User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘social-emotional learning

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:

 

Educators as Purveyors of Hope

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My advanced degree is in counseling. I sought this degree due to my affinity towards at-risk and adjudicated youth. One of the most powerful learnings from my training as a counselor was a comment I heard at a conference, Counselors need to be purveyors of hope since many clients get in trouble and/or seek counseling due to a lack of hope.

I have since become a teacher educator (with some teaching of elementary gifted students at a few Title 1 schools thrown in). I believe that educators do more counseling of children and young people than any other profession. Teachers, then, should be purveyors of hope especially for those students who lack the belief in their own capabilities and potential  This includes students who lack hope that they can do well in certain subjects; students who lack hope that they can do well in school-as-a-whole; and saddest of all, students who lack hope for their futures. The educator, as a purveyor of hope, gives these types of learners the overt message, “I will hold hope for you because I believe in you. The goal, though, is for you to develop your own sense of hope.”

Hope often gets a bad rap. For some, it conjures up images of a blissfully naïve chump pushing up against a wall with a big smile. That’s a shame. Cutting-edge science shows that hope, at least as defined by psychologists, matters a lot.

Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals (The Will and Ways of Hope).

Over the last 20 years, researchers have gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between hope and important aspects of students’ lives. Put simply, research demonstrates that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students.

  • Hope is positively associated with perceived competence and self-worth (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2009) and negatively associated with symptoms of depression (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • High-hope students typically are more optimistic (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), develop many life goals, and perceive themselves as being capable of solving problems that may arise (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Accumulating evidence suggests that hope is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing (e.g., Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006).
  • Hope is linked consistently to attendance and credits earned (Gallup, 2009a).
  • Hopeful middle school students have better grades in core subjects (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2011) and on achievement tests (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Hopeful high school students (Gallup, 2009b; Snyder et al., 1991) and beginning college students (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002) have higher overall grade point averages.
  • Hope predicts academic achievement, and the predictive power of hope remains significant even when controlling for intelligence (e.g., Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997), prior grades (e.g., Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 2002), self-esteem (Snyder et al., 2002), personality (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor, & Wood, 2010), and college entrance examination scores such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002).
  • Higher hope has been correlated positively with social competence (Barnum, Snyder, Rapoff, Mani, & Thompson, 1998), pleasure in getting to know others, enjoyment in frequent interpersonal interactions (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), and interest in the goal pursuits of others (Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997). (Measuring and Promoting Help in Schoolchildren)

Some of the characteristics or skills sets of hope include:

  • Positive View About the Future
  • Can Do Attitude
  • Personal Agency
  • Engage in Positive Self Talk
  • Belief in Ability to Solve Problems
  • Belief in One’s Ability to Impact Positively on One’s Situation.
  • Maintaining Perspective
  • Sense of Efficacy

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For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines. From How to Help Students Develop Hope:

  1. Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each.
  2. Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
  3. Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
  4. Tell stories of success.  Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
  5. Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.

Parting Shot: I recently watched the documentary STEP, which provides a great example of administrators and teachers instilling hope into a high risk population.

STEP documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.  This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so (http://www.foxsearchlight.com/stepmovie/).

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Beginning the School Year: It’s About the Learners Not the Content

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Too many classes, all grade levels, begin the school year with getting down to academic business – starting to cover content, discussing expectations regarding academic requirements, giving tests, and other academic information provided by the teacher to the students in a mostly one-way communication.  The human or social element is often disregarded.

I believe that all classes should begin with focusing on having the students make connections between themselves and the educator; and between one another.  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.  Beginning class with a focus on connections rather than content gives learners the following messages:

  • You are the focus of the class not me.
  • You are important as a learner in this class.
  • You will be expected to engage in the learning activities during class time.  You will be an active learner.
  • You will be expected to do collaborative learning during the class time.
  • I, as the class facilitator, will be just that – a facilitator.  I will introduce the learning activities, but you will be responsible for the actual learning.
  • I will get to know you as a learner and try to help you find learning activities that are of interest to you. (From my post: Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content)

Two things that I believe needs to occur at the beginning of the schools year:

  1. Get to know the learners – as individuals with unique backgrounds, interests, strengths, weaknesses.
  2. Establish a learning community where all learners are seen as having value in our classroom

Getting to Know Learners

One of our primary goals at the beginning of the school year is to get to know our students. This is important for several reasons. First, the better we know our students, and the more they know we know them, the more invested they become in school. Also, a dynamic and vigorous learning environment is built on relationships. When we create strong connections with our students, we create a learning environment where risk-taking and collaborative learning can take place. Finally, the better we know our students, the better we can help craft learning experiences that match who they are. Knowing our students is fundamental to real differentiation. (6 Strategies For Getting To Know Your Students)

This coming school year I am working with gifted elementary students. To support those messages I discussed above, I am going to have them do the following Hyperdoc starting with our first meeting together.

Using a Hyperdoc such as this has the additional benefits:

  • It leverages the use of technology which consistently is of high interest, high engagement for my learners.
  • It is a Choice Board.  Choice Boards:
  • It supports several of the new ISTE NETS for Students:
    • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
    • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
    • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
    • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. (https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students)

Building a Learning Community

Community building activities are important in my classroom. It begins the first week of school and continues throughout the entire school year.

The intentional building and supporting of friendships is a cornerstone of a caring school community. Providing frequent opportunities for students to be in close proximity to others is not always enough to enable them to build a net­work of friends and feel connected to the classroom and the wider school com­munity. Careful classroom management and planning of student-student and student-teacher interactions, together with appropriate instructional strategies, can have a positive impact on social relationships and lead to the development of a support system that will enhance students’ learning in all curriculum areas. (Why create positive classroom communities?)

A growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of community in school. Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000); to act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997); to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000); and to avoid a number of problem behaviors, including drug use and violence (Resnick et al., 1997). (Creating a School Community)

I’ve written several blog posts about team building activities I’ve used with my elementary students and will use again with them as (1) they really like the activities, and (2) there is almost always more to learn even in repeat activities.

STEM Activities That Support

Since my gifted classes have a strong focus on STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education, my learners will be asked to do several of the following team building activities:

Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM 

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Team Building Activities

Other team building activities can be found within the following resources:

As a parting shot, I’d like to mention that some teachers believe they do not have the time to do activities such as these. To that, I counter with several arguments for their use:

  • Getting to know the students and building a community often act as a form of prevention for behavioral management problems. When learners have trust in their teacher, their peers, and the environment, they become more engaged and less likely to “act up.” This form of prevention actually saves time in that the educator doesn’t have to deal with misbehavior.
  • School should be lots more than just the transmittance of content. It should include social emotional life skills that will assist learners in navigating in their worlds outside of school now and in their futures.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2017 at 12:38 am

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