid Reflections

For the above projects learners used Flipgrid to discuss the details of their projects. Then they commented on one another’s work. Here is an sampling of student Flipgrids:

Inventor’s Workshop

Inventing is a skill and every student can develop that skill. It may be cliche, but it’s true–kids are natural inventors. And once taught the skills of how to invent, there is no stopping them (Opinion: Every student can be an inventor).

I was able to get a DonorsChoose project funded whereby I bought each of my twenty students a box of the Inventor’s Boxes and had a great time delivering them to each of my student’s homes. It was great having all of these materials in one box but none of the materials was unique or unusual. This means teachers can create their own invention kits for their students that is relatively inexpensive materials – straws, pom poms, craft sticks, string, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, binder clips, googly eyes, dowels, and foam.

They spent many hours fully engaged during remote learning making inventions including musical instruments, board games, new tools, machines, and robots.

They then took images, posted them on their own individual Google Sites, and reflected on their attributes.

Making Board Games

My learners were given the simple directions to making a board game out of materials they found around the house. I thought this would be a fairly quick activity but they spent hour after hour creating them. They made game pieces, playing boards, playing cards, and tender. They then played their games remotely with the maker moving the game pieces, reading the playing cards, etc. They also spent hours playing one another’s games.

They were so many benefits of this activity: developing their creativity; communicating and relationship building with peers; and having authentic connections and fun during the difficult pandemic times.

Puppet Making and Green Screen Recording

Puppet-based learning teaches students design thinking, growth mindset, writing, how to work in sharable media, and how to approach learning without fear. Plus, it’s fun (6 Reasons Why Puppets Will Change Your Classroom Forever)!

This past week I visited my students’ homes yet again (love doing it) to deliver puppet making materials (felt puppet blanks, googly eyes, felt pieces, pom poms, Elmers glue) and green file folders for their green screen background. For the next several weeks, they will be making their puppets, writing scripts, recording their puppet shows in front of the green file folder, and then editing it with a background in https://clipchamp.com/. I will add some examples of their projects after their completion.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 9, 2021 at 11:21 pm

Video Games for Relationship- and Team Building

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I had the privilege of taking a workshop on Fortnite Creative facilitated by Steven Isaacs. I decided to take this workshop because I knew that many of my students (3rd-7th grade gifted students) were playing Fortnite. The idea of using a violent game during classes was not appealing to me so when I heard about Fortnite Creative, I got excited about learning more.

In Fortnite Creative, players can create structures on a private island and share them with up to 16 players (including the owner) for various multiplayer game modes with customizable rules. Players can place, copy and paste, move and erase objects, including ground tiles, items, and game features. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortnite_Creative)

This means that players can actually build structures on islands along with other players who they invite to join their party.

During the workshop, Steven talked about and show a video of his middle school students’ Rube Goldberg Machines. I love Rube Goldberg machines so the thought of students being able to build one using a gaming platform that were already using was very appealing to me.

Fornite Rube Goldberg Machine Lesson Plan

From Steven’s Fornite Rube Goldberg Machine Lesson Plan:

Who doesn’t love a good Rube Goldberg Machine? Full of humor, wit, and based on simple machines, Rube Goldberg inventions are described as overly complex machines comprised of a number of automated actions to solve a simple problem. I can only imagine how thrilled Rube would have been if Fortnite Creative mode was available in his day. In
this lesson, students will learn about simple machines, engineering, and automation. They will design and build a Rube Goldberg Machine in Fortnite Creative mode.

Some of the NGSS standards Steven listed in his lesson plan included:

  • Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
    • MS-PS2-1 Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.
  • Energy
    • HS-PS3-3 Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
  • Engineering Design
    • HS-ETS1-2 Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Fornite Rube Goldberg Machine)

(Disclaimer: Fortnite is not supposed to be used by kids under 13. The parents of the students in my class were familiar with their children’s Fortnite use and what we were doing during our Wednesday lunch club.)

I showed them the video, Student Fortnite Creative Rube Goldberg Machine, made and recorded by Steven’s students and told my students their goal was to build something like this. Since the only experience I had with Fornite was what I learned at the workshop, I explained that doing this would be all up to them. They had no problem taking this challenge and running with it.

My Reflection

This went better than I expected. Given that the Fortnite Creative simulates physics, I believe my students learned more about forces and interactions as well as properties related to energy conversion.

For me, though, the bigger benefits were with relationship- and team building. Because our district went remote and given that I teach gifted students at three schools, I combined the 5th-7th graders so we could meet all day on Wednesdays with an hour lunch for the voluntary gaming club. About 6 of my students play during our hour lunch.

Relationship Building – One of the group of students were new to me. Within a half hour of our first class meeting, one of the new 6th grade boys, A., started complaining, asking how long he had to stay. I went to the Fortnite Creative Workshop and the next Wednesday, I asked who played Fortnite and wanted to join a lunch gaming club. A. sparked right up. His attitude towards my gifted class and me took a 180 degree turn. Now, he says that he loves gifted class, engages in all of the activities, and is a strong class contributor throughout all of our learning activities. Since I am a Fortnite Creative noob, he always takes care of me in-world, making sure I am invite to their party, and can find my way around our class’s island for building. I believe this was due to my taking an interest in his life and integrating that into my class. Too often, the teacher expects students to join her world without taking an interest in joining students in their worlds.

The relationship between three students from one school and three from another quickly developed through their shared interest. It’s only been a few weeks and they seem like they have been co-students for years. In fact, they told me that a few of them (from different schools) met over the weekend to play Fornite.

Team Building – Years ago, I facilitated outdoor and experiential team building experiences for all kinds of groups: adult corporate and therapeutic groups for adults and adolescents. As mentioned, Fortnite Creative can be played together by a group. We kept our Google Meet open for ease of communicating during our gaming club. To hear my students working together to build their Rube Goldberg machine and play with iterations of that machine brought me such joy. Their comments were similar to those I heard when I did the outdoor team building activities. They built off of one another’s ideas, expressed satisfactory when iteratios worked correctly for them, and made sure everyone was included in their activities! To get a snippet of their interactions – see below:

Next up for our gaming club – Rocket League (as per my students’ request, of course).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 4, 2020 at 12:27 am

Anti-Racist Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

Anti-Racist Children’s Talking Books

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

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

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

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

I Am Poems

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

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

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

Podcast

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

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

Here are some resources about podcasting and recording with students:

Quilt

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

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

Online Book-Zine

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

Open Your Eyes: See What the World Could Really Be

Book Creator is a great tool to use for this. The illustrations can be drawn and painted (like the example) using Paint Online or Sumopaint or a Pixel Art tool such as https://www.pixilart.com/draw or https://www.piskelapp.com/ and then upload those drawings/images into their ebooks. They can then use the text tool in Book Creator. As an alternative, students can do a series of comics using a tool such as Storyboard That. These art pieces are downloaded as images and then uploaded to Book Creator where students can add text.

Scratch Video Game

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

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

Badges

In order to acknowledge student work and progress, they earn badges for producing quality work. We are using Open Access Canvas so the badge chart is embedded into it where they can keep track of their progress in comparison to the other students.

Finally, here is a Book Creator ebook I created for my students to use as a reference:

Anti-Racism Activities

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 12, 2020 at 4:00 pm

My Educational Learning Plan for the Coronavirus-Induced Hiatus

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

Working Remotely with My Gifted Elementary Students

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

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

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

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


Professional Development – Virtual Style

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

Attending Some Virtual Conferences

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

Taking Some Online Classes

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

Doing Some Maker Projects

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


My Physical Health

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

Stay healthy, happy, and wise!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2020 at 7:46 pm

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