Teeth-Brushing Vs Hand-Washing Controversy

 

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A student gives his peer a thumbs up when she makes a point he likes.

You are cordially invited to try out being controversially classy; Or is it classily controversial… Either way, please join me and my good friend James Norman on a journey into trying out a cutting-edge pedagogy of using controversy in the classroom!

James Norman, a higher education teacher of literature from Massachusetts, and I have been exploring the idea of using controversy in the classroom. We are NOT talking about teaching “controversial topics”, although that very well may be a byproduct of our journey. 

Specifically, we are proposing that teaching could be improved by introducing an element of controversy into lessons. I have been trying it out with great success! 

Screen Shot 2019-11-16 at 1.36.07 PMJust this week, I was preparing to have my students read an article about teeth from a brand new Storyworks Junior magazine. What do good teachers do before delivering a text? We have students explore what they already know: recount prior knowledge. There are loads of great ways to do this, and they all work well. It hit me, though: Why don’t I tryout what I’ve been researching? James and I have been reading, discussing, and thinking about the use of controversy in the classroom since the beginning of the summer of 2019. What if teachers took ordinary topics and found ways to make them controversial? How would that affect learning? 

I decided I’d try out some controversial class on my kiddos, and I asked them, “What is more important, brushing your teeth OR washing your hands?” Because I have had my students do this kind of thing before, they knew how it worked. After I split them into two teams and assigned positions, they naturally formed groups of three or four to discuss ideas that could support their position and challenge their opponent’s. I let them chat for a few moments. I was moved by how engaged and even animated my students became! 

I stopped everyone and had them regroup with different friends from their teams. This way they were able to rethink and better organize their ideas. Mini-debates within teams ensued. 

Some things that I enjoyed witnessing were students taking turns sharing, practicing good listening skills, and displaying passion for the topic through nonverbal communication. 

IMG_8744When we regrouped as a whole class after only ten minutes of controversial competition preparation, I used Siri to “flip a coin”. One team “called it” and won the toss. I asked, “Who is going to present?” Hands were raised and fingers were pointed; Several students were interested in presenting. I told them, “You can only speak once, so decide if you want to go now, or hold onto your argument for later in the debate.” 

IMG_8741The teeth team was presenting first, and the boy they had chosen to headline their position was confident. He communicated to me that, rather than wait, they wanted to come out strong–He literally told me this! I laughed, as I gestured for him to begin. “This is a true fact,” he began, “That once your teeth rot, it will affect your gums, and go down to your heart, and you will die.” 

Wow.

The metaphorical conch was then handed to the hand-washing team. A girl delivered their initial position that germs could be transferred from person to person if hands were not properly cleansed, thus (my word;) affecting more than just one individual. 

Point * Counterpoint! 

IMG_8743Next came the argument that if your teeth did rot and fall out, you wouldn’t be able to eat anything. Again, it boiled down to not brushing your teeth leading to certain death! 

The hand-washers chose to point out that you could simply blend your food and “eat” it through a straw before presenting their new argument for the importance of cleansing your digits: It’s winter and everyone catches a cold in the winter. Washing your hands limits the amount of germs left on door knobs, helping everyone stay healthy. Someone called out, “Body-hygiene was the 2nd leading cause of death!” After I regained composure of the group and got over my own shock of third graders knowing and understanding such concepts, I suggested that brushing your teeth was a form of “body” hygiene. Also, “How do you know it is the 2nd leading…?” Shrugs. 

This whole experience was so fun and exciting! I had everyone sit down for my wrap up. I praised everyone for their outstanding, classy behavior. I pointed out that one of the most important things to practice when discussing controversial concepts is being good listeners. I explained that this meant actually being open to the fact that the opposing team could very well have an idea that is correct. Do not assume that your opponent is wrong. You have to be ready to admit when they are right. Only through this attitude can you be prepared to come up with valid, strong, appropriate counterpoints. A classy debater is not dismissive. 

“Who won!?” someone couldn’t help blurting out. 

I didn’t even have to answer: “We all did,” a bright young lady pointed out.

All of this took less than 30 minutes. Now, we get to read the article that spurred this lively controversy in the classroom, “History of Teeth”, written by Kristen Lewis, published in the December (2019)/January (2020) edition of StoryworksJr. 

Incidentally, every Storyworks Junior magazine has a section geared toward and even titled, “Debate”. What James Norman and I are working toward is taking the sparks of debating and lighting a fire in regular pedagogy. Don’t feel like you have to take your teaching topic all the way to debate. Simply find a way to make it controversial. Students could very well engage in an internal debate after you present a rhetorical thought-puzzle. 

In closing, I will reiterate the invitation: James Norman and I would love to hear about how you tried out introducing the concept of controversy in your classroom. Tweet with the hashtag, #ControversyCanBeClassy and connect with us through commenting on blogs. 

Have you ever purposefully made  something simple controversial, in order to get kids thinking?

The Superhighway of Trust

The other day, I was reading a blog about trust, written by Thomas Murray (2019), and it got me thinking. And, this got me thinking even more…

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 6.11.22 AMSee, I was thinking about relationships being analogous to the connections between neurons in the brain. Neurons or brain cells communicate with one another through conversations called synapses. The messages are sent via an arm called an axon. You could think of this like an old fashioned telephone line or wire. These axons are coated with a material best thought of as an insulator, myelin. What this material does is it strengthens the axon, making it more useful for sending signals between the two neurons. The more two brain cells communicate with one another, the more the brain will coat the telephone line with myelin. It sees this connection as valuable and worth strengthening, speeding up, and reinforcing. 

As I thought about neurons communicating via this thread of an axon, I imagined two people’s relationship growing stronger via trust. At the outset there is an initial contact, but then with common interests and shared experiences the connection grows stronger. If the two people were to depend on one another, they would need to talk more. This might make getting in touch with one another through various means necessary. In other words you speed up the way you can contact one another. You are texting, instead of emailing. 

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 6.11.31 AMWhile you and the person you are building this relationship with forge an increasingly strong, resilient, efficient means of communication, the two of you insulate the bonds between you. This happens a hundred ways, and it causes you to feel more safe around the person, because they know where you are coming from. You feel like they understand your feelings. They are less likely than a stranger to inadvertently do or say something that could hurt you. 

In addition to safety, this relational myelin speeds up communication. Something as tiny, fast, and simple as “a look” can say a lot–and fast! A tiny touch might tell you tons without any words. 

38116093515_4b25310fe4_bTom Murray attributes the success of collaboration, leadership, transformation, and even progress to the “speed of trust” (2019). With the popular warning of trust being easily broken, after taking so long to make, I’ve been guilty of thinking of it as a Ming Vase. The tiniest slip up could shatter the whole thing. Murray does not suggest that trust is anything like this, but it is what I have imagined for years; A once and done breaking of trust. 

Rather, Murray’s idea of trust affecting speed got me thinking about it building and maintaining a highway of information. More than just pavement, trust is both the work of building the road, and the process of maintaining the smooth surface that lends to the speedy communication needed for all of the positive benefits Murray suggested educators would reap. 

In this model, the road of trust takes a lot of work and investment, and an earthquake could completely devastate it, but if built well, it would withstand many travesties. A trust crew could clean up a crash in the morning, so that the afternoon rush hours doesn’t even know it happened!

2018-Road-Construction-Excavation-cmp-for-webBefore we get too excited about our trust highway, you should know that there are some pains in making it. If you want a really fast thoroughfare, it needs to be straight and level. Hills and sharp turns will slow down transportation. Believe it or not, there is something even more troubling than blasting or tunneling through mountains and building bridges over valleys. While that will be a lot of work, you first have to come up with the land to make your highway. 

In the Philadelphia area there is a highway affectionately termed “The Blue Route”. I haven’t heard it called this as much lately, but when I was in college, that was its only name. Nowadays, it is simply the southern part of the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike; the vertical highway (476) that runs South to North. James Wyatt (2016) tells the colorful history of this helpful highway. Any understanding of city traffic will point to the absolute necessity of quick transportation around the outskirts of town. The idea for The Blue Route was born in the 1920’s. There were a few routes that were mapped out, and all of them had to navigate around iconic properties and places. Each had a different color. The one that was finally decided to build was the color blue. 

Here’s the thing. Many people and businesses were moving to the Philadelphia suburbs (Wyatt, 2016). This meant that a means of quick transportation was increasingly needed for decongesting local roadways. But, it also meant that property value rose significantly. In order to build this highway, private citizens would have to give up their property. It isn’t difficult to imagine that no one wanted to do that. There is a law that the government can use to seize property from private citizens for public use (Find Law, n.d.). It is called eminent domain. Citizens get compensated for the land that is taken from them. The property owners and townships that The Blue Route was to cut through protested and held up construction for nearly thirty years! 

Trust requires letting go of things. When we are building superhighways of speedy trust between ourselves and others, it will be necessary, albeit painful, to give up the rights of security and privacy. When you trust someone, you are making yourself publicly available. 

Once this happens, you then have blasting, borrowing, and bridging to construct to make your highway of trust straight, smooth, and level. Returning to my initial concept of myelin and axons, each trustworthy action sheathes your line of communication with more insulation that makes it that much stronger and faster is like laying final coats of asphalt, erecting guard rails, and providing express lanes on a trust highway. 

In conclusion, I propose we view trust as something to build upon, in order to speed communication, help, and support. Tom Murray calls trust an “unwavering thread of classroom culture” (2019). That phrase is what first got me thinking about axons, which then turned into superhighways. He warns us to take care of ourselves so that we can effectively trust others. Perhaps we ARE the highways, and our relationships with others are the exit ramps where traffic comes and goes… 

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How do you view trust? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

 

Some Sources:

Find Law. (n.d.). The Taking of Property for Public Use. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://realestate.findlaw.com/land-use-laws/the-taking-of-property-for-public-use.html.
Khan Academy. (n.d.). Overview of neuron structure and function. Retrieved November 13, 2019, from https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/human-biology/neuron-nervous-system/a/overview-of-neuron-structure-and-function
Murray, T. (2019, November 9). Retrieved from https://www.thomascmurray.com/blog/buildingtrust 
Wyatt, J. (2016). The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. In The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Retrieved from https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/blue-route/

Mission Impossible: The Engineering Process with SpheroEDU

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Is your “mission” to get kids excited about learning, or is it testing?

“I have a math test to give you, but I thought we could program some Spheros instead,” I said Friday morning to applause from the Polite Pirates of Room 207. Students’ cheers gave way to music… Mission Impossible Theme Music! 

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it… And, you’re going to want to accept it… is to rescue people from certain peril,” I proposed. With everyone on the carpet, I explained that before a rescue, engineers would set up models that they could use to plan out their efforts to minimize loss of equipment and life. Their mission was to program Spheros to make it through a model of obstacles, getting to someone or group of people who needed help. The Sphero couldn’t stray from the path or touch the walls because it would be damaged and not be able to complete its mission. 

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I walked them through what they would experience.

The students were riveted to my instruction as I taught the “Engineering Process” that they would need to use while figuring out the most effective code for completing their rescue. This was the real reason for the lesson, but simultaneously they would get so much more out of learning/practicing coding, problem-solving, and working together in a team. 

I went over each scenario, pointing out the “criteria” and the “constraints”, two vocabulary words from the “Engineering Process” model from Foss Science. Students whispered with neighbors about which they were more interested in trying. I told them that if they mastered one, they may move onto another “Mission”. 

Students then returned to their seats to get out their math spiral notebooks for taking notes about how they used the “Engineering Process” while solving their missions. They opened the Google slideshow that had all of the missions, as well as an image with the Engineering Process in it. I had “made a copy for each student” through Google classroom. 

I pulled popsicle sticks with student numbers on them to pair kids. As numbers were drawn, pairs came to the carpet to redeem their Sphero robot. Then they chose whatever mission fancied them most. With two pairs per mission, the class was a buzz of engineering within moments.

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“The Medic was difficult, but a lot of fun,” one student told me as I circulated the room.

 No one got to complete more than one mission, and most did not completely finish every parameter I had set for them, but every single student was 100% engaged in a learning activity full of purpose. 

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The problem-Solving was explosive!

I want to back up to the beginning of the day, before I tell you how this memorable lesson came to a close. Students entered my room to find me painting posters. They asked what I was doing. Because I didn’t know exactly what to call it, I didn’t give them a straight answer. That drove them crazy. They asked to help. “Sure,” I answered, getting out more paint brushes, cups and paints. All I had to do was outline things, and kids would fill in. When I told them that the white was snow or that the red was fire, it fueled their curiosity all the more! Dave Burgess calls this “Preheating the Grill” (Teach Like a Pirate, 2012). My students were so hooked on this upcoming lesson, they hardly wanted to go to gym! Have you ever heard of such a thing? 

While students were at their special, I made some finishing touches and turned a fan on to help the paint dry quickly. Then I came up with names, stories, and varying parameters for each mission. I took pictures of the maps, typed up the scenarios, and threw together a slideshow to share with the class.  

Back to the lesson. Throughout the “Engineering Process”, while students were working on coding Spheros, I stopped everyone a couple of times to instruct them to take screenshots of their code. That way they could have snapshots of different levels of success. It would help them describe their problem-solving, later. Finally, I put together a Flipgrid for students to make selfie-videos describing how they used the “Engineering Process” to solve (or come close to solving) their mission. If they finished, they could watch their peers’ videos and comment. 

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I didn’t even realize that this was National STEM day! (November 8th, 2019)

We DID take the math test, but in the afternoon. They did fine. I’m sure they will remember that forever;) 

Monsters Inc SpheroEDU Lesson

If you are a teacher and you are alive, you have heard about the importance of teaching computer science to students. “Code, code, code!” is shouted from the pedagogical rooftops.

Don’t hate me, but I haven’t been excited about this concept. I tried Scratch many years ago, but between wrestling with the failing tech in my school’s computer lab and less than perfect early-in-teaching-career classroom management of 8 year olds, I was unimpressed with the outcome of learning. I scratched my Scratch plans. 

Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with integrating creative use of technology in my lessons and classroom. We make movies, video games, and are Google gurus! But, still no coding. 

Until…

Sphero rolled into my pedagogical practice. My school district is training teachers to roll out a computer science program, and I was chosen with several others to pilate some lessons. Among other things, we will be using SpheroEDU to share the coding experience with the students of East Penn. Spheros are exactly that; balls. They have mechanical parts inside of them that follow the commands that you input in an app on a device. They can roll, turn different colors, and make sounds. (Although the sounds come from the device, not the actual robot.)

When my teacher friends and I were initially introduced to the Sphero robots we were instructed to try to get it to do some tasks. We used a variety of coding methods and tried out several styles of lesson genres. It was fun, but I wasn’t completely hooked, yet. 

A recent get together of this team was assembled to begin creating lessons that would introduce and begin teaching coding to the 4th & 5th graders of East Penn. We were to come up with 3 lessons. A brainstorming session was followed by some discussion and voting. In the talk a theme emerged where we would introduce a narrative of insect study to the students. They were all going to experience the joys and difficulties of entomologists. The students would get their robots to study insects and eradicate invasive bugs: Debug. (One of our lessons is to clean up code of problems.) Notice how the targeted study focuses on a positive term for the animals: Insects, while the animals that are a problem (Spotted Lantern Flies have become a nuisance around Pennsylvania) are labeled negatively. Also, an obvious dual purpose of the storyline is to reinforce the necessity of clean coding, devoid of bugs. IMG_2721

This idea of purpose-driven instruction helped me see the coding lesson in a new light. Rather than tell my students to get the robot to make a square or go from an arbitrary point A to a pointless point B, I would be helping kids learn how to tackle real world problems. 

With new inspiration and vigor, I returned  to my third grade classroom where a case-full of unused Spheros sat in the corner. Let’s get to work, I thought, as I tore poster paper, uncapped markers, opened up bags of cups, and pulled out piles of pipecleaners. It was the day before Halloween, and an idea hit me: Monsters Inc. I would make grids with a door in one square and a kid sleeping in another. Students would dress up cups to look like monsters. These cups would float on top of a programed Sphero robot. They would need to get from the door to the bed and back to the door again. Also, the Sphero would need to create a scary sound. (This was attempted after figuring out the code for travel.)

Prior to the lesson, I got out all of the supplies. I made one more poster than I needed for 9 groups of 3 to have their own. Each poster had the door and bed in a different location. I did this incase an outstanding group had solved every coding combination for the map they were initially given. They could try a new one. (Another way of creating challenge would be to place items on the map, like wardrobes or piles of clothing, that the robot  would have to avoid.) 

To begin the lesson I placed one poster on the board to show students. I explained that they would be “playing” Monsters Inc. They were going to get monsters to go from the door to the sleeping child. Most students were familiar with the concept from the popular movie. I explained that the monster world was powered by an electricity that ran on the screams of kids. In the movie, monsters were trained and worked hard at sneaking into bedrooms and scaring children. I reminded everyone that it was important that the monster get back to the door, so that it could get back to the monster world. Otherwise it would be trapped in the human-parallel universe! “Aaaaahhh!”

IMG_6015Before leaving the carpet, I showed the students how the block-coding in the Sphero app worked. I drew the “Roll” command on the board with labels explaining/reminding what each bubble was for: Direction, speed, and duration (time).

While student groups decorated their cup/monsters with pipe cleaners, I had one kid at a time get a robot. Teams were separated around the room. The only parameter was for student groups to try to keep the robot on the paper. Needless to say, there were varying levels of success. One group figured out how to introduce changing the light of the Sphero. I didn’t bother telling them that the sleeping child (drawn on the paper) might not see the light change under the monster cup;) I was happy for the intrigue-guided discovery! 

I only had to get everyone’s attention once or twice. One time I wanted to mention only changing one variable at a time when adjusting the rolling command: Rather than changing both speed and duration, just alter one or the other. After giving the change a try, make another adjustment. Keep going until the movement is just right. After I witnessed one group make the discovery that you should “Aim” the robot before placing the cup over it, I shared that with everyone, adding that they must “practice-run” the Sphero with the cup, because the drag of the “monster” might affect its movement.

The whole experience was a smashing success. Everyone wanted to keep working on it, but recess time dragged us all outside. We put everything away, until the next day. 

The morning of Halloween, I had students get the Spheros out again. This time, I wanted to know exactly what they were coming up with. Students did not have to use a “monster”. (Because having a Sphero roll up to you, while you are sleeping and growl, was scary enough;) I put together a slideshow that I pushed out through Google classroom, much like I did recently with the Plural Noun BloxelsEDU maze video game lesson. Students were to take screenshots of their successful codes that got the Sphero from the door to the bed and back to the door. The screenshots were then imported into the slideshow for me to view. 

The room erupted in coding. 

Students nearly lost their minds when, halfway through the experience, I showed them that they could get the Sphero to say anything you typed into a speech command. From that time forward, “Hey, kid, aren’t you scared!” was heard, among other ridiculous phrases, uttered in a robotic, honestly less-than-scary voice, all over the room. It was both hilarious and exciting.

Again, recess, and then a costume parade, ruined our robotic fun:) 

The takeaway lesson for me was the creation of a narrative, giving coding a storyline, helped me present the tasks in a way that gave meaning and purpose. The plot of Monsters Inc provided the jolt of electricity that animated the previously lifeless lesson. What have you used to give life to your lessons?

via GIPHY

Assessment With Purpose

Ooooh
How many assessments have this reaction?

What was the most successful lesson you ever taught? Why was it so good? How do you measure its success?

I’ve recently been reading a classic on motivation: “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink (2009). In part three Pink gets into the DNA of motivation; purpose. You can focus on intrinsic and dress up extrinsic all you want, but if your activity lacks a deep purpose, it will fall flat.

Last week I was interested in wrapping up a small unit on plural nouns. How could I close it out? There is the old-school paper method, where I plop a worksheet in front of them with a list of singular nouns the students must make plural. I could make a Google form full of questions. That would only substitute the paper. What was something I could have students do that would be more purposeful.

BloxelsEDU is an app that is free to download and use. You have to purchase an account

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Introductory Instructions

to build games. But, with one account, I can make many games that can be published to an online “Arcade” for my students to use. I have been taking a course through PD Campus, created and taught by Ken Ehrmann, where I have learned how to use this creative tool to engage my students in meaningful critical thinking.

To assess proficiency in making nouns plural in a super fun way, I decided to make a video game. I was interested in building into the game an element of reteaching. Additionally, the video game could show students some new elements of gaming design. (We have been working on crafting our own personal video games in class; I got accounts for all of my students through my PD Campus course–I highly recommend this professional development/grad-level class.)

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This student just got to the end of the maze!

The game would be a maze. The students’ purpose was to get to the end. What do you get when you get to the end of a maze? A feeling of accomplishment; I don’t have to tell you that this feeling is way better than completing and turning in a worksheet or filling in a Google form!

Here’s how I made it. I created a template frame within BloxelsEDU game builder platform that provided a few options of changing directions, so that students would be presented with having to make decisions on what way to continue traveling. I made sure that there were openings on the sides, top, and bottom that lined up with opposite sides, etc. Then I copied and pasted the template, over and over, making a huge waffle of terrain for video game characters to hop and run through. Next, I used coin blocks to select the direction that I would have the character travel. I replaced terrain blocks with yellow coin blocks in one direction choice at each stop throughout some of my maze waffle. From time to time I stopped and played the game, because some of the decision rewards came dangerously close to others. I wanted to be sure that the weaving back and forth would work and not cause a player to backtrack. 

After deciding on a place to end the maze, I went back and put red hazard blocks and purple, moving enemy blocks in the paths that would NOT be the correct decision. In other words, a student would be presented with a question that had 3 choices, one of which would immediately reward them with coins, and two that would harm the character, taking away hearts. At this point in the game development I could still view all of the different colors. 

over hereBefore disguising the blocks, I first created all of the questions and answers that would guide students through the maze. I varied the nouns and the way they were presented. Some questions had fill in the blanks, while others presented a singular noun, but asked what the plural version would be. After planting all of the questions and directions, I played the game, to make sure that the player would not have any hangups. This showed me places where I ought to spread out the path of the maze. There were places where it folded too close to itself. I didn’t want players to accidentally skip questions by stumbling into the correct channel through a mishap. 

Once the path was complete, it was time to dress up the game. I made a fake green block in the “Art Builder” of BloxelsEDU. This block was brought into my Plural Noun Maze to disguise all of the yellow coins, red hazzards, and purple enemies. I also hid some life-giving hearts with the fake green blocks. Another block that I made in Art Builder was a “transparent” block. I saved a square of nothing; containing no color at all. This I used to disguise the word blocks. I didn’t want students to see future word blocks while they were playing the game. They would assume the correct path of the maze. Additionally, I hid some hearts, enemies, and hazards with the transparent block. Come to find out, when I made them invisible, it took their power away. A player can walk right through a transparent hazard, and an invisible enemy really is a ghost. A player would never know it was there! Lastly, I wanted the end of the maze to be on a floating, invisible terrain, but when I turned the green blocks invisible, they may as well truly disappear. The player cannot stand on the transparent terrain. Oh well. 

Now that my maze was complete, it was ready to administer. Before having students play it however, I devised an ingenious plan for monitoring their work. Students would read each question, then take a screenshot of the answers. While the screenshot was still

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The screenshot would show me students’ choice of noun spelling.

available, they would “mark it” up by circling what they thought was the correct spelling of the plural noun. Then they would save the screenshot and travel in the appropriate direction. They would then find out whether they were right or wrong by immediately receiving coins or encountering hazards. I put these instructions in a visible word block at the beginning of the game, along with one that warned students that the maze’s directions were hidden inside invisible blocks. 

Students enjoyed playing the game. They couldn’t help but show me their progress. Many felt the need to point out hidden things that they found, as if I didn’t know they had been placed in the maze! Ha ha.

Finally, when everyone was done, I posted a generic, simple Google slideshow to our Google classroom, making a copy for each student. They populated their individual slideshows with all of their screenshots of the game. I was able to go into Google classroom and access each student’s slideshow to see exactly what they had circled as their answers for spelling plural nouns. I gave kids scores of 1-4 depending on how successful they were on their initial guess. It was funny, because I could see in the screen shot areas where students had accidentally or otherwise already found the coins in the correct direction! The screenshots also betrayed loss of hearts, indicating that students had checked to see where hazards may be. But, I was totally okay with this. The whole idea of the game was for it to be self-correcting. If they figured out what direction they ought to go before looking at the answers and circled the corresponding answer, more power to them. You got it right, one way or another! That’s life!

The lesson, the maze, the assessment… it was all totally awesome, but there is more. Because I shared the game to my BloxelsEDU classroom, in addition to publishing it to the “Arcade”, my students now had access to the game as something that they could alter. They opened it up as a “Remix” and were able to see all of the different tricks to the trade that I had developed. They could learn how to make their own games/mazes, but also simply change mine and put in different questions, totally change the path of the maze… The BloxelEDU world was the limit! And, now you can too! Enjoy.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

New @BloxelsEDU game: #Arcade no. 26523370 #ThePolitePirates #PluralNouns

Classy Character Development

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Small booklet to be photocopied and stapled contains my story, “Teamwork Changes Everything”

“What gender is the Squirrel?” a student asked me as she typed her written response into her iPad.

“What pronoun was used in the story?” I hinted. This is a story about a squirrel who is too worried about collecting nuts to speak with a rabbit who just wants to help. Eventually, the squirrel allows the aid, and in time the two become unlikely friends. I wrote the simple story for my students several years ago. The animals don’t have names, however, I do use the personal pronoun, “her”. I just refer to them as Squirrel and Rabbit, which is common among characters in folktales. 

My student located the female personal pronoun. I got the class’s attention and pointed out the student’s discovery. A mini lesson on pronouns ensued.

Even after all of that, this morning I ran across a written response that jarred me. I had the students write about how Squirrel changes throughout the story. They were to use sequence and display evidence to show comprehension of character development. One of the best responses was written by a boy. He did a great job writing an opening sentence, answering the prompt, providing evidence…

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The great written response that gave me pause.

 

Only one thing… 

The boy used “he” to refer to the Squirrel.

Now, this is not a big deal at all; I would not take any points off for that, but it caused me to pause and think. This was not a student who failed to pay attention during my lesson on pronouns. He is one of my better listeners. 

You know what happened? This smart kid identified himself with the main character of the story; the one who changes from frantic to friendly. I don’t think that this is a case of gender reversal. It feels more like gender take over. The student is a great kid, and I don’t think there was one malicious moment in his reading or writing or learning. I blame this on my lack of clarity when developing the characters of the story. I afforded the student enough ambiguity that he was able to comfortably substitute the male pronoun for the female without even thinking about it. 

This reminded me of a Twitter profile I recently ran across and look forward to following. “Write With Color” (https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/) is about purposefully including detail about race and/or ethnicity in character development when writing.

I used to think that it was a good thing to be vague when presenting a character, so that the reader can identify more freely. There is certainly a time and place for that. If your purpose for writing is to provide powerful female potential in the public mindset, though, it would be important to make sure that people are clear on who your character is. 

My student assuming a male gender for the character from my story did not bother me, but it was a wakeup call. As I write, I plan to be more explicit in who the characters are. In this way a white kid may find out that he is no different than a kid of color. A boy will find out that a girl is just as strong, and maybe more, than he is. I want to provide opportunities for comparing and contrasting, rather than usurping my characters.

Late Bloomers

I’ve been teaching for 9 years. This is a second career for me. To pay for college (graduated in ‘96) I painted the outside of homes. This turned into a lucrative business, and I liked working for myself. Eventually, I wanted to do something more with my life. Because I enjoyed connecting with people and communicating ideas, and because I thought investing in youth to affect the future was a noble and intelligent goal, I decided to enter the elementary education field. Boy, am I glad I did! Naturally, this story is much longer, but I wanted to just provided the basics, here. 

The past 9 years have provided plenty of professional development opportunities, but I had yet to attend many conferences. This past weekend I visited #Rewire19 and was energized and inspired by a long list of incredible presenters. 

In addition to learning, I felt like I made meaningful friendships with these mentors. Something that plagued me, though, was the idea of how much teaching many people had under their belt. There were numbers like “Teaching 20+ Years” thrown all over the place. Is it necessary to teach a long time before you share pedagogical practices with peers?

IMG_9978This question made me feel like a latecomer to a party. Wait, what’s that expression?

#FashionablyLate 

I do sport a pretty mean #Bowtie.

Beyond #Fashion, I feel like I do have something to offer to this party; a type of experience that didn’t come from teaching many decades in the classroom. And, I am not just talking about having run a successful entrepreneurial painting company, either. I am a “Late Bloomer”. 

This is one of my new *All-Time-Favorite* books: “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement” by Rich Karlgaard. I heard about this book from an interview with the author on the “Smart People Podcast”.

 

As I read the text, many things happened simultaneously. One, I felt my insecurity of seeming-career-procrastination melt away as I realized that I had gained many useful life lessons that were presently helping me be a good teacher, today. If I had gone right into teaching, straight out of college… first of all, that couldn’t have happened because I didn’t even study pedagogy! …But, if my younger-self had entered the education career field, I would have certainly burned out and failed. It is only through allowing myself to bloom later in life, that I am experiencing this wonderful world of teaching. While I may not be able to place a “20+ years” near my name when it comes to teaching, I have been preparing for this position all my life!

Secondly, the book “Late Bloomers” has caused me to view my students differently. Some students will be early bloomers. These kids are already shining in school. They are acing tests, excelling in reading and math capabilities. Everyone is excited for these students. But, what about the “Late Bloomers” who will need several decades to finally open up and realize their potential? 

IMG_9179I think every educator would do well to read this book. When we differentiate our instruction, we work hard to enrich students who need to be challenged right now, but what about the students who will eventually grow into shining stars? 

There are plants that take several years before blooming. If a gardener focused only on the early bloomers and allowed weeds to overtake the Stargazers (my favorite flower), he would miss out on quite a show, not to mention the marvelous fragrance. The gardner must make sure these July blooms are planted properly, watered and cared for appropriately, and protected from voracious sun-hogs. 

Whether you are a “Late-Blooming” teacher like me or a quick start out of the gate, make sure you are conscientious to the idea that within your walls are flowers that will take quite a while to bloom… And, that’s okay. In a world “Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and boy is it ever! …It’s our job, as educators, to power or fuel the patience everyone (parents, administrators, employers, etc.) will need to practice in order to see these blooms to their marvelous opening.

What are you doing to empower potential “Late Bloomers” in your classroom?