Chess Club Isn’t Just for Members

I’d like to invite you to join the Willow Lane Chess Club kids for a game or two of chess. “But, I’m not good at chess,” you may say. This might sound weird, but you are exactly what we are looking for! The purpose of this event is for the Willow Lane Chess Club to show off its skills. We want to impress you with our knowledge of the game and ability playing it. The less you know of the game, the more impressed you will be when witnessing our skills. Also, as discussed in a previous blog, playing and losing to children is empowering (for them;). 

This event is the very first of its kind. Grownups are being invited to join the chess club from an elementary school; these are 9 to 12 year olds; during their regularly scheduled last club meeting. We have been meeting every other Tuesday all year. Students have learned how to move the pieces, win the game with checkmate, use tactics like skewering, pinning, and forking, as well as practicing with game after game. Each club member has played nearly every other one, and it is time to put our skills to a new test. 

Parents who attend will view not only their own child’s chess-playing ability, but that of their peers. The adult who is willing to sit down with a preteen and potentially lose at a strategic game like chess is a giant in humility and a god of empowerment. Students will become giant killers of fear, apprehension, and insecurity when they survive a chess match with people they view as all-powerful. Even if a child does not win, being able to play with dignity and hold one’s own against an adult will help raise a child up in their own perceived self-worth. 

If you think that you are too good at chess to join us for this day of play, I have two things to say to you. 1. Let’s see. And, 2. Please share. First of all, we have some pretty competitive kiddos in our Willow Lane Chess Club. If you are game, come on down and show us your stuff. Perhaps you crush our top players. Good. That will teach them some humility and show them how much they have yet to learn. If they give you a run for your money, all the better. Growth through challenge is strength. Secondly, we would greatly benefit from experiencing high-quality play. You could show our students some playing techniques and strategy that will help them in the future. The model of your play will give them something to strive for.

With the simple goal of showing off our skills, this ought to be a fun afternoon of gaming. Adults will be able to play a few kids. The winners of matches will NOT be recorded. This is NOT a tournament where only a few players sift to the top of a pyramid. Rather, it is going to be an hour of playing a FIFTEEN-HUNDRED-year-old game, minus the stress of game clocks, notation, or elimination. Even if you don’t know how to play at all, come and learn. If you have well-behaved children you are responsible for, bring them. They may be inspired. Don’t let anything hold you back from this extraordinary event.

Mark May 24th down on your calendars. Sign up on signup genius. Invite other grownups. And, prepare to be wowed by the students of Willow Lane.

Empowering Children With Chess

 When you’re a kid, you have very little power. Grown ups make all of the decisions for you, from what you wear, to what you eat, to when you wake up and when you go to sleep. What does a kid have control over? 

Give your students the gift of power.

Sports and games are tools and times for kids to experience power. After teaching a child how to play a game, you let them make their own decisions. They try out different tactics. Sometimes they fail, and it’s your job to make sure that is okay. We work at providing nurturing spaces to practice wielding power. Both successes and failures will help children adapt behaviors and thinking.

During a foot race, maybe a child will sprint the first few meters, only to find out that they ought to have saved a little energy for the end. Another will conserve energy too successfully, allowing all of her opponents to pass and get so far ahead that she will never catch up. A basketball star will learn that his team isn’t going to be as pleased with him taking all of the praise, even if he did score the winning basket. It’s a good idea to share the wealth when it comes to glory. 

There are many life lessons that can be learned and experienced through playing games. One of my favorite games for empowering kids is chess. This is NOT because I am good at it. I’m not. In fact, it is because my students CAN and do beat me at chess, that I have witnessed, first hand the empowerment of the game. 

I teach third grade, which means that my students have not quite developed abstract thinking yet. Chess presents concrete cause and effect relationships, combined with complicated but recognizable patterns that help players predict the future. 

The game involves capturing your opponent’s pieces and ultimately cornering their king. The various pieces have different ways of moving and capturing. The fact that there are so many rules for moving pieces may seem daunting to a novice, but I find that they provide power. Knowledge of how chess works unlocks the mystery of the game for kids. Have you ever seen the gleam on the face of a child who tells an impressed adult, “I know how to play chess”? You might think that they could perform CPR! And, if you run across a student who has checkmated an adult, you’d swear they could fly or jump over entire skyscrapers in a single bound at the very least. 

Immediately after teaching my students how all of the pieces work, I jump right to the very end of the game; checkmate. I show my students how it works and what it looks like. Checkmate happens when you are attacking your opponent’s king, and there isn’t any way for him to get out of being attacked. He is trapped. You possess all of the power of the board

This video was made when Scarlet was only 6.

Once you understand what checkmate is, you work toward making it happen. This usually involves capturing your opponent’s defensive pieces. A player will try to trick an opponent into giving up “material,” by creating scenarios that cannot be escaped or avoided. It takes planning ahead to forge tactics like forks, pins, and skewers; chess terms depicting powerful strategies. Likewise, it requires noticing patterns to avoid these pitfalls. 

When a child wins a game, he or she will feel good about him- or her-self. So much more, if the game is complex and difficult. Combine that with the idea of defeating an adult or someone who traditionally signifies power over them (babysitter or older sibling), and the effects are exponential. 

This student is setting up a game for beating me, having done so 5 times, so far.

I have seen this first hand. In order to squeeze more chess into the school day, I sometimes use a chess clock. This is called speed chess. You still try to capture pieces and ultimately checkmate your opponent, but added to the game is “running out of time.” Whoever has their time disappear first loses.

Well, I was playing a wily 3rd grader earlier this year, and he placed me in enough troubling situations that I needed to use more time thinking about getting out of traps than I was allotted. Suffice to say, my clock ran out. As time ticked down to seconds, my opponent’s friends gathered around our game. They couldn’t believe his success. And, when my clock turned red (time’s gone), he jumped up and screamed, “I beat Mr. Weimann!” followed by running around the room, further announcing to classmates, all of whom definitely already heard the news, that he had defeated the giant. 

I’ll be completely transparent and honest with you and myself: It felt humiliating. I was super tempted to sit everyone down and explain the handicap of having to make complicated decisions in a short period of time and how I never would have lost, had we NOT been using a chess clock. 

Somehow, I was able to swallow that shame. Now, I am proud to say that some of my students have grown in their chess playing skills so much that they can beat me, even without using a chess clock. They practically beg to play me in hopes that they will overpower me. Crowds of kids gather around our games. I’ve had to make up rules like, “No helping one another.” I can’t win against the whole class! They LOVE it. 

This final match from a classroom-wide tournament (2018) shows the intensity of the sport.

Would I like to be less beatable at chess? Sure, but having a flicker of hope that they could defeat the teacher has inspired my class to become chess enthusiasts beyond all previous groups. 

I’ll end with this story and lesson. I wanted to teach my daughter how to play chess. She learned how the pieces worked, and she grew to understand the concept of checkmate. When she found no success in winning a game against me, she lost interest. I came up with an idea borrowed from golf; I gave myself handicaps. The first one was playing without a queen. I play just as seriously as I normally would, but an end game of my two rooks versus my daughter’s queen and rook puts her and I on a more even playing field. It equalizes the power-dynamic. 

Another trick I tried was giving my daughter way more time than myself on the chess clock. She now tries to put me into troubling scenarios to run down my time. 

Do students beg me to play them at chess at the end of every day, or are they petitioning an opportunity to defeat their teacher? Either way, I’m happy to oblige!

Perhaps you may be concerned about losing power or respect when a child beats you at chess. It is true that they will no longer think you invincible on the board. Clearly, you can be beat. They just did exactly that! But, this does not change any other part of your relationship. If anything, it makes you appear more human.

I have always been keen to point out mistakes I’ve made in the middle of lessons, and I constantly point out that I struggle spelling certain words. Does this make me a less powerful teacher? It’s all about goals. What do you want to be perceived as? Are you hoping to be viewed as lord over them? Do you want to be seen as one who has all of the answers? My goal is to be my students’ guide. I am bringing them from the beginning of third grade to the beginning of fourth grade. Some students will have growth spurts while others will plug along. There are times and situations where it is most important for a student to simply “get healthy” emotionally, mentally, or intellectually, before growing. I will guide them through this experience. 

Also, I will do my best to help them realize the power within them. I will work at showing them their power. I use chess to empower my students. What do you use? 

Can Complaining Ever Be Classy?

I live in Pennsylvania, where it sometimes snows in the winter. It snowed last night. Some people love it. Some hate it. Some live with it. Some appreciate it. Some flee from it. Is there any point in complaining about it? 

Complaints could be opportunities for bonding.

We all know people that we could characterize as “negative.” They seem to have something negative to say about everything! Perhaps you are one of these people. (If you’re not sure, but would like to explore the possibility, check out this article.)

I’ll go ahead and share, right off the bat, that I am the opposite of negative. I am naturally positive. I look for the light in everything. This has worked well for me. I have groomed and developed this trait in myself, and I have found that it makes me feel happy to be optimistic and plus-minded. 

That being said, I am close to people who “see the dark side of things” very clearly, communicate them regularly, and tend to focus or “hone in on” what feels negative. As it happens, my friends who lean toward the negative are also very good and interesting communicators. They are not clouds of despair or drones of doom. 

Recently, I was pondering the idea of criticising one of my friend’s tendency to criticise when the irony struck me; Am I doing exactly what I dislike in others? Why do I dislike what my friend did? Is there a place for criticism? Is criticism inherently negative? Is there a way to do it that is more classy? 

This line of thinking led me down a path of researching “Negative People”; specifically people who complain. Social media is filled with memes, quotes, and advice about staying away from “Negative People.” In my experience, if you live on Earth, you can not completely avoid this type of person. So, I have taken it upon myself to learn a little more about them… Even, appreciate what they bring to the table.

According to Biswas-Diener, R. (2017), the act of “complaining is simply expressing dissatisfaction.” Something was lacking. An experience came up short. After summation, the end result was not positive in one way or another. To voice or communicate this deficit is to complain, but does the act of complaining “take away from” or “make negative” the situation that was “dissatisfying”? 

There are a variety of ways to complain, some better than others. Biswas-Diener, R. (2017) writes about the chronic complainer. If you don’t know someone like this, you’ve heard of the person who seems to be addicted to seeing only the negative. They “ruminate on problems and focus on setbacks.” This attitude of unhappiness actually rewires not only the brains of  chronic complainers, but the thinking of those subjected to listening (reading social media posts from said individuals counts).

Additionally, there are people who don’t seem to be consumed with complaining, but just have to get certain things off of their chest… ALL THE TIME! These people are “venters” (Biswas-Diener, R. 2017). They aren’t looking for solutions; Just listening ears to take in the complaining. This act of giving breath to venters validates their feelings of having been wronged. The act of listening to someone venting is not bad. It is friendly, but empowering them to fill air with negativity may not be the most healthy long-term practice. Think about regulating the acceptance of vented air. It may be healthy to help your friend find validation in a variety of ways, weaning them from the practice of spreading negativity. 

Have you ever complained? Of course. We all complain. But, do you do it well? Or, have you fallen into the traps of chronic complaining and/or venting regularly? According to Scott, E. (2020), complaining in small doses can be a healthy stress relief. And, Complaining correctly can be constructive for others.

Right before composing this blog, I saw a tweet that praised a kid book that shared New Years traditions. The book had a catchy title, and I was interested in using it, so I looked it up. It had very high reviews, but one of the first write-ups was only 3 stars. I read this one, and very much appreciated the writer’s sincere, honest criticism of the text and illustrations. While I’m sure that the book has plenty of positive characteristics, this qualified reviewer (her background includes the culture that the book teaches) pointed out some significant flaws. In the end, I decided not to buy the book. It might add to the discussion about varying New Year’s traditions around the world, but seemed to be more “fluff” than fact. I greatly appreciated this critical review. It may have focused on negative aspects of the book, but it didn’t leave me with a poor attitude toward it. Plenty of other people will buy and enjoy it a lot. 

This review could be characterized as “complaining.” The writer was pointing out elements that were dissatisfactory. That being said, the “complaint” has several classy elements to it. First and foremost, it was written in order to help people make an informed and intelligent decision. While it may point out the shortcomings of the book, it did not tear it up or leave me with disrespect for its author. It takes a lot to publish a children’s book. There were plenty of attractive things about the book that this reviewer allows to remain unscathed by criticism. The elements that were discussed in the review, while creating a sense of lacking in the picture book that it referenced, which could be viewed as “negative” by some, actually added to my understanding of the topic, thereby creating a positive balance in the end. 

When a complaint is made in order to help people, and provides beneficial information that adds to the intellectual ether, it can be very classy to share. In fact, all of the reviews that praised the topic, rewarding the book with 5 stars, glowing praise, and thoughtless recommendations are creating a negative result in that they are ignoring the parts of the text that are not good. This process of undue enthusiasm fosters a bubble of fake optimism. People drawn to positive thoughts and feelings, like moths to a flame, will buy, use, and share the book, blindly following the advice of the blithely reporting online. Never thoroughly exploring the content of the text,  whether it was accurate, misleading, or downright deceptive, allows a vacuum of overly positive vibes to suck people into uncritically purchasing and preaching ideas that are not well-balanced. 

Because of the snow, my school district decided to have staff and students experience a “Flexible Instruction Day” (FID) today. This means that teaching will be done online, via Google Meet. There probably won’t be any complaining about this. Ha ha. I can’t even imagine being an administrator who has to deal with a never-ending stream of complaints, no matter what decision is made. Wear masks; Don’t wear them. Return to school; Begin virtual learning, again. Two-hour-delay, closure, FID, or 100% open EVERY time there is inclement weather! You will never make everyone happy, and there will be complaints galore, no matter what you choose. 

Plenty of reasons to complain about online teaching, but The Polite Pirates (my class) loved seeing each others’ faces, maskless!

One way that administrators curb the toxicity of chronic complaining about decisions is by providing reasons for their decisions. If a complaint is viewed as the communication of dissatisfaction, the lack of satisfaction could be quelled by knowing that at least a lot of thought went into the decision, and that it was made with the hope to help people have the best experience possible. When a parent, teacher, administrator, etc. says, “You should do what I said because I told you to do it,” they are communicating a negativity in that they acknowledge the lack of satisfaction, but don’t do anything to fill the void. This feeling of discontent will form a blackhole for respect. Any and all admiration, approval, and appreciation for the leader will get sucked in with the realization that “this person does not actually care about me.” 

A person who selfishly “vents” all of the time or habitually complains as a rule of thumb may be too narcissistic to see what it does to the people around them. A classy person may try to help the narcissist see others and appreciate what complaining does to the community. It could be classy to help neighbors use their complaining to identify solutions. Criticism could fuel change and growth (Scott, E. 2020). It can be motivational. And, there are times when all you can do is avoid the black hole. Distancing yourself from the pull of negativity and vanishing respect might be the healthiest, safest course of action. 

My main takeaway from researching the pluses and minuses of complaining is that a classy person does not shun the negative. We should acknowledge this shadow of human behavior and appreciate what it can provide. While it is important to maintain mental health, and because it isn’t healthy to ignore legitimate feelings, whether yours or a close companions, complaints ought to be heard and analyzed. Ask yourself, “What is the motivation behind this complaint?” Consider, “Is this person just needing to vent? Perhaps it is important for their feelings to be validated. Is this one of an endless stream of complaints, and feeding this habit will strengthen a beast of negativity in my friend.” 

It might be classiest to confront your friend. Or, the classiest thing to do could be taking action based on the dissatisfaction a colleague or subordinate has communicated. Here’s an idea: Ask the complainer what they would like you to do with the information that they are sharing. “It sounds like you had an awful experience. Would you like me to help you deal with this? Is there anything that I can do to help?” These questions could show that you listened, are willing to help, and care about the well-being of your friend. If you ask these questions, be prepared to follow through. 

Sources: 

Biswas-Diener, R. (2017, June 13). The Three Types of Complaining. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/significant-results/201706/the-three-types-complaining 

Daniel, A. (2019, December 23). 23 Signs You’re a Negative Person, According to Mental Health Experts. Best Life. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://bestlifeonline.com/signs-too-negative/ 

Higgs, M. M. (2020, January 6). Go Ahead and Complain. It Might Be Good for You. New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/smarter-living/how-to-complain-.html 

Scott, E. (2020, November 23). Hidden Benefits and Pitfalls of Complaining. Very Well Mind. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/complaining-why-do-we-do-it-3144857

“How to Teach Cribbage to Kids, AND Why They Need to Learn”

(Part 1 of obviously more than 1, but not sure how many just yet;)

With the winter holidays approaching, I wanted to prepare The Polite Pirates (my students) for being stuck in the house with “nothing to do.” While I’m not against video games, I think it’s wise to have some alternatives

Hands-on games that promote thinking and problem solving are my favorite to teach and play. Chess and Dominoes are begun early on in the year. Now, it’s time to break out the Cribbage board

The fact that there are tiny pieces that could easily get lost makes the unpackaging mysterious and exciting. The board looks interesting, and young students can’t wait to get their little fingers on those tiny pegs! This affords a concrete reward for paying close attention and practicing the game well. 

Teaching Cribbage to children requires a scaffolding approach. There are many rules and ways to acquire points. They must learn all of these before earning the privilege of placing pegs on the board. This motivation helps keep them interested and focused. 

Analyzing combinations to find potential points.

After showing and modeling the board just enough to wet their appetite, I explain that the first part of the game is all about analyzing your cards. You must decide which cards to keep and which ones to discard (They go in what is called a “Crib,” but we don’t worry about that at first). First, I model, looking closely at 6 cards. Leaving out the idea of runs, I explain that we are looking for pairs and combinations that make 15. With only these 2 criteria, we work on adding up card values and counting potential points.

Cribbage for Homework!

[A couple of things to keep in mind: Aces are always valued at 1 in Cribbage, and face cards are all 10. Also, and this is fun for teaching the point system/using combinations, three-of-a-kind is 3 separate pairs, totaling 6 points (2 points per pair).]

Shuffling between rounds makes it feel more like a card game than math practice.

After modeling making wise decisions regarding which card combinations make the most points, I have students try. In groups of 3, I give kids 6 cards to puzzle over. I always shuffle the deck between every “round.” This makes it feel more like a card game and less like math practice.

If interest wanes at all, you could move the pegs on the board. That will get kids into looking for as many points as possible. Also, you could suggest that if one team sees points in another team’s cards that were not discovered and therefore not counted, the team that discovered the missing points gets them! 

In other words, you have Team A and Team B. Each team gets 6 cards. If Team A only found ways to earn 4 points, but when they show their combinations, a player from Team B notices an additional way to make a combination of 15 that Team A failed to see or mention, the sly individual from Team B who uncovered the extra points gets them for their team (B, not A). This keeps everyone on the alert. 

Listen to the amazing thinking going on.

Notice that the students have to use “math discourse” to share what their cards provide. They do this to prove that they deserve the points they are claiming. It allows every player to perform backup mental math. 

This exercise of looking for combinations of 15 will continue in this way for a week or two. Once students have grasped all of the ins and outs, you can introduce “The Starter.” This card is pulled from the middle of the deck after the cards have been dealt. It is placed face up on top of the pile of leftover cards. Students now have one more card to consider when choosing the 4 cards that they will keep. The Starter is static, staying on top of the deck and being used by all teams. 

If you are interested in enriching the decision making process, tell the students that one team will actually get the cards that you discard. The two cards that each team gets rid of go into a “Crib” that the dealer uses to make points at the end of each round. This means that, in addition to trying to figure out what combinations of cards will afford you the most points, you want to keep points out of the hands of others. Don’t gift the dealer with good combinations. Or, if you are the dealer, you can feel comfortable placing a pair or good combination into the Crib. 

Students practice skip counting by twos.

A way to differentiate for your students who are continuing to make progress but could use some help is providing a chart of addends that form 15. You could also have manipulatives or base-ten boards/charts for students to make 15. Make a lesson of looking for tens and fives in number combinations. 

Just as I would have The Polite Pirates practice for a while before introducing further ideas, I will end this blog right here. Playing with numbers, considering the value of combinations, analyzing which cards should stay and which ones should go, students will enjoy the randomness of shuffled hands. “Cribbage affords players both the anticipation of the luck of the deal as well as ample opportunity to exercise their skills in discarding and play” (Bicycle blog).

Previous blog about Cribbage

Get Endorphins From Helping Others

Have you ever felt super good after experiencing an extra grueling workout or after finishing something really difficult? This is natural and normal. The human body has a way of protecting itself from feeling pain; It releases what some call a “Happy Hormone” that tricks the mind, so that the body can heal in peace. This hormone release is known as endorphins (Myers, 2021).

I like to run in the morning for a couple of reasons. One is that it is when I have time. Running while my daughter and wife are sleeping means I’m not using up time that would be spent with them. Also, my wife and daughter aren’t the only ones sleeping at the hours I run. There are far fewer people pounding the pavement when the sun is just barely hinting over the horizon than later in the day. In other words, I can run in peace, with much less crowded park paths. 

The other day I was running at a nice clip, and I was feeling pretty good about it, when a guy called to me from a jeep. He asked me where the “Water Park” was. I stopped to tell him to turn right at the light. I was about to explain more, but he told me that this was enough information. It actually was, since there are signs, and his destination was right around the corner. 

As he drove off, I was left with curious thoughts and feelings. It is rare for someone to release you from helping them. Most people would sit there and take in all of the directions I would be willing to give. Another interesting realization was that I didn’t feel annoyed about this interruption hurting my pace or disrupting my run. I use an app to measure my pace, and I enjoy keeping pretty close tabs on how I am doing. A recent goal has been to run at a slightly faster pace. Stopping to talk to someone would hurt my overall average! 

The overwhelming feeling that I experienced was one of giddy elation at simply helping someone. It was so strong that I videotaped myself sharing a hypothesis about these emotions. I wondered if, in addition to exercising, there were other times and ways to get endorphins. 

Lots of runners are familiar with a “runners high” after a run. This high feeling helps the exerciser (It doesn’t have to be running; Any form of physical activity or exertion will work) NOT feel the pain that their muscles will experience. It is the body’s way of self-repair. 

When I helped the traveler find his way, I had stopped what I was doing. My pace was suffering. I was not using my time for me. My focus was being distracted. My goals were getting harder to meet. In short, I was experiencing, albeit minor, psychological pain. But then, afterward, I felt awesome, having helped someone. 

My scientific question: Could helping people cause endorphins to be released? 

From just a tiny bit of research the answer seems to be, yes, helping others can cause real, physical, good feelings (Myers, 2021).

I highly recommend that everyone conduct many science experiments of helping others. How does it feel? Journal about it to collect data and observe trends.

Also, share with me not only what you discover from your own personal research, but any articles that support (or deny) this claim. I’d like to dig deeper into the physical benefits a person acquires from helping others. 

“Being kind” isn’t just a nice thing to do. It actually benefits your self. So, be kind for #selfcare. 

Sources:

Myers, Amy. July 26, 2021. What Are Endorphins & Why We Want Them.  https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/what-are-endorphins/ 

Building Blocks of Math

Some lessons work out so well that I can’t help but share them with others. This is one of those.

Everyone wants to stack building blocks!

So far my third grade Polite Pirates (what I call my students) have learned how to round to the nearest ten and hundred, plus three-digit addition and subtraction. As we move on to multiplication and division, I came up with a way to make reviewing and practicing our foundational arithmetic skills unbelievably fun: a game.

Usually, I’ll create a game around a story. This time, I kept it super simple: “Closest to a 1000 wins!” 

Old-school building blocks are magical. You could dump them out in front of a 4 year old or a 40 year old, and you’d see the same reaction; Building. Everyone wants to stack blocks. 

The first thing I did was write three-digit numbers on the sides of mine; I actually wrote the numbers on pieces of paper that I taped to the sides. Then I threw them in a box. The “Box O’ Blocks” is plain-old fun to say;) I told the Polite Pirates that it was a game… Instant positive vibes. 

Here’s how you play: 

Share, Take Turns, Work as a Team
  1. Each team blindly takes 3 blocks out of the box. 
  2. Stack the blocks so you can see the numbers. 
  3. Add the numbers up.
  4. Closest to 1000 wins. “How do you tell who is closest?” (Let students figure this out. There will be some teaching. This is one of my favorite parts.)
  5. As a team decide on one block to exchange in order to get closer to 1000. Place it on the side, but not back in the box.
  6. Blindly take one more block out. 
  7. Combine this number with the others. Make a prediction. Will your new total be closer or farther from 1000?
  8. Add the numbers. Was your prediction correct? 
  9. Repeat steps 5-8. 
  10. Which combination of 3 blocks is closest to 1000?
  11. Compare your sum with that of other teams. Who is closest to 1000? 
  12. Start over; Play another round.

When I first introduced the game, I was astounded to witness the number sense that this little activity generated. Kids could instantly tell that their 3 blocks would exceed 1000 by quickly adding up the hundreds. But, they had to include the tens and ones to see which team was closer. 

Closest to a Thousand

Figuring out which team was closer to 1000 was a lot of fun, too. I had two teams competing during a math center, and everyone thought that the team with 1349 was closer than the one with 749. I drew a simple number line with 1000 in the middle. It was easy to see how far 1349 was from 1000. It’s just 349 past the 1000, but what about 749? The Polite Pirates were tricked into thinking that it was 749 units away from the mark (1000). When we subtracted 749 from 1000, the Polite Pirates saw that this team was only 251 units away from the 1000, making it the winner of that round. 

When kids have a purpose for playing, they will do any amount of math. I had the students who met with me at this center bring their Spiral Notebooks to work out their arithmetic. Some were trying to do the math in their heads. Others worked it out quickly on their papers and shouted out the answers. We figured out together how to play the game politely: Wait for everyone to solve the problem, and then compare numbers. Discuss how you got your answer

Multiple Strategies

We use Ready Math in my school district. One of the things I love most about Ready Math is the multiple ways to solve the same problem. I had kids drawing base-ten blocks to show their hundreds, tens, and ones. Some kids used expanded form to add up the three-digit numbers. There were kids who were able to add 3 three-digit numbers one on top of another, using the algorithm I grew up learning. 

One girl had added two numbers together, and then the third to that sum. She was thrilled to find that she could simply substitute that last step with a new number when her group chose a different block! It saved her a step. 

I was able to review regrouping on the board for those students still struggling with borrowing to subtract. Everyone was at a different level, using different tools and strategies, but we were all engaged in learning, reviewing, practicing, and having fun. 

If a kid finished before others, they simply messed with the 3 blocks, stacking them different ways, and that was perfectly okay! With only 3 they didn’t make much noise if they fell. The other mathematicians only hurried more to complete their work, too. They wanted to get their fingers on the blocks, also. “No dice till you finish figuring out how close to 1000 your group came.”

Commutative Property

I used Sketches School to show math.

Lastly, a surprising teaching moment arose when I was able to reintroduce the commutative property and mental math within adding 3 three-digit numbers. I was showing the algorithm style of adding 3 numbers on top of one another. “When you have a bunch of single-digit numbers, it can be difficult to add them all up in your head. Look for tens or combinations that are easier to work with,” I explained to my Polite Pirates. 

I showed this by pulling a column of 4 numbers out of the algorithm and writing it in a line. “You can add these ones in any order you like,” I told my learners. “Choose combinations that work best for you. Don’t forget any numbers.”

We didn’t want our center to end! Polite Pirates were reluctant to drop their blocks back in the box. But, what kid doesn’t like making noise? 

Enrichment

Finally, I will say that when I first dreamed up this simple game, I was thinking that I’d have my students buy blocks or measure how high they could build. I thought that I’d explain the three-digit numbers to represent how much mass each block was (some were more dense than others), and they could only build a 1000 kg structure… I could come up with a million scenarios for my block-building game, but it was unnecessary. Perhaps, it would be helpful if reintroducing the game to the same students down the road. 

When first explaining how to play, though, numbers on blocks in a box are all you need. If you like this lesson, give it a try. If you have thoughts on its implementation or ideas on improvement, let me know. Good luck and great teaching!

Goals Gone Awry

Goals are helpful. Without them we can wander around aimlessly. But, how much gets missed? How many wonderful lessons get left behind and ignored due to our mission of meeting goals? I experienced this earlier in the week in a fun and silly way. 

I paused during a run to record a selfie, but forgot what my point had been! It ended up being a real rant; a rambling recording. I laughed at myself and posted it anyway.

A couple of years ago I came across a group of people who posted selfie videos on Twitter. It caught my attention. The videos had some things in common. Each one was recorded directly or very soon after a workout or run. They were short. (Twitter only allows 2 minute videos.) Each tweet contained the hashtag #RunAndRant. And, there was usually a weekly theme or word that everyone “ranted” (discussed).

Most of the people who participated in this running and ranting activity had something to do with education. If the topics weren’t specifically teacher-related, many of the rants were. The videos were fun to watch, and it was awesome to connect with people through discussion in the comments under the tweets. 

In addition to communicating with others, I was inspired to get out there and run, myself! I had wanted to for years, and the time had finally arrived.

The weekly topic would be decided by Monday night or Tuesday morning. Then participants (Not everyone ran; Some swam, many walked, and there were weight-lifters, too!) would make short selfies that contained whatever thoughts they came up with during their workouts. People tagged known #RunAndRant “members” and friends, and there would be a nice cachet of videos to watch and comment on within 24 hours.

I want to thank Mark Ryan for pioneering this fun activity and organizing this group. I’m not positive if he literally started this, but he was the point person, as far as I know, for initiating topics and connecting like-minded people. Thank you. This activity is why I am regularly running right now:)

Goals Gone Awry

Okay, fine, but why is this blog titled “Goals Gone Awry”? you may be wondering. Let me explain. 

During my run an interesting idea popped into my mind that I wanted to share with the “Run And Rant” team. Just as I had many times before, I kicked it around in my head as I pounded the pavement. The idea grew and deepened. I was excited to share it via selfie on social media. 

Here’s the thing, though: I told myself, Let’s wait until I’m at a better location to record my thoughts; a place that is quieter. When I got to that place, I found that my train of thought had jumped the rails. My rant ended up being more true to definition, a rambling mess of thoughts. I laughed at myself as I recorded it and posted it anyway. Perhaps someone could get something out of it, I thought. (This is the one shared at the top of this blog;)

A few days later I was running my favorite loop when I came to a section of road that was a little bumpy. It had been treated with “loose gravel,” a coating of tar and aggregate that preserves the roadway and provides skid-resistance (Kent County Road Commission FAQ, n.d.). This jogged my memory. I remembered my unrecorded rant.

But, then I got to thinking about WHY my thoughts had evaporated like the morning fog. My goal of waiting until I had reached a particular place on my run made me lose the lesson. If I hadn’t set that goal, if I’d recorded my original thoughts when I had them, I could have captured a more coherent idea. 

This time I put my run on pause and began recording immediately. Now, I got my initial idea in the recording, plus this concept of goals potentially holding us back.

If you watch the video, you will see that there is a lot of traffic zooming by me. You can’t see it, but I’m coming to a busy intersection that I will have to cross. Smack dab in the middle of the rant my running app starts announcing my stats! Nuts! Needless to say this recording is far from ideal. 

All of these details are why I had waited to rant during the previous run. 

Have you ever had a goal ruin your lesson? Are there ever times when goals get in the way of progress? When is it okay to let go of a goal? Perhaps it is okay to run with a thought or lesson that didn’t have an established goal. 

I’d love to hear about times goals have gone awry for you. What have you found helpful for getting the most out of life and learning?

“Get Your Notebooks Back Out,” Again and Again and Again

Yesterday was the first day of school, and a common phenomenon happened. Students would put away their folders and notebooks when we weren’t quite done using them.

It was frustrating to wait for students to get their tools back out of their desks, so I thought of a way to help them understand why they ought to wait to be told, “We are NOW done. You may put away your ___.” I made up a word picture; a story.

A family’s getting ready to have dinner. The kids are given plates and silverware. They sit down at the table. Mom brings over some rolls and butter. Dad checks on the casserole in the oven.

The kids butter their rolls, eat them, and get up from the table. When they bring their dirty plates and silverware over to the sink to clean them up, Dad asks, “What are you doing? The casserole is just about done.”

“We are cleaning up our plates. We’re finished,” the kids announce.

Incredulous, the dad explains that rolls are not the meal and that they should wait at the table. “It wouldn’t make any sense to clean your plates before eating the delicious casserole!”

“Your notebooks are the plates from this story,” I told my class. Their eyes lit up with understanding.

(I had been telling the same kids to get their folders back out of their desks many times. I could see that the class was sensing my frustration. Rather than repeating what was turning into an ignorable mantra, I invented this word picture.)

“When you place your folders back in your desk, it is like those kids washing up their plates when all they ate was a roll! You should wait until I tell you that we are done with our notebooks, before you close and store them away,” I explained.

How many times are we too busy or rushed to take the time to make motions meaningful? How often do you tell students to do tasks or complete assignments with the expectation that they will just do it because you told them to? In addition to having clearly defined reasons available for your students, I challenge you to invent narratives that not only explain your motives, but deepen students’ understanding.

My quick short story instantly did what lots of complaining couldn’t touch. A couple of times I saw students preparing to close their notebooks before we were finished with a task after I had shared my story. All I had to do was jokingly ask them, “You want desert; Don’t you? You shouldn’t put your plates in the sink until the dinner is decidedly over.” They knew exactly what I was saying, even though I didn’t use the word, “notebook.”

How have you used symbols, nonverbal communication, storytelling, or other tricks of the trade to clearly communicate classroom procedures and pedagogy? Was there an instance that worked particularly well? Please share.

Air Conditioning

“Sometimes I turn the air conditioner on to lower the humidity, even more than the temperature.”

What do you do to “condition” the climate of your classroom?

I live in the North Eastern part of America, a land full of extremely different climates. When my daughter complains that it is raining, I tell her about places right in our country where it hardly ever rains. The people who live there cannot plant the gardens that we can. They don’t enjoy frequenting forest hikes, because woods are too far to visit regularly. With a couple more examples Scarlet was convinced that foregoing a pool day for some rain might be worth it. 

As wet as it is around here, we are blessed with relatively high humidity. I lived in Florida for a year, so I know what humidity is. In Pennsylvania, it comes and goes, thankfully. But, there are days when you walk outside, and it feels like you are swimming to your car! 

It’s my opinion that high levels of humidity are uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy feeling sticky. It can even cause objects to deteriorate faster. 

The humidity makes the air feel even hotter than it actually is, too. This is because our natural air conditioning won’t work when the air is too humid. Our bodies produce sweat in order to cool off. The cooling sensation comes from the sweat from our skin evaporating. When there is already too much moisture in the air, the sweat doesn’t have anywhere to go! (Krueger, 2016)

My wife visited Big Bend National Park in Texas a few years ago. She was conducting research there, in the summer! It was well over 100 degrees, but “You don’t feel it,” she explained. “It’s a dry heat.” I have never had the privilege of experiencing “dry heat.” The dryness of the air in desert climates or areas that receive very little rain (<30% humidity) feel cooler than the actual temperature because of how quickly the sweat evaporates from your skin (LaNore, 2021). In the same way that you don’t even notice sweating because of how fast it disappears, you won’t realize just how hot the air is. 

One thing that I like about living in Pennsylvania is the variety of weather. Unlike Florida, we get breaks from the humidity. But, this means that we don’t acclimate to a constant feeling of stickiness. When the humidity hits, it is extremely noticeable.

The good news is that you can “condition” the air to be less humid. I was telling a friend just the other day that there are times I’ll turn on the air conditioner and set the temperature at only a couple of degrees cooler than the actual temperature. Why would I do this? Using an air conditioner can dry up the air (Anderson, 2017). 

You may be interested in “deep-diving” the science behind air conditioning, first invented by Willis Carrier in 1902 (How do air conditioners work?). Basically, air is sucked into a machine through a “compressor” that uses a cooling agent to lower the temperature of the air.

The gas then moves through an “evaporator” (central air) or over an “evaporating coil” (window units). This is when the chilled air loses its moisture. The heavy water particles are left behind, as the cool dry air exits the unit. You can actually see the water vapor leave window units on the outside of buildings. There is usually a hole where water drips out. 

Okay, so now that you have journeyed with me through the annoyance of temporary high humidity levels and how to feel comfortable, it is time to readdress the initial question: What do you do to “condition” the climate within your classroom? 

Have you ever walked into a space where the tension is so present that you feel it in the air? Have you ever felt your own blood boil to the point that you are heating up the room? People, including us teachers, blow their cool. We all get upset. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve witnessed student after student experiencing frustrations (technology can sometimes stimulate this;) where one kid’s attitude begins to affect another’s, until the whole room is boiling over with irritation. I’ll usually catch the mood before it gets out of control, and I’ll have everyone practice a mindfulness technique. We have to reset our soles. 

There are times we have to literally, physically leave the educational space. I’ll bring everyone outside. I’ve even taken my class for a walk around the school, just to return to our room and work. They chuckle incredulously when they realize we did nothing more than roam the halls. It works, though. The “humidity” exits the room with us, and it “evaporates” off of our persons, out of our minds, when we move our feet. 

When frustration is mild, or if I can anticipate potential irritation; maybe we are about to do an assessment or practice something the students don’t enjoy; I will have the class do Tai Chi. This is a very pleasant way for the kids to get out of their seats, move their bodies slowly, and practice mindful breathing. It is a great way to lower the tension (humidity) before the “temperature” rises. 

How do you condition your classroom environment? How do you know when you ought to?

Sources:

Anderson, F. (2017, September 9). Does the air conditioner dry out the air in my home? Forrest Anderson Plumbing Air Conditioning, inc. https://www.forrestanderson.net/post/does-the-air-conditioner-dry-out-the-air-in-my-home 

How do air conditioners work? Carrier. https://www.carrier.com/residential/en/us/products/air-conditioners/how-do-air-conditioners-work/

Krueger, A. (2016, July 7). Why does it feel hotter when it’s humid? Science! Spectrum News 1. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/triad/news/2016/07/7/why-does-it-feel-hotter-when-it-s-humid—science-

LaNore, S. (2021, July 5). Dry heat vs. humid heat — How do they affect me? Acu*Rite. https://www.acurite.com/blog/dry-heat-vs-humid-heat.html 

Assasination Obsession: MLK was more than a martyr, much more

With schools attempting to be as safe as possible, field trips are being conducted via Zoom meetings. My students, The Polite Pirates, experienced one of these the other day.

We had the opportunity to hear a gentleman from a local historical society narrate a slideshow about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This person made MLK come to life by sharing many details about his childhood and behind-the-scenes facts from the Civil Rights Movement. I had my students taking notes, while listening. 

Part of taking notes was writing down questions. In the end, while the Zoom was still muted, I told my students to choose one open-ended question that they wished to ask the expert. They were to circle it on their papers. I walked around and looked at the questions. A few had already been answered within the presentation. Perhaps the student missed the answer and wanted clarification. Several had to do with MLK’s death.

I chose the two questions that I thought would further the understanding of what kind of person MLK had been. They were both able to ask their questions.

A girl from my class asked, “What types of texts did MLK like to read?” I loved this question because it focused on what I want my students to develop: A love of reading. Also, it focuses on MLK becoming who he was through reading. 

The other question made my heart stop when I read it: “Why did MLK like to write?” I couldn’t wait for the expert to persuade my students that writing is a powerful tool that could move mountains. 

Both of my students’ questions were asked and the answers were wonderful. What struck me was how many students focused on MLK’s death. They wanted to know who killed him, how old was he when he died, where did he die, what was the date, could you stay at the hotel where MLK was assassinated???? The person from the historical society, when asked one of these, did a good job honoring the questions that were asked, while bringing focus and attention back to MLK’s life and accomplishments. 

I’ve been thinking about this idea of “Assassination Obsession” ever since the Zoom virtual field trip a few days ago. Some thoughts have risen to the surface. First of all, there is the never-ending news of mass shootings and gun violence in our media. I wonder how much mental space this consumes in our youth. Then, there are the video games: “Among Us” and “Fortnite” are the two biggest ones I hear about on a daily basis. 

I have to confess that I haven’t played either of these games. From what I understand, “Among Us” is all about solving a murder mystery. This seems pretty classic. It appears to model the classic game of Clue. The thing is I played Clue when I was young. It was one of many board (bored) games that I enjoyed. I definitely did not talk about it with my friends, and there was no way we planned to join up at one another’s houses (today it would be Zooms and group realtime games online) to play it. 

I am not one to preach against video games or poo poo all violent games or movies, but this experience of witnessing how consuming the topic of assassination was has caused me to wonder what could be done to help students grow healthy perspectives and thoughts. First of all, teachers could redirect thinking the way the expert during my class’s virtual field trip did. “Yes, MLK was assassinated, but that was a tragic, horrible end to an amazing life. Let’s explore and learn about the magnificent things MLK accomplished and inspired, instead of focusing on who or what ended it.”

What ideas do you have? Have you witnessed this obsession, also? What have you done, if anything, to combat the “Assassination Obsession”? Pointers?