We Love Classcraft! A BGL Review

Here at BGL, we love Classcraft! It’s a free classroom management system a la Class Dojo but with deeper options and a fantasy-based theme that the students really enjoy.

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One great element is that a given student’s avatar can “die,” which sounds a bit violent for a classroom setting until you consider a few things:

  • Students are organized into teams and there are disincentives built in to the other team members if one of their teammates dies. In other words, students HAVE to help each other in order to avoid team-wide consequences.
  • The teacher can customize the penalty for death with creative consequences that can otherwise benefit the class.

The latter bullet point is the subject of the following video in which Teacher Travis introduces Classcraft to his 5th grade class via distance learning. Please enjoy! Our students definitely do.

 

The teacher dashboard allows multiple views of the class with varying degrees of detail. It also makes it easy to reward/punish groups of students or the entire class at one time with just a few clicks.

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Another element we enjoy with Classcraft is “Today’s Event,” a randomized act that may or may not affect multiple student accounts at one time. It’s akin to some of the squares on a Monopoly board where rewards or consequences are doled out simply for having been in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

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Almost everything in Classcraft is customizable. From a student perspective, they can customize their avatars and earn the ability to unlock special wardrobe elements and skills. The teacher, like with Class Dojo, can customize the rewards and consequences to target specific class behaviors.

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Given this level of customization, there is definitely a learning curve. It seems a bit unwieldy and user-unfriendly at first, but most tech users will find it to become second nature after using it for a short amount of time. Like with most things in teaching, consistency is key – the more you use it, the more effective it becomes.

Using Video to Teach Current Events

BGL’s own Teacher LaCora has experience in front of the camera as a red carpet host here in Los Angeles. She used those skills to create a video about the recent earthquake in Ecuador as part of BGL’s weekly current events unit.

 

To teach current events, BGL selects a handful of stories from the week and shares links to the stories along with discussion questions to all their teachers across grades K-8. Each teacher chooses the story and discussion questions that are best suited for the ability and interest of their classes. Choosing more discussion questions – or turning them into writing assignments – takes the activity from a short one (5-10 minutes) to a longer one (a full period or two).

Here are the discussion questions for the Ecuadorian earthquake story. As you can see, they get progressively more difficult so that teachers in older grades choose from the bottom and vice versa for younger grades.

  • What can people do to help when there is an earthquake?
  • Have you ever felt an earthquake? What does it feel like?
  • What causes earthquakes? Are there different kinds?
  • What is the Richter scale? What does it mean to increase exponentially?

How do you teach current events? Tell us in the comments section.

Kung Fu, Zen Buddhism and the Shaolin Temple – An Independent Research Project for 5th Graders

Our 5th graders in Taiwan are new to our distance learning program, so one of the first units we do with them is a familiar topic – Ancient China. We teach about Chinese New Year, the Great Wall, important rivers and inventions, and China’s greatest teacher, Confucius. But the most popular lesson is based on a trip that Teacher Seth took to the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province of Central China.

First the students read a brief chapter on the history of the Shaolin Temple and its importance to Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. Then, they watch a video about Teacher Seth’s trip:

Then, the students complete the following assignment:

Today, you learned that the Shaolin Temple is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and of Kung Fu. You will choose ONE of those three topics – Zen Buddhism, Kung Fu, or the Shaolin Temple – and do Internet research on that topic.

Then, answer following questions.

1 – What is your topic?

2 – What are some important things that happened in the history of your topic?

3 – What are some things people do to celebrate or practice it?

4 – Who are some famous people who are associated with your topic? What is their relationship to it?

5 – What is your opinion about your topic?

The best of those reports are linked for download here:

Jasper:                                                            Tiffany:

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Annie 21:                                                            Moe:

 

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Christine:                                                         Nicole 30:

 

 

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Angelica:                                                         Sherry:

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What awesome research projects has your class conducted? Leave a comment!

An Inventive Renaissance Project with 8th Grade ELL’s

While the Renaissance is an important period in history and the artwork is truly amazing, it is not always the most interesting topic for students to study (especially those in the midst of junior high ennui). However, a class of BGL’s ambitious 8th graders at Tsai Hsing School have worked their magic to bring the study of the Renaissance to life.

First students learned about Donatello and through his work were introduced to the techniques of Renaissance artists. From this stemmed an art critique assignment in which students chose a work of art by Donatello and unleashed their best inner art critic. This met with some interesting results, some of which are below.

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Next we learned about Michelangelo. This led students to an in-depth look at his famous works at the Sistine Chapel. They learned that Michelangelo created this art to represent the story of Genesis in the Bible. Students ran with this, creating their creation artwork. For a twist, students traded artwork, then wrote a story about the creation of the world. Below are just a few examples of their endeavors.

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The next famous Renaissance artist in the study was Leonardo, who is famous for his unique perspective on the human form and his many incredible inventions. Students used this a springboard for their own inventions. They chose one of Leonardo’s inventions, but found a way to improve on it.

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Finally, the students studied Raphael, who is arguably one of the most talented painters of the Renaissance and is famous for his realistic portraits. Students channeled their own inner artists to create self portraits. What a beautiful and talented group!

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This class will be moving on to study Shakespeare in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled for the actors and actresses to unveil the works of Shakespeare through the lens of a Taiwanese 8th grader.

Children’s Day – A National Holiday in Taiwan

Kids love holidays, but kids in Taiwan actually get their own holiday. Celebrated on April 4th by schools all around Taiwan, Children’s Day is public holiday that shows appreciation for Taiwanese youngsters and promotes the bond between parents and children.

The holiday dates back to 1925 when a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland brought 54 countries together to discuss children’s physical needs, spiritual well-being and educational opportunities. Many of these countries went on to establish Children’s Days to call attention to these issues and to celebrate the future leaders of the world.

This year, Tsai Hsing School honored their students with a fun-filled day that focused on the kids. The school extended the length of the 10-minute breaks between classes to 20 minutes and as a result it seemed that children’s laughter filled the campus all day long. Students performed on the great lawn – singing songs and dancing – while others played diabolo (like a Chinese yoyo) and basketball. The energy and excitement was zapping through the air as students laughed with their friends and teachers during some hard-earned free time.

In the classroom, Teacher Chad celebrated with his first grade class by doing an interactive read aloud with The Class from the Black Lagoon.

Teacher Chad reads The Classroom from the Black Lagoon on Children's Day.

Teacher Chad reads The Classroom from the Black Lagoon on Children’s Day.

How did your students celebrate Children’s Day? If you don’t celebrate this holiday, how would you do it if you had the chance?

Teacher Chad gives his students a lift.

Teacher Chad gives his students a lift.

From all the teachers and staff at Banyan Global Learning, Happy Children’s Day!

5 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Taiwan

At BGL we find that celebrating holidays is a great, authentic way to teach culture. Here are five ways we’ve been able to communicate our love for the holiday season with our students in Taiwan.

1. Talk to Holiday Shoppers on a 4G Field Trip to an American Mall

Our Field Trips Live are one of the most popular elements of our program. It’s always fun to see two cultures merge, especially so during the holidays. Here are some images from this year’s trip to Glendale, CA’s Americana:

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Students watch a holiday-themed trolly drive by at the Americana mall in Glendale, CA.

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A friendly family answers questions from our students, and asks some of their own. The mom is a high school art teacher and thought our field trip was super cool!

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A man with a Santa hat pauses from his holiday shopping to ask our students how many of them celebrate Christmas with their families at home.

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Teacher Seth shows the students their reflection in his iPhone.

2. Read our Adaptation of A Christmas Carol

We adapt many classic novels so that we can challenge our Taiwanese students with sophisticated concepts while making sure that the texts are at an accessible language level. Our sixth grade classes read the classic Dickens tale each year, and this year we added a song and music video to reinforce the story’s main concepts of reflection and redemption:

3. Have a Teacher Holiday Party

Teaching abroad can be tough during the holidays. Getting together with other expats – and locals – to celebrate can make it all seem just a little closer to home. Teachers Audrey and Sarah did just that: image (6)

4. Listen to BGL’s Family Christmas Song

And, of course, our original Christmas song is a perennial favorite:

5. Celebrate on Campus

Tsai Hsing School’s birthday is 12/25, so in December the campus is filled with Christmas decorations, costumes and pageants. Here are some charming shots of our 4th grade bilingual class and some of our American teachers feeling the Christmas spirit:

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Merry Christmas, everyone!