Tag Archives: Classroom Management

Fake Ninja Fights Make Life Better

26 Jan

I haven’t written in months. I got busy. I got wimpy. I just stopped. 

Part of the pause in writing was motivated by an all school assembly that discouraged staff from blogging about anything school related. I don’t think that conversation was directed at me or my blog, but I subconsciously took it in and the next thing I knew months had passed without writing.

So much has happened between then and now, which is another reason I think I got stuck. I felt like I was supposed to catch up, and the problem with thinking that way is that it made coming back to the blog too daunting and overwhelming of a task. So I kept putting it off.  I knew I just needed to write. Anything. But I was stuck.

Then, something finally happened to get me to sit down and write again. It’s nothing amazing. Sharing it won’t close any opportunity gaps or raise any AYPs, but it may someday prevent another teacher from a bad day battling the classroom blues, and so it seems as perfect a reason as any to get out of my writing funk. So here goes…

The boys robotics team showed up to the last meeting of the season and right away two of the remaining five team members announced that they would not be able to come to the event on Saturday. (This is the event that they have known about since September. The one that their parents signed forms for agreeing to make sure their children would attend. The one that for which we have literally been preparing for about for 5 months.) On top of that news, a few of the boys showed up in complete “baggage-heavy” mode with sad faces and slumped shoulders totally unable to “leave it at the door”. It was just one of those teacher moments when you are tired and defeated and you feel like no matter what you do it will never be enough. You know? It was too much for me and too much for them. We all just looked at each other… deflated.

I then wasted a good five minutes on“blah blah blah responsibility blah teamwork blah” which I’m sure sounded alot like “Wahwahwahwahwahwahwah” and as I was talking I was reading the pained expressions on their faces and imagining their inner voices screaming “I wish she’d shut up.” “She doesn’t get it” “La la la… I’m not listening…I’m not listening”…

And  then I remembered. “Wait. I know better. I’m just letting fatigue get to me. I know that lectures about teamwork and impassioned discussions with students about responsibility in the hallway won’t really help them get any work done. Talks won’t make the kids suddenly able to come to the event or magically induce a focused work trance. They won’t make the problems that low-income school students bring in the classroom suddenly disappear. They just makes everyone unhappy and tired in the moment and who can work where unhappiness abounds, and don’t frustration and unhappiness work perfectly as another excuse not to get any work done?

And so, in a moment of desperate inspiration, I called the boys into a circle at the front of the room and I challenged them to…

A fake ninja fight. 

Yep. That’s what I did. The rules were simple. No touching anyone. You just had to amaze the team with a devastating ninja move which would ideally be accompanied by some kind of brain-breaking noise that would fill the rest of us with terror and perhaps make us kneel in awe to the mighty-ness of your ninja power.

I thought for sure this plan would backfire, the problems and frustration were too big for a silly fake ninja fight. The students’ resolve to communicate their sorrow and frustration on this particular day would surely win this round… but then, one of them stepped forward and tore into our souls with some mighty ninja fury. AND. Inspired by his courage, I demonstrated my fiercest move… “the tear-the- heart-out-take-a-taste-spit-it-out-on-the-floor-and-squish-it” move. AND SO. The next boy hurled a ninja throwing star directly at me which sent me sailing to the floor clutching the point of entry in my wounded chest. KABLAM. Which was followed by another student’s best slow-motion spin kick with accompanying slow-mo audio “Hiiiiiiiii—-yaaaaaaaaaahhhhh”.

And then we were laughing.

And then we were working. 

I don’t know what inspired this particular course of action in this particular moment of my teaching career. It wasn’t in any lesson plan and I’d never done it before with students. I do sometimes make my husband laugh with my super stylin’ ninja moves when I need to express my frustration at the world, and I did fight my three-year-old “nephew” from Uruguay in a fake ninja fight at my wedding…

But I don’t know why today I decided this was something to do in a classroom in front of human beings that function outside my normal circle of weirdos and family. All I know, if you don’t mind my saying so… is that it was kind of a genius move on my part. It fixed everything, well… at least long enough for the boys to get some work done.

I know. It didn’t solve their larger life problems. It didn’t solve mine either. But it helped us to stop, to breathe, to play, to connect, to reset and blow off some steam and then, to get back to the work we needed to get done.

It felt great to let the boys be boys for a moment and I think they enjoyed and needed the opportunity to do so.

If you have the right classroom environment and the right group of kids (because we all know fake ninja fights might not be the best plan in every classroom), give it a try sometime. You can borrow my secret move if you want. Just remember. The key to making it especially awesome is the part where you taste the heart, right before throwing it to the ground and squishing it.

😉

Using Prezi in the Early Elementary Classroom

8 Mar

Prezi StoryI have fallen in love with using Prezi with the Interactive White Board (IWB) when working with students in early elementary. I thought I’d share a few of my ideas and see if  I could get your help to generate a few more.

In first and second grade, I’ve been using…

1. Prezi for telling stories

Students love to watch the movement of the Prezi and they can’t wait to turn the digital pages by taking turns clicking the next button. Because the text and pictures are so big, it’s the ultimate “big book”. Every student can see every word and every illustration or image on every page.

Prezi stories allow for unique possibilities too. I wrote a story for the kids called “Jerome’s Dirty Floors”. It’s about a mechanical engineer named Jerome who wants to create a robot to clean his floors since he doesn’t have any time. He looks for inspiration in objects all around him. He imagines a robot vacuum that is remote control operated like his son’s toy. He imagines one that runs on tracks like the train on which he commutes. Eventually he observes the bumper cars at a park and decides they are the perfect inspiration for a robot vacuum. The story ends there, but the Prezi continues. The next screen has a few questions to check for comprehension. We discuss and share answers. Then, a question for fun, “Do you think a robot vacuum cleaner could really exist?” Consistently, students mostly vote “no” with their down-turned thumbs. You can imagine the smiles and “oohs” and “ahs” when we hit next on the Prezi and an iRobot Roomba video starts to play.

2. Prezi for watching YouTube videos.

Prezi is a great way to share YouTube videos with young students. Once the video is embedded in the Prezi, there is no side screen chatter, advertising, or user content to distract them. It completely removes the potential for anything inappropriate or unexpected to pop up on the screen.

If I plan on using any videos with the first or second grade I just stick the URL in a private Prezi and Ta-da! I have a clean white screen with a video in the middle. (It’s handy that I can find them to use again easily as well!)

3. Prezi for simple assessments.

A fun way to review a concept or check for comprehension is to create a simple assessment in Prezi. Insert a question, then have the students use thumbs up or down to vote, or do a quick pair-share. Then, let a student push the next arrow to zoom across the screen and check if their responses are correct.

To see if my younger students were starting to understand the function of a motor, I created a quick Prezi called “Does it have a motor?” I embedded five or six YouTube videos featuring quick clips of everyday objects in motion: a drill, a bowling ball, a fan, a kitchen mixer, a bicycle… Underneath each video it said, “Does this ____  have a motor?”

We played each video and observed the object in motion. Then students voted yes or no with thumbs. Then, we clicked the next button to reveal the answer. After the first two videos, the answer screen would also include a follow-up question or two. “What does the motor do on this object? How does using a motor in this object help people?” It was a fun review for the kids and an easy way for me to gauge whether or not the lessons we’d been working on were sticking or not.

I’d love to hear how you are using Prezi with your younger students! Please share in the form of a comment or send me a quick tweet!

Sandwich bag saves the day.

4 Feb

If you plan to launch a LEGO WeDo program with your little ones, here is a tip.

Buy a box of sandwich bags.

Yesterday, we revisited a lesson with the first grade that had not gone well the previous week. This time the lesson was a success. The only difference? A sandwich bag… (ok and a good reflective conversation between two teachers.)

In the lesson, students construct a model using eleven pieces from their LEGO WeDo kits.  The model has a motor turn a wheel that drives a belt that turns a second wheel. In my original lesson plan, students were instructed to open the tub, identify and remove the pieces they saw on the screen, close the tub, and build the model. I knew it would be important for the students to have only the necessary pieces in front of them and I thought having the kids separate them from the remaining pieces before building the model would be a good way of keeping the parts they needed separate from those they didn’t.

But first graders are first graders and my careful planning still backfired. Here’s why…

After some effort, each pair of students found and took out most of the pieces they needed, closed their tubs and started to build their models just as I had instructed. Unfortunately, the minute they experienced frustration or doubt regarding the construction of their model, they assumed they had not “done it right” and opened their tubs to look for the “right pieces” or the “missing pieces”.

This activity that I had intended to last no longer than 10 minutes was suddenly creeping up into the 20 minute zone and with the exception of one pair of students that had followed directions to a tee, every other pair had LEGO pieces all over their towels and were not at all close to completing their model.

Yikes. It was definitely time to reflect. Was this lesson too difficult for our first graders?

After class, I spoke with my co-teacher about what had happened during the lesson and asked how he suggested we revise the lesson. He suggested we guide the next group of students through the tutorial, step-by-step, identifying each piece and assembling the models together as a class.

I respect my co-teacher and his ideas and this for me was not an acceptable solution.

One of our main goals in implementing a robotics program at such a young age is to immediately immerse our students in an environment where they can solve problems by working together and develop an understanding that there are many ways to solve the same problem.

Sure, if our goal is to have a room full of kids build a bunch of  little models that work correctly, then a step-by-step lesson would work well. But making them follow step-by-step directions, would completely defeat the purpose of the program. I already know I can get a room full of seven-year-olds to do what I tell them. The question is can I not tell them what to do, and instead facilitate their learning process when they are given challenging tasks to accomplish as a team?

I shared these concerns with my co-teacher and he was receptive and willing to continue exploring how we might improve the lesson a different way.

We decided to review what did work in the lesson. The students clearly demonstrated that they could navigate the software, find tutorials, open materials windows, correctly identify and select most of the pieces on a materials list, and use an on-screen arrows to rotate model diagrams.

We reviewed what was difficult for students during the lesson. There was no evidence that students knew where to start building the diagram or how to use different views of the diagram to get clues. They were also having trouble sharing the workload, managing the materials, and being confident that they had selected the correct pieces.

When I sat down to revise the lesson I realized I was trying to do too much, too quickly with our first grade students.

Originally, I thought it was important for the students to identify the pieces  from the kit on their own. I believed it would be beneficial in helping them to develop stronger spatial skills. But I realized that identifying and selecting the pieces from a diagram should initially be an activity in itself. If  what I want them to learn is how to quickly identify specific pieces from the larger pile,  I can create an activity that focuses on identifying parts quickly, maybe some type of “LEGO Part Bingo”.

Asking them to both select the pieces (which demands spatial skills) and also construct the model from a diagram (which demands spatial skills) was spatial skill overload. If Vygotsky were around he might suggest that the original lesson plan left the kids just outside of the Zone of Proximal Development for most of them.

I decided to not worry about selecting the pieces for this lesson and instead placed the emphasis on 1. using a diagram to look for construction clues and 2. having a plan before being to build.

Today, before the lesson I headed down to the lab and pulled the 11 pieces from each kit and placed them in a sandwich bag. Then I put the baggies of parts back in their kits.

That little sandwich bag made all the difference. Today, doing the exact same lesson, in under 10 minutes, every student pair had successfully built the model with minimal support from an adult.

By removing the process of identifying pieces, students were able to focus on the more immediate goal of the lesson: examining the diagram for clues and using a plan to construct. (We’re still tackling the “sharing the workload” dilemma.)

Final thoughts…

I can be hard on myself and by the end of the lesson yesterday I had already moved on to reflecting on how I might improve other parts of the lesson for the next group. That’s why it was especially nice to hear my co-teacher say, “Wow. Those sandwich bags really made a difference. I think we should definitely continue to use them as an organizational strategy in future lessons.”

So the sandwich bags not only saved us some time, but also helped me to remember that we can’t do it all the first time around. Great teaching takes practice and time.

This is a pilot program. We’ve never done it before. We don’t know what will happen next. 🙂

Five First Grade Activities for Robotics Instruction!

14 Jan

We had our second robotics lesson down in the first grade today, and before too much time passes I want to share a few activities from weeks one and two.  Any of these activities could be easily modified to be more age appropriate or to be used for different subject matter.

Activity 1: “Computer Says”

To help first graders make the connection that robots must receive commands in order to operate, I borrowed an idea from members of the Robotics Outreach at Lincoln Laboratory (ROLL) who had visited a first grade classroom to introduce students to the concepts of programming and robotics. (Read about their visit!)

The activity is simple… replace “Simon Says” with “Computer Says”.

Say, “I am the computer. You are the robots. Robots can only move if they receive a command from the computer. If you move without a command, I will have to power you down.” I used it both weeks for one or two minutes. The kids love it and the idea that a command must be sent to a robot has stuck! I’m a bit of a goofball, so I like to give my commands in a robot voice.

Activity 2: Robot K-W-L in Voicethread

I love Voicethread and I love K-W-L charts, and they work beautifully together. To keep track of our learning during the unit I set up a new Voicethread account and created an identity for each of the first grade students using the image of a cartoon or comic robot for their avatars. These avatars were also printed under their name on each of their name tags.

The layout of the Voicethread is super basic. It has three slides in total. Each one features an image of a robot. Slide 1 is titled “What do we know about robots?”, Slide 2 is titled, “What do we want to learn about robots?” and Slide 3 is titled, “What have we learned about robots?”

When a child has something to add, they come up and find their robot identity, they share their idea and I take dictation and type their ideas. Eventually we will move into recording their voices in place of typing comments.

You can visit our Voicethread and see what it looks like after three class periods. On day 1, we did not have Internet access, so I kept track of their ideas on the board and added them later. (I wish I could embed the thread, but WP doesn’t allow it, so you’ll need to click this link to see it.) 1649945

Activity 3: Prezi Story – Jerome’s Dirty Floors

I always look for ways to include literacy in lessons and this week’s lesson provided a great opportunity for a story. I couldn’t find any stories that featured the concepts I wanted to introduce, so I wrote a story to accompany the lesson. I created a Powerpoint of the story, but then I remembered that I had seen Prezi used for storytelling and thought I should give it a try.

It was a fun way to create a flow to the story and it kept the students engaged. I was able to have a student do the page turning by clicking the next arrow, and I could embed a video as well.

Click on the Prezi image below to take the story for a test drive! ( Special thanks to the folks at ProfessionGenie for giving me permission to modify one of their images for my main character, Jerome, the mechanical engineer. )


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