User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘social-emotional 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

Educator Self-Care

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Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

– Eleanor Brownn

I have written about doing check-ins with students on several occasions, for example, see Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar. What I find ironic about myself is that I haven’t discussed self-care of educators. This is especially negligent since I have a Doctorate in Counseling. I should know better as I wholeheartedly believe that in case of an emergency such as the COVID pandemic, educators need to practice . . . “in the event of an emergency should put your own oxygen masks on first so you can breath and assist others.” The pandemic has made the need for educator self-care blatantly apparent. This post is designed to provide educators with practical strategies for increasing their own self-care. After some background information, I offer an interactive infographic on self-care strategies and a 21-day journal for exploring and developing educator self-care strategies.

Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as “selfish” or “superficial.” But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.

The importance and benefits of self-care extend to every profession, but within some careers it is more stigmatized than in others. People in caregiving positions like teachers, for example, often find it easier to tell others to take care of their health than to do so themselves. Because educators are encouraged to focus so much energy on others and so little on themselves, self-care is necessary for teachers to maintain good mental health (https://www.waterford.org/education/teacher-self-care-activities/).

Strategies for Increasing Your Self-Care and Personal Health

Self-care can be broken down into several components or areas. Here is one conceptualization graphic. I added “hot spots” for interactive resources. (I learned a new tech tool, Genial.ly, to create interactivity to the infographic.)

Here is a 21 days journal I created for educators to use. Each day contains a quote, a journal question, and a strategy. For a copy, grab the link underneath it and make a copy for yourself.

View this document on Scribd

Here is the link for you to make your own copy and where you can make your own journal entries – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t22p8KahDrQWR2soKfm5vIBJxNV_r9JMEb8U14ZbX44/copy/.

If you decide to do the 21 day challenge, let me know how it goes!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 3, 2021 at 12:41 am

Energizing Students Right From the Start

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I, like many of you, have been doing remote teaching since March, 2020. I am a student-centric, hands on/minds on teacher. In normal times when students come to my classroom (I provide pull-out services for gifted elementary level kids), I get them doing hands-on activities within minutes of entering into my classroom. As many of you know, remote teaching is very different than face-to-face learning. Many of my 3rd-6th grade students join my Google Meet class (used by our district) dragging in and saying they’re tired. My goal is to change these frames of mind to alert, ready-to-go frames of mind. I use a variety of beginning-the-class energizers. It is pretty amazing how well these short activities work in changing the energy of my students. Quickly they become energized, joyful, and engaged.

Beginning of class activities have been used to gain student attention, provide accountability, review material, engage with new content, or establish routines. To gain students’ attention, class might begin by using multi-media, hands-on activities, surprising events, humor, or appealing to students’ emotions (Davis, 2009) ( A Starter Activity to Begin Any Class).

I encourage [teachers] to think carefully about the first five minutes of class. In my lesson plan template, one of the first tasks we discuss when planning in-class time is to prepare what I call a “focusing activity.” A focusing activity is designed to immediately focus students’ attention as soon as they walk in (or log in) to the classroom. Most focusing activities take fewer than five minutes of class time and are highly flexible. Focusing activities may include collaborative activities to connect students, generate discussion, and compare ideas; individual activities where students work on their own by reading, reflecting, or writing; or a brief quiz or some other type of assessment. Finally, focusing activities can be high-tech, low-tech, or no tech (Three Focusing Activities to Engage Students in the First Five Minutes of Class).

When I seek or develop activities to engage students right from the start, I want the activities to achieve the following:

  • Activities wake up students’ minds and emotions.
  • Activities are emotionally and cognitively engaging.
  • Students enjoy the process of engaging in the activities rather than seeking specific academic outcomes.
  • Activities are fun.
  • Student playfulness naturally emerges.
  • Students develop feelings of competence and confidence.
  • Critical thinking is often activated.
  • Activities become so engaging that students want to keep playing.
  • Activities promote discourse and connection between students.

Sample “Engage Students from the Start’ Activities

Here is a list of sample activities I have used with my students. Students find them so much fun that I use them several times during the semester. I will add to this list as I find more. If you have used any of these type of energizers with your students, put them in the comments so I can add them.

Rebus Generator

Rebus Generator creates rebus puzzles from sentences. “A rebus is a puzzle device that combines the use of illustrated pictures with individual letters to depict words and/or phrases.” This particular generator has two levels – normal and hard and has the capability to create rebus puzzles from two dozen languages. Here is an example rebus puzzle – see if you can guess it:

My students generate their own and do a screen share. Others yell out their guesses word by word. A few students do it for each class period until all students get a change to share theirs. The students love this so much that we have done it for two cycles of students.

Online Mad Libs for Kids

Online Mad Libs for Kids offers an online version of Mad Libs: “short, silly stories based on your words. Just pick ten words, click the “generate” button and read your own short story!” This website offers mad lib options about jobs, photo shoot, pizza party, gingerbread man, me, queen, butterflies, and balloon animal. Here is an example about jobs:

Students volunteer one at a time to be the facilitator. They choose the which mad lib they want to facilitate, share their screens, ask for the words to fill in the mad lib, and then share the results. Students, who have done mad libs in the past, have gotten so excited about this activity. Those, who have not, learn what they are and their excitement escalates as we play. Similar to above a few kids facilitate the mad libs each class period until all of them get a change to do so.

Two Truths and a Fib

I have been using two truths and a lie with students of all ages.

The main instructions of the game are that each member of the group introduces themselves by stating two truths and one lie about themselves. The statements don’t have to be intimate, life-revealing things—just simple hobbies, interests, or past experiences that make each person unique. The lie can be outrageous and wacky, or it can sound like a truth to make it harder for the other participants. One at a time, each person shares their statements. The group has to guess which statements are true and which statement is the lie. You can keep score to see who correctly guesses the most lies, or just play for fun to get to know one another—it’s up to your group (How to Play Two Truths and a Lie).

A Jamboard version of Two Truths and a Fib was found on Ditch the Textbook website and was written by Kris Szajner.

The Jamboard is set to “anyone can edit” and shared with the students. Each student gets a slide and types in their name. They use the text tool to write out their two truths and a fib – one per column/area. They should be told to randomly place their fib meaning not all of the fibs are put in area 3. Once all of the students have completed this part, they place a sticky note with their name on each of other students’ slides to indicate which one they think is a fib. Finally, each student, one at a time, tells the group which one was the fib. Laughter and squeals of joy result.

Rebus Puzzles

Rebus Puzzles are a little different than the Rebus Generator discussed earlier. Rebus puzzles are pictures, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying. Here are some examples – see if you can guess what they are:

I screen share rebus puzzles one at a time. Students can call out their guesses.

Which On Doesn’t Belong

Which One Doesn’t Belong provides lots of examples in the categories shapes, numbers, and graphs.

What is Going on in this Picture

What is Going On in this Picture are ambiguous pictures published by the New York Times. See examples below:

As per the New York Times directions, students are asked the following questions:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Students are given a few minutes to jot down their responses and volunteers then share their responses. As with several of these activities, this one can be used over several class periods with different New York Times pictures used.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Games

Two AI games, the Akinator and Quick, Draw!, really don’t have any educational value but the are fun and get the students excited which wakes them up in preparation for learning.

Akinator is a computer game and mobile app. During gameplay, it attempts to determine what fictional or real-life character, object, or animal the player is thinking of by asking a series of questions (like the game Twenty Questions). It uses an artificial intelligence program that learns the best questions to ask through past questions asked by players (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akinator).

Quick, Draw! is an online game developed by Google that challenges players to draw a picture of an object or idea and then uses a neural network artificial intelligence to guess what the drawings represent. The AI learns from each drawing, increasing its ability to guess correctly in the future (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quick,_Draw!).

Students leave their mics on and share findings, joys, and amazements while they play. There can be some direct educational applications if used prior to a lesson on artificial intelligence.

Drawing Conclusions

Drawing Conclusions is a Jamboard activity developed by Julia’s #STEAMing up Jamboards. It consists of a series of visual puzzles for students to solve – see below for some examples:

The original Jamboard has the answer for each of the puzzles. The one I share with students doesn’t have the answers. They can work alone or with one/two other students in a breakout room (sadly, our district took away the option for breakout rooms). There are nine puzzles. Students can work on all of them in one sitting or they can be split between several class periods.

Minute Mysteries

Minute Mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. These work best in smaller groups so the shyer and quieter students feel more comfortable asking questions. My students like them so much that they often request for them.

6 Word Story or Memoir with Image

Using Unsplash.com, a website dedicated to sharing stock photography under the Unsplash license, students find an image that speaks to them; that is autobiographical in some way. They then write a 6 word story or memoir for that image. Each students screen shares their image and shares their stories or memoirs. To add suspense and engagement, students can email their images and stories to the teacher who shares them with their students. The students then guess who image/story/memoir it is.

Kahoot or Quizziz

Kahoot and Quizziz use a quiz-style teaching and learning method where users answer questions in a competition with other users on the same quiz. Teachers can create their own quizzes but the libraries of these two websites are so extensive that teachers can find quizzes on most any topic. Students cheer when I say we are going to play Kahoot, thus it achieves the goals for using beginning of the class energizers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 24, 2020 at 7:11 pm

Among Us Classroom Style: Another Case for Game-Based Learning

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about my gaming club in Video Games for Relationship- and Team Building. It is still going very strong. Students from the three schools where I teach gifted students look forward to it all week long. We started with Fornite Creative but now they have moved onto Rocket League and Among Us. Recent research supports the positive benefits of playing video games:

With the UK in a second national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Christmas on the horizon, many will stay indoors to play and socially connect through video games. New research from Oxford University has delivered a surprising finding; time spent playing games is positively associated with wellbeing (Groundbreaking new study says time spent playing video games can be good for your wellbeing).

This led me to seek out ways to use their interest in these games to teach academics. I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for educators’ generous and giving personalities as well for the social media platforms where they share resources and ideas. Since I know how much my learners love Among Us, I did an internet search for its use in classroom settings. I found a blog post by @SteinbrinkLaura entitled, How to Add Game Elements to Your Lesson: Among Us-Google Style! Using her ideas as well as some found on the New York Times article, Lesson of the Day: ‘With Nowhere to Go, Teens Flock to Among Us’, I created a language arts Among Us type of game. So, in essence, both language arts and SEL standards are addressed. Here is the slide deck I used with my upper elementary gifted students:

Here is the link to the presentation – https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Arrd1astkWMQw4iaQMCVuUJ5-miT_EochPB-JC6wOjA/edit#slide=id.p if you want to use it. You will need to make a copy if you want to use it as is or adapt it. Just remember that when using it with students, it should be as a shared doc meaning anyone with a link has editing permission. Here is a snippet of students playing this game:

At the end of the remote learning class where I used it, I heard the words I love to hear from students, “That was fun.” I plan to use this activity again with a different article and a different set of questions.

I never cease to be amazed on the power of games. I have been using games for decades with kids, with teens, and with college students. I have used board games, card games, competitive games, non competitive games, ice breakers, team building games, adventure games, and video games to teach. Their success rate in terms of student engagement and enjoyment is probably close to 100%. I know of no other instructional strategy that consistently have this success rate. My parting shot is a sketch-note by colleague John Spencer about the benefits of games:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 18, 2020 at 9:51 pm

Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar

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I always start my classes with some form of emotional check-in regardless of age or grade level. I do so in my college classes as well as in my elementary gifted classes. I think this is even more imperative given the stress students are experiencing due to COVID19. The 10 to 15 minutes it takes is so worth the class time.

Some of the benefits of emotional check-ins discussed in the Edutopia article, A Simple but Powerful Class Opening Activity, include:

Students know that every voice matters: The emotional check-in gets every student’s voice into the room at the start of each class. Although students can always say “pass” instead of sharing, each student has the opportunity to be heard every class session. The check-in is also a great opportunity to practice active listening, turn-taking, and following group norms.

Students develop awareness of others’ emotions—and how to respond to them: When students share their emotions during the check-in, they give their classmates a snapshot of their emotional state. And if I hear a student say that “I didn’t sleep much last night” or “I feel like I can’t focus today,” I can adjust my interactions with that person accordingly.

The check-ins also acknowledge that how students are feeling is important to the educator, that they matter as human beings who have feelings and emotions.

One of my college classes moved from face-to-face to Zoom this semester. What follows are some of the check-in activities I have done with them.

Feeling Charts

Students use a feeling chart to describe how they are feeling. A side benefit of using feeling charts is that they help students increase their feelings vocabulary.

Source: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry

Share a Rose; Share a Thorn

Each student shares a Rose, something good or positive, from the day or week; and a Thorn, something not-so-good or positive, from the day or week.

Four Types of Care

Students, during the check-in, take turns using the four types of self care graphic to describe strategies they are doing or would like to do to be physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy.

5 Step Check-In Process

The teacher leads students through the 5 step check-in process described in Emotional Check-ins: Why You Need Them:

  1. Tune into your body.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Ask the question. Use the simple question, “How am I feeling?” Make it even more specific by tacking on the phrase “right now” or “in this moment.” 
  4. Use descriptive words to capture how you feel. 
  5. Brainstorm what might be contributing to those emotions.

Then each student is given an opportunity to share what came up for them during the exercise.

Mondrianfy Your Feelings

Students are instructed to find a slide that has shapes and colors that Mondrian used in his artwork. They then use those shapes to create an abstract representations of their feelings. I learned this through Dan Ryder. See below for an example:

Find an Object

Students are asked to find something in their home environment that represents how they are doing; how they are feeling right now. Each student is given an opportunity to share their object via the webinar screen and describe why they selected it. Below are images of my college students doing this check in.

Pear Deck

Pear Decks are very similar to a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation. But instead of simply static, informational slides, you get to create Interactive Slides that let every student respond to your questions or prompts. Once PearDeck is activated, through the Google Slides add-on, students are given a code to access the Pear Deck. There they interact with each slide through typing, drawing, and using a draggable icon depending how the teacher set up the slide. What follows is the Pear Deck I used for a check-in at the start of one of my classes.



Create an Image Based Timeline of Feelings

Students create a timeline of images that represent: how you felt last week; how you feel today; how you want to feel this coming week; and finally, what strategies you can use to get to how you want to feel this coming week. Students then share their images via their webinar cameras and discuss their meaning with the rest of the class. What follows are (1) the prompt for this activity, and (2) sample student pictures:

Gif Image

Using Giphy students do a search for different feelings and emotions they are currently experiencing, and then select one or more Gifs that represent those feelings. They then take turns to do a screenshare of their selected Giphy and explain why they selected it.

Padlet Check-In

Padlet is an application to create an online bulletin board that you can use to display information for any topic. You can add images, links, videos, text, and drawings. Below is a Padlet I created for an emotional check-in.

Emoji Soundboard

Students choose one or two of the emojis+sounds found at https://www.classtools.net/soundboard/ to describe how they are feeling.

Mentimeter

Menitmeter allows teachers to engage and interact with students in real-time. It is a polling tool wherein teachers can set the questions and your students can give their input using a mobile phone or any other device connected to the Internet. Their input is displayed on a slide in a selected format: Word Cloud, Speech Bubbles, One-By-One, and Flowchart. In the case of check-ins, it can be used to have students put in responses to a question related to how they feeling at the start of class and their responses then are shown to the class via a slide. The example below shows a slide with a Word Cloud of emotional check-in responses.

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called “topics,” and their students can post video responses. For an emotional check-in, students record a short video about how they are feeling.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 16, 2020 at 10:02 pm

Letting Your Learners Experience Productive Struggle

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I came into teaching through a non-traditional, backdoor route – through a graduate degree in counselor education and through being an adventure therapist, whereby I took at-risk youth on extended wilderness trips. There have been a plethora of lessons I learned through these experiences that have served me well as a teacher.

As part of my counselor training, we were taught to not try to take away a client’s pain or struggle; that they often need to experience these struggles in order to move forward. My role during client distress was not to try to take their pain away but to offer my presence, listening skills, and being a witness to their stories.

As an adventure therapist, the youth often had a difficult time during wilderness activities such as rock climbing, rappelling, and the wilderness solo (spending 24 hours alone). Many become scared and wanted to give up. My role during these times was to encourage them and not let them give up. The results of successfully completing these activities that seemed unsurmountable were feelings of accomplishment; an increase of positive self-esteem.

This often seems contrary to being in a role of a helper, either as a counselor or as a teacher. Being a helper translates into wanting to take away the struggles and pain of others. The paradox becomes in that by allowing our clients or students to work through their pain and struggles, it helps them to grow.

Productive Struggle

In 1910, John Dewey described learning as beginning with a dilemma—an uncertainty about how to proceed. Struggling to work through uncertainty and ambiguity to discover a solution was, for Dewey, essential to meaningful learning. Struggling and persisting in the face of uncertainty is finding its way back into prescriptions for good classroom practice. Advocates for meaningful struggle recommend that teachers avoid telling students how to solve problems. Instead, teachers are urged to allow students to wrestle with a problem and try to solve it themselves.

Engaging students in productive struggle is a challenge for teachers as well as the students. It takes time, persistence, and some experimenting to plan rich learning opportunities that challenge but don’t frustrate students. Activities need to stretch students’ thinking and performance just beyond the level they can do on their own. Struggle works and does not frustrate when students have the knowledge and tools to tackle novel problems—ones they’ve not seen before, and are just beyond what they’ve already learned and mastered.

Another crucial teaching role in productive struggle lessons is providing timely assistance. When a challenging task opens a productive-struggle zone, the teacher’s judgment is again critical. Success depends on teachers recognizing when a little timely assistance sustains student persistence but does not prematurely terminate productive struggle and learning.

Getting the right balance can be difficult. For teachers accustomed to avoiding student struggles, there is temptation to intervene and help students get the right answers. To do so runs the risk of turning the activity into the classic recitation-style lesson—turning students into passive receivers of knowledge and teachers into “tellers.” (Beyond Growth Mindset: Creating Classroom Opportunities for Meaningful Struggle)

Maker Education and Productive Struggle

I’ve been integrating maker education activities into my gifted classes for the past several years. The ill-defined tasks that often characterize maker education create situations whereby my learners often struggle. In fact, I’ve had 6th grade boys cry due to this. Being gifted, they’ve developed a school history of being able to quickly and successfully the tasks given to them so when given tasks they can’t do easily, they become distressed.

I also teach summer camps with a maker education focus. This past week I taught Toy Making and Hacking to 2nd through 6th graders. Many of them struggled and due to these struggles quickly exclaimed, “I can’t do this.” This occurred mainly during the Toy Take Apart and Repurposing and through making Wiggle Bots.

Assisting Learners With Their Productive Struggles

First and foremost, I let them struggle. Second, I say to my learners who struggle and want me to fix it – do it for them something such as:

  • I know you can figure it out.
  • I won’t do it for you. I have faith that you can do it.
  • You got this.
  • Take as much time as you need. There is no time limit.
  • Why not try for ___ minutes? If you don’t get it by then, I’ll help you.
  • What steps can you take in order to be successful?
  • Why not ask a classmate how they worked on the problem?
  • You might want to try something different.

Finally, I do offer and give help to those who have struggled and are reaching high levels of stress.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 13, 2019 at 4:40 pm

I Have a Dream: Authentic Learning

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I wrote a post earlier this year entitled, Authentic Learning Experiences. Some of the characteristics of authentic learning I identified are summarized in this graphic:

The Task

Learners, 4th through 6th graders in my gifted education language arts class, were given the task of composing and then recording their own I Have a Dream speeches.

Writing Their Speeches

This authentic learning experience began by watching Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Interestingly and sadly, there were a few students who had never seen it.

They then wrote and published their I Have a Dream speeches on Kidblog. These were projected as each learner read her speech. Their peers offered feedback about both the content and the mechanics of grammar and spelling with changes made accordingly. Here are some of the edited examples:

Recording Their Speeches

An authentic learning experience offers learners choice and voice. In this case, students were offered a choice of recording their speeches as part of a video in front of a green screen or by just making an audio recording. Half chose the green screen and the other half chose the audio recording. The videos were recorded using my iphone, the audio recordings via Quicktime on a Mac. Their recordings were uploaded to iMovie. All students were asked to add photos to their recordings. They added images found at Unsplash, over 850,000 free (do-whatever-you-want) high-resolution photos by the world’s most generous community of photographers (my favorite online tool for finding and using images). Learners took turns editing their speeches and their final video follows. Note their different styles and as mentioned earlier, reinforces student voice and choice.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 5, 2019 at 6:34 pm

Beginning the School Year With Connections: 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumball Ice Breaker

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

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

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

Warp Speed

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

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

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

Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker

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

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

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

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(from my student teachers)

Jenga Ice Breaker

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

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LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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

Eggbert the Slightly Cracked Egg: A Breakout Game

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

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

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

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DIY Operation Cooperation Classroom Quilt

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

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 12, 2018 at 6:28 pm

The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create

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Recently I had the privilege of facilitating two half day workshops entitled, A Framework for Maker Education. The workshop including several mini-sessions of participants creating their own maker projects (Paper Circuits, Squishy Circuits, Gami-Bots, Brush bots, and micro:bit projects). What struck me most during these creating sessions was the high degree of energy, excitement, and joy in the room – it was palatable – with 100% participant engagement. As evidence, see the photos below:

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

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

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

Conditions for Creating

Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization

Open ended projects equal lots of options for what the learners can make. So given similar materials and methods, each learner is able to create a project based on his or her own interests and skills. For example, during the workshop, learners were instructed how to make a simple paper circuit but then transformed that paper circuit into a personalized art piece as can be seem in the images above.

Open ended projects permit each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  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. (Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities)

Choice matters

Choice in the maker education environment can include a choice of projects; a choice of materials; and a choice of methods. During the maker education workshop, learning stations were set up from which the learners could choose: more advanced paper circuits, Gami-bots, bristlebots, Squishy Circuits, and micro:bit projects. Not only were the learners able to choose which projects they wanted to create, but these projects offered them the option to add their own personal touches.

Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters. Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (Student Choice Leads to Student Voice)

Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.

Learners, during these workshops, were provided with foundational skills for making the projects through direct instruction, videos, handouts that could then be used as springboards for their own creativity. Maker activities such as these were new to these learners; scaffolding was needed in order for them to develop the foundational skills which in turn increased their creativity.

Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions. (Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences)

Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.

In Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations , I discussed the following:

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for learners when the educator lets go of final product expections include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

Focus on the processes of learning.

When educators let go of expectations of what the products should be, which I believe is especially important in a maker education environment, the focus becomes on the processes of learning.

Focusing on the learning process emphasizes the students’ responsibility in the learning-teaching interaction. It both enables and encourages students to engage in their own learning. This engagement helps both students and teachers to build learning up from standards and to achieve competencies needed in our modern world. (Is Learning a Product or Process – part 2 )

Accept a learners’ projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s criteria.

When the educator lets go of expectations of the final product, the learner develops his or his criteria of success.2018-03-05_0657 During one of my maker education workshops, one of the participants finished the basics of the introductory LED paper circuit activity. While the other participants were adding their artistic slants, J. sat there with her simple paper project seemingly satisfied with her project. I went over to talk to her. She said that she was finished, and I said back to her, “That’s fine. You don’t have to do any embellishments if you choose not to.” She later told me of a second grade teacher who criticized her art (yikes – that teacher should have been fired). J. told me later that this acceptance of where she was at actually became encouragement for her to take some risks for later projects in the workshop. Her reflective piece included the following:

I learned a lot about myself about how I actually had been discouraged till now to try any kind of artsy or crafty projects, however, with encouragements from partners and Jackie, I was encouraged to go further and do/attempt additional Maker projects/products.

Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.

When the maker activities are open ended and process-oriented, social-emotional skills such as collaboration, acceptance of failure, and persistence naturally emerge.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process.

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make.

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. (Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development)

The educator in this context plants the seeds of social emotional learning (SEL) through the use of language of SEL and strategic questioning such as:

  • What processes are you using to develop, assess, and revise your goals while making?
  • What strategies are you using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making your project?
  • How your using others to help you with your project?
  • How are you collaborating with your peers?
  • Are you asking for help if and when you get stuck making your project?
  • How are you sharing my ideas with others?

Here are some of the reflective comments by my workshop participants related to their social emotional learning:

This was the first time I had experimented with making electrical circuits and we tried some fun activities that I hope to apply in my classroom. In the first activity I learned that having a creative context or backstory to the work was motivating and helped me to extend myself beyond the basic task. In the final activity I found I was able to respond to a problem, persevere and create an original solution while maintaining the integrity of my design.

We were able to learn that in order to succeed we must try and try again. At times it was frustrating but we were able to collaborate between the team and find solutions and were able to solve the problems we faced.

Today I was reminded of the power of learning environments which invite creative, collaborative thinking  – curated with a variety of flexible materials which offer endless possibilities and room for all people to enter into play.

Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Insuring that a reflective piece is included in the maker education process assists learners in developing their own criteria of excellence and evaluating their performance based on this criteria. The reflection process is as or even more important as the making itself. John Dewey famously stated, “We don’t learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection can be a form of making in itself. Participants, during my workshops, were given the option to reflect on their learning using online tools such as word clouds, video creators, audio pieces, photo essays, online storybooks. What follows is a sampling of reflections from my maker education workshops. I used Google Slides so all reflections are aggregated in one location for access by all participants to later review and examine them:

 

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