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Posts Tagged ‘disrupting education

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

Tangrams: A Cross Curricular, Experiential Unit

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Now that I am back in the classroom two days a week teaching gifted elementary students, I can do and report on the cross curricular units I plan and implement. There are several guiding factors that I use to design my units:

  • They need to be hands-on and experiential.
  • Learner choice and voice is valued.
  • They need to address cross curricular standards. It is like life. Life doesn’t segment content areas into separate entities.
  • They do not depend on the use of worksheets. Worksheets tend to address a single standard or skill. Plus, learning how to do worksheets is NOT a life skill.
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process.
  • Reading and writing are integrated into the learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories, and writing stories, narratives, journalistic reports.
  • Educational technology is incorporated but with a focus on using it to interact with real world physical objects and people.
  • A reflective component is included.
  • The educator becomes a facilitator whereby activities are introduced and then the learners become the active agents of their own learning.
  • The goal is to create the conditions for learners to say they the best day ever.

Tangrams: Cross Curricular Unit

The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qīqiǎobǎn; literally: “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It is reputed to have been invented in China during the Song Dynasty,[1] and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. . It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangram)

Goals:

The students will be able to:

  • Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Develop and portray characters including specifics about circumstances, plot, and thematic intent, demonstrating logical story sequence and informed character choices. (ELA and Visual Arts)
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Materials:

Learning Activities

Read Grandfather Tangrams + Learners Create Tangrams for Each Story Character

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Each learner is given a set of tangram puzzle pieces and a set of cards that shows how to make each tangram animal in the story. Grandfather Tang is read to the learners either directly from the book or through https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x74l1ZM-zP0 so it can be projected. The story is stopped each time there is a reference to one of the Tangram animals. Learners construct that animal using their own set of Tangrams.

Check-In with Tangrams

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One of my morning activities with learners is to have them check in as to how they are doing that day. The check in for this unit is to create a Tangram that represents how they are feeling. Selections are made from a sheet given to learners:

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Giant Puzzling Tangrams

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Making the props for this activity is worth the trouble as it is a very high engagement, high learning, high reward activity. To set it up, an area is chosen that is about 50 yards long (outside or in a gym) and the giant Tangram shapes are placed in a pile at the start of this area. Learners are given a card that has the design of a Tangram at the beginning of this area. They need to produce that Tangram and then all get on top of that shape. Their goal then becomes to cross the designated area using the Tangram pieces as stepping stones. If they fall off, they must go back to the beginning and start again. When they reach the end of the designated area, they are given another Tangram shape they need to construct prior to stepping off. This translates into the need for them to maneuver the Tangram pieces into the design while standing on pieces.

Tangoes Tangram Card Game – Paired Challenge

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Next, the learners play the Tangoes card game in pairs. The object of Tangoes is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle in a challenge with another learner in a race to solve the puzzle. It helps build visual spatial skills as the cards don’t have demarcations for the individual Tangrams. I promote some cooperative work as I ask the partner who figured out the answer to help his or her partner to do so, too.

Make 3D Tangrams

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Learners are given the printed out templates for a set of 3D Tangrams and construct them.

Create a Story from 3D Tangrams – Take Photos and Write a Blog Post

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Learners think of a story using their 3D Tangrams and take photos for the scene(s) of their stories. They then upload these images to their blogs and write about their story.

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(Postscript: Wow – I didn’t review their blog posts until after school. We are definitely going to discuss this student’s blog post during on next class session. Great teachable moment to discuss this real life situation of one of their classmates.)

The First Days of School: Setting the Climate for Year

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

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

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

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

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

These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my gifted class of 2nd to 6th grade students:

Morning Check-In

I believe in including classroom activities that build emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. I begin my mornings throughout the school year with emotional check-ins, a way for each learner to check in with how they are doing that day. I use props such as feeling cards to do so. On this first day, I used Stones Have Feelings, Too.

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For more ideas on the types of check-ins I have used, see Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning.

Thumball Ice Breaker

For the second activity, the learners were asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.

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

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

Warp Speed

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

During on first day together, I facilitated Warp Speed with the learners.

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

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

LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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I like using the All About Me posters at the beginning of the school year as it lets me know a lot about the learners in a very short time. I also use them to decorate my classroom walls. Since I have been involved in maker education running a maker summer camp, I showed the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They used these materials to created LED enhanced All About me Posters.

Autobiographical Activities

The All About Me Poster was actually the beginning of their autobiographical activity unit. The learners were provided with a Google Doc with the following:

Required:

Choose Three:

  • Magnetic Poetry – refrigerator magnet words to write a 5 line poem or a Haiku about yourself.
  • Get Anagrams for Your Name – http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html (list 15 of them)
  • Do an A-Z book – each letter needs a word and an picture to describe you.
  • Write out 10 equations about you represented by number.
  • Make a T-shirt tote – http://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ and bring three objects from home in your tote for a show and tell.
  • Do I Am Poem on notepaper add to a decorated self portrait.

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The learners began these activities at the end of our day by starting their magnetic poems, A-Z books, and Word Clouds.

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Final Thoughts

There were three things that happened during this first day that especially made me so grateful and excited about being a teacher.

First, one of the girls has a twice exceptional label – gifted and autistic. I was told that she might take weeks to start talking in class. Also, given her attributes, peers relationships, at times, at strained or even nonexistent. She loved all of the hands on activities especially the LED lights. After a bit of quietness during the beginning of the morning, she talked throughout our time together. What was especially cool was that a few of her classmates from her regular classroom came to get her for a visit to the school nurse. When they came into my classroom and saw her LED enhanced poster, they got very excited. Another teacher noticed the kids going down the hall and heard the them talking about the project – asking this girl all about. The other teacher knows that girl from past years and told me it warmed her heart to see her excitedly share her learning . . . and the other kids listening to her. I smile ever time I picture it.

Second, one of the boys worked very hard at creating his magnetic poem – see above. He read it several times to different students as he created it. I loved the pride and joy I saw in his face when saw and heard his peers’ reactions. It was definitely priceless.

Finally, there was a boy in the class who is new to the school. I met his mom during the morning prior to coming to my gifted class (it meets a full day per week) and she told me that he was not at all happy at this new school, that he wanted to go back to his old school but that was happy about coming to the gifted program. His total excitement and engagement as well as his connections to the other students in the program throughout the day brings a tear to my eye. It really seemed as though he found his tribe; a place where he belongs.

I wholeheartedly believe that the only reason these events occurred was due to my focus on the learners and on establishing our community during on first day together.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 27, 2016 at 1:44 am

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