Sunday, July 23, 2017

5th Graders Take Entrepreneurship To Another Level Through Empathy And Action

ASIDE 2017
We started teaching entrepreneurship as part of the fifth-grade math and history curriculum over five years ago. As part of the program, several entrepreneurs visited as guest speakers to share their ideas about starting a business, creating a brand, and developing a marketing strategy. The success of our entrepreneur curriculum did not go unrecognized. We were thrilled when well-known entrepreneur Leonard C. Green wrote about it in his book, entitled The Entrepreneur’s Playbook.

Source: Amazon
This year, we changed the focus to social entrepreneurship as a way to inspire our students to empathize with an issue in need of attention, whether locally, nationally, or globally. Working closely with our colleague Natasha Chadha (@MsChadha92), we retooled the project to center on identifying and exploring social issues. The main objectives included equipping students to take action for change, to seek meaningful ways to help others, and to develop leadership skills that effect real change.

Source: Social Entrepreneurs
We used a host of materials to educate the students about social entrepreneurship, and we built a website to compile everything in one place. They blogged about their ideas and experiences designed around lessons and activities. In addition to the digital resources, we relied on a wide selection of picture books from the library that emphasize the power of personal initiative to bring about change and, importantly, to give back to others. The stories highlight that even the smallest initiative can bring about change.

ASIDE 2017
The students researched how they could help real people through microfinancing using the social entrepreneur website This eye-opening experience showed them that the simple things we take for granted are not necessarily common around the world. They learned that a small loan of just $25.00 could make a huge difference in the lives of many.

ASIDE 2017

Once these young social entrepreneurs realized that they could make a difference in raising awareness and funds to help actual people, they never looked back. They worked tirelessly to develop presentations for the Social Entrepreneur Expo to explain the plight of others, as well as to seek donations for their causes. They were empowered to be change-makers in every sense of the term. Most of all, they understood that kids can make a difference. They owned it.

ASIDE 2017
Creating opportunities for student agency and empowerment mirrors real-life. The students transferred their understanding of what it meant to be a social entrepreneur inside the classroom to help ease the needs of others outside the classroom. Now that's a true life lesson.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Data Fluency Follow-Up - Beware of Content Manipulation

Source: TED Ed
In light of our recent post, we thought it worth sharing one of the latest TED Ed videos released this summer. It is entitled “How To Stop A Misleading Graph,” by Lea Gaslowitz. We haven’t used this with our students yet, but we plan to this fall. Graphs can aid us in grasping complex data; that does not mean they always tell the correct story. With the so many visible software resources available today, it’s easy to design graphs, charts and tables for all types of media.

This video makes for a perfect mini-lesson to reinforce visual literacy, one of the core skills of graphicacy. Just because a graph looks good doesn’t mean it’s accurate. We want our students to look beyond the sleekness of design and not be swayed by colors, shapes, lines, and curves. Instead, they should question the labels, numbers, scale, and content. In other words, ask what the graph is trying to convey and not take it at face value.

Source: TED Ed
Graphs should represent data, not an opinion. By distorting the scale on either axis, they can be intentionally manipulated. The video provides straightforward examples of “cherry picking” the data points to skew the scale for the purposes of persuasion or bias. As we’ve stated in our previous post, our students are growing up in a data-rich world that increasing relies on the design of information. It’s for this reason that they need to be more discerning about misleading content. Visually literacy is a necessity now more than ever.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Building Data Fluency - Visually And Literally

ASIDE 2017
In this data-rich world, our students face growing amounts of statistical content. That's why we believe  teaching graphicacy is vital to the modern classroom. We develop ways to incorporate visual literacy and visual thinking in some capacity in most assignments and consistently look for ways that students can transfer content from a linear to visual format. This process enables them to connect more deeply with the material. The graphs in this post represent statistics on immigration that our students used to build graphs for a project-based learning unit on immigration.

ASIDE 2017
Each student studied a particular immigrant group for the project. For the graph assignment, they gathered the data for their group’s country of origin, as well as immigration data for two other countries. They recorded the information in a table format for five consecutive decades. While the organization of the data gave them a quick overview, the disparity in size of immigration over the course of 50 years was not immediately evident.

ASIDE 2017
Giving the students the opportunity to literally construct the graphs allowed them to experience visual data firsthand. Using the decades along the horizontal axis was easy; however, the vertical axis required a bit more intellectual work to determine the coordinates for plotting the data. Some had to revise their decisions several times by reexamining the numbers to adjust the coordinate values.

ASIDE 2017
The process of using statistics to construct meaning regarding immigration to the United States as visual data reinforced their understanding from both a historical and mathematical perspective. The students could visually see the highs and lows by group over time in addition to the places where immigration intersected or overlapped.

ASIDE 2017

Using statistics is an effective tool for learning. Since we know that our students will encounter numbers on a daily basis, the more we can do to build in data analysis, the better they will be able to make choices based on evidence and authenticity. Visual data is used in everything from household products to political campaigns. Without the proper skills, learners, like any other consumer, can be misled. Interpreting the pictorial representation of information is an essential skill of graphicacy; all students must master this proficiency.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Social Studies, Advertising, And Persuasion: Student Travel Magazines Sell Tourism

ASIDE 2017
Over ten years ago, we heard a presentation entitled “Ban the Bird Units” by librarian and educator David V. Loertscher. Essentially, it encouraged teachers and students to get away from the mundane use of facts as reporting mechanisms. This especially holds true today in the age of Google. At the time, Loertscher used the typical biographical research report as an example of a “bird unit” in which students responded to a series of questions that followed a timeline.

The state project is another example of the typical “bird unit” in which students have to find the state motto, bird, flower, etc. Ugh! Our question is who cares? Sure, it’s good to know your state particulars, but all that can easily be found on

ASIDE 2017
For us, it's the “so what” or remix of research to deliver content that demonstrates a higher-order thinking process with other skills that go beyond mere facts. The state magazine covers in this post required research, creative writing, and media literacy to do just that.

The students were challenged to develop clever ways to entice readers to visit their states, including titles that used alliteration for the magazine masthead and catchy sales lines just below the masthead with one of the state’s main marketing points.

They looked at the design and layout of real travel magazines. We discussed the different techniques that advertisers used to attract attention, and we critiqued covers based on design, color, and layout to see which ones were most effective in creating visual appeal. The students also observed the conventions for writing the story taglines as ways to hint at the content inside.

ASIDE 2017
The kids had a ball bringing their states to life, and they willingly helped each other out to create clever promotional ideas. The process seamlessly integrated social studies content with media literacy skills. Their finished designs became the focal points to attract visitors to their booths at the school's annual State Fair.

As for the birds, they left the nest!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sketchnotes: Pushing Linear To Visual

ASIDE 2017
It’s been a hectic spring, and as we approach the end of school in fewer than 8 days, we are busier than ever. Of late, we’ve had a tendency to overthink what to post, instead of just sharing the many good things that we do with our students to promote making thinking visual. To that end, we thought we’d share in this post some of the sketchnotes that our students completed this year.

ASIDE 2017

One of the things we try to do is steer clear of just filling in worksheets and graphic organizers; instead, we want our learners to design their own organizational structures of information. We did this with our digital citizenship pledge this year. The students visually designed their own pledges. This approach let them focus on the content and create a graphic display of what it means to be a good digital citizen.

ASIDE 2017
Since our students routinely use sketchnotes in a variety of subjects and on multiple grade levels, many of them include visual annotations, or doodles if you will, on their own as reference points. We see it in their notes and sometimes in the margins on an assessment.

A few other unique examples we wanted to share were completed in a lesson about the different types of primary sources. Ask any student about where they can find primary source information, and most will say books and the Internet.

ASIDE 2017
This sketchnote activity opens their eyes to the vast array of places to locate primary documentation and firsthand accounts of information. The examples in this post represent some of the unique ways our learners visually organize how they think about content.

Sketchnotes are used to give context to content, and this design process helps with comprehension and retention of material. It’s one more tool for helping students to make thinking visible.

ASIDE 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Making Learning Visible – 1st Grade Infographics

Source: ASIDE 2017
We’ve built our mission on the idea that making learning visible through design changes they way learners view content. The examples in this post by our first graders illustrate just how important design was in providing a context for their Arctic animal research. This was our youngest group to tackle creating infographics, and boy, did they do a great job.

This crop of little designers followed a set of guidelines set up by our colleague Stephanie Temple (@stemple3) to organize the information. The process allowed them to follow step-by-step instructions regarding font selection, number of pictures, and factual information. Of course, choice meant that the students could personalize their work once they completed the basic criteria. Several capable students also took it upon themselves to do more; this provided an added level of differentiation.

Source: ASIDE 2017
Using infographics offers students an opportunity to display their research in a visual representation that can be easily understood. Students from second through eighth grade know this process, and we’re happy to say that we’ve added first grade into the mix. In fact, by the time they hit middle school, it becomes routine. They learn to critique each other for contrast, layout, typography, and more.

Source: ASIDE 2017
We keep the elements and principles of design posted in our classrooms and also electronically on their student portal. As a result, we frequently hear students helping others on different projects using what they’ve learned. It’s just what we want; thinking visibly becomes second nature.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Schools, Please Don’t Ban The Fidget Spinner - 9 Reasons Why This Is The Best Possible Fad

Source: Various

If you haven’t yet seen them, you will soon. In a matter of weeks, the latest kid craze has emerged, twirling in the hands of every middle schooler. Boys and girls alike now arrive in class with a plastic spinning whatchamacallit that they whirl ad infinitum throughout the day.

These popular trinkets are called fidget spinners, or some variation thereof. They are not new, but they are the newest trend. They feature either two or three prongs jutting out from a middle circle that, thanks to weighted bearings or loose-fitting rotators, allows the device to spin for long lengths of time between the thumb and forefinger. Some may have interchangeable parts. Some are made of plastic or steel. But all of them are currently occupying the idle minutes of children, many of whom have invented clever spinning stunts and tricks that can be seen across YouTube.

Source: ASIDE 2017

As with all kid crazes, it’s doubtlessly true that some teachers and schools are already in the process of outlawing them. Unfortunately, there is sometimes the impulse to ban first, think second. Pokemon cards, for example, have been largely prohibited from elementary classrooms, because they potentially lead to distracted and upset children. We would argue (as would one of our students, who wrote an editorial for our school newspaper) that teachers should help kids work through their interpersonal issues when a child, for example, gets upset after a Pokemon trade gone awry.

Source: Imgur

Perhaps fidget spinners are distracting. Perhaps they are “toys” that should remain at home. We would urge schools, however, to please embrace the spinners. Please celebrate the outlets of vibrancy and restlessness. Our seventh-graders let us try them out, and gosh darn it, they’re pretty neat.

Here are nine reasons that fidget spinners are the best fad of the decade:

1. They activate the mind - Kinetic energy of the hands translates to synaptic responses in the brain. Even repetitive tasks, such as spinning a widget, engage the mind and let the imaginative juices flow. Exercising or taking walks has long been recognized as helping with learning. Fidget spinners offer micro-exercise, to stimulate thinking at a child’s desk.

2. They (might) help distractible kids - A broad and worthy debate is taking place about whether these spinners truly help children with ADHD. Some argue that the trinkets are an outlet for excess energy. Others purport the opposite, that they distract rather than focus. Either way, all educators acknowledge that some kids are always going to lean back in their chairs and squirm in their seats. These toys do give active children an outlet to exercise their energy, spinning the prongs again and again and again.

3. They are harmless - At long last, here is a fad that is truly innocuous. Unlike bottle flipping (which makes a mess) or slime (which spreads its goo), these spinners have no injury quotient. They are all about one user and his or her play.

4. They are not about status - There is no prestige factor with fidget spinners. Unlike Ugg boots or Hamilton tickets, these are (relatively) inexpensive, available at local 7-Eleven stores. They are a novelty, a bauble, rather than a currency for popularity or exclusion.

Source: Dorkly

5. They are non-gendered - Fidget spinners constitute one of the only trends in recent memory that is not boy- or girl-specific. It is not about cat headbands or jeggings or friendship bracelets. It is not about football cards or anime or numbers of Instagram friends. This whim is completely benign.

6. They invite creativity - Kids are currently figuring out clever and advanced ways to keep the widgets spinning. Take a look at YouTube to see all sorts of neat and inventive stunt.

7. They are personal - Twirling a plastic knickknack is an individual activity. There is no competition and no trading. Instead, the activity welcomes a sense of mindfulness, to center one’s thoughts for a moment.

8. They involve the hands - In a world of passive screen time and binge television watching and all-night video gaming, these spinners actually celebrate motor coordination. They keep the student moving, and they enhance the dexterity of actual digits, rather than digital electronics.

9. They are a single investment - Students only need one. They are not collectibles. They don’t require scrapbooking or updating or charm-braceleting. They are a one-time purchase, to be enjoyed as long as the fad lasts.

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