Yesterday was the first day of school, and a common phenomenon happened. Students would put away their folders and notebooks when we weren’t quite done using them.
It was frustrating to wait for students to get their tools back out of their desks, so I thought of a way to help them understand why they ought to wait to be told, “We are NOW done. You may put away your ___.” I made up a word picture; a story.
A family’s getting ready to have dinner. The kids are given plates and silverware. They sit down at the table. Mom brings over some rolls and butter. Dad checks on the casserole in the oven.
The kids butter their rolls, eat them, and get up from the table. When they bring their dirty plates and silverware over to the sink to clean them up, Dad asks, “What are you doing? The casserole is just about done.”
“We are cleaning up our plates. We’re finished,” the kids announce.
Incredulous, the dad explains that rolls are not the meal and that they should wait at the table. “It wouldn’t make any sense to clean your plates before eating the delicious casserole!”
“Your notebooks are the plates from this story,” I told my class. Their eyes lit up with understanding.
(I had been telling the same kids to get their folders back out of their desks many times. I could see that the class was sensing my frustration. Rather than repeating what was turning into an ignorable mantra, I invented this word picture.)
“When you place your folders back in your desk, it is like those kids washing up their plates when all they ate was a roll! You should wait until I tell you that we are done with our notebooks, before you close and store them away,” I explained.
How many times are we too busy or rushed to take the time to make motions meaningful? How often do you tell students to do tasks or complete assignments with the expectation that they will just do it because you told them to? In addition to having clearly defined reasons available for your students, I challenge you to invent narratives that not only explain your motives, but deepen students’ understanding.
My quick short story instantly did what lots of complaining couldn’t touch. A couple of times I saw students preparing to close their notebooks before we were finished with a task after I had shared my story. All I had to do was jokingly ask them, “You want desert; Don’t you? You shouldn’t put your plates in the sink until the dinner is decidedly over.” They knew exactly what I was saying, even though I didn’t use the word, “notebook.”
How have you used symbols, nonverbal communication, storytelling, or other tricks of the trade to clearly communicate classroom procedures and pedagogy? Was there an instance that worked particularly well? Please share.
I grew up getting “Highlights” in the mail. All I remember doing was circling the stuff where two seemingly identical pictures varied. I never read anything from any of the magazines. Storyworks Junior is very different!
First of all, there isn’t any coloring or games. But, that does’t mean they aren’t fun. On the contrary, the articles and literature within each bimonthly magazine is more intellectually engaging than anything else I’ve witnessed. A traditional paper magazine arrives in my teacher mailbox every other month with a four page educator outline of the periodical. The outline gives overviews of the magazine’s stories, skills, and online tools that are available.
Storyworks Junior is not that old. It began four years ago, as an offshoot of the Storyworks magazine for 4th, 5th, and older grades. This “Junior” version covers the same type of material as the original, but is tailored for ages 7 – 10 (third grade and advanced second graders).
The magazine is perfect for the young minds that I teach because it has just the right amount of information. Each issue starts off with a literary appetizer that looks like the kid version of something you’d find in Time. Some favorites are about “The Best Pet,” “Why Do Animals Have Tails,” and more recently “The Fattest Bear In Alaska.” These two page articles have minimal text, contain funny ideas, and provide interesting pictures to get you thinking. It takes five minutes to read these pages, but a creative educator could spend a week right here!
Every issue has a feature story that is nonfiction. These usually come from the editor, Lauren Tarshis, author of the “I Survived” series. This report was supposed to be about an online resource, and so far I haven’t even mentioned the powerful online component of this incredible magazine! Well, buckle up, because here is where Storyworks Junior shines. I used to think that you have to read a book, before watching its cinematic rendition. If you witness the movie, the ending of the story will be ruined! Storyworks Junior, along with some accompanying research has changed this mentality for me. The featured story for each magazine has a video that you show before the students read it. This video is accessed through the StoryworksJr.com website. It not only has the story read to you by the actual author, but there are images and video that help kids visualize the text. One of my favorites was the story about the revolutionary war. The video had tasteful battle recreation scenes that made the story’s setting come to life, without being too scary for little kids. How do you do that with words?
“Does the video give away the ending of the story?” you may wonder. While it does answer the burning question of whether the main character survived, more than that, it gives students a mental literary road map for when they read the story on their own. They know what to expect. The video shows some of the text as it is being read, in between dramatizations of the story. Also, it provides vocabulary words with definitions in the middle of the screen when they are mentioned in the text.
If you stop to think about it, nothing is lost because the title gives away the answer, anyway: “I Survived.” You read and watch to find out what kind of hardships the kid survived.
The video isn’t the only online tool that Storyworks Junior provides. Every feature story comes in a variety of differentiated versions for beginners, intermediate, and advanced readers. And, don’t forget about those English as a Second Language readers! There is a text for them, too. These texts, along with vocabulary slideshows, worksheet packets, and quizzes, all made by Scholastic, can be shared via the Google classroom. Before Coronavirus imprisoned everyone at home, I used to print some of these packets for kids to fill in while reading/listening to the story. Then I’d let the kids use their work to take the quizzes that I nearly always altered a little. You can easily do this because the quizzes are Google forms.
Let me backup a little. One thing that I love about assigning the Storyworks Junior magazine work online is that students can listen to the text. Scholastic knows the power of audio, so they have made every version of the story available in “Text to Speech” mode.
But, if you turn “Speech” on in the “Accessibility” section of the settings on your iPad, every single text from a screen can be read to students. When I type my own questions and information into quizzes in Google Forms, I can have students listen to the questions, explanations, and instructions. My aim with online learning is for kids to be able to do their work independently. I don’t want parents to be bogged down with reading or explaining things to their children. Between text to speech and in turn students using “Speech to Text” to type, I rest assured that my Polite Pirates have the tools in their hands to communicate their thinking to me.
There are many educators connecting and chatting online about Storyworks Junior articles and teaching tools. You could join the Facebook group or tag them on Twitter. Use #StoryworksJr to share information.
In my youth poetry was as elusive to me as calculus. It seemed unnecessarily complex and celebrated by the elite of literature. I wasn’t fond of reading in general back then. I definitely wasn’t going to champion wrestling over the hidden meaning of a poem.
And, really, if you want us to know that the sunflower symbolizes the afterlife, William Blake, just say so! Are poets trying to be annoying? In the same way no one imagines ever actually using calculus, poetry seemed worthless to me.
Then I became an elementary teacher. Poems are everywhere! Teachers begin the day with them. They are read on the morning announcements. Magazines end with them. Children’s literature is littered with them. Come to find out, some of my favorite authors celebrate poetry throughout their texts. Roald Dahl’s novels are packed with poetry. How did I never see this?
Beyond the fact that I wouldn’t be escaping poetry, two things happened. I realized that this was a weakness. If I were a musician, I was playing rock and roll, ignoring the tendon of blues music that connected the muscle of contemporary privilege culture to the soul of bone-crushing hardship. Disregarding poetry would leave my students malnourished in the area of literary arts. The second realization I discovered was how interesting poetry can be. Come to find out it was fun to read and surprisingly easy to write!
I will say that before delving into this topic, I had to let go of the idea that only smart people can understand or read poetry. The fact that I might not “get it,” and would therefore feel dumb was holding me back from reading poetry. The concept that if I couldn’t write great poetry it would reveal a deficient intellect had to be released. Had I been defensively shielding myself from feelings of inferiority by purposefully ignoring this artful literature? Coming to grips with this possibility was the key for unlocking a love of poetry.
The first thing I did was prepare to teach the subject that I knew precious little about. I find that teaching helps me learn. I shared this idea with my school librarian, and the two of us planned to collaborate on a fun project of teaching several styles of poetry to my class. I convinced the librarian to use Google slides to make a slideshow that we could both add information to simultaneously and from any device. She hadn’t used this tool before. Sharing the same love of learning, my librarian jumped right in to figuring out this great collaboration tool.
I learned poetry. The librarian learned Google slides. And, together we developed an exciting and fun interactive lesson that I still use to this day! Students are given a graphic organizer that has the names of the styles of poetry that they are about to learn on one side, five empty stars next to the name, and lines for writing. As they learn about the styles, they rate how they like them. In addition to coloring in stars, students are to write down a reason as to why they like or dislike a style. I guide them through this activity, sharing some of my own opinions. We explore examples of the poetry, and even try writing some of our own.
I by no means consider myself an expert on poetry. I have not read very much of it. The main change is that I am not afraid of it anymore. I’ve even tried writing some.
It helps that my audience is eight and nine-year-olds! By penning my own poetry and sharing it with my class, I am modeling giving it a try, even if you’re not good at it.
Not only that, but it is truly fun. One of the things that I like about poetry is the ability to break the rules. Like many things, it is important to know the rules, before breaking them. And then you don’t destroy grammar as much as bend it. My third graders are still a little young to truly understand “poetic license,” but they get the idea of bending rules. That’s for sure!
How do you share poetry? Why do you teach it? Why do you think poetry is important?
Anyone finding it tricky to communicate effectively with students and families during this 100% online learning experience?
A friend of mine uses Seesaw to share information with parents and students. This teacher is able to send blasts to her class with realtime, to-the-second info about things like Google meeting times and links, as well as clarification on Google classroom assignments. These same kiddos and parents have direct access to their teacher to ask questions and request explanations at any time of the day. This could be overwhelming at both ends of the communique, which leads me to wonder…
What is the ideal style of communication between Teacher and Class during Online Learning?
Seesaw isn’t the only app that fosters direct communication between parents and teachers. The Bloomz app is another powerful tool for connecting educators with homes. These social-media-style apps require logins, so they are safe for sharing personal information. This allows teachers to feel safe posting pictures of students, including names, and providing school information that would otherwise be too revealing on an open social media platform like Facebook or Twitter. Can the app be too social, though?
When group messages are posted, and parents “Thanks” and “Thumbs up” the message, each response goes to everyone. If you have “notifications turned on” on your phone or device, it dings over and over… Then families end up turning off the notifications and end up missing valuable information.
Classdojo is an app that I have used in the classroom. This one allows teachers to not only share information with homes, but educators can provide instant feedback concerning classroom behavior. With the proper settings and notifications, parents can be notified as to how their kid is doing throughout the day in a realtime way. Pictures, videos, and messages can also be communicated. Personally, I found that I was tied to the app, constantly looking for student icons to add information to, rather than actually addressing my students.
Additionally, when I used Classdojo, but this could be applied to any of these and other apps, families became accustomed to and dependent on the reporting. Teachers can become captives to communication!
And, what about those families who are seemingly unreachable? Teachers collect all kinds of information at the beginning of the year; email addresses, phone numbers, best way(s) to communicate, etc. I’ve emailed, made phone calls, and texted. I want to respect people’s privacy, and not force my teaching onto their family life, but also make the educational experience reachable. I view my attempts at contact as throwing a pedagogical rope. If a family wants or needs some time to itself, they need not grab the string. It is there for them, though.
I have chosen to use a Google classroom to provide my online teaching. Because my school district uses Google and all of my students have Google accounts and are versed in Google apps, it was a no brainer. There are other platforms, but I imagine they behave similarly: Educators can post assignments, leave feedback, make announcements, and share links through an app that looks and behaves much like a social media platform. There is a “stream” of activity that teacher and students can scroll through to find things. Items are listed chronologically. Like the other apps, Google classroom provides the opportunity for families to be “notified” when there is app activity; when teachers post things to the classroom.
We return to my original question: What is the best communication between educators and families?
Too much could turn off families, causing them to literally “turn off” notifications. Not enough, and families will not be trained to depend on or look to the platform for updated information/assignments.
Composing this blog from an educator’s perspective, I am finding it difficult to locate my students’ work. In the physical classroom, I’d model and explain instructions to my whole-group of Polite Pirates (students) before posting a Google slideshow to the online classroom for them to engage with. Everyone heard the same message, and I was even available in person to aid students who needed guidance. Now that we are completely online, I am finding myself making movies to reiterate expectations. Luckily, I was able to train my class in the usage of the Google classroom before we were locked out of the school building!
Here is a frustrating situation: I post an “Optional” assignment in the Google classroom. It is a Google slideshow that students can interact with; A copy was produced for each student. Because it is optional, students don’t have to do it. Do I have to check them all? I ought to honor the work of anyone willing to put in this extra effort! I have devised a system that could help me, and empower student work to be found for feedback. Simply tell me that you did the optional work in a comment with in the Google classroom. Additionally, in a slideshow made up of many slides, leave a comment on the slide that you worked on. In this way, students will be “flagging” their work. These comments are hands in the air saying, “Look over here; I did some work I want you to look at.”
I am going to share this idea with my parents and pirates today. We’ll see how it works. What are some tips and tricks that you have used to streamline communication during this online learning experience? How can the connection between educator and pupil homes be made tight, clear, unhindered, unobtrusive, and most helpful? I’d love to hear from parents, teachers, administrators, app developers, and more! Comment below, and let’s make this out-of-school schooling as productive and beneficial as possible!
Along with every other kid in the world, my 8 year old daughter Scarlet is experiencing at home, online learning during the “Stay at Home” novel Coronavirus Pandemic. She is receiving daily assignments of online activities. As I’ve been witnessing hers and preparing my own, I am evaluating what makes the most effective distance learning tools.
Recently, Scarlet was asked to log into a math website and complete a task geared toward teaching coin-counting. This cartoon animation had her making 25 cents with nickels and dimes.
I try to let Scarlet do her online learning with as little distraction as possible, but this got to be too much for me! She was dragging coins to a spot on the screen until she accumulated 25 cents, and then it would celebrate her accomplishment with a silly jingle. I felt like my daughter was turning into a chimpanzee.
I closed the device she was using and drew a grid. “I’m going to teach you a homonym; a multiple-meaning word,” I told her. “This is a table; not the kind you eat on. You use this to make sense of numbers.”
We made a few tables with varying totals and different coins available. She made many different combinations of coins to show the same amount.
While filling in a row of varying coins totaling a dollar, Scarlet made a slight mistake. The table already had one half dollar and one quarter. She wrote “5” in the nickels column which made me happy, but then she wrote “2” in the dimes space. I knew what had happened. She equated the value of one nickel with the number to be written in the field. No biggie. As it turned out, we happened to have toy coins that I had dug out of the closet. I presented the actual coinage on the carpet. Scarlet almost didn’t let me get out all five nickels, having realized her mistake.
Eventually, I made some puzzles where I would fill in certain coin fields and have Scarlet solve the missing number. “If you are making one dollar out of pennies, nickels, and dimes, and you have 8 dimes & 3 nickels, how many pennies will you have?” Not only did Scarlet solve the problem easily, but when I asked her to describe what she had done in her head, she walked me through her thinking.
This is what was missing from the chimpanzee-producing online practice. The software allowed Scarlet to drop coins onto a spot on the screen and either rewarded her with a jingle or delivered a negative noise. It was up to Scarlet to figure out what worked best for getting the jingle to happen: Pull the lever to get the banana.
I’ve witnessed software programs that stop a kid after a few wrong answers and reteach a concept before allowing the student to continue an activity. Another way to check for thinking is having students type or video-record their reasoning for an answer. Then the educator can interact with the thinking, praising accurate steps, guiding ideas, and correcting missteps.
The closer to simulating the tailored responses of a human teacher an online program can produce, the more thinking it will stimulate in the student. How can you make a program applicable to the most practitioners, while simultaneously being tailored to the most personalized outcomes/answers?
If you search “Easter Eggs” in youtube, you might get some videos of kids running around a field, but more likely your server will be flooded with videos of people sharing stuff that is seemingly hidden in movies. When I was a kid, I remember people going crazy about seeing ghosts mysteriously appear in a few frames of a movie. Supposedly, you weren’t intended to see this, which made it all the more creepy!
Easter eggs are different, in that they are apparently purposefully hidden by directors, illustrators, etc so that cult-like movie-watchers will find them. Could this just be an excuse for watching a well-liked film an otherwise abnormal number of times? Perhaps. And, maybe the producers of these films are aiming to foster this kind of multi-watching phenomena.
Interestingly, the term may have come from one of the most cult-producing movies of all time: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. According to Urban Dictionary, the guests/prisoners of an alien home participate in a completely random Easter Egg hunt. When the characters fail to find many of the hidden eggs, they appear later on throughout the movie. Viewers enjoy looking for the literal Easter Eggs, which spurred the use of the term for hidden items in films.
Easter Eggs in Teaching
The reason all of this came to mind is that I was teaching a lesson that had Easter Eggs in it, and I thought this was a neat pedagogy to explore. What if teachers purposefully hid learning experiences inside lessons, so that students would have to go back and find them?
My school district is working hard to introduce computer science in elementary school. We used a grant to buy some SpheroEdu kits. A team of teachers was formed. Instructors were brought in to train us in the world of coding. We brainstormed and planned how we might share this information with our district’s students. Each of the teachers on this “tech team” tried out the lessons in our own classrooms, and now we are sharing them with all of the 4th and 5th grade students of the district.
I just taught lesson 1; This is the one that had the Easter Egg. The tech team built a slideshow in the Pages app that could function as an independent or whole-group teaching tool. The “pages” (slides) walk students through some instructions on how to use Pages, what is expected, and how to complete the lesson. We chose to use the Pages app, because it forces students to learn a tool on their iPad that they may not be familiar with. Also, it has an easy to use drawing tool.
The lesson requires students to move some images, arranging them on a grid. Paired kids, sitting back to back, take turns using “Sequencing Commands” (the object of the lesson) to get their partners to draw a path on an empty grid. Once done, the two partners compare their screens. Would the path land on the squares that images are resting on? They are to take screenshots of their work and a picture of their partner’s grid. This way, they can put the two images side by side to evaluate accuracy. Part of their reflection is to analyze what could have helped them use fewer commands. Also, is there a better route for collecting the images?
Easter Egg Time
As it turned out, moving the images was not exactly easy. It works well to first tap the image, and then touching the very middle of it, you drag it onto the grid. If you don’t get the middle, you’ll enlarge it. “Undo” is our best friend!
If kids click on the text that is near the images, it becomes “active” and covers the images. When this occurs, there is no way to get to the images to move them! Oh no!!!
Here is your Easter Egg for the lesson: Students must “Unlock” the text box. Then they can “Arrange” the order of objects, placing the text box behind the images. Now, the image may be accessed again.
Questions for student reflection:
Why would you want to “Lock” an object or text box?
Why is it important to know how to “Arrange” the order of items on a page?
This Easter Egg was only found because a student let go of an image too soon. He was getting ready to drag an image up to the grid, but stopped right over the text box. Oops! When he couldn’t figure out how to get to the image, he brought his iPad to me, and we worked on gaining access, again. I then showed the classroom STEM teacher whom I was partnering with on the lesson. I wanted him to know how to remedy this kind of problem if it came up again.
Something that struck me in that moment was the idea of teachers thinking that they have to have all of the wrinkles ironed out before doing a lesson. Guess what. More often than not, you will create a new wrinkle when you carefully iron out a potential problem. Perhaps locking that text box was thought to help students grab the images and not the text box. But, it ended up covering the image and preventing us from getting to it!
I thought of a way to remedy this for future lessons: make the text part of an image, along with the grid, that is the background for the slide. Then images cannot go behind it. But, then again…
Nooooooooo! Don’t fix it at all! Leave it as is, and even show earlier finishers of the lesson this problem. Here is an Easter Egg in the lesson. See if you can figure out how to solve the problem. Then these kiddos could help anyone who comes across this problem in the future.
I leave you with this: How can you build Easter Eggs into your lessons? How could you purposefully plan problems that students may not find, but that could give them something to chew on, enriching the learning experience?
If you are a teacher and you are alive, you have heard about the importance of teaching computer science to students. “Code, code, code!” is shouted from the pedagogical rooftops.
Don’t hate me, but I haven’t been excited about this concept. I tried Scratch many years ago, but between wrestling with the failing tech in my school’s computer lab and less than perfect early-in-teaching-career classroom management of 8 year olds, I was unimpressed with the outcome of learning. I scratched my Scratch plans.
Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with integrating creative use of technology in my lessons and classroom. We make movies, video games, and are Google gurus! But, still no coding.
Sphero rolled into my pedagogical practice. My school district is training teachers to roll out a computer science program, and I was chosen with several others to pilate some lessons. Among other things, we will be using SpheroEDU to share the coding experience with the students of East Penn. Spheros are exactly that; balls. They have mechanical parts inside of them that follow the commands that you input in an app on a device. They can roll, turn different colors, and make sounds. (Although the sounds come from the device, not the actual robot.)
When my teacher friends and I were initially introduced to the Sphero robots we were instructed to try to get it to do some tasks. We used a variety of coding methods and tried out several styles of lesson genres. It was fun, but I wasn’t completely hooked, yet.
A recent get together of this team was assembled to begin creating lessons that would introduce and begin teaching coding to the 4th & 5th graders of East Penn. We were to come up with 3 lessons. A brainstorming session was followed by some discussion and voting. In the talk a theme emerged where we would introduce a narrative of insect study to the students. They were all going to experience the joys and difficulties of entomologists. The students would get their robots to study insects and eradicate invasive bugs: Debug. (One of our lessons is to clean up code of problems.) Notice how the targeted study focuses on a positive term for the animals: Insects, while the animals that are a problem (Spotted Lantern Flies have become a nuisance around Pennsylvania) are labeled negatively. Also, an obvious dual purpose of the storyline is to reinforce the necessity of clean coding, devoid of bugs.
This idea of purpose-driven instruction helped me see the coding lesson in a new light. Rather than tell my students to get the robot to make a square or go from an arbitrary point A to a pointless point B, I would be helping kids learn how to tackle real world problems.
With new inspiration and vigor, I returned to my third grade classroom where a case-full of unused Spheros sat in the corner. Let’s get to work, I thought, as I tore poster paper, uncapped markers, opened up bags of cups, and pulled out piles of pipecleaners. It was the day before Halloween, and an idea hit me: Monsters Inc. I would make grids with a door in one square and a kid sleeping in another. Students would dress up cups to look like monsters. These cups would float on top of a programed Sphero robot. They would need to get from the door to the bed and back to the door again. Also, the Sphero would need to create a scary sound. (This was attempted after figuring out the code for travel.)
Prior to the lesson, I got out all of the supplies. I made one more poster than I needed for 9 groups of 3 to have their own. Each poster had the door and bed in a different location. I did this incase an outstanding group had solved every coding combination for the map they were initially given. They could try a new one. (Another way of creating challenge would be to place items on the map, like wardrobes or piles of clothing, that the robot would have to avoid.)
To begin the lesson I placed one poster on the board to show students. I explained that they would be “playing” Monsters Inc. They were going to get monsters to go from the door to the sleeping child. Most students were familiar with the concept from the popular movie. I explained that the monster world was powered by an electricity that ran on the screams of kids. In the movie, monsters were trained and worked hard at sneaking into bedrooms and scaring children. I reminded everyone that it was important that the monster get back to the door, so that it could get back to the monster world. Otherwise it would be trapped in the human-parallel universe! “Aaaaahhh!”
Before leaving the carpet, I showed the students how the block-coding in the Sphero app worked. I drew the “Roll” command on the board with labels explaining/reminding what each bubble was for: Direction, speed, and duration (time).
While student groups decorated their cup/monsters with pipe cleaners, I had one kid at a time get a robot. Teams were separated around the room. The only parameter was for student groups to try to keep the robot on the paper. Needless to say, there were varying levels of success. One group figured out how to introduce changing the light of the Sphero. I didn’t bother telling them that the sleeping child (drawn on the paper) might not see the light change under the monster cup;) I was happy for the intrigue-guided discovery!
I only had to get everyone’s attention once or twice. One time I wanted to mention only changing one variable at a time when adjusting the rolling command: Rather than changing both speed and duration, just alter one or the other. After giving the change a try, make another adjustment. Keep going until the movement is just right. After I witnessed one group make the discovery that you should “Aim” the robot before placing the cup over it, I shared that with everyone, adding that they must “practice-run” the Sphero with the cup, because the drag of the “monster” might affect its movement.
The whole experience was a smashing success. Everyone wanted to keep working on it, but recess time dragged us all outside. We put everything away, until the next day.
The morning of Halloween, I had students get the Spheros out again. This time, I wanted to know exactly what they were coming up with. Students did not have to use a “monster”. (Because having a Sphero roll up to you, while you are sleeping and growl, was scary enough;) I put together a slideshow that I pushed out through Google classroom, much like I did recently with the Plural Noun BloxelsEDU maze video game lesson. Students were to take screenshots of their successful codes that got the Sphero from the door to the bed and back to the door. The screenshots were then imported into the slideshow for me to view.
The room erupted in coding.
Students nearly lost their minds when, halfway through the experience, I showed them that they could get the Sphero to say anything you typed into a speech command. From that time forward, “Hey, kid, aren’t you scared!” was heard, among other ridiculous phrases, uttered in a robotic, honestly less-than-scary voice, all over the room. It was both hilarious and exciting.
Again, recess, and then a costume parade, ruined our robotic fun:)
The takeaway lesson for me was the creation of a narrative, giving coding a storyline, helped me present the tasks in a way that gave meaning and purpose. The plot of Monsters Inc provided the jolt of electricity that animated the previously lifeless lesson. What have you used to give life to your lessons?
What was the most successful lesson you ever taught? Why was it so good? How do you measure its success?
I’ve recently been reading a classic on motivation: “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink (2009). In part three Pink gets into the DNA of motivation; purpose. You can focus on intrinsic and dress up extrinsic all you want, but if your activity lacks a deep purpose, it will fall flat.
Last week I was interested in wrapping up a small unit on plural nouns. How could I close it out? There is the old-school paper method, where I plop a worksheet in front of them with a list of singular nouns the students must make plural. I could make a Google form full of questions. That would only substitute the paper. What was something I could have students do that would be more purposeful.
BloxelsEDU is an app that is free to download and use. You have to purchase an account
to build games. But, with one account, I can make many games that can be published to an online “Arcade” for my students to use. I have been taking a course through PD Campus, created and taught by Ken Ehrmann, where I have learned how to use this creative tool to engage my students in meaningful critical thinking.
To assess proficiency in making nouns plural in a super fun way, I decided to make a video game. I was interested in building into the game an element of reteaching. Additionally, the video game could show students some new elements of gaming design. (We have been working on crafting our own personal video games in class; I got accounts for all of my students through my PD Campus course–I highly recommend this professional development/grad-level class.)
The game would be a maze. The students’ purpose was to get to the end. What do you get when you get to the end of a maze? A feeling of accomplishment; I don’t have to tell you that this feeling is way better than completing and turning in a worksheet or filling in a Google form!
Here’s how I made it. I created a template frame within BloxelsEDU game builder platform that provided a few options of changing directions, so that students would be presented with having to make decisions on what way to continue traveling. I made sure that there were openings on the sides, top, and bottom that lined up with opposite sides, etc. Then I copied and pasted the template, over and over, making a huge waffle of terrain for video game characters to hop and run through. Next, I used coin blocks to select the direction that I would have the character travel. I replaced terrain blocks with yellow coin blocks in one direction choice at each stop throughout some of my maze waffle. From time to time I stopped and played the game, because some of the decision rewards came dangerously close to others. I wanted to be sure that the weaving back and forth would work and not cause a player to backtrack.
After deciding on a place to end the maze, I went back and put red hazard blocks and purple, moving enemy blocks in the paths that would NOT be the correct decision. In other words, a student would be presented with a question that had 3 choices, one of which would immediately reward them with coins, and two that would harm the character, taking away hearts. At this point in the game development I could still view all of the different colors.
Before disguising the blocks, I first created all of the questions and answers that would guide students through the maze. I varied the nouns and the way they were presented. Some questions had fill in the blanks, while others presented a singular noun, but asked what the plural version would be. After planting all of the questions and directions, I played the game, to make sure that the player would not have any hangups. This showed me places where I ought to spread out the path of the maze. There were places where it folded too close to itself. I didn’t want players to accidentally skip questions by stumbling into the correct channel through a mishap.
Once the path was complete, it was time to dress up the game. I made a fake green block in the “Art Builder” of BloxelsEDU. This block was brought into my Plural Noun Maze to disguise all of the yellow coins, red hazzards, and purple enemies. I also hid some life-giving hearts with the fake green blocks. Another block that I made in Art Builder was a “transparent” block. I saved a square of nothing; containing no color at all. This I used to disguise the word blocks. I didn’t want students to see future word blocks while they were playing the game. They would assume the correct path of the maze. Additionally, I hid some hearts, enemies, and hazards with the transparent block. Come to find out, when I made them invisible, it took their power away. A player can walk right through a transparent hazard, and an invisible enemy really is a ghost. A player would never know it was there! Lastly, I wanted the end of the maze to be on a floating, invisible terrain, but when I turned the green blocks invisible, they may as well truly disappear. The player cannot stand on the transparent terrain. Oh well.
Now that my maze was complete, it was ready to administer. Before having students play it however, I devised an ingenious plan for monitoring their work. Students would read each question, then take a screenshot of the answers. While the screenshot was still
available, they would “mark it” up by circling what they thought was the correct spelling of the plural noun. Then they would save the screenshot and travel in the appropriate direction. They would then find out whether they were right or wrong by immediately receiving coins or encountering hazards. I put these instructions in a visible word block at the beginning of the game, along with one that warned students that the maze’s directions were hidden inside invisible blocks.
Students enjoyed playing the game. They couldn’t help but show me their progress. Many felt the need to point out hidden things that they found, as if I didn’t know they had been placed in the maze! Ha ha.
Finally, when everyone was done, I posted a generic, simple Google slideshow to our Google classroom, making a copy for each student. They populated their individual slideshows with all of their screenshots of the game. I was able to go into Google classroom and access each student’s slideshow to see exactly what they had circled as their answers for spelling plural nouns. I gave kids scores of 1-4 depending on how successful they were on their initial guess. It was funny, because I could see in the screen shot areas where students had accidentally or otherwise already found the coins in the correct direction! The screenshots also betrayed loss of hearts, indicating that students had checked to see where hazards may be. But, I was totally okay with this. The whole idea of the game was for it to be self-correcting. If they figured out what direction they ought to go before looking at the answers and circled the corresponding answer, more power to them. You got it right, one way or another! That’s life!
The lesson, the maze, the assessment… it was all totally awesome, but there is more. Because I shared the game to my BloxelsEDU classroom, in addition to publishing it to the “Arcade”, my students now had access to the game as something that they could alter. They opened it up as a “Remix” and were able to see all of the different tricks to the trade that I had developed. They could learn how to make their own games/mazes, but also simply change mine and put in different questions, totally change the path of the maze… The BloxelEDU world was the limit! And, now you can too! Enjoy.
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
I’ve been teaching for 9 years. This is a second career for me. To pay for college (graduated in ‘96) I painted the outside of homes. This turned into a lucrative business, and I liked working for myself. Eventually, I wanted to do something more with my life. Because I enjoyed connecting with people and communicating ideas, and because I thought investing in youth to affect the future was a noble and intelligent goal, I decided to enter the elementary education field. Boy, am I glad I did! Naturally, this story is much longer, but I wanted to just provided the basics, here.
The past 9 years have provided plenty of professional development opportunities, but I had yet to attend many conferences. This past weekend I visited #Rewire19 and was energized and inspired by a long list of incredible presenters.
In addition to learning, I felt like I made meaningful friendships with these mentors. Something that plagued me, though, was the idea of how much teaching many people had under their belt. There were numbers like “Teaching 20+ Years” thrown all over the place. Is it necessary to teach a long time before you share pedagogical practices with peers?
This question made me feel like a latecomer to a party. Wait, what’s that expression?
I do sport a pretty mean #Bowtie.
Beyond #Fashion, I feel like I do have something to offer to this party; a type of experience that didn’t come from teaching many decades in the classroom. And, I am not just talking about having run a successful entrepreneurial painting company, either. I am a “Late Bloomer”.
As I read the text, many things happened simultaneously. One, I felt my insecurity of seeming-career-procrastination melt away as I realized that I had gained many useful life lessons that were presently helping me be a good teacher, today. If I had gone right into teaching, straight out of college… first of all, that couldn’t have happened because I didn’t even study pedagogy! …But, if my younger-self had entered the education career field, I would have certainly burned out and failed. It is only through allowing myself to bloom later in life, that I am experiencing this wonderful world of teaching. While I may not be able to place a “20+ years” near my name when it comes to teaching, I have been preparing for this position all my life!
Secondly, the book “Late Bloomers” has caused me to view my students differently. Some students will be early bloomers. These kids are already shining in school. They are acing tests, excelling in reading and math capabilities. Everyone is excited for these students. But, what about the “Late Bloomers” who will need several decades to finally open up and realize their potential?
I think every educator would do well to read this book. When we differentiate our instruction, we work hard to enrich students who need to be challenged right now, but what about the students who will eventually grow into shining stars?
There are plants that take several years before blooming. If a gardener focused only on the early bloomers and allowed weeds to overtake the Stargazers (my favorite flower), he would miss out on quite a show, not to mention the marvelous fragrance. The gardner must make sure these July blooms are planted properly, watered and cared for appropriately, and protected from voracious sun-hogs.
Whether you are a “Late-Blooming” teacher like me or a quick start out of the gate, make sure you are conscientious to the idea that within your walls are flowers that will take quite a while to bloom… And, that’s okay. In a world “Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and boy is it ever! …It’s our job, as educators, to power or fuel the patience everyone (parents, administrators, employers, etc.) will need to practice in order to see these blooms to their marvelous opening.
What are you doing to empower potential “Late Bloomers” in your classroom?
Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I have a pirate theme in my classroom. Why? Don’t I know what “pirate” means; What it stands for? I do. I also know that the commercial world adores them, their mark is everywhere, and everyone wants to be one!
I recently had lunch with Dave Burgess of “Teach Like a Pirate” (2012) fame. When I asked him why he had chosen the pirate theme, his answer surprisingly mirrored my own. He said that in the beginning of his career of speaking engagements he was sharing his expertise on teaching in a way students will remember content, and he felt like he needed something to tie his points together.
[Burgess, Dave. (2012) Teach like a pirate :increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator San Diego, Calif. : Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.,]
Burgess’s (2012) book describes several key characteristics that a successful teacher will want to develop in order to make him- or herself an awesome educator. He unites the ideas with a mnemonic device: an acronym of PIRATE. The very first letter stands for passion. Well, is there anything more passionate than a pirate?
The first grade that I taught was second. The kids were 6 and 7 years old. I wanted something cohesive to make every student feel like part of a team. More than anything, the pirate theme just happened. I liked the idea of the class being a crew, rather than a team. We weren’t going to compete against anyone else. Instead, we would embark on numerous adventures. There wasn’t any winning or losing; Just loving learning, and that is my main goal.
While teaching is my job, I have a secondary wish of helping society evolve to a more courteous state. This aim, combined with a love of alliteration, caused me to add the word polite to our piraty theme, to form the “Polite Pirates”. I began writing stories involving characters from an imaginary crew of previous polite pirates (I told you I like alliteration;). These taught academic standards, as well as mannerly themes. The students enjoyed hearing and reading stories about what came to seem like their classroom mascots.
The Polite Pirates are ten years old this year. I have yet to publish even one of their stories. Paradoxically, I share and even beg others to use this Polite Pirate theme. I am the pirate who gives, rather than robs. Last year I even thought of beginning a teaching hashtag of #PleasePirate to encourage others to use things that are shared freely on Twitter. Anyone who knows anything about teaching and teachers knows that we are all pirates! We find, borrow, reproduce, change, and share anything and everything we think could help our students learn better. The idea of good global or online citizenry looms above us, but in the end, we would steal to feed the curiosity and encourage inquiry in our students.
It was this irony of pirates providing provisions for others that birthed their leader, Captain Iron Knee. He knows that it is only through giving that one’s hand can open to receive what he truly needs.
The idea of piracy may hold a horrible history, but letting go of the chains of literalism allows me to use its hugely commercial popularity to connect the experience of a super fun year in school to a life-long-love of learning. That is my overarching goal.
And, with that I will leave you to stew. Perhaps you already have a theme. How do you use it? Is it just a way to decorate your room, or does it infiltrate your teaching? I encourage you to weave your theme throughout your pedagogy. Pirate ignorance. Provide knowledge. Prepare skills. And, dare I say preach politeness? #PleasePirate and share your thoughts.