User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘student voice

Beginning the School Year with “Who I Am” Projects

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It’s the start of a new school year. I am often baffled why teachers (all levels including college) jump right into covering content when the students are in a state of disequilibrium . . . wondering about the other students, the teacher, and the classroom climate. As such, I begin my classes with experiential, personal connections activities. During the first days of class, the messages I want to give my students, through these activities, include:

The Activities

Here are some of the activities I am doing with my students during the first weeks of school:

  • Bio-Bags
  • Toss and Talk Balls
  • All About Me Posters
  • Vision Statement
  • Family Picture Book
  • Kahoot Selfie
  • Fake Instagram
  • Mask of Symbols
  • Comic – the Change I’d Like to See in the World

Time is built in for students to do a show and tell of activities completed. They can decide which activities they want to do and in what order. See the following punchcard for more about this.

Punchcards for Accountability

Students receive their own punchcard (see below – printed on cardstock). When they finish an activity (they can be completed in any order), they come to me to show me. I ask them: (1) Did you fully completed the activity? and (2) Do you believe it is of a quality you believe is your best work (to avoid the let’s get it done quickly mentality)? If they say “yes” to both questions, I give them the hole punch so they can punch the two holes related to that activity.

Activity Descriptions

Bio-Bags

To begin, students bring an old but sentimental t-shirt to class. The shirt is made into a tote bag (see https://www.instructables.com/No-Sew-T-Shirt-Tote-Bag-1/).

Students are then given the following directions (taken from BioBags: Linking Literature and Life):

Choose any written works that have been important to you or that you love (you must have at least five written works) and bring them to school. You might bring the first book you could read by yourself, a letter that you like to read over and over, a special recipe, a favorite trading card, etc. Please try to include a variety of written works. You will get to tell the class why each
of the works is special to you and how it has impacted your life. Examples include:

  • A story or a book that you used to love listening to when you were younger
  • First books you were able to read by yourself
  • Hobbies- any written works you could share that fit with those hobbies (e.g., a program from a play, a scorecard, a trading card, a how-to book, directions for a favorite game)
  • Any special letter or e-mail received
  • Favorite song lyrics
  • A diary or a journal
  • Any special certificates or awards you’ve won
  • A favorite dish recipe
  • Any books that you love to read over and over

Toss and Talk Balls

For this activities, pairs of students receive a beach ball and a sharpie. They make Toss and Talk Ball, and then play it with their classmates.

Here is a list from which the students can choose: https://museumhack.com/list-icebreakers-questions/

Vision Statement

For this activity, students create a Vision Statement about themselves using Canva or Adobe Express. Directions for doing this using Canva and examples can be found at: https://our3lilbirds.blogspot.com/2017/05/how-to-make-one-page-profile-ellie-style.html. Note that this activity was designed for parents to create visions statements for their special needs children (as is seen by the poster to the left). I am adapting it for my students so that they create their own Vision Statement/Profile sheet using the same sections as this poster and populating them with their own information.

Vision Statement

The template:

Student Examples


LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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.

Kahoot Selfie

Most teachers and students these days know about Kahoota 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).

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:

Family Picture Book/ Cuadros de familia

This activity fits quite well with the Hispanic (the identifier used by the population with whom I work) heritage of the majority of my students. It begins by showing the students the following video:

They then use the following handout to create their books (taken from https://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/family-traditions-class-book):

A few adaptations that are used within my class are: (1) they can make the book as long as they choose, and (2) they can decide if they want to combine their books with other students in the class.

Mask Making

The full lesson for this activity can be found at Facing History’s What Aspects of Our Identities Do We Show to Others? which students are given access to work through independently:

Students will be making a mask that will be displayed in the classroom. The purpose of the mask is to answer the question, “Who am I?” To make their masks, students first have to decide how they want to present themselves to the class. Which aspects of their identities do they want to emphasize? Which aspects of their identities do they wish to conceal? Completing the Mask-making Preparation Worksheet can help students answer these questions before they begin crafting their masks. Before they begin, show students the materials they can use. In addition to markers and paper plates (or mask DIY which like Colorations® Cardstock Masks), old magazines are especially useful for this activity because students can cut out words and images. Also, inform students that they can decorate both the outside and the inside of the masks. They can use the outside to represent the aspects of their identities they openly show to the outside world and the inside to represent the more private aspects of their identities.

Here is the worksheet that goes along with this activity:

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:

Reflecting on the Activities

Once they successfully finish an activity, they are asked to reflect on it prior to going to the next activity. I use the blog platform, FanSchool (formally Kidblogs) to have them do so. FanSchool also has a direct connection for Flip (formally FlipGrid) so students who prefer to talk rather than write can do so. They show their project (inserting an image for writing, showing and telling for a Flip recording). During their reflections, they answer at least three of the following questions:

  • What did you enjoy about the activity? What didn’t you enjoy?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What were the most difficult parts of the activity? Why?
  • What were the most satisfying parts of the activity?
  • What positives can you take away from the activity?
  • How have you been challenged during the activity?
  • How do you feel about what you made? What parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike?

Standards Address

Common Core State Standards – ELA

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.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.6
With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

21st Century Skills

THINK CREATIVELY
• Use a wide range of idea-creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
• Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)

REASON EFFECTIVELY
• Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
• Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
• Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts)
• Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness a priority as well as assess their impact

MANAGE GOALS AND TIME
• Set goals with tangible and intangible success criteria
• Balance tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) goals
• Utilize time and manage workload efficiently

WORK INDEPENDENTLY
• Monitor, define, prioritize, and complete tasks without direct oversight
• Be self-directed learners

NAGC (Gifted Education) Standards

1.1. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents recognize their interests, strengths, and needs in cognitive, creative, social, emotional, and psychological areas.

1.2. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate understanding of they learn and recognize the influences of their identities, cultures, beliefs, traditions, and values on their learning and behavior.

1.3. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate understanding of and respect for similarities and differences between themselves and their cognitive and chronological peer groups and others in the general population.

1.5. Cognitive, Psychosocial, and Affective Growth. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate cognitive growth and psychosocial skills that support their talent development as a result of meaningful and challenging learning activities that address their unique characteristics and needs.

3.2. Talent Development. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate growth in social and emotional and psychosocial skills necessary for achievement in their domain(s) of talent and/or areas of interest

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 14, 2022 at 7:09 pm

Stop Motion Animations: A Fun and Engaging Language Arts-Educational Technology Integration

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One of my favorite things to do as an educator is to create lessons plans that help students address content standards through authentic learning activities and develop transferrable skills. For the stop motion animations, both English Language Arts Common Core and ISTE Standards were addressed. Plus, students had fun, were fully engaged, and developed a greater tolerance for long term projects. This blog post provides some background information as well as presents a few student examples.

Standards Addressed

English Language Arts Common Core Standards

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.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.A
    Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.B
    Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.E
    Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.

ISTE (Technology) Standards for Students

1.6. 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. Students:

  • 1.6.b. create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • 1.6.c. communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  • 1.6.d. publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.

Creating Storyboards

Learners were assigned the following story arc template in Storyboard That.

Link – https://www.storyboardthat.com/create/storytelling-templates

Making the Stop Motion Animations

Learners used the Stop Motion Studio App to create their animations:

Student Examples

The Worm and the Cheese by Andrew

Storyboard Template Using Storyboard That

Stop Motion Animation: The Worm and the Cheese

The Adventure of the Cats by Marisol

Storyboard Template Using Storyboard That

Stop Motion Animation: The Adventures of the Cats

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 22, 2022 at 3:51 pm

Building a Sustainable City

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As I’ve discussed before, I offer electives to my 4th-6th grade GT students (see Offering Electives to Elementary Students). They chose paper engineering. A few started making city structures. They then stated that they should make a city. I suggested that it be a sustainable city (Sustainable Development Goal 11). From there, the innovation, creativity, passion, fun, and final product exploded due to the efforts of the students.

Standards Addressed

Education for Sustainability Standards and Performance Indicators

  • Responsible Local & Global Citizenship. The rights, responsibilities, and actions associated with leadership and participation toward healthy and sustainable communities. Students will know and understand these rights and responsibilities and assume their roles of leadership and participation.
  • Healthy Commons. Healthy Commons are that upon which we all depend and for which we are all responsible (i.e., air, trust, biodiversity, climate regulation, our collective future, water, libraries, public health, heritage sites, top soil, etc.). Students will be able to recognize and value the vital importance of the Commons in our lives and for our future. They will assume the rights, responsibilities, and actions to care for the Commons.
  • Inventing & Affecting The Future. The vital role of vision, imagination, and intention in creating the desired future. Students will design, implement, and assess actions in the service of their individual and collective visions. (https://cloudinstitute.org/cloud-efs-standards)

Common Core English Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7
Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Next Generation Science Standards (Science and Engineering)

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved (https://www.nextgenscience.org/topic-arrangement/msengineering-design).

Resources Shared With Students

Tools and Materials Use

A Snippet of the Student Planning Session

Informational Posters by Students for the Display

Highlights – Making the City

A Map of the Sustainable City – Drawn by a Student

Artist – Valerie M., a 4th Grader

Highlights – Finished City

Teacher Reflection

I have an expression, “Show students the possibilities and then get out of the way.” I did this for the Sustainable City project and the students didn’t disappoint! The project processes and products came out so much better than I expected. This fits into another of my beliefs, “Let go of expectations about about the products students will produce,” which I wrote about in Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations. I let students drive what they want to produce in the context of the processes desired, and they often create products way beyond what I could imagine.

I watched as they worked together as they planned their city, deciding what will be included and where it would go. I watched as they almost spontaneously created new areas and artifacts: gardens, orchards, farmers’ market, stables, and bike racks.

I have the privilege of observing great incidents of creativity, innovation, passion, and joy. I love my job. I love these kids.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 22, 2022 at 12:42 pm

Artificial Intelligence: Generative AI

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My gifted students, grades 4th-6th, selected Artificial Intelligence, as their elective during Spring, 2022 semester. (For more about this see Offering Electives to Elementary Students.) The Generative AI learning activities I describe below are part of their larger Artificial Intelligence elective as well as being part of the ISTE AI Explorations course I am taking.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
  • Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions. Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.
  • 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. Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

The Hook

Students explore the following Generative AI technologies:

Introductory Videos

Students watch the following videos to gain some background knowledge about GANS:

Warm-Up Activity: Create a Mythical Creature

Students create a mythical creature using Google’s Chimera Painter-https://storage.googleapis.com/chimera-painter/index.html. “Chimera Painter is a demo that lets you run wild by drawing out creature shapes that become fully fleshed out by our CreatureGAN machine learning model, which was trained on hundreds of thousands of 2D renders of 3D creature models.” To begin, students watch the following video. It provides a great overview about how GANS work in the context of using the Chimera Painter. Once they create their creatures, they write a short story about them. Students can be instructed that their favorite creation can be used in the next activity – their presentation assignment.

The students loved making these.

Assignment: Create a Generative AI-Enhanced Presentation

For this assignment, students are going to make a presentation out of Generative AI Art that shows the projects they created for our AI unit (see previous blog posts). An alternative can be that the theme for the presentation is decided upon by the student and/or the teacher). It needs to include AI Art, AI sounds or music, and AI Drawing or Painting elements.

To begin students experiment with and create artifacts for the following GANS. They then choose their favorite creation from each of the following for use in their presentations. Students can use Google Slides to upload their creations, and possibly add text to create a GAN-enhanced presentation.

Generative AI Art

Generative AI Music

Generative AI Drawing / AI Painting:

Example Student Project

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 4, 2022 at 1:30 pm

Transmedia, Digital Storytelling Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makey Makey/Scratch Bottle Characters

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

CoSpaces Story Settings

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

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

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

Plot – Story Arc: Storyboard That

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

Benefits/Results

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

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

Halloween Displays: A Perfect STREAM (Science, Technology, wRiting, Engineering, Art, Math) Lesson

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Wow, wow, wow! My students finished their displays in time for Halloween after spending many, many hours working on them. Now, they are in display cases in the lobby of our elementary school. I am so proud of them and rightfully, they are very proud of themselves, too. They worked so hard on them.

A little history . . . I love Food Channel’s competitions and Halloween Wars tops my list. This is where I got the idea for this lesson. Each Halloween season, I become enamored with the passion, creativity, talent, and skill of the sugar, cake, and pumpkin artists on this show. This led me into wanting to bring this type of passion into my classrooms; so several years ago I started a yearly Halloween Wars during each Halloween season (none during our COVID shutdown, though); and yes, it’s a team competition which makes it even more exciting for the students. Needless to say, I was thrilled to bring it back this year allowing a new group of students the opportunity to experience it. As mentioned in the title, I believe this to be a perfect STREAM (Science, Technology, wRiting, Engineering, Art, Math) lesson. This post describes the learning activities and standards addressed.

Background Information

The principles that drive my instructional approach. regardless of theme, include:

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for learners.
  • There is a game-like atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up, and a sense of mastery or achievement during the instructional activities.
  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for learners.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another.
  • Learners don’t need to be graded about their performances as built-in consequences are natural.
  • There is a natural building of social emotional skills – tolerance for frustration, expression of needs, working as a team.
  • Lessons are interdisciplinary (like life) where multiple, cross-curricular content areas are integrated into the instructional activities.

These have been further discussed in A Model of Good Teaching?

The goals included the following:

  • To work in a small group to create a Halloween scene using art work, LEDs, microcontrollers, servos, food items, and miscellaneous materials.
  • To work as a small group to craft a story about their scene.
  • To introduce and reinforce ideas, concepts, and skills associated with maker education, STEM, STEAM, and STREAM.
  • To engage in a friendly team competition whereby collaboration in their small groups would lead to success in the competition.

Descriptions of the Individual Components

Science Related Activities and Standards

Learners did several activities that involved LED circuits (simple LED lights, LED Tea Light Spider Pumpkins, and Paper Circuit Skulls) and circuits with microcontrollers (see Technology section).

Science Standard:

  • NGSS: 4-PS3-2. Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

Technology Related Activities and Standards

For their displays, learners used servo socks to make parts of their display turn, micro:bits and servos to make milk carton robots, and Circuit Playground to make a flickering light to put inside their carved pumpkins. They needed to code their micro;bits and Circuit Playgrounds.

Computer Science Standards:

  • 1B-CS-02 – Model how computer hardware and software work together as a system to accomplish tasks.
  • 1B-AP-10 – Create programs that include sequences, events, loops, and conditionals
  • 1B-CS-03 – Determine potential solutions to solve simple hardware and software problems using common troubleshooting strategies

wRiting – Language Arts Related Activities and Standards

Learners wrote stories that drove their displays. They did so in Google docs so they could write collaboratively. My “rule” was that they could only use elements in their displays that were part of their stories. This necessitated that they revisit their stories throughout this lesson.

ELA Standard:

  • 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.

Example Stories:

Engineering Related Activities and Standards

Overall, engineering was used throughout this project from creating display artifacts – one student built a cardboard refrigerator with working parts and the milk carton robot to figuring out how to hang and arrange things on their display board.

NGSS Engineering Standards:

  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and
  • constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the
  • criteria and constraints of the problem.

Arts Related Activities and Standards

The entire display was an arts related activity, but I include a specific art activity, the Spooky Halloween 3D Art Project.

National Core Arts Standards:

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Math Related Activities and Standards

Learners made their own Sugar Skulls and Gummy Legos (Bears) using recipes I projected on the Smartboard. They were asked to cut the recipes in half or thirds.

Math Standard:

  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.NF.B.7: Apply and extend previous understandings of division to divide unit fractions by whole numbers and whole numbers by unit fractions.

It was so much fun to find and design these activities but it was even more fun watching the learners do them all. I can’t wait until next year!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 2, 2021 at 1:41 am

Student Choice and Voice Can Equal the Best Day Ever

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As is true for a lot of progressive educators, I have a belief in and attempt to practice the implementation of student voice and choice:

Sometimes this means fully letting go of the reins so learners become completely self-directed. I had the privilege of witnessing this in action one afternoon last week. I use the word, “witness,” as it was totally due to the actions of one student.

As I do every Thursday, I “pulled-out” 4th-6th graders for gifted and talented services. During the morning they built and experimented with Wiggle Bots. One of the students, Sean, also began experimenting with some of the materials in an attempt to build a toy bow (out of skewers) and arrow (out of jumbo straws). I asked him to focus on making his Wiggle Bot but told him he could continue his experimentation during lunch (they voluntarily spend lunch with me on Thursdays). They stay with me after lunch for an hour+. I do math challenges with them during those times. Sean asked if he could continue to work on fine tuning his bow and arrow instead. Then, the other kids asked if they could do so, too. Being a learner-centric educator, who values student choice and voice, I said, “Sure, go for it.”

I am so happy I did! They played with the continual improvement of their straw arrows; iterated through testing, and modifying them; and tried out different materials for their tips and tails in an effort to create increased distance and accuracy . . . again with little intervention from me. They went outside to test their work, and later, to play games with their arrows that they made up – most notably one that mimicked the video game Among Us. Seeing such joy in their social interactions warmed my heart. I know how important allowing for social time is for this age group especially after last year’s isolation due to remote learning – just as important or even more important than content area instruction.

I witnessed their creativity, innovation, flow, positive social interactions, excitement, engagement, and joy during this student-driven activity. Sean was visibly very excited that not only was he successful in making his bow and arrow, but more so that the other students followed his lead to participate in these learning activities that he initiated. The pride I saw in him was what prompted me to write this post. I was so happy with him and for him. One student even said at the end of the day, “This was the best day I ever had at school,” and this came from a student who absolutely loves and excels at school. When I heard the student state this, I jumped with joy. It wasn’t due to anything I did. It was only that I stepped back and let the students take over their learning.

I’ve discussed that one of my goals in my classroom is to create the conditions for having students experience and express that they had the best day ever:

During this particular afternoon, I believe the following occurred:

  • Built on learner interests and passions
  • Used whole body and hands-on learning
  • Allowed learners to work with others if they choose
  • Encouraged and acknowledge a broad range of emotions
  • Celebrated both effort and success
  • Respected the process – let go of the need to create the best day ever

My reflection is that I believe I typically do a good job of giving voice and choice but it is often within a more structured STEM, STEAM, maker education activities (see my book, Learning in the Making, for more information about this). I’d like to figure out more ways to “follow the child” like they do in Montessori environments. I have a lot of craft and STEM materials accessible in my classroom. I need to try out the suggestion made by Sean that day, “We should spend an afternoon just exploring, playing with, and creating things using these materials.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 3, 2021 at 9:35 pm

Offering Electives to Elementary Students

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

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

Other benefits of electives include:

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

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

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

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2021 at 12:02 am

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

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