Using Nets to Develop Children’s Understanding of 3D Shapes

Rectangular Prism Geoblock

Rectangular Prism Geoblock

It’s the first day of our study of 3D shapes. I hold up a rectangular prism Geoblock, and I ask my second graders what they notice.

“It’s a rectangle!”

“It’s a 3D rectangle!”

“It’s a rectangle block. It’s like a rectangle, but taller.”

And one student with a great memory for vocabulary adds, “No, it’s not a rectangle. It’s a rectangular prism.

I ask the class, “Where on this block do you see a rectangle?” One student notes that there is a rectangle on the front face of the block. “How do you know that’s a rectangle?” The student responds, “because it’s just like the rectangle on the paper. It has two long sides and two short sides.” (We’ll get to squares, rectangles, and right angles later.) Another student points out that there are rectangles on the ends of the block. Students continue to volunteer until they’ve identified all six of the Geoblock’s faces as rectangles.

Understanding the difference between a rectangle and a rectangular prism is a difficult job for many second graders, who often label 3D shapes with 2D shape names — or see 3D shapes as merely 3D versions of 2D shapes. Continue reading

Imagine You Don’t Get Your Way: Helping Kids Develop Emotional Resilience

This week, my second graders elected their Table Leaders for the first time. Each of the five groups in my class voted for a leader who will pass out papers, lead the group’s meetings, and have weekly Leadership Lunches with me.

In the lives of second graders, being chosen as a Table Leader is a pretty big deal. And the moment I announce Table Leaders — the moment when we do a drum roll and applaud — is exciting and emotionally charged. Many of the kids are hoping desperately to be chosen… and a few are hoping the opposite.

You can imagine how a moment like this one could go terribly wrong. Imagine the disappointment, the crying… the shouts of “why does she get to be table leader? I didn’t vote for her!” Now imagine how much harm that could do to the classroom community we’ve worked so hard to build.

Moments like this can bring out the best and the worst in children (just like in adults). If, as teachers, we want to bring out the best in our students, we have to prepare them for disappointment. We have to teach children to be emotionally resilient in the face of a difficult outcome. One way to do that is by having them imagine the outcome — and make a plan for responding — before it happens. Continue reading

Effective Effort and Eastern Approaches to Education

If you missed it this morning, you must listen to Alix Spiegel’s report on NPR about how Eastern and Western cultures approach learning. Listening to the radio this morning, I was cheering in my kitchen. It’s all about how Asian families and educators teach children that success comes from — wait for it — their own effort and time. Yes! Attribution theory! And Asian educators design tasks that are intentionally a little too hard for students. Yes! Zone of proximal development! And rather than giving up on kids, they make kids struggle with a task until they get it. Yes! I don’t know what that theory of learning that is, but we sure do it in my classroom.

What a pleasure to listen to a news report about something that really would improve American education… and not another report on testing, teacher unions, or textbooks. And make sure to listen through to the end, where Stiegel praises American strengths: teaching students to become creative and independent thinkers.

Teaching Leadership Skills to Kids

Some students are natural leaders. Even at seven years old, they just seem to know how to negotiate with others, how to give directions without being bossy, and how to offer help without being condescending. Whether it’s because they have a high emotional IQ or they’re just more mature, these leaders bring peace and harmony to their teams and inspire their teammates to do their best.

But for most children, these skills don’t come naturally. They have to be learned, and they have to be taught. Continue reading

Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading