Ted Talks in Middle School

Have you seen a Ted Talk yet?  If not, you should check them out.  The topics are wide ranging and most are very entertaining.  They have also started to include students, through the Ted Ed Clubs.  You can see some Ted Talks that are useful in the classroom at Ted-Ed.com.

ted talks logo

My gifted and talented students have been working on their own Ted Talks this year.  We watched a number of different Ted Talks to see what can be done.  Some were a person, speaking on stage, with an audience and a video screen behind them.  Some were a powerpoint with a voice over.  A few were a powerpoint with music and no voice over.

The students have been brainstorming topics they would like to talk about.  They settled on their ideas after plenty of discussion with their peers.  Then the research began.  They all learned so much.  The topics include: endangered species, major league sports, “Can we really touch something?”, the hurdy-gurdy, and quantum physics.  Yes, those are all real topics chosen by real middle school students!

As we move toward the finish line, each student has to decide how he or she wants to perform the Ted Talk.  Some prefer to give it live – we’ll all sit down together and listen to the students who stand up front to talk.  Some want to be video taped while they speak – we’re using a flip video camera for those.  Still others are doing the powerpoint with a voiceover.  Camtasia is helpful in those instances.

As we work through these various performances, students are working both independently and collaboratively.  One of my students volunteered to be the expert in recording from the computer using Camtasia.  All questions about how to record or edit are directed to him.  A few others have become expert in powerpoint.  When a student needs help adding music, or changing backgrounds, these students have stepped in to help.

It was so gratifying to see the group working in the computer lab today.  I walked in, it was silent except for one student (obviously recording his Ted Talk).  When he finished, another student complimented him on his recording, and someone else offered to help edit it.

Having attended several events where graduating college seniors and interns gave speeches, I find it even more important for our students to learn how to do proper presentations.  The speeches I saw at these events were awkward, unrehearsed and rambling.  My goal with our Ted Talks is to help my students avoid those type of performances.

Challenging Gifted Students

Business Expo

Fair warning: this post will include some bragging.  However, I think my students and I deserve it – you’ll see why if you keep reading.

Ever since I started our middle school’s gifted and talented program (thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor), I have believed my job is to challenge these students.  I’ve since expanded that belief to all of my students, but that’s another post.  My students have heard me say that so much now, that they help me finish the statement.

I think it’s been successful, since I recently took a group of middle school students (5th through 8th grade) to a business expo in Lansing.  We turned out to be the only middle school there – the rest of the groups were all from high schools.  Not intimidated in the least, my students set up their displays and proceeded to wow the judges, the keynote speaker (star center from the National Championship Spartan basketball team) and any other adult who moved into their orbit.  They approached adults, held out a hand to shake, introduced themselves and launched into their “elevator pitch”.  Not one of them hung back, sat behind their table display or behaved like anything less than the entrepreneur they were.  It was amazing!

At the end, awards were given out, along with cash prizes.  I’m proud (and a little embarrassed!) to say that my 5 middle school groups took home slightly more than half the cash and 5 prizes!  This was even though they were against all those high school groups!  They excelled!

What’s the secret?  I truly didn’t “train” them.  It was a process that began last year.  Our computer lab flooded, so I needed something to keep them busy.  I invited Junior Achievement to come in and do some of their lessons with the class.

At the end of the lessons, we held a mini business expo in our library.  We invited local business owners to join us (even gave them pretend money to invest) and the students showed off their work.  The Junior Achievement people attended and were very impressed.

Last winter, when the Lansing expo was being planned, those same Junior Achievement people remembered my students and invited us.  I encouraged all of my students to join us, but not all wanted to.

We proceeded to write business plans, executive summaries and elevator pitches.  They registered for the expo and created displays, samples and speeches.

In doing this, I gave them the freedom to succeed.  I find myself feeling like a mother bird, quite often.  I slowly, but surely, push them out of the nest that is their comfort zone and give them the chance to try their wings.  In doing so, we all discover what they can truly accomplish.  I’ve been absolutely amazed at what these kids can do.  So much more than any of us give them credit for being able to do.

What could your students do, if they were challenged?

100 Word Challenge


100 Word Challenge Test 100words

One thing I struggle with is keeping my advanced students challenged and busy.  They pre-test on Mondays and then (depending on their score) either learn the week’s content and re-test, or work on an independent project.  I generally find a book for them to read that follows the theme of the week.  While this keeps them fairly busy, they are very fast workers and periodically finish with time to spare.

To the rescue: the 100 word challenge.  I found a list of words that you should know when you graduate from high school.  I shared it with my advanced students and challenged them to learn as many as possible by the end of the year.  I then wrote a multiple choice test for them to take using a portion of the 100 words (they knew the test would not include all 100 words).

It is amazing to me to see my students willingly looking up definitions in the dictionary. They go back to this throughout the year whenever they have a few minutes.

This works really well because I don’t have to keep finding more things to give them to work on.

At the end of the year, I give the multiple choice test.  I don’t grade it, just mark wrong answers.  They were really excited to be learning something this difficult and many of them showed the list to their parents, then proudly reported that the parents didn’t know many of the words!

What do you do to challenge your students?

Recording Students’ Music

musicThe school held a rock band show a couple of weeks ago.  We had a “garage band” of middle school students perform which got me thinking that it would be fun to record and publish their music.

The band director and I discussed it and we plan to have his band students record their music, then my gifted and talented students will publish it, using http://www.soundcloud.com.  I’m really looking forward to our students having an authentic audience for their work.

Do you use soundcloud?  Do you record students’ music?  If so, I’d love to know how you do it and how it goes!

How to Host a Student Business Expo – Creating an Authentic Audience

briefcaseJunior Achievement came to work with my gifted and talented group this winter.  The volunteer taught 6 lessons over 6 weeks. Each lesson gave the students more information about creating a business. Filling a need and knowing your customer are foundations of a good business.

During the process, the students studied various businesses and designed a youth center.  The youth center was particularly fun, since we then held a “Shark Tank” like panel where the students had to convince us that we should invest in their business.  They were challenged to persuade us that they had considered possibilities and had planned for as many problems as possible.

shark tank form

We completed our business study with an exposition.  The students worked singly, in pairs or small groups to create a business.  Some students had an idea of a business they wanted to actually start, others used this as an educational exercise.  Either way, they researched start up costs, other similar businesses and materials.

Each group was challenged to create a display for our expo which would convince investors to take a chance on them.  Some groups used a tri-fold display with printouts of their information, some used technology.  We had a group do a prezi and another create a video with a green screen background.

GATE Business Expo

businessAs the expo approached, I coached the students in good presentation strategies: dress nicely, hold out your hand to shake those of the investors, introduce yourself.  This part made the students very nervous, but they were willing to do what they were being asked to do!

We invited local business owners, the school board, the administration and the press.  Even the mayor attended!  Everyone was extremely impressed with what the students had put together.  I set high standards for my students any time, but when we are inviting dignitaries to see their work, the bar gets set even higher.  They not only reached the bar, they exceeded it.

Each investor was given pretend money to invest, which they did.  The students were so excited – some received more investments than their start up costs!

In the end, it was one of the most successful events I’ve hosted.  The students were proud of their work and the community had the chance to see what middle school students can do.

Genius Day Part 2

We are getting ever closer to our first ever Genius Day!

Student workLast week, we had the students create a plan.  We had them fill out a form with three ideas they would like to pursue (trying to push them to think beyond the first idea that pops into their head).  Each student was asked to list the big question they are trying to answer, the reason they would like to learn about that subject, the planned final product and the materials they will need.

Another example

Another example

This was a very interesting exercise.  Helping students generate a “big question” was not easy.  They have gotten very used to those standardized, multiple choice test questions which have one right answer.  Opening their minds to the idea that a question can have multiple answers and lead to more questions was not easy for some of our students (some took to it like a duck to water!)  In fact, I’ll be revisiting some of their plans after spring break to help them reframe their ideas.

Student workAsking them to explain why they would like to learn about this topic was also a new task for many of our students.  I work with a gifted and talented program during our intervention time, and during that time, I have pushed them to do this sort of thing for the past year.  For those students, this was not too difficult, but for the rest of the students, we might as well have asked them to pull out their own teeth! I definitely enjoyed seeing some of their reasons.  It gives insight into them as students.

Student workThe other place where creativity has taken a definite nosedive is the final product spot.  They pretty much filled in the uniform answer: a poster.  This is another area that I’ll need to push them on.  While a poster is a fine way to display your work, it’s not the only way.  Hopefully, I can convince them of that.

Student work

We invited our fifth grade students, as well as the principal and superintendent to view the results on our Genius Day.  We hesitated to invite the school board, media, etc, since we’re not sure how everything will turn out (this will take some doing for the students to learn and complete a display in one day).  Once we see how it goes, we can expand our guest list.

This student only listed 2, but he definitely gets a prize for most out-of-the-box for his build an app idea!

This student only listed 2, but definitely gets a prize for most out-of-the-box for the build an app idea!

Check back in a few weeks to see how it all went!  And let us know what Genius activities you are doing.  We all need to learn from each other!

Here are the forms we have used (and one we plan to use after Genius Day):

My Genius List of Things to Learn and Do

Genius Hour Self Evaluation

Genius Hour Evaluation

We also used several websites – these definitely helped us prepare.  Sorting out exactly how we wanted to do this was tough, so these websites are worth checking out!





Giving Students Leadership Opportunities Part 2

I absolutely love to put kids in charge of a project and let them go.  I’m basically a lazy person, so any time I can watch someone else work, it’s a good day!

Recently, my gifted and talented kids needed a project to keep them busy (our computer lab was out of commission due to a water main break).  I had run out of ideas, so I asked them what they would like to do.  They immediately suggested something with teaching kids about healthy living.  It occurred to me that our school was going to participate in ACES May 1 (All Children Exercising Simultaneously), so I told them about that.  The current plan was to have the entire building go up to the high school track and walk for 30 minutes.ACES

Naturally, my students couldn’t let that be all we would do.  They jumped on the idea and started coming up with activities.

As the process evolved, they split into groups and each group generated some ideas for what they would like to do.  The only requirements were that all of our students (5th graders through 8th graders) had to be able to participate and it needed to be something that would engage them.  The kids were very adamant about not having students sit and listen.

One group thought a Family Feud style game show would be a fun way to teach/review healthy habits.  Another wanted to hold a school wide capture the flag game, and a third wanted to create stations for students to work through that would get them up and moving.  They even want to create a special invitation to hand out to all the students to get them fired up about the day.

It’s been so gratifying to watch the students take on the leadership role.  I’ve found that with just a little guidance (a suggestion here, a nudge there) they can come up with amazing ideas.  The only issue they have is the follow-through.  That’s where I come in.  I keep them steered towards completion.  I love that my students think it’s a privilege to do my job.

As we get closer, I’ll post how everything went.  Here’s hoping it goes well!

What tasks/projects can you turn over to your students?