User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘disrupting education

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

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

The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Annie Murphy Paul (A Guide for Educators)

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As an educator who . . . began my career as an outdoor and experiential-based counselor; loves and studies educational trends; and teaches elementary students, and pre-service and in-service teachers; I believe good teachers naturally do what’s best for their students. This is in spite of (all meanings intended) of the multiple, and often conflicting and changing mandates placed on them.

With that said, I was excited to hear Annie Murphy Paul discuss her new book, The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain, at toddle TIES.

Over many years of elementary school, high school, and even college and graduate school, we’re never explicitly taught to think outside the brain; we’re not shown how to employ our bodies and spaces and relationships in the service of intelligent thought. Yet this instruction is available if we know where to look; our teachers are the artists and scientists and authors who have figured out these methods for themselves, and the researchers who are, at last, making these methods the object of study. For humans these [methods] include, most notably, the feelings and movements of our bodies; the physical spaces in which we learn and work; and the other minds with which we interact—our classmates, colleagues, teachers, supervisors, friends. (https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Outside-Brain-Annie-Murphy/dp/0544947665)

From The Harvard Book Store:

The Extended Mind outlines the research behind this exciting new vision of human ability, exploring the findings of neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and examining the practices of educators, managers, and leaders who are already reaping the benefits of thinking outside the brain. She excavates the untold history of how artists, scientists, and authors—from Jackson Pollock to Jonas Salk to Robert Caro—have used mental extensions to solve problems, make discoveries, and create new works.

What we need to do, says acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul, is think outside the brain. A host of “extra-neural” resources—the feelings and movements of our bodies, the physical spaces in which we learn and work, and the minds of those around us— can help us focus more intently, comprehend more deeply, and create more imaginatively.

In this book, she proposes a series of strategies that for me reflect best practices in education and ones that I typically use with my students (of all ages) on a regular basis. As mentioned earlier, I believe good educators often naturally integrate these practices in their classrooms:

(Note: It should be “Interoceptive“)

created by Cindy Blackburn

Here is an written summary of these keys points and strategies:

Source: https://jenniferlouden.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Paul.THE-EXTENDED-MIND.list-of-takeaways.pdf

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 13, 2022 at 4:47 pm

Transmedia, Digital Storytelling Project

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As someone who, for years, has been using educational technology, I have \said the often stated quote, Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced. More recently I heard the quote from my brilliant colleague, George Couros, Technology won’t replace great teachers, but in the hands of great teachers can be transformational. This better fits my sensibilities.

As an educator of 1st-6th grade gifted students, I love asking them to use digital platforms that permit them to be content creators. I believe that learners, in this high tech, highly connected world, should be producing as much or even more content than they are consuming. From Digital Promise:

Schools, libraries, and classrooms have traditionally been a place for the consumption of information and ideas. Empowering students as creators means educators shift their professional thinking, instruction and instructional program to enable authentic opportunities for students to individually and collaboratively tinker, build, inquire, design, create, and iterate.

The research surrounding students as creators recognizes their potential to engage, participate and their potential for developing agency as citizens of the world. As digital-age learners, students are not merely consumers of content and ideas. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) identifies “Empowered Learners,” “Knowledge Constructors,” “Innovative Designers,” and “Computational Thinkers” among seven core standards for students (Empowering Students as Creators).

To support students as content creators, they were asked to create transmedia, digital stories. Digital stories are:

At a basic level digital storytelling means using technology to tell stories. You can tell digital stories in many ways, for example: through text on a website or social media tool, through narration and images in a video, or through narration in a podcast. Digital stories are not just facts presented with accompanying images, they are narratives crafted to take the listener or reader on a journey. Just like a novel or a documentary, digital stories have a plot, characters, and themes (What is Digital Storytelling?).

. . . and similarly, transmedia storytelling is defined as:

Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms tell a coordinated story.  Multiple narratives come together, constructing a larger storyworld. Like a giant puzzle, each piece contributes to a larger narrative. The process is cumulative and each piece adds richness and detail to the story world, such as character backstories and secondary plotlines.  This makes for a richer audience experience and multiple access points (What is Transmedia Storytelling?).

For this project, my gifted students, grades 4-6, were asked to write a fictional story, alone or with a partner (most chose a partner). It was open-ended in that the fictional content was determined by them. They did, though, have to create:

  • Characters with each student creating a Makey-Makey/Scratch bottle character,
  • The Story Setting with each individual or team creating a CoSpace to portray their story setting,
  • A Story Arc using Storyboard That or Google Docs.

Makey Makey/Scratch Bottle Characters

To begin this aspect of the project, students were asked to compose 5 facts about their characters. They then created sculptural versions of their characters using water bottles and craft materials. They used Makey Makeys/Scratch to “speak” those facts – see the video below. Scratch is coding language with a simple visual interface that allows young people to create digital stories, games, and animations. Makey Makey is a simple circuit board you can use to create your own keyboard for a computer. For this project, students used Scratch to work using the Makey Makey. See Biography Bottles With Makey Makey for how to do this.

CoSpaces Story Settings

CoSpaces Edu is a 3D creation web and app-based classroom tool that allows students to create in a 3D augmented and virtual reality environments. It permits for collaborative creation so students were able to work with their partners to create a 3D, VR versions of the settings for their stories.

Since CoSpaces projects are VR enabled, I bought a cheap Bnext™ VR headset from ebay so students could view their spaces in virtual reality. It was so much fun to watch their reactions.

(The above images are royalty-free, but my students looked like this when viewing their sites. I couldn’t take photos as they were using my phone/camera to view CoSpaces.)

Plot – Story Arc: Storyboard That

I really love using Storyboard That, a digital tool aimed at students who want to create a storyboard to communicate. The online-based platform lets anyone easily create a storyboard in order to tell a story in a visually engaging way. For this project, I assigned the Plot Diagram and Narrative Arc template for students to use, a more complex one for older students and a less complex one for younger students.

Benefits/Results

From observing my learners for the multiple hours they were engaged in this project, I found it had the following benefits:

  • Full and total engagement,
  • Increased creativity and use of imagination (more than simple, written work) ,
  • Student voice and choice,
  • Learning how to use new content creation technologies,
  • Learning the mechanics of writing,
  • Project management (due to the long term nature of this project),
  • Joy and pride in learning.

Benefits of Using Board Games in the Classroom

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As a kid growing up, I loved board games . . . loved playing The Game of Life, Clue, and Sorry with my friends as a preteen and then Backgammon throughout my undergraduate years. I definitely liked the thrill of winning but equally so interacting with my friends while we played the games. Years ago I brought board games into my classroom. but haven’t for several years focusing more on using video games with my students. I started bringing them back again this year after remote learning due to the COVID pandemic. This allows my students to engage in and develop the social skills that were sorely lacking during the pandemic. We know that the kids didn’t have these developmental experiences during the year+ of isolation from their peers.

The pandemic has brought about huge disruptions in normal life for humanity as a whole. The pandemic has brought about a worldwide lockdown state, and children’s interactions with other humans have become limited to that of their immediate family. Peer interactions and relationships are how kids learn not only about cooperation, trust, loyalty and support, but also about themselves, understanding and expressing their own emotions, making well thought out decisions, coping with challenges and accepting responsibility.

Lack of social interaction is creating a domino effect on children across the world. This isolation is not only creating a deterioration in social skills, but also, when children are asked these days about how they feel, the most common answers received are ‘bored’ and ‘lonely’ (How the pandemic is affecting children’s social skills).

I understood this was a problem throughout our time doing remote learning from March, 2020 through the end of the 2021 school year. During that time, I built in a gaming club whereby for a long, 2-hour lunch one day a week we had a gaming club. The kids could remain on Google Meet while they played and discussed multiplayer games such as Among Us, Fortnite Creative mode (I couldn’t ethically agree to violent games in a classroom setting), Roblox, and Rocket League. I would turn off my camera and mic as this was their time; and often a highlight of their weeks.

I understand and believe in value of learning through board games, and have incorporated them into my classrooms – both elementary and higher education – throughout my decades long teaching career. Research indicates that there is power in using board games in the classroom. Here is the conclusion from a 2019 meta-analysis:

Board games and programs that use board games have positive effects on various outcomes, including educational knowledge, cognitive functions, physical activity, anxiety, [and] ADHD symptoms. Additionally, board games were shown to contribute to improving these variables, enhancing the interpersonal interactions and motivation of participants, and promoting learning (The effectiveness of intervention with board games: a systematic review).

. . . and from Knowledge Quest:

Games provide stories and information, presented in a new format. They encourage critical thinking and problem solving and accomplish objectives of curriculum frameworks. Board games can provide students with opportunities to apply concepts they have learned. Board games promote collaboration, inquiry, and critical thinking. By using games that support the curriculum, educators can give students opportunities to experience play, while at the same time promoting student achievement (Using Games to Support the Curriculum: Getting Teachers on “Board”).

That is some “official” research but from observing my students at play, these are what I see the benefits to be:

  • Increased communication
  • Building social negotiation that are required of playing games together
  • Increased socialization
  • Reading and understanding procedural directions (I ask students to read directions how to play the game)
  • Experiencing joy inherently involved in play
  • Developing critical thinking skills (depending on the game but that is a criteria in my game selection – see my next section.)

The types of games I select are intentionally new to students (so they have to read and understand the directions) and have strategy-critical thinking aspects, Here are some games the students have played and enjoyed:

Leave a comment about those board games you like to use with your students!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 31, 2022 at 1:49 am

Top Five Blog Posts During 2021

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I love to blog. I do so for several reasons. First, it provides me with a means for reflecting on my teaching practices as well as having a written and often graphic record of my pratices. Second, my biography includes the statement, “I believe one of the roles and responsibilities of the modern educator is to share resources, lessons, ideas, thoughts, and opinions.” Blogging and Tweeting allow me to do so.

Here are the top five blog of 2021.

Number One: Virtual Team Building Activities

This is not surprising given all of the remote learning in K-Higher Education especially in the beginning of 2021. I was happy to see that educators looked for team building activities to use with their classes.

Number Two: The Importance of Civics Education

This actually surprised me. As I mentioned in the blog post, I was never that found of civics and politics but given the events of the past couple years, I have come to believe that all kids need civics education throughout their K-12 education. So I was excited to see this as number two.

Number Three: Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning

This wasn’t surprising. This is an old post – from August, 2012. It always gets good traffic which is exciting to me as I believe that morning meetings can be powerful in elementary education environments.

Number Four: Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar

As with the Virtual Team Building Activities, this wasn’t surprising given all of the remote learning during 2021. All of the activities described in this blog post focused on social emotional learning (SEL). One “good” thing that came from COVID is a greater focus on SEL in traditional educational settings. I always believed in its importance so I am thrilled it is gaining more acceptance.

Number Five: Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education

This is also an older post. Out my top five, I was most excited to see this one. My work history includes teaching and counseling marginalized children and youth. Needless to say, the movement towards anti-racist education this past year has made me more hopeful that this can be achieved one day (although I understand it will take a lot work and a major overhaul of our traditional and archaic education systems).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 28, 2021 at 11:15 pm

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

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

selfdifferentiating

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

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