User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘student-centric learrning

Offering Electives to Elementary Students

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

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

Other benefits of electives include:

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

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2021 at 12:02 am

The Role of Kits in Maker Education and STEM Learning

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

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

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 16, 2021 at 8:28 pm

Scratch Monster Mash Up: A Language Arts/Technology Project

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

Standards Addressed

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

ISTE Standards for Students

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

Introduction

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

Main Activity: Creating Monster Mash Ups in Scratch Programming

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

The Template for the Writing Part

Some Examples of Monster Mash Ups Created in Scratch

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 29, 2021 at 2:03 am

Choosing Not to Grade Student Work

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I wear many hats as an educator. I teach graduate courses in education and counseling. I am a seminar facilitator for student teachers, and I teach gifted education at three Title 1 elementary schools. I have said for decades that I love teaching but I hate grading. It puts me in a power position over students which is, for me, contrary to my teaching philosophy of creating a learning community where we all become teachers and learners. Achieving this goal becomes more difficult when I am the grader-in-chief. For the graduate courses, I still am the grader-in-chief. I haven’t figured out a way around this as I am part of systems of universities where this is a deeply embedded practice. (Although Jesse Stommel does ungrading in higher education – see How to Ungrade). As for my other hats, cohort facilitator and gifted education teacher, I do not have to grade and am grateful for that. I intentionally selected public education jobs, PE teacher in the past and now a gifted education teacher, where I wouldn’t have to give them grades; where I wouldn’t have to give them standardized tests.

Across education, we’ve normalized absurd levels of grading, test-taking, and standardized assessment. Without much critical examination, teachers accept they have to grade, students accept they have to be graded, students are made to feel like they should care a great deal about grades, and teachers are told they shouldn’t spend much time thinking about the why, when, and whether of grades. Obedience to a system of crude ranking is crafted to feel altruistic, because it’s supposedly fair, saves time, and helps prepare students for the horrors of the “real world.” Conscientious objection is made to seem impossible (Jesse Stommel How to Ungrade).

Without the pressure of being graded, students don’t ask the typical questions such as, “Do I have to know this for the test?”, “How many pages does the paper need to be?”, “Do I need to use references? If so, how many?” Without the pressure of being graded, learners will be more willing to take risks, try new things, and be more creative and more innovative.

Without the “threat” of a grade, an extrinsic form of rewards and punishment, there is more pressure on the educator to create learning activities that are highly engaging and intrinsically rewarding for their learners. (Disclaimer: Even if students are getting a grade, I believe their work should be intrinsically motivated.) To do so, several conditions or pre-requisites need to be present:

  • A thorough knowledge of learners’ cultures, interests, hobbies;
  • An understanding of developmental appropriate practices for the age-range of learners;
  • An understanding of the importance of fun and play for learners of all ages;
  • An intimate knowledge of a wide variety of instructional strategies including, but not limited to, hands-on/minds-on learning; creating multimedia like videos and podcasts; the design thinking process;
  • Knowledge of and instruction in process-oriented skills including, but not limited to, learners asking their own essential questions; the iterative process; researching skills; communicating with others; critical thinking and problem solving skills;
  • Knowledge about how to design open-ended, self-directed learning experiences.

The results of not grading and designing intrinsically motivated learning activities can be heard in the spontaneous comments made by learners. This qualitative information, for me as an educator, is a much better measure of success in the classroom than any type of quantitative information.  What follows are some comments I love hearing from my learners:

  • I really like coming to class.
  • Can I stay in the classroom (for recess, for lunch, after school) so I can continue working on my project?
  • Is it time to go leave already?
  • I am a good learner.
  • I love learning new things.
  • I feel like I have a real voice in this classroom; that what I say matters.
  • I know I wasn’t successful with the assignment but I am going to use that information to improve.
  • Our class feels like a family.
  • You (the teacher) haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 17, 2021 at 10:24 pm

Virtual Improv Activities for Remote Learning

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Given my experiential education background, I’ve always been fond of and have used group team building and problem-solving activities with all of the age groups I teach – for example, see Team-Building with Elementary Students. I’ve written several blogs about teaching remotely during the pandemic and how remote learning can be engaging, exciting, and include student-to-student relationship building activities.

I believe that all learning, face-to-face or online, should have the students doing things rather than be passive learners. Recently I went to a workshop on virtual improv activities. I really loved it and am now incorporating these type of activities into my online teaching of both my college students and my elementary students. These activities elicit the same excitement, energy, and engagement as the face-to-face team building activities.

Improvisational theatre games are traditionally used as an ice-breaker for theatre actors to feel comfortable with other actors as well as the script of the play. The skills and processes of this technique can be introduced in the beginning or at the end to [a virtual class] to initiate communication and encourage collaboration. This can be an educational tool to develop communication skills, and creative problem-solving and supportive teamwork abilities. The rules of improvisational theater, or ‘Improv’ as it is often called, are: don’t hesitate, pay attention, never block or negotiate, always add something positive, and don’t be scared of silence. Following these rules, elements of Improv can be successfully transferred from real life settings into virtual team sessions (Improvisational Theatre Can Breathe Life Into Virtual On-boarding).

What follows is a sampling of improv games:

Club Gesture

Everyone chooses a quality to share about themselves, and picks a gesture or movement to represent it. Going around the circle, each person says their quality and demonstrates the accompanying gesture, and the whole group does the gesture too. Ex: Gloria says, “I’m Gloria and I’m highly organized,” pantomiming arranging objects in the air with great focus. Everyone then does her gesture of arranging objects in the air. Alternate version: Each person makes a gesture but does not verbally share their quality, and the group guesses what their quality is (Improv Games for Virtual Space by Jonathon Moses Leiner).

Dance Party

One student on camera acts as the dance teacher. You play music, and the “dance teacher” dances to the song, all the other students try to follow the dance steps to the best of their ability. Every time the song changes, a different student takes over as the dance teacher. This is a great energy builder. (Pro-tip: The challenge is not about how good of a dancer is each student, it’s about how silly can everyone be) (10 of the Best Virtual Improvisation Games for Distance Learning).

Tell Me a Story

Human beings are naturally born storytellers. With this online energizer, you’ll take some time to connect to one another through telling a shared story and be encouraged to have fun while improvising too!The teacher tarts with a line like “Once upon a time, in a land far away, 5 people got together to solve all the world’s problems. Everything seemed easy, until one day one of the people saw on the horizon…” and invites the next person in the group to continue the story and add the next line. This keeps going until everyone’s contributed to the story (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings).

Object Improv

Two students do a scene on cam, a third student (or you) has a bell. Every time the bell is rung, one of the improvisers in the scene has to grab any nearby item and immediately use it in the scene. (Pro-tip: challenge the students to make the item very important. For example, if you ring the bell, and one student grabs a stapler and introduces it into the scene, the other improviser should make the stapler relevant to the story) (10 of the Best Virtual Improvisation Games for Distance Learning).

Puppies and Kittens

First, separate the room into two groups: puppies and kitties. You can have the groups either use nonverbal feedback icons or put their hands up to delineate which team they’re on. If you’re being particularly creative, have them change their background image to either a puppy or kitten! The aim of the game is for the puppies, one at a time, to say hello to the kittens in any way possible and try to make any of them smile or laugh. Use speaker view in Zoom so that each puppy is seen and heard clearly when it’s their turn. Whenever a kitten smiles or laughs, they join the puppy team. Continue until only one kitten remains or everyone becomes a puppy (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings)!

Energy Ball

Facilitator shows the group an [imaginary] energy ball, then physically remolds it into a new object, declares what it is and pantomimes using the object, and then the whole group uses the object. That person then chooses who to pass the object to next, and that person remolds it into a new object, and so on. Ex: Alejandro remolds the energy ball into a telephone. He holds the phone up to his ear, everyone mimes using the phone, and then passes it to Nia. “Phone call for you, Nia.” Nia receives the phone, says “Oh hi!” on the phone, and then remolds it into a pitchfork, lifting up hay… (Improv Games for Virtual Space by Jonathon Moses Leiner)

Kamehameha

Facilitator sends “energy blasts” as depicted below to different sides of the screen: LEFT, RIGHT, UP, DOWN, CENTER. The group dodges the blasts by moving in the opposite direction of where the blast is pointed. Blast left → dodge right, etc. Up requires ducking, down requires jumping, and center can be any direction. An optional point system could be included to tally successful dodges and/or hits (Improv Games for Virtual Space by Jonathon Moses Leiner).

Tell Me a Pitch

In the online pitch, we recommend setting up a slide deck of weird and wonderful objects and then, inviting your participants one by one to pitch whatever comes up on the next slide to the rest of the group [without knowing what that object is]. Time it so participants have thirty seconds to pitch and keep things moving – bonus points if participants can think outside of the box while pitching. This is a great online energizer that encourages improvisation (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings). 

Picture of Shoes

Have each of your participants take a picture of their shoes and upload it to an online whiteboard or Google Slides. You can ask participants to take their photographs in the meeting itself or beforehand if you want to keep this energizer short and neat. That said, it can be very fun for people to take photographs in the workshop. Change it up by encouraging funny poses or use of extra props. You then invite people to discuss their footwear and tell a story of their chosen shoes. It might be that they’re wearing comfy slippers they got for a recent birthday or running shoes they wore while completing a 10k (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings)!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 21, 2021 at 6:24 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design Thinking: Sketching New Inventions for Clients

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

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

Probot

Protobot generates random product and service ideas

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

Nope or Dope Cards

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

Extraordinaires Design Studio

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

Here are some student examples of this activity:

Flipgrid Reflections

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

Inventor’s Workshop

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

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

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

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

Making Board Games

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

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

Puppet Making and Green Screen Recording

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 9, 2021 at 11:21 pm

Starting the Year with “All About Me” Activities

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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.

This year given remote learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, I developed technology-enhanced “all about me” activities that my learners could do remotely. These types of activities are even more appropriate than ever as a substitute for the typical “what I did over the summer” assignments.

Book Creator All About Me Activity Descriptions

The following Book Creator of descriptions and examples of all about me activities is shared with my learners, grades 3 through 6, via our district’s Open Access website:

All About Me: Getting to Know Our Students

This format provides my learners with a kid-friendly presentation of their All About Me activities.

Detailed Activity Descriptions

Bitmoji Learning Environment

Bitmoji classrooms have become a bit of a craze. They are described in more detail in the Edutopia article, Educators Turn to Bitmoji to Build Community and Engagement. A legitimate criticism leveraged against them is that they are teacher-centric. It is the teacher doing the work. I believe that if learners are not doing as much or even more creating than consuming, then this is a problem. As such, I am asking my students to create their own optimal learning environments. To begin, I ask learners to have a look at mine.

I ask them to note my sofa, picture of my cats, bookcase with books and art materials, my refrigerator with my diet Coke, plant, and window. Then I provide each of my learners (I only have 12 of them) with a Google Slide template, Build Your Own Bitmoji Classroom, developed by @HollyClarkEdu and @themerrillsedu. To their template I add a variety of Bitmojis I created for them due to them being under the age of 13. To learn how to create bitmojis for your learners, see this post by Matt Miller, https://ditchthattextbook.com/bitmojis-for-your-students-how-to-create-and-share-them/.

Personalized Feelings Chart

I start all my classes, both elementary school and college classes, with an emotional check in. I discuss this in more detail in Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar. Last year, I had my elementary students make their own feelings pillows for our emotional check-ins (made with felt of different colors, sharpies, yarn for sewing, and stuffing). They loved them. This year, due to remote learning, they are making their own personalized feelings chart. They start by identifying 8 to 12 feelings they typically experience using the Mood Meter developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence:

They are asked to select a few from each color. They use either Adobe Spark or a Google Slide to create their own. I show them how to do image searches with each platform and my own personalized feelings made with Adobe Spark as an example:

Lego Selfie

I learned about the Lego Selfie through a post on Aaron Maurer’s Coffee for the Brain. Most of my learners love Legos and have them at home so I think this would be a great choice for them. For those who do not have them at home, they can use the virtual Mecabricks or choose a different activity. Examples of Lego Selfies can be seen at https://photos.app.goo.gl/N1AJSchhanykYgTq7.

Kahoot Selfie

Most teachers and students these days know about Kahoot, a game-based learning platform that makes it easy to create, share and play learning games or trivia quizzes. For this All About Me activity, learners create their own Kahoot Selfie with 5 or more Kahoot quiz questions about themselves, each question having a four possible answers with only one of them being correct. Here is a template to help them with planning – https://kahoot.com/files/2017/07/kahoot_paper_template-1.pdf and an actual Student Selfie Kahoot that they can duplicate and edit with their own questions and answers (they will need their own account to do so).

Nature Materials Self-Portrait

To get my learners away from their computers, one of the All About Me activity choices is to go outside to collect natural materials to create a self-portrait. They have to collect and use at least two dozen objects from nature as part of their design.

Comic Strip: A Change I’d Like to See in the World

For this activity, learners create a comic strip of at least 6 cells that describes a change they’d like to see in the world. I really like StoryboardThat and have an account for it so this is the platform my students use. Here is an example I found so learners can have an idea what to create:

Source: https://www.storyboardthat.com/storyboards/williamhjr/anti-racism

Flipgrid Video: My Hero and Why

Flipgrid, as most educators know, is a social learning platform that allows educators to ask a question, then the students respond in a video. Students are then able to create video comments to one another’s posts. For this activity, learners first watch For the Heroes: A Pep Talk From Kid President. They then access our class Flipgrid to create a video that describes their hero.

Here is a link for you to make your own copy – https://admin.flipgrid.com/manage/discovery/details/24147.

Fake Instagram Account

Because my learners are elementary age, they don’t (or shouldn’t) have their own Instagram account. This activity allows them to create their own (fake) one. The blog post, Fake Instagram Template with Google Slides (FREE), describes the process for doing this. This template – https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1_gupBqIZBToioNFgbAb4nFVlsJgbdW5xneccto6pcFk/edit?usp=sharing – can be used by going under file to make a copy.

Here is my example:

Google Tour Creator

For this All About Me activity, learners create their own 360 degree virtual tour using Google Tour Creator. They need to include at least 6 geographic locations where they’d like to visit. This Google Tour Creator Tutorial video can help you and/or the learners use this tool. Here is the example I created – https://poly.google.com/view/8HpqhXYHzN4.

Aggregating Their Artifacts

Learners are instructed to aggregate all of their All About Me artifacts on a Google Site they create (we are a Google district). For artifacts that aren’t web based like the Lego Selfie and Nature Self portrait, they take photos of them to upload into these photos into their site. A Google site provides me with a way to check their work and give feedback. The learners will also have them all in one place to show their families and easily revisit at a later date.

All About Me Class Badge Progress Chart

The following chart is used to keep track of each student’s progress. They are required to complete the Bitmoji Learning Environment and Personalized Feelings Chart. They can then choose four out of seven others. They can work on the activities in any order they choose. Once completed, I check them and award the badge using this chart to indicate its completion for the individual students.

Here is a link in case you want to make your own copy – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HNDc202wJE50BGh97CteNdpt8tOGTYg96DOeP49YvGc/edit?usp=sharing

Personal Progress Chart

Learners are asked to make a copy of the following progress chart which is in the form of a Netflix playlist template (created by the talented @MeehanEDU) in order to create their own playlists of completed activities for this unit as well as ones we’re doing later in the school year. You can also make a copy and adapt it for use with your learners.

Here is a link to the template – https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/19Nkwml_hHK6N2KNyHxynOjkUltp_ld9AMGQ0K05y2yI/edit?usp=sharing.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 23, 2020 at 12:16 am

Reimagining Education: A Call for Action

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Many of us have been discussing educational reform for decades. Given the unprecedented time of COVID19 and its effect on education, it is a perfect time to revisit and reimagine the purpose, operations, and skills related to a powerful education. Some of the issues that have emerged and are still emerging include: the social emotional health of learners, a realization that students aren’t able to be independent and self-directed learning, and an awareness of inequities that exist in the United States. It has become blatantly obvious that students can’t learn effectively at home – especially without teacher direction throughout the school day.

It’s a perfect time for educators to reimagine an education they wish they had during their own school years so that their learners can have such an education.

Here is what I propose that should be components of a reformed/re-formed education:

  • Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency
  • Learner Voice and Choice
  • Just-In-Time Learning
  • Whole Person Learning
  • Educator as a Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities
  • Interest-Based Affinity Groups
  • Use of the Learner’s Community
  • Vigorous, Authentic Tasks
  • Executive Function Skills Development
  • A Focus on Social Emotional Health
  • Anti-Racist Awareness and Actions

Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency

Learners of all ages beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade can engage in self-determined and self-driven learning where they are not only deciding the direction of their learning journey, but also producing content that adds value and worth to related content areas and fields of study.

The learners in a self-directed learning environment where learner agency prevails:

  • Determine what they want to learn and develop their own learning plan for their learning, based on a broad range of desired outcomes.
  • Use their learning preferences and related technologies to decide how they will learn their material based on their own desired outcomes.
  • Form their own learning communities possibly using social networking tools suggested and/or set up by the educator. Possible networks, many with corresponding apps, include: Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Instagram, TikTok, blogging sites, Youtube, and other social networks.
  • Utilize the expertise of educators and other members of their learning communities who can introduce content-related resources and suggest online tools that the learners could use to demonstrate and produce learning artifacts.
  • Demonstrate their learning through methods and means that work best for them. It could include blogging, creating photo essays, doing screencasts, making videos or podcasts, drawing, singing, dancing, etc.
  • Take the initiative to seek feedback about their work from educators and their peers. It is their choice to utilize that feedback or not.

Learner Choice and Voice

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 Voice Leads to Student Choice)

Some strategies for giving learners voice and choice can be found in the following infographic:

Just-In-Time Learning

Currently, most schooling focuses on just-in-case teaching and learning. Students are asked to learn material throughout their schooling just-in-case they need it someday. I contend that after students learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, they are asked to learn way too much content that may never use.

Just-in-time learning is a concept that has become popularized in connection to organizational development. “Just-in-time learning is an approach to individual or organizational and development that promotes need-related training be readily available exactly when and how it is needed by the learner” (Just-In-Time Learning).

Kids (and adults) who need to access information in order to learn something or improve their performance – think video gaming, cooking, learning to play an instrument, fixing something, making something – often go directly to the Internet, most notably Youtube, to get some form of tutorial. This is just-in-time learning. Information is needed “then and there,” which motivates the learner to seek that information “then and there.”

In self-directed, interest-driven education, just-in-time learning becomes the norm. The educator, as truly the guide on the side, encourages and assists learners in engaging in just-in-time learning as a natural part of their learning process.

Whole Person Learning

As someone whose roots is in outdoor and experiential education, I believe a good learning experience engages the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social aspects of the learner. The focus becomes on helping educating the whole learner – not just their brain or intellect. Some have called this head, heart, and hand learning.

The 21st century is placing great demands on our students and educational system. To meet those demands, we recognize that educating the head (cognitive domain), exclusive of the heart and hand (affective and behavioral domains), is no longer educational best practice. It is the education of our students’ heads, hearts and hands that will genuinely prepare them for success in college, career and civic life. (Educating the Head, Heart, and Hand for the 21st Century)

Many researchers (Henting, 1997; Bruner, 2000; Stoll and Fink, 2000; Faultisch, 1999) believe, that quality education and successful education reforms can be achieved by changing the learning culture (with attention paid to the completeness and integrativity of a human being), especially in the context of lifelong learning which integrates all three domains of learning: cognitive (head), affective (heart) and psychomotor (hands). (“Head, Heart and Hands Learning”- A challenge for contemporary education)

Obviously to engage the head, heart, and hands, sitting at a desk won’t do it. Simply put, learners needed to move their bodies and have an emotional connection to the material to increase its stickiness.

Educator as the Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities

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

he educator’s role truly becomes that of guide-as-the-side, coach, resource-suggester, and cheerleader as learners create their own learning journey. The educator has more life experience, knows (hopefully) about the process of learning, and has more procedural knowledge about how to find, identify, and use informational resources and social networking for learning purposes. Not only, then, does the educator help steer students in some more productive directions, s/he models the process of self-determined learning increasing the students’ aptitude for this type of learning. Learners, themselves, then also become mentors, teachers, and model learning for one another sharing best practices and strategies for effective learning.

Interest-Based Affinity Groups

Young people often find their own interest based affinity groups online. These include kids gathering via Discord or Twitch.tv to discuss video games, marginalized youth finding others like them through social media, and even groups as specific as those who share their art anime with one another for feedback.

Interest-based, affinity groups groups have been described in the report, an agenda for RESEARCH AND DESIGN A research synthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network:

The primary driver of participation for interest-driven activity is a sense of personal affinity, passion, and engagement. Learning in this mode is generally knowledge and expertise-driven, and evaluated by the metrics internal to the specific interest group, which can often be subcultural or quite different from what is valued by local peers or teachers.

If interest-based affinity groups are promoted in the educational setting, groups will naturally emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. The groups would be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There would be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member emerges as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

John Dewey, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Use of the Learner’s Community

Schools tend to be separate from the community – often not physically but in its use of its resources. The educator as a tour guide of learning possibilities assists the learner in locating and utilizing their community including local businesses, museums, parks, social service agencies, historical associations but it can be as simple as the learners going outside to do a science, writing or art project. Learning in the community is a form of place-based learning:

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging
personalized learning for students. More specifically, Place-Based Education is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” (What is Place Based Learning)

For learners new to using their community as part of their learning process, the educator’s responsibility is to assist learners in both navigating through their communities and to identify community resources that can help with their learning process.

Vigorous and Authentic Learning Experiences

Providing authentic and vigorous learning experiences to all learners should be the highest prior for all administrators, curriculum developers, and teachers.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?).

In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school. For related discussions, see 21st century skills, relevance, and vigor (Authentic Learning).

The bottom line, in my perspective, is that learners view their experiences as having relevancy to their own lives, that they address their interests and needs. The following graphic shows some of the benefits of authentic and vigorous learning.

Executive Function Skills Development

Most educators would agree that a purpose of education is to assist learners in developing life skills which will translate to their lives outside of the school setting.  These include goal setting, organizational skills, time management, and strategies to learn new things.  They are skills or ability sets that are important for students to learn any content area knowledge.  These are often discussed in the context of executive functions:

In their book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,” Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD state “These [executive function] skills help us create a picture or goal, a path to that goal, and the resources we need along the way”(p 2).  They identify 10 types of executive function skills that work together; namely: Sustaining attention, shifting attention, inhibiting impulses, initiating activity, planning and organization, organization of materials, time management, working memory and emotional control http://kooltools4students.weebly.com/at-and-executive-functioning.html

Most young people, themselves, would note there are skills that could assist them in being more successful in both school and out of school settings.   Most would agree that organization skills, goals setting, and time management are relevant to other areas of their lives.

Executive functions and self-regulating skills development should be part of the school curriculum regardless of the age and demographics of the student body.  Using and teaching these skills often have the advantage of becoming intrinsically motivated and self-directed as well as often making sense to students as something that has meaning and relevancy.

Here are some additional resources to assist learners in developing their executive function skills:

A Focus on Social Emotional Learning

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

Here are some resources for bringing social emotional learning into the school and into the classroom:

Anti-Racism Awareness and Actions

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

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

Some anti-racist learning activities can be found at:

Parting Shot

Educational stakeholders such as administrators, educators, parents, and community members might look at this or a similar list of proposed educational reform actions, and say, “This is unrealistic. It can’t be done.” To them I say, “None of you expected the changes that COVID19 would force upon you and your students/children, but you made those changes. Not all have been successful, but most were successful to some degree. It demonstrates, though, that significant change is possible when all stakeholders work together.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 13, 2020 at 11:03 pm

A Beautiful Boy

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During Fall 2020, I taught gifted education at the high school on our south-side. The south-side is known for its low income housing and its primarily Hispanic population. As an itinerant gifted education teacher, I work at several schools. Our district has extremes of schools – high income communities at one extreme, that have the characteristics of private schools, to the other extreme of Title 1 schools with 100% free and reduced lunch programs. I choose to work at these schools. For three years previously, I taught at Title 1 K-6 schools. I wanted to give high school a try. I really wanted it to work but it ended up being too difficult for me. I realized I can better serve younger students. Too many of my students (noting that they were identified as gifted) have mentally and intellectually checked out of school and were flunking many of their classes. Their emotional needs were too vast and deep to be able to concentrate on their academics. For example, I spent an afternoon with two 9th grade gifted girls who were my caseload, one had gotten into trouble for missing for two days. She had been holed up with a 19 year old guy who wouldn’t take her home. They told me stories about their lives that were absolutely heartbreaking – sexual abuse as children, abusive foster care homes, a father in jail for murdering someone, their own sexual promiscuity and drug use.

This leads me to a beautiful boy, Ivan. He was in a STEM class I taught that one semester. He showed up . . . sometimes. At one point, he was gone for a few weeks. I checked to see why and found it he was in juvenile detention. He was on probation (I am not sure why). Because he skipped school, he broke his probation and was put in juvie. He told me that he got in trouble in middle school due to anger problems, but all I saw was a kind, gentle and soft spoken young man. He told me about only living with an older brother because his mother lived in a town up north with “some guy.” He also told me he thought a lot about what was going on in the world and spent time on the internet looking up these things he thought about.

Although he rarely did work in my class, spending most of his time on his cell phone finding and listening to music, I really, really liked him. I couldn’t help but light up when he walked into the classroom, which was typically late. There was something special about him. I missed him when he was in juvie for two weeks, so much so that when he returned to school and my classroom, I yelled hooray, jumped up, and gave him a big side hug. He smiled at me with his big, bright smile and gave me a big side hug back.

Even with a label of gifted, school met none of his needs. He was only interested in writing and performing rap. He wrote, recorded, and published one of his songs onto an online music platform (I now wish I knew which one). I asked him to play it for me during class. I loved it. His eyes shined with joy and pride when he told me about it and even more so when the other students in the class and I listened to it. Such a beautiful boy!

He was such a beautiful boy. I used past tense, “was,” because this past week we got an email from the high school principal that Ivan was murdered due to gun violence.

I have spent the week wondering. I wonder if the schools better addressed his passion for music with his days spent at school writing lyrics, composing music, and recording and publishing his rap songs – maybe he would have been in a recording studio rather than roaming the streets in the very early morning hours. I wonder what would have been different if the schools focused more in his social-emotional needs than on his academics. I wonder what would have been different if the schools better addressed the socio-cultural factors and hardships that he faced everyday – maybe the cycle of violence and poverty could have been broken. Finally, I wonder what kind of man Ivan would have turned out to be since he was such a beautiful boy (young man).

Parting Shot: I sent the high school principal the photo of Ivan that I took of him working on an Arduino (bottom of post). She sent the news my photo. I guess they asked her for one. It was my final gift to him – being able to show him to the world as engaged in a school project; showing him at his best – I have a hunch there are possibly no other photos like this of him. RIP, Ivan – you really did rock!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 18, 2020 at 2:53 pm

Civic Engagement for Young People During Social Distancing

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Many of us feel a bit helpless to help others out during these coronavirus social distancing and isolation times. This also true for kids and young people. There are actions they can take as part of their home schooling. They can participate in civic engagement and activism activities.

Civic engagement is defined as “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference (https://youth.gov/youth-topics/civic-engagement-and-volunteering).”

Quite frequently, not only do state standards permit teachers and schools to support student activism, but they encourage student activism as a means by which to develop civic understanding. Although standards vary from state to state, many of them are modeled on the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (NCSS, 2013), which specifically endorses student activism:  “Civics is not limited to the study of politics and society; it also encompasses participation in classrooms and schools, neighborhoods, groups, and organizations . . . In civics, students learn to contribute appropriately to public processes and discussions of real issues. Their contributions to public discussions may take many forms, ranging from personal testimony to abstract arguments. They will also learn civic practices such as voting, volunteering, jury service, and joining with others to improve society. Civics enables students not only to study how others participate, but also to practice participating and taking informed action themselves” (https://kappanonline.org/student-activism-civics-school-response-singer/).

Civic engagement and activism in normal times has benefits, but in these times of coronavirus and social distancing-isolation, the benefits are amplified as such engagement can move young people from feelings of helplessness to feelings of empowerment.

Even in social isolation, there are actions young people and kids can do. The following activity guide can provide ideas and give some structure to civics activity engagement.

The following PDF has links with more information about how to do that challenge:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 24, 2020 at 2:06 am

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