The Awesomeness of Vi Hart

I love Vi Hart.  There is something about her crazy videos that I just adore.  I almost feel like I hold my breath when I watch her work in case the sound of my breathing causes me to miss out on something she has to say! Today I learned that she doesn’t care if I like her or not – she is still going to make her videos the way she wants to make her videos. Which kind of makes me love her even more.

Her latest creation is on how to deal with negative comments in a digital world – although a lot of what she says could easily apply to the real world too. I love that she says that “I didn’t make this for your approval”. She creates because she loves it – mirroring the other person in my hall of fame, Neil Gaiman, with his charge to “make good art”.

As a teacher, I often let the comments of a few drown out my own inner voice and then my art becomes less “good” and more “doubted”, “mediocre”, or just plain watered down.  I am a good teacher – I honestly don’t think I would still be doing this job 16 years if I didn’t truly love it.  And yet, unlike Vi Hart, I am sometimes scared, I do seek approval, and I dither over comments people make like nobodies business.  I think this is where the drop-off in my blogging comes into play. In addition to life throwing me a lot to deal with, I also began wondering if I had any good art left to share – or even any art worth sharing.

Today we had Kathy LeMay come to our school. This woman is fearless. As I sat in my classroom listening to her answer the questions my kids had for her on pursuing passion, I realized that we are always going to have nay-sayers in our world.  People who will tell us it won’t work, can’t happen, isn’t right.  We can choose to listen to those people and put our art in a deep, dark cupboard. Or, we can choose to move around these people and continue to do our thing.

It isn’t going to be easy.  But I can almost certainly guarantee it will be worth it.

What are you waiting for? 

 

Getting Deeper

One of the things I keep pressing my kids to do, is to go deeper in their thinking and in their responses to questions.  Rewardingly, my persistence appears to be paying off as I am increasingly getting work of an incredibly high caliber from many of my students.

As we prepare for the Exhibition, I am wanting to drill this home even more. Which led me to digging around and finding a couple of resources to help me out:

Blooms Taxonomy Question Stems

These look great to me. Just by looking at them from Remember to Create you can see the level of thought required to “list four….” and “compose a…”. I am learning that making this information explicit to kids isn’t going to ensure success (you can lead a horse to water…). I am also learning that just because they all aren’t going to buy in, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t share in the first place.

Source: helloliteracy.blogspot.com via Sonya on Pinterest

Being An Explorer Of The World

This is another piece of awesome that I will be sharing with my class before we head out on our Passion Tour next week to kick off our Exhibition.  The tour consists of us visiting with six passionate people in our home town: a vet, the CEO of the YMCA, a doctor, an athlete mechanic, a financier, and a restaurant head. We have an agenda but there also the importance of an unwritten agenda – or at least, an unassigned agenda. In addition to their notes I also want to make sure they remember to be an explorer of their world:

EVERYBODY!

“Going Deeper” is sometimes hard work!  Everybody needs a little reset switch pushed once in a while. This is a 60 second brain break for you and your students. I used to have a ‘reading gong’ in my class that kids would take turns (one kid per day) ringing to signify 10 minutes of reading.  During Exhibition, I can see the need for the odd ‘brain break’ and this could be a fun addition to the program:

 

What do you do to “go deeper”?

How do you provide opportunities for your kids to take a break?

Make a Dent

I subscribe to the GapingVoid mailer (highly recommend).  It is a short and sweet cartoon delivered to my inbox on a somewhat regular basis.  Tonight’s message is the short and simple, Steve Jobs inspired cartoon:

Source: gapingvoidart.com via Sonya on Pinterest

As Hugh says:

I don’t want to know why your brand is good, or very good, or even great. I want to know why your brand is totally frickin’ amazing.

 

Replace ‘your brand is’ with ‘you are’ and this is something we should be asking our kids every day:

“I don’t want to know why you are good, or very good, or even great.  I want to know why you are totally frickin’ amazing!”

Why not make a dent in the universe daily?

 

A Joint Effort

 

One thing we learned last year during the Exhibition is that it really does help for the parents to be ‘in the know’ and supportive of their child.  It also helps when those unwritten expectations of fifth grade  (being timely, organzied, thoughful, perserverant) are made explicit to students and parents so that we are all on the same page.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working on the following prep sheets with my class and their families.

Click on each image to enlarge.  Click to download a PDF copy. 

We will do the student portion at school and the sheet will go home to be shared with families and for parents to offer their input.  My main goal?  To create conversation. To get students and parents and their teachers talking and sharing and supporting one another.

We say it is a team effort – now let’s work like we really mean it.

Voki – Giving Students a Voice

In our previous unit under the theme How We Express Ourselves my students were asked to create a Voki avatar to persuade people to send their kids kids to our school – essentially answering the question “Why Riverstone?” from their perspective.  We had used Voki in the past, and I wanted to revisit it in a more formal (rather than optional) way to really see if this was something worthwhile to do.

My class has Voki Classroom accounts.  This is different to the regular, free version of Voki.  What it does differently, is that it allows you access to your kids work prior to publishing.  As the teacher, you set the assignment and send this to each child’s account.  They log in (with usernames and passwords that you have access to) and click on the appropriate task, read the instructions and carry out the assignment. When they are finished, they submit it to you for review.  You can ‘approve’ it or send it back to them to work on it some more.

Here are what I consider the key strengths of Voki:

  • you get an oral presentation without the pressure of performing live in front of an audience. Yes, I know performing live is valuable, but so is hearing people applaud your clear, confident, expressive speech that normally may have been muffled and quiet and spoken into your armpit. 
  • some kids will knock your socks off! I was crazy impressed with the majority of the Voki’s that were produced for this assignment and some kids really stood out from the rest – and not necessarily the kids you would expect either.  I love that.
  • it is really intuitive.  We had used it before but even then, all it took was one class lesson on the Smartboard and they were off.  There were a few glitches along the way but that was my doing – not Voki’s or my kids!

Which leads me to my recommendations:

  • make sure you set the assignment up first!  I know, this seems simple, but in all the organizing, actually sending out the last assignment to their accounts was missed off my to-do list.  Major bummer.
  • keep a printed list of usernames and passwords – they are easy to remember but we use a lot of sites and so having them handy is a must so those who forget can quickly access them
  • start with some fun, non-assessed assignments – let them play with Voki!  I started with a book review from a character’s perspective and each child introducing themselves.

Prior to beginning the assignment, I shared the following with my class.  Click on the image to enlarge.  Click to download a PDF version.

Voki Rubric Voki Assignment Planner

After you have approved their work, it is very easy to embed the finished Voki in your blog.  I have found in the past that there are many embedding codes that don’t work with WordPress (the blogging platform we use at school) but Voki is not one of them.  At the conclusion of the assignment I was able to easily export the Voki’s to our class website to share with the students and their families.  Here are a couple of examples of our Voki’s:

 

When they were uploaded, each student was tasked with drawing five names from a hat, finding that Voki online, and reviewing their work using the following form.  The grid of persuasive strategies is from the awesome website, ReadWriteThink.

Voki Review

In addition to this personalized, specific feedback, we watched all the Voki’s as a class and rated them ‘live’ using the online student response tool: Socrative.If you have not used Socrative before, please check it out!  It is really cool – and as the byline says, “as easy as raising your hand”.  Once you set up a teacher account, students log on with any device and plug in your ‘room number’.  You control the pace of the questions or allow them to go at their own pace.  As they answer your questions, their responses show up live on screen.  We watched each Voki together and then rated them on persuasive effectiveness on a scale of 1-5.  Check this video out for further information:

Socrative introduction video (new) from Socrative Inc. on Vimeo.

In Summary:

I would highly recommend the use of Voki in your classroom.  I like the education version, Voki Classroom, mostly because of it’s editing/reviewing options and because your recordings can be up to 90 seconds (as opposed to 60 seconds in the free version).  It is easy to see where each student is at on the project and feedback can be delivered instantly to them from your account to theirs. I love that you can embed the finished Voki’s and the quality of both the avatar and the voice options are excellent.  In addition to the stock backgrounds, you can also upload your own images = the first Voki featured in this post actually has a photo of the front of our school as the background.  This feature allows you to incorporate aspects of visual language into your curriculum by challenging students to come up with the most appropriate look to their Voki that suits their message.

To compare Voki with Voki Classroom – click here.

To download a user guide to getting started with Voki Classroom – click here.

Motivated By Joy

How do you stay motivated when you are tired/sick/busy/exhausted….or any other number of emotions? I know I have a hard time doing so – the proof of that is in the paltry number of posts to my blog in the last six months.

More recently, I have come back to this blog, to Twitter, to my widely spread out network of teachers around the world and have reconnected.  I have resumed “putting it out there” and I have relished in what is out there in order to learn more, do more, share more. It has paid off.  And it has brought me joy.

J is for Joy

According to Seth Godin:

“Joy is different from pleasure or delight or fun.  Joy is the satisfaction of connection, the well-earned emotion you deserve after shipping art that made a difference”

-Seth Godin, V is for Vulnerable

This week I have connected with ‘strangers’ and reconnected with people I have known from years past.  I have learned from people I feel like I know because they work with people I used to work with or are in places I used to work.  I have had ideas challenged and ideas applauded.  I have been complimented and questioned.  And through it all, I have been motivated to do more, share more, think more and create more art. Rather than let ‘life’ – which, let’s face it, is always going to be crazy – get in the way, I want to make sure I use my time in a way that counterbalances the tiredness and exhaustion by replacing that with the joy of sharing, the joy of connecting.

Today I was reminded by a wise friend of some wise words from Neil Gaiman:  “Make good art.” No matter whether you’re told not to, no matter whether it’s appreciated, no matter whether it’s recognized… Make good art.  I intend to follow this advice….you?

Research Hub

Research Hub

 

I recently came across a fantastic website for research skills.  It has everything you would want in one spot.  Almost everything.  As I read through each section of UWCSEA Junior Research Hub, I did consider two things I would add:

EASY BIB

Last week I shared a new site with my class: EasyBib  It is accessible through the students’  Riverstone gMail accounts which allows their work to be synced through Google Docs. In our current project, students have been asked to compare the fictional creature  they are creating with creatures that already exist.  They are to be specific in their comparisons.  This requires them to research information about animal adaptations and use this information in their project.

For example:

They might say: The kangaroo is known as the largest marsupial, measuring over 6 feet tall. My creature mimics the height of the kangaroo and in fact, has been recorded at heights of up to 7 feet tall, thus propelling it to the top of the record books for largest known marsupial. This piece of information about the height of the kangaroo, clearly came from some kind of information source: website, book, journal, magazine or paper.  EasyBib provides a simple to use, online way of keeping a bibliography of all sites sourced.

We were really impressed by the way in which we could:

  • just paste in a web address and it would reference it for you
  • type in the title of a magazine and the name of the article and it would find all the information about the issue number, year and author
  • punch in the ISBN number of a book and all the title, author, illustrator and publisher information would pop up.

Here is what an example of a finished bibliography looks like.

 

READ WRITE THINK – INQUIRY

When gathering information from a collection of sources, I like the idea of this chart from READ-WRITE-THINK:

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 5.43.25 PM

 

From the RWT website:

The Inquiry Chart (I-Chart) strategy is one that allows students to examine a topic through integrating prior knowledge on the topic with additional information found from a variety of sources.  The I-Chart strategy is organized into three steps, each of which consists of activities meant to engage and aid students in evaluating a given topic: 1) Planning, 2) Interacting, and 3) Integrating/Evaluating.

I-Charts can be used with individuals, small groups, or the entire class, and are meant to strengthen reading skills and foster critical thinking.  This strategy can be used to differentiate instruction for each student’s needs, and can also be used as an assessment tool to measure student understanding of a given topic.

 

If the Junior Research Hub is more than perhaps your students need, consider using the simplified Infant Research Hub with it’s three step guide to researching:

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 5.48.15 PM

Speak To Inspire Action

Speak to Inspire Action

One of the key things I think the Exhibition excels at, is conveying a sense of action.  Action is one of the main components in a PYP curriculum, yet often is something that is hard to assess, hard to pin down, and yet something we as teachers REALLY want to happen!  As part of our previous unit How We Express Ourselves we became introduced to Charity:Water.  My kids immediately wanted to help and to them, that meant fundraising.  We had an elaborate plan but it didn’t make it off the ground.  Instead, we ended up trading FUND raising for AWARENESS raising – with great success.

Yesterday, I posted a video that my friend and fellow fifth grade Passion Project teacher, Kristen, had used with her class to discuss the difference between a hobby and a passion and how a passion can lead to action. This is the ultimate goal of the Passion Project – to inspire kids to act through their passion.

In my class, the culmination of the Passion Project is a talk by each child on their journey.  We are really fortunate to have a parent body who are incredibly generous with their time.  One of our parents did a number of workshops over the course of the Exhibition on presentation skills which proved to be enormously helpful to the students.  Today, Simon Sinek – our “Why” guy – posted an eBook: Speak to Inspire Action.  I couldn’t pass it up and downloaded it right away!

Speak to Inspire Action

I would highly recommend downloading this 11 tip book.  Not only does it offer 11 simple, effective tips, it also has considerations for you to ponder, and is written in a way that is accessible to (in my opinion) fifth graders.  The book is really good.  I keep looking for parts to share with you to prove how good it is but I really think you just need to read the whole thing!  If you want a comprehensive ‘how to’ on engaging an audience, this is it.  If you are unfamiliar with Simon and his work, he is the “Start With Why” guy – a model we use to get the kids thinking about their own and others passions. We use Simon’s Golden Circle to help us uncover WHY we do the things we do, the way we do them.  Click on the image to enlarge.  Click here to download a PDF copy.

Golden Circle

This is his company manifesto and something we keep in mind as we begin the Exhibition:

youareallowed

More on Passion!

I was playing around today with the idea of evaluation for the Passion Project.  I am not the biggest fan of rubrics, but I am interested in providing meaningful indicators of success for my students.  To that end, I want to share two items I am thinking of using as evaluative tools:

RUBRIC

I was greatly inspired by the work coming out of my former place of work, NIST (New International School of Thailand, in Bangkok).  There is a blog for Exhibition teachers and through that, I came across a simple post: How Do We Assess the Exhibition?  I really liked the style of the rubric and have used this as a platform for tailoring one to our Passion Project.  It is still a work in progress – I have a couple more weeks before the big kick-off – but I want to put it out there in the hope of making it better.  Click on image for larger view.  Click to download PDF.    Click to access Pages file.

PYPX Rubric

 

REFLECTION

We had the students reflect in a variety of ways last year.  While I like this, I also like giving them some kind of structure to guide their reflection, should they need it.  To that end, I created a student reflection sheet based on the Learner Profile.  Click on images to enlarge – the first is a set of guiding questions for the student to consider during the weekly reflection.  The second provides space for notes.  Click to download a PDF copy.

Reflection - Guiding Questions

 

Reflection - Student Responses

 

Gearing up for Passion!

In a few weeks, we will kick off our fifth grade Exhibition unit: The Passion Project. It was our first year doing this last year and over the summer, I put a lot of work into the Passion Project – it was (and is) my passion. In addition to pulling out the ‘tried and true’ of last year, I have been looking for ways to connect this project with my new class of students.  They are different to my kids last year and I am different to how I was last year and the world as we know it is different to last year – so it only makes sense that the Passion Project be different too.

We are keeping our Passion Tour – a day trip around our city in which we meet people who love what they do and love how what they do, connects them to their community. Here are some other resources that we will be taking a look at:

The Future Project: Playbook

The Playbook

This became known to me this week (yesterday!) and I love it.  The playbook is designed to be used over a couple of months which is perfect for our project.  Every kid will have one and I will encourage them to take one for their family members as well – the more the merrier! What I like about the Playbook is that it is a way to inspire thinking about yourself, your passions, your possibilities.  It looks at things from a different perspective and gives you multiple ways of tapping into what makes you uniquely you.  Download the 60 page Playbook.   Follow The Future Project on Twitter or check out their website for more information.

Inspirational Videos – Inspire My Kids

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is priceless.  If you are looking for really great videos that show awesome kids doing awesome things, you really can’t go past the amazing website, Inspire My Kids.  I can’t say enough about this site.  Over the years I have seen it expand its content and the teaching materials/ideas/question starters that they offer are great. It is inspiring, well organized, current and uplifting.  I was reminded of this website when a friend sent me the following video which I had first seen through Inspire My Kids.  This website is packed with videos like this one that are perfect for showing kids what kids can do.

Short and Powerful

Another great resource is the Zen Habits Short but Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion.  It is great.  Last year, I found it about two weeks after we started and I wished I had found it sooner.  This guide won’t be comprehensive, and it won’t find your passion for you. But it will help you in your journey to find it. It does so by asking 10 questions. Read the full post to have these ten points explained:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What excites you?
  3. What do you read about?
  4. What have you secretly dreamed of?
  5. Learn, Ask, Take Notes.
  6. Experiment, Try.
  7. Narrow things down.
  8. Banish your fears.
  9. Find the time.
  10. How to make a living doing it.

Oflow – App

Oflow is a combination Playbook and Zen Guide – it offers over 120 tips for having more ideas and being more creative. From creating a mind map and drawing in the dark, to re-organizing your thinking and utilizing help from strangers, Oflow has enough creative methods to make sure you’ll be thinking like a creative genius. When you first open the app you’re presented with a random idea – a new random idea every time you open the app. From there you can browse the other creative methods, bookmark your favorites to use again later, email any of the creative methods to yourself or anyone in your address book, and create a note to store ideas or random thoughts. The app is created by Tanner Christensen, a creativity expert, entrepreneur, and author. He currently writes for the  creative inspiration blog, Creative Something, and founded the creative ebook publishing house Aspindle. You can follow him on Twitter @tannerc or learn more about him and his work by visiting TannerChristensen.com

A quick browse of Creative Something, led me to this gem, “What Makes A Genius?”

What Makes a Genius

There is a lot more buzzing inside my head with regard to what is arguably my favorite part of the year.  I will endeavor to keep posting as we move forward! Until then, one final gem:

Rules of a Creator's Life