Picture Books that Promote Curiosity, Imagination and General Wondering

In a departure from the usual technology analysis, I will spend today looking at some new picture books that can be resources and browsers in a K-4 classroom to get kids wondering about the world around them.  These picks are from some recent arrivals in the library and are chosen for high interest and engagement.

What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Problem? Both by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom.  Interesting juxtaposition of two great concepts – things you need to wonder about. An idea looks like an egg with a crown.  A problem looks like a big swirly, dark cloud.  Is an idea good? Does a problem present an opportunity?

Ideas Are All Around? by Philip C. Stead. How do you begin to write something? Taking a walk with your dog gives you many experiences. Are they worth writing about? What do you notice? Stop War – now there is a good idea.

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The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.  “Know this: there is magic around but it hides.” “Be open to it.” Hone your powers of observation, around you, above you, near you.  Allow your feet to determine where you may journey and notice all there is to explore.

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City Shapes by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Notice all that is around you and tie it to some of your knowledge.  Recognize shapes in your environment as a beginning understanding of your world. This book would be a great provocation for a grade 1 photography project.  A way for students to study their community through the lens of a camera or an iPad.

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Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Brian Won.  S.A.M. (get it?) has a unique view of the world and all the adventures that are to be had.  Discover a unique perspective on shoe shopping by one imaginative boy.

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Use Your Imagination (but be careful what you wish for!) by Nicola O’Bryne.  A typical fairy tale re-telling becomes a whole new story with a little imagination.  Can you change other stories? What would be a more unexpected twist or turn in the stories you are reading?

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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  True to life, people in a grey neighbourhood re-imagine it with colourful murals and paintings.  The entire neighbourhood joins in and life is forever changed.  Art changes people.  One person can change a neighbourhood or their school or city or country or the world.

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These are a few picks to invigorate your current classroom library and to engage students in a deeper thinking process.  Igniting curiosity is a game changer.

 

Explaining Empathy

In the process that is Design Thinking, students are asked, initially, to empathize with the problem at hand.  Articulate the problem.  Look at it from different angles. Gain new perspective on the problem.

Empathy is not an easy point of view to take on so, while reading the news the other day, I found an example that really stands out for me.  It so happens that my first cousin is CEO of the Ottawa Hospital and in his position feels that he is responsible to oversee 21st century medical care for those patients and families who are served by the Ottawa Hospital service.  Jack is also married to an amazing cook!  This information will be important soon.  In the Ottawa Citizen article dated July 17, 2016, the managers and CEO of the hospital announced sweeping changes to the food served.  “Interesting,” you may say, “What would prompt these changes?”

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Top level managers including Jack, were given hospital food to live on for a week.  Talk about empathy.  Imagine the distress when you are regulated to eat at 8am, noon and 5pm with no snacks or other treats.  And the food is …less than palatable.  Eggs were referred to by one patient as “a yellow puck of sadness.”  Here, managers experienced exactly what patients see, smell and taste at the hospital.  Now that’s empathy.

No amount of statistical analysis of product vs. waste or photos of suggested meals would have had the same effect that this 5-day experiment had on the outcome.

In many design thinking challenges, students must put themselves in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem to really empathize with the situation at hand.  Tasks that are authentic problems encountered by students are the best fodder for each step in the design thinking process. Students who are close to the problem and can “get in touch” with the experience will have a deeper learning outcome in each phase of the design thinking process.

 

 

Pokemon Go and Students

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Gotta catch ’em all! This blog post is purely an opinion piece because I feel compelled to weigh in on the number of Pokemon Go education related articles that populated my inbox this morning.  And I’m sure some of you will agree with me and some of you will not but that is the risk in having opinions on pop culture.

I, vicariously, experienced all the excitement of Pokemon Go through my son, one of the first generation Pokemon card owners when it was first introduced in North America.  This makes his access to Pokemon Go very interesting.  He owns and pays for his own Smart Phone and I no longer need to know his whereabouts and he is at the age when he can decide to stay out all night to chase Pokemon is he so chooses.  In fact, he lives several miles away in another quadrant of the city.  That makes a huge difference to my opinion.  I can enjoy seeing him search and show me where Pokemon are but I no longer have to accompany him on the journey from gym to gym.

Having said that, he did 14 levels and 18,000 steps in 24 hours during which he also held down a full time job for 8 of those hours.

Please do not make Pokemon Go into an “educational tool!” It doesn’t need to be.  Use other things to create great experiences in school like Geocaching or Nature Walk Journals but leave Pokemon Go for kids in the summer when they are off and can do (sometimes) what they want to do.  Not every app or tech innovation needs to be an educational tool.  Some need to be left to pop culture.

Now there is a public library in the States, dropping lures so that people chasing Pokemon will also enter their library and, perhaps, browse or become patrons but that is another story.

There were also Pokemon at church this weekend.  In fact the church was a Pokemon gym.

So, teachers, leave it alone.  While you are planning to work with it during the school year it is busy whooshing past you giving way to the next cool app.  Leave it for kids to enjoy and those who loved Pokemon the first time around.

As one 20-something mentioned in a news interview, “All of us 10 year old boys were thinking: if this game could be real life…”  I agree, we are all having fun with it so, teachers, don’t touch.

Practicing Design Thinking

Masters and PhD education students are on campus for the next week.  Today they are celebrating the completion of their first week of classes.  In addition to these compact classes, the library tries to offer some PD for them.  This year’s PD is in the form of a three-lunch- hour workshop entitled Think.Design.Make.  Based on the Design Thinking Process and hoping to (in a hurried way) help educators work through an authentic process.

Day 1 – Empathize. Define. Cluster Ideas. Begin to ideate.  Okay that is in one hour with introductions.  Yikes.  As is all workshops, time is a friend and an enemy.  Here’s what we found.

  • Bringing your own problem to solve it much better than working from one chosen from the hat.
  • Empathy is really hard work and it can take more than an hour to empathize with your problem.
  • Working in a group to collaborate and share ideas allows the process to move more quickly and tasks to be done more thoroughly.
  • Sometimes Design Thinking is not a linear process.  Empathy. Define. Clustering of Ideas. And Ideating sometimes happen in a different order or all at one time.

 

Day 2 – We began with the IDEO news story showing the group going through the Design Thinking process to re-invent the shopping cart.

  • We should have shown this on the first day – many people could see the process happening and could relate to the steps.
  • For those who were unfamiliar with the process the video showed the actions associated with the particular vocabulary used in design thinking.

Then participants were asked to re-think their problem and use the information they now knew to change or continue to work on their problem.  Unfortunately, this is where the hard work begins so we had one student who tenaciously pursued his problem but others bailed.

Fortunately, we had a special guest who brought a 3D printer.  Many people talked with him about the benefits of having one at their own school so the time was not wasted.

Workshops are tricky things.  Time, in this case, was our enemy.  We needed to meet people where they were in the process and invest some time with them.  Participants were in the middle of an 8 hour class and this 50 or so minutes was, in essence, their only time “off” during the day.

On the positive side, many of the people who attended tried various kits and were mostly attentive to the process.  Many will take away more of a lesson on Making and Maker Spaces.  That’s okay. It is also time well spent.

Day 3 – ????? Remains to be seen.  Catch up next week with what happens.  I think it will be a big conversation about designing and making in various different school settings but then again, I could be wrong.  My workshop spidey sense is not working at all.

P.S. Later on Day 2, I was invited to a very successful presentation about Maker Spaces by 4 Doctor of Education students.  Their presentation, “Building Knowledge: Maker Spaces” made my heart sing.  These professionals are invested in having educational spaces and content that speaks to every student.  Great job.

Classroom Blogs

Creating a classroom blog is a great way to include students in feedback writing and response journaling.

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You can begin by following other blogs to show examples of content that is of interest to students.  Perhaps get them to share or investigate bloggers that would be of interest to them.  Perhaps model your own blog that shares classroom content and receives comments on various topics that come up in class.

Educblogs and kidblogs websites both allow for educational blogs with a dedicated audience.

Is a blog just a blog?  A blog is not just a blog in the classroom.  It is a forum to voice differing opinions and to model responsible digital citizenship in a curated environment.  It is tempting to say that it provides an arena to learn to fight fair.  Not only to voice your opinion but to authentically listen and respond to others’ viewpoints.  Feedback from the blog will allow for classroom discussion for students in a relatively safe space.  Try not to correct spelling and grammar but look for interesting content to spark discussions.  Allow groups to contribute blog posts during their discussion of various topics.  Although many topics can be open for discussion, one of the most important lessons you are teaching is about the power of words.

Blogging is a tool to teach so much more than using this social media vehicle.  Blogging is literacy, digital literacy, responsible digital citizenship and debate club all in one.

Over the summer or before the beginning of school, start following a few blogs and get a taste for the content.  Notice what works and the presentation of the content.  Show these examples to your students or use what you are seeing to develop a blog for your classroom.

Ms. Cassidy’s Blog and Learning is Messy are two great examples or, dare I say it, google the top blogs in your interest area and see what you find.

 

App of the Week – Lightbot Jr.

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Name: Lightbot Jr.

Price: $3.99

Size: 51.8 MB

Version: 1.6.7

Age: 6-8

Although I am not in the age group suggested for this coding app, I must admit I did enjoy it.  I am also not a gamer but a technology user for education, work and social purposes.  I never thought I really needed to know how to code and I’m not sure Lightbot Jr. will get me coding in any real sense but it does have value.

It is a very highly recommended app for introducing early grade levels to the logic of coding.  It took me a little more than an hour to work through the first of 5 levels of lighting up various squares with increasing complexity and I will admit that my only coding experience is with Daisy the Dinosaur. Lightbot Jr. seemed to be easier. Not as much reading was necessary and trial and error was the name of the game.

In a classroom, this app would be a great addition for all students but I can see it especially attracting the student who is very logical and can whip through each stage successfully.  The kind of student (more like me) that is not all about linear thinking and logic would also enjoy this game. There are no wrong answers just chances to try again.  And the logic of coding is built into the fun.

Download and try it on your own and share it with your class.  Make it a Friday afternoon option for some of your students to work in groups.  It would be a fun activity and it will build the capacity for the logical thinking so critical in coding.

Also included in a more expensive app package is Lightbot.  I’ll let you know how I do…

 

Making in High School

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Yesterday, I attended a webinar hosted by Michele Luhtala, Head Librarian at New Canaan High School, Connecticut.  The webinar chronicled the first year of her maker space in the high school in which she works.  The many ways she used to introduce materials and kits into the space was interesting and how she used the space over time may just give you the encouragement to start one in your own classroom or to plan maker activities for your practicum.

A few of the highlights for me include the use of freezer paper on the tables to act as part doodle pad, part idea planner.  Introducing a few activities at a time seemed to work well for her instead of making it a materials free for all. Having students as “Texperts” worked well in that, although Ms. Luhtala could troubleshoot with most of the making, each student texpert leads the way with special technologies.  What a great leadership model for many students.

Also, keep in mind, this is a maker space on a very frugal budget.  Instead of spending on the furniture and decorating, the simple act of emptying out the space opened up many possibilities for making.  Notice the evolution of desk placement for her during the year.  This one migration of her personal space speaks volumes about her commitment and passion for the students and their independent and collaborative work.

This one maker space example shows the investment of staff and students in this one unique space in a school can change the whole tone within the school.  This is a space that accepts students unconditionally where they are at (notice the blogger who talks about scouts against the unchanging green screen) and where students exceed expectations while finding knowledge.

I think this kind of learning could do called “doing knowledge” as students experience and “play” with materials to create and invent unique prototypes.  There is not enough of this type of unstructured, constructionist learning  in most schools.  Introducing space and time with materials can encourage great learning.

Michele Luhtala’s blog can also offer insight into her success and learning about this first year of making.

Money, Money, Money…

Investing in your maker space is a great first step in having a forum for students to nurture their curiosity and inventing skills.  Every maker program has a budget.  Some are more than others but all types of budgets can be used to supply an interactive, hands-on space.

The worst question I get is, “The principal gave me $1500 and I need to set up a maker space.  What should I spend it on?  I have 48 hours!”  I actually had that question last weekend.  Speed spending on a new program in a school, no matter how much money or how much space is a really bad idea.  It leads to tools and supplies that lie dormant for long periods of time in storage areas that are rarely visited while other items of interest languish on a waiting list until another amount of money is available.

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Having a budget and planning to purchase for your maker space takes some time, collaboration and sober second thought.  Ask teachers what projects they are interested in doing and what curriculum connections they are focused on.  This information may help in planning for circuits rather than low tech planet balls.

Planning for design outcomes or prototypes means that teachers should look ahead at possible materials necessary to make inventions inspired by the lesson connections.  Not all eventualities can be accounted for but many materials can be considered basics.

Save some of the money for “consumables.”  Things like batteries, copper wire and low tech making supplies get used up.  Since, generally, the current maker space plans are usually included in the Learning Commons or Library space, it may take a couple of conversations to ensure that consumables are budgeted for.

Technology is not forever.  Even when you purchase kits like littleBits or Hummingbird Robotics  kits, they are useful but also contain consumables and components that break. And, keep in mind, that educational technology kits are a growth industry and new kits are being produced every day.  Even the most thorough researcher may buy a kit that is a clunker.  I know. I’ve done it.  Robotics kits are a fine science. Matching the building skills to make the robot with the coding skills to make the robot work is a beautiful symphony when it is in tune and an expensive mistake when it is a mismatch.

Start small. Make a plan. Save a little aside for consumables. Add what you need.  Collaborate with other teachers and staff.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

App of the Week – First Nations Language

Before I review two apps this week, I have to admit that language is essential to my existence.  I love to read and, coworkers would concur, I love to talk.  Language and communication is my currency.  When I hear that grandparents in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities are struggling to pass their language and traditions to younger generations, I have great empathy for them.  The traditions and especially language is unique and crucial to identity.  Passing on language and oral traditions surrounds youth with a foundation on which they can build their lives.  They know from where they came and can plan better where they are going.

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First Voices

Cost: Free

Released: June 18, 2012

Social Media and Social Networking

Size: 2.4 MB

Seller: First People’s Heritage Language and Culture Challenge

This app is a very simple but great idea for many dialects from First Nations language.  Individual communities within various regions are searchable.  Once you find the language you are looking for, you are provided with a provisional keyboard to communicate on social media sites using the language.  Combining the appeal of social media with the traditional language is a brilliant marriage for young and old.  Since putting out the initial list of translation keyboards more have been added.  Check the First Voices website for additional options.

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Ninastako Cultural Centre

Cost: $6.99

Version: 1.3

Size: 53.5MB

Released: March 10, 2016

Seller: Gloria Wells

On a more local level, the Ninastako Cultural Centre app allows non-speakers to learn some conversational Blackfoot.  After learning a few greetings or other categories of the Blackfoot language and users are up for a challenge they can access a few games to practice their new language.  A listing of Blackfoot surnames is another category of interest.

The Calendar entry from the main menu also allows students and members of the Blackfoot community in Southern Alberta to access information about upcoming events and classes.

In both cases, these apps speak to learning and continuing to use First Nations’ languages.  These languages are essential to these communities and bringing them to social media, smartphones and tablets may be the best way to connect with younger learners.

Give them a try or introduce them to First Nations’ students in your classroom.

 

The Maker Movement – Not only kits…

What if I told you the Maker Movement in classrooms is not just about the ingenious kits that you can purchase to introduce to students?  It is not only about the unique prototyping and creativity that comes from students.

What if I told you the making is about great citizenship?  What?  Not about the kits?  “Surely you jest!”  In a K-12 classroom there are learning opportunities that change from day to day (or in some classrooms stay the same from day to day) but in a maker class set up to appeal to K-12 students something else happens.

In an elementary maker classroom, students are gaining foundation skills other than how to complete a circuit or video and edit an iMovie.  Students are learning to co-operate, collaborate, take turns and negotiate with fellow classmates and other mentors in the room.  They are learning, sometimes most importantly, to listen carefully to someone else in order to solve a problem. They are learning to effectively communicate their own ideas to their peers and facilitators.  Some are learning to slow down and enjoy the process and others are learning how to observe, learn and apply their learning to new situations.

In middle school, challenges are beginning to show leaders in various fields and peer groups are, sometimes, the most important people in a student’s life.  In a maker classroom, we see new experts coming forth, peers learning to respect others and unusual groupings getting together to solve challenges.  Engagement in a middle school classroom looks like elementary in the noisy, active way but with more technology based solutions coming forth.

In high school, more sophisticated ideas are emerging in classroom maker spaces.  Students are using and learning foundation skills to solve authentic problems that they have invested time and energy in.  Engagement and investment from students comes from their brainstorming of solutions that address current problems they are aware of in the world at large.  Groups are formed with the solution in mind and students are focused on collaborating with a group that can further their goals.

Gaining these skills throughout each student’s experience in the K-12 classroom prepares them for life after their formal education.  Workplaces and post-secondary institutions value these “soft skills” that are acquired in classrooms that are innovative, student-centred and contain “making” as a focus of curriculum learning.

Start including hands-on making with the available materials in your classroom and see the evolution of a more caring, respectful classroom.

Also, one more practical tip, check out this link to an interview of Gary Stager of Invent to Learn given by the ATA.  He discusses all the most practical reasons why a Maker Space in your classroom makes sense.