Open-Ended Questions Are Classy

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ePals is a great way to meet teachers from around the world

I am extremely excited to announce that I have connected with a teacher from another country whose students will be collaborating with mine on a project or two and potentially pen palling each other. I found this class and teacher through the use of ePals. The country that my new colleague is from is very far from mine in both distance and culture. I thought that it would be fun to play the game 20 questions between the two classes to guess where each is located. My new pen pal has never heard of this classic American game. In thinking about how to communicate the rules and strategy of the simple game to my foreign friend, I came up with a use for playing it with my WIN class.

Research Questions

Friday’s WIN class found me teaching research questions. My students are progressing in their “Who Would WIN?” projects. We have decided on animals, checked books out of the library, and are getting ready to learn about our topics. What should we learn, though? And, how do we find the information? We search for it using research questions.

These are open-ended questions that begin with words and phrases like…

When… ?

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Students are finding books about their animals

What type or kind… ?

How… ?

Where… ?

Why… ?

Why are these open-ended questions better than yes/no questions?

I decided to play 20 Questions to show the students the limitations of yes/no ?s.

Rules/Strategies:

You get 20 questions.

Each question must be a yes/no question. It can only receive a yes/no answer. If you accidentally ask an open-ended question, it will still be answered with a “Yes” or a “No”. For instance, someone may ask, “What color is it?” That person would get the reply, “No,” which obviously does not make any sense and is not helpful. Do not waste your questions.

One question per person. And, since we have more than 20 kids in the class, not everyone will get to ask one. Sorry, maybe next time. But, definitely no one will get to ask more than one. If you do get a chance to ask a question, make sure it is a good one. You must remember all of the answers of previous questions, so that you do not repeat any of those and waste your turn and one of the group’s precious questions!

Also, you want to pay close attention to answers, so that you can build on information that’s already been learned.

You want your question to continue trains of thought that seem to be leading down information paths that could end up revealing something that would give away what the answer is. For example, perhaps someone asked if the thing being guessed is alive. If the answer was no, it wouldn’t make any sense to ask a question about something living! You would want to find out where this inanimate thing is located or what it is used for. In this way, your questions will be working together. You must think of yourselves as a team.

When it comes time to guess what the thing is, that counts as one of your questions. You may make this inquiry at any time during the game, but keep in mind that you would be using up one of the 20 questions. It would be wasteful to ask, “Is it Superman?” when you don’t have any information suggesting that it could be. Narrow down the options with your questions.

Now that you understand the game, let’s play. I’m thinking of an animal. It is a wild animal that is not featured in any of the “Who Would Win” books by Jerry Pallota. No one in the class has chosen to research this animal. What is it?

Ways to narrow the field of information include focusing on the following:

Size–Is it smaller than this chair? Yes. Is it smaller than my hand? No. Now you know that it is somewhere between a hand and chair. Don’t guess any more size questions. Focus on another feature.

Habitat–Does it live in the water? Sometimes. (It is at the discretion of the interviewee to answer the questions however he/she thinks best. There may be times when the question, even though it be an appropriate yes/no question cannot be answered with only one of those two answers, satisfactorily. My animal is an amphibian. I didn’t want to kill all chance of my guessers for figuring it out. Also, the person being questioned may provide hints if it seems like the answer is too hard. You may want to steer the guessers in the right direction. Remember, it is just a game.)

Habits–Is it a carnivore? Sort of. So, does it eat meat and plants? Yes. Okay, does it eat bugs? Yes, it loves bugs. (Notice, I am giving them a hint, here.)

Location–Does it exist here in our town? Yes.

Looks–Is it furry? No. Is it scaly? No. Is it a hot color? No. Does it have long legs? Yes, most definitely, for its size, its legs are enormous!

Me: You have many clues as to what it is, are you ready to guess what it is? No. We want to narrow it down a little more.

The students continued to ask more and more detailed questions until they were stumped. They had begun discussing with each other the fact that the animal had to be a frog, but those were usually smaller than a hand. “Is it a frog that is bigger than a hand?”

“Do you want to use one of your questions to ask that?” (They only had a couple left, and I wanted them to be successful.)

“No.” More classroom discussion.

“What do you know about frogs? Are there any that are larger than a hand?”

As if no one had thought of that, surprise lit up faces throughout the room. Finally, someone blurted out, “Is it a bullfrog?”

“Yes.”amphibian-aquatic-animal-close-416206

The Power of Open-Ended Questions

I then prompted more classroom discussion, “What question or questions would have gotten you to the answer faster, if you were not limited to yes/no options?”

Students shared with their turn/talk partners.

After listening to a few ideas, we concluded that the fastest was “What animal are you thinking about?” We also discussed better ways to dig up information about your animal. What does it eat? How does it eat that? Where does it get its food? When does it eat? How often does it eat? Before students’ minds exploded, I had them type some sample research questions in the Notes App on their iPads.atlas-close-up-dark-592753

What Country Are You From?

While that would be much easier a question to ask and get answered, my favorite part of teaching is making things difficult and challenging for my students. So, we will play 20 questions with our pen pals. Hopefully we will learn more than just the name of their country. That’s the idea, anyway.

Have you had interesting experiences playing 20 Questions? Oh no! That was a lame yes/no question;(

What interesting experiences have you had playing 20 Questions? Explain.

When have you played the game? I used to play with my sister on long car rides when we were growing up. It helped to pass the time.

What was the best answer or question that you remember someone using?

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Research Questions send you on a QUEST.

Must Mention

I always point out the root word in “Research” and discuss that this term means “searching deeper.” It is like you didn’t find all of the information, so you “Re-Search”.

An extremely creative and bright student pointed out a root word in the word “Question”. Research is like going on a “Quest”. I was blown away. This is the classiest group of kids, I tell ya!

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Cognomens Are Classy

“Excuse me.”

I like to listen to books while I work. I was wearing earbuds when this person was speaking to me, and couldn’t hear what she was saying.

“Excuse me.”

I thought I heard something, so I turned to look. The woman who was housesitting was talking to me. She had been saying, “Excuse me.”

“How long are you staying?” she asked me. “I’m not rushing you… I just wanted an idea.”

We were the only two people in the house, and she was looking right at me. There was no question who she was talking to. It was me. But, there was something missing. What was it? I couldn’t place my finger on it, but there was a feeling.

She hadn’t used my name.

A Confession

I have a confession to make. I am not good at remembering names. I wish I was. I have worked on it. When I was in highschool, I actually read a book about how to remember names. I still remember most of its points, but I can’t remember who wrote it. Too often, I will come across someone whom I had already met, and their name completely escapes me. So, there it is: My concession of unclassy behavior prior to proposing you do what eludes me.

Back to the Tale

The encounter with the housesitter happened yesterday. This was probably the thirtieth time I had met her. Earlier in the day, I was surprised to find I already had her phone number saved. At that time I learned the name that she normally goes by. I programmed that into my phone, as well.

The feeling materialized into a thought: This woman either didn’t know my name or chose not to use it. Why would someone decide another person’s name was not worth saying? In the past, I have witnessed people speak to hired help differently. More than the words they used, it was the way they said them. They spoke down to the person whom they believed was beneath them. Sometimes the way they do this is through the words they do NOT use. I have experienced people who think that their status elevates them so high above me that they try not to talk to me, as if speaking with a worker will somehow drag them down. Now, I bet that this lady did not feel this way. But, by not using my name, it felt like I was less human; a less person than she.

Earlier that Week

Contrast this feeling with a story from earlier in the week. I was picking up my daughter from daycare, when another parent told her child to, “Stand to the side, and let Mr. Weimann through.” At first, I was surprised that she knew who I was. And then, I thought it classy that she used my cognomen. It made me feel special; important.

A person’s name is precious to him (Schultz, 2017). Dale Carnegie famously suggested a person’s name is the sweetest sound to him. The very first word that anyone types on a keyboard is his name. The first thing we learn to write is our name. It is our label. It’s who we are. There is an art to using other people’s names in conversation. It attracts the listener’s attention (Russell, 2014).

Luke Davis (2017) points out plot lines containing a search for characters’ names in “The Power of Using Someone’s Name”. A name in fantasy stories is sometimes magical. When the miller’s daughter learns Rumplestiltskin’s name, she saves her first born’s fate. Davis suggests that people give permission when they offer their name. They are communicating how you may address them. I remember a few years ago, an adult visited the classroom. He wore a nametag that showed both his first and last name. A kid read it and pronounced the adult’s first name. This adult could have handled this better. He said, “It is Mr. __ to you” to the student. He hadn’t given that student permission to use his first name.

Classics

I love classics. Some have been rewritten, made into movies, talked about so often that reading the original work is like looking at a primary source. There are times I feel like an archaeologist dusting off the first few words a master wordsmith penned. This is the feeling every fall when I get out “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.  

29bd75fffbd860f9116b782fee7b4f5fWith sentences longer than the paragraphs my third graders write, this text presents descriptive writing that transforms the 21st century classroom into a one-room schoolhouse in a comfortably lazy, quiet, rural town. Incidentally, Sleepy Hollow is an actual town. If you cross the Tappan Zee Bridge, a word Irving includes in his text, you will see signs for it.

Remember my mentioning that I listen to texts? I have heard “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on audio several times. When you listen to the story, you don’t have the ability to look up the words that you don’t know. You just use context clues or allow the meaning to escape, and move on with the plot. The robust vocabulary is part of the allure of the classic. The enchantment of Irving’s learned lexicon is lost, however, when I read the text to/with my third graders. Rather than bump down a bubbling brook, we get caught with confusion at every turn.

As it turns out, I have never gotten all the way through the classic with my students. I begin reading it close to the start of the year, looking toward Halloween. Everyone has heard the story. Many students tell me they have seen “the” movie. (There are several.) None have ever heard a sentence of the original classic. Even though it takes weeks to get through the first chapter, I find it fun and beneficial for students to experience. We eventually peruse the rewrites and end up comparing/contrasting them with what we have witnessed of the original.

How Does Sleepy Hollow Fit?

What on earth does “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” have to do with the story that began this blog? When we are first introduced to the main character of Irving’s tale, there is a sentence that I like to present to my students as a riddle: “The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person.” In addition to the vocabulary word, cognomen, the double-negative throws 8 & 9 year olds for a loop. We had already learned Ichabod Crane’s name, so we could use context clues to figure out that cognomen meant last or surname. The double-negative is harder to explain.

Cognomen

Cognomen is one of the vocabulary words that my brain glossed over when listening to the book on audio. Because it didn’t affect the plot of the story, I didn’t worry myself about it. When reading the text with students, however, it became a curiosity. We looked it up in a collegiate dictionary. (Our elementary dictionaries couldn’t handle it. This makes third graders feel awesome!) In addition to surname, cognomen also means alias or nickname. So, Irving could be saying that he is adorning this character with this name because he wants you to picture him with a beak of a nose. Ichabod’s creator/father, the man bestowing him a surname, Washington Irving, is making this surname a nickname, a cognomen. Of course, I don’t get into all of this with my third graders. We are simply happy to learn the term, surname.

Cognomens Are Classy

Nowadays, we are not reading about Sleepy Hollow. We are looking at manners from a book about being polite. This happens everyday after recess and before math. Last week, 2bookone of our lessons was to use Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. along with the last name (cognomen) when speaking with adults, or find out how the adult would like to be addressed.

As always, we had plenty of discussion, full of stories. I told the students about a neighbor, when I was a kid. He was elderly, and his family did not live close. He loved company, and we would visit him regularly. Rather than calling him Mr. Vinton, he insisted we say “Grampa Vinton”. He turned out to be one of my best friends, growing up. Even though I visited him nearly everyday and we shot rubber bands at each other in his breezeway, I always called him Grampa Vinton. Placing the respectful title before the cognomen helped me remember this was not another kid.

When I was growing up, I had friends who referred to adults as ma’am and sir. This seemed respectful, but never felt quite right to me. Looking back, I now know why. Sir and ma’am denotes mastery. The kid was suggesting servitude. This is not the same as respect.

Mr. Smith

In my classroom I use kids’ last names all of the time. I do this because it is weird and to help me learn/remember their last names, but I have noticed an interesting byproduct: Kids love it. You should see them light up when I call them Mr. Smith. Their faces look like they just won the lottery. Being called the same thing as your mom or dad is winning a lottery of respect. I place the kid on the same title plane as myself. Why don’t they refer to me as Matt? That would be unheard of, but why? By using their last name, I elevate them to the same status.

When the lady refused to use my cognomen or even my first name, yesterday, I was left with a feeling opposite my students’ when I use their last name.

Black History Month: Race

I have one more disclaimer: The text that I was listening to when the housesitter began talking to me was “The Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” by James W. Loewen. I’m sure you guessed it from the title, but this is one of those truly eye-opening books. I was just listening to Chapter 5, “Gone With the Wind: The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks,” when I heard, “Excuse me.”IMG_8396

Loewen’s text taught me that there are subtle ways that opinions about race are woven throughout most history textbooks. The concepts are thin, and the weave is tight. You don’t even notice it, but there is a thread of attitude here, and a fragment of thought there. Many times, it is what the textbooks do NOT include. They never tell about the laws that demanded black people not look white people in the eye. There were many laws like this that trained race relation deterioration during “equalization” after emancipation that I had never heard. 

I am not about to march into my third grade classroom and dump all of this information onto my students. It has, however, caused me to think about omission as a bad thing. Although it might feel awkward to bring up race, NOT doing so could be damaging. Perhaps, it is like addressing someone without using his name.  

Sources

Davis, L. (2017, August 10). The Power of Using Someone’s Name. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-power-of-using-someones-name-ldvs/
Irving, Washington, 1783-1859. (1963). Rip Van Winkle, and The legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York :Macmillan,
Loewen, James W. (1996). Lies my teacher told me : everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York :Simon & Schuster,
Schulz, J. (2017, January 12). Using a person’s name in conversation. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/using_a_persons_name_in_conversation

To Evaluate is Classy

Kira – Kira” by Cynthia Kadohata

The title of this Newbery Award winner intrigued me. I read it in October of 2018. I havescreen shot 2019-01-10 at 7.50.39 pm struggled to blog about it. What angle do I want to use? How can I talk about this novel’s impact on me without giving too much of its plot away? I loved it, and I hated it; like something so bad that it’s good. And, I don’t mean poor quality–It won a Newbery Award!

Right after the new year, I was scrolling through Twitter, and I came across a tweet from the American Library Association that got me thinking. I replied to the idea, but haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I haven’t stopped thinking about it because I disagreed with it. The tweet suggested getting rid of books that don’t bring you joy. My reply communicated my dissent. I have loads of books that are only sad and some that are downright scary, quite the opposite of “joyous”.

It didn’t take long for someone to rebut my reply. Don’t think of joy as “happiness” the person suggested. After a few more back and forths, I began to understand it to mean “emotion”. As in, if a book does not “do something for you emotionally” (bring joy), toss it. This was still difficult for me to swallow, for I adore books. I love them the way I love students. Would I “toss” a student?! Of course not!! You can learn something from every single book and, in one way or another, help every single student.

I continued to wrestle with this concept for a while. I was trying to decide whether I agreed with this definition of joy, and whether it was a good enough reason to get rid of any books. One idea I had was that some books can actually be dangerous. I own books that I not only disagree with philosophically, but that have been shown to contain falsehoods. These books are actually hurting the public who read and believe them. Why would I own or keep them? (My wife is constantly trying to purge our library of them.) They serve as reminders and warnings. As the saying goes, keep friends close, but enemies closer.

Another thought I had concerned the books that I have read that didn’t do anything for me. They ended up being time-vacuums. I did not gain a thing by reading them. Could I get rid of those? Well, I did actually learn something through reading them: That they were pointless and a waste. This is a very important lesson. They could be kept to simply remind me of that danger.

I am aware that this could come off as a defense for keeping every single book, but what I am aiming to show is the process of “evaluation”. In this case, it looks more like “justification”, but simply thinking about each text from my library with the question, “Can I part with this one?” instigated a process that caught my attention. Evaluating is a higher-level metacognitive skill that is very valuable; And therefore extremely classy.

Each one of my books was evaluated on several different criteria. Did it evoke emotion? Did I learn a lesson from it? Was my life or world-view changed as a result of reading it? Would I recommend this text to a friend, and why?blooms-taxonomy-650x366

Eventually, I came to “Kira-Kira”, the book that I have wanted to blog about, but couldn’t quite bring myself to sharing why I liked it… or warn people of its harm. Of course, it elicited emotion! There were a few things in the book that could be potentially dangerous; concepts that immature minds may not be ready for. Obviously, I wasn’t going to part with it… But, wait a minute. What was I doing? I have mulled over this one book, that was probably my least favorite so far, in the way of bringing me the traditional definition of joy, more than any other! Through my “evaluation” of the text I am getting even more out of it.

The tweet that I originally disagreed with also caused me to evaluate. I had to look at the word joy from many perspectives. It drove me to look at a thesaurus, for crying out loud. I didn’t like the tweet. But, in the end, it was one of the most powerful, because it caused me to think the deepest. And, finally, I find myself doing the only metacognitive act higher and classier than evaluation: creation.

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Kira – Kira” by Cynthia Kadohata: Loved it/Hated it (healthy kind)

How are you using evaluation in everyday lessons? What do you have your students evaluate?

Sources:

American Library Association. (2019, January 4). Retrieved January 10, 2019, from https://twitter.com/ALALibrary/status/1081299680535998464 %5BThis is a link to the original tweet that sparked the thought for this blog.]

Armstrong, P. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved January 10, 2019, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

Chess, The Classy Equalizer

IMG_5301I couldn’t possibly be more excited to be starting a chess club at Willow Lane Elementary! This Tuesday is our first meeting. I had tossed around the idea of starting this club when I began teaching at Willow, 8 years ago. Instead, I began an after school club that published a school newspaper: Willow Lane News Update.

This experience was very rewarding. I learned a lot about iMovie, editing and publishing, plus Google Sites. I found a fantastic tool for online publishing; Smore.com. I don’t regret one minute of it.

The chess club will be a lot different because, while it can be addictive, it doesn’t hang over your head the way a publishing deadline, albeit self-imposed, might. It’s just a game. Or is it? –Check out these two battle for Room 207 2017-18 classroom champion after a week and a half tournament!

The idea for this blog began when I decided to pick up the Newbery Medal Winner that I’ve been slowly chewing, “Tales From Silver Lands” by Charles J. Finger (1924). Low and behold, what do I think of but chess… Of course! But, hear me out: A character from the second story (Yes, I am only on the 2nd tale!) exhibits a wonderful quality that chess shares: Equality.

There is an aging king who is seeking a son-in-law to take over the reign of his land. The beautiful, talented, wise princess has found no suitor to her liking. Men from every corner of land compete in sports and arts to win the woman’s affection. One day a man dressed in rags shows up. Every other suitor brought wonderful gifts for the princess and king. This man has nothing. But, when he competes in the contests, his carefully aimed arrow splits that of the best marksman’s. This ragged man does not just run faster than the deer-like champion. He flies like the wind. And, when it comes to singing, the man dressed in rags attracts the beautiful birds of the jungle, who cover him with wonderful wings. In other words, the man who seemingly had nothing, possessed the greatest talents, abilities, and attraction.

One of the amazing things about chess is that anyone can excel. It is a classy equalizer. No matter the age, gender, physical ability, or socio-economic status, chess is a vehicle anyone can drive.

It was the ability of the man dressed in rags to out match his opponents, rather than his looks, wealth, or status. The events that he competed in could have been practiced for nearly free, so that this character could have grown up running and singing. He might have made his own bow and arrows that he used to gather the food to stay alive. In the same way, chess can be taught to and played by all. It is a game that anyone can learn and grow to play well.

The 2018 World Chess Championship began this week. I was reading an article about Magnus Carlsen, five-time world champion, and was impressed by one of his life goals: “Make chess cool” (Kleinman, 2018). Carlsen has produced an app called “Play Magnus” in which chess enthusiasts can choose different ages of Magnus Carlsen to challenge. The idea is for players to gain bragging rights. This champion of chess is putting himself out there for kids to beat! “I defeated Magnus Carlsen!” is what he hopes to hear from kids who will spread the excitement to future potential pawn pushers. What a great ambition. And, the greatest equalizing part of it all is that the app is FREE!

Another popular and fantastic equalizing story is that of Phiona Mutesi, “Queen of Katwe.”  The true story of Phiona, who is from a village in Uganda where kids have to sleep in hammocks, high off the ground, so they don’t get washed away, out of their homes by surprise floods, among other things, was made famous by author Tim Crothers (2013). His book was made into a Disney movie in 2016 (Nair).

Frank Brady, the author of the one of the best-selling chess books in history, “Profile of a Prodigy,” wrote an article about an exhibition, “Into the Human Light: Uganda” (2016), for the US Chess Federation. In addition to all of Phiona’s hardships living in Uganda, Brady suggests that her plight was “sad”… until “She found chess.” Never mind economics, chess can raise the human spirit.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most influential organizations in helping me prepare to begin the new Willow Lane Chess Club: After School Activity

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ASAP works to equalize the opportunities for urban kids to be able to participate in the challenging, competitive, thinking, rewarding game of chess.

Partnership (ASAP) of Philadelphia. This past summer a friend, Julia Dweck, invited me to a Scrabble training that took place on the eleventh floor of a building in the heart of Philadelphia. I made the hour-plus drive to meet her there, and it was one of the better decisions I’d ever made! Come to find out the same organization that provides free training and supplies to educators interested in starting Scrabble clubs also promoted chess clubs. I greatly enjoyed my Scrabble training, and before leaving, found out about the chess program.

There is endless amounts of free apps, websites, curriculums, worksheets, etc. about chess online and at libraries. I downloaded a humongous manual on managing a chess club the summer before. It wasn’t until I revisited the ASAP office on Locust St. in Philadelphia, again in July, though, that I felt like I could actually do this. A handful of other future club leaders and myself were shown how to focus on deepening an understanding of each piece, rather than simply explaining the rules and letting kids have at it. Not only is this training completely free, but if I were an educator within the city limits, the organization would have provided me with supplies for free! In addition to the phenomenal training, ASAP also sponsors several free tournaments and other events throughout the year. The kids of Philadelphia are incredibly lucky to have this truly philanthropic organization. It is working to equalize the opportunities for urban kids to be able to participate in the challenging, competitive, thinking, rewarding game of chess.

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Sources:

After School Activities Partnerships. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2018, from http://www.phillyasap.org/index.php/chess/aboutchess 

Brady, F., Dr. (2016, October 22). Exhibition Review: Into the Human Light: Uganda. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from https://new.uschess.org/news/exhibition-review-into-the-human-light-uganda/

Crothers, T. (2013, March 12). Game of her life. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from http://www.espn.com/espn/news/story?page=Mag15gameofherlife

Finger, C. J. (1924). Tales From Silver Lands. New York: Doubleday. [3rd Newbery Medal Award Winner]

Kleinman, D. (2018, November 9). From Chessboard To Boardroom: Magnus Carlsen’s Winning Regimen. Retrieved November 10, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielkleinman/2018/11/09/from-chess-board-to-board-room-magnus-carlsens-winning-regimen/?utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=social&utm_content=1888317888&utm_campaign=sprinklrSportsMoneyTwitter#34984ebb78dc

Nair, M. (Director). (2016). Queen of Katwe[Video file]. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Katwe-Theatrical-Version-Oyelowo/dp/B01LYVID8R/ref=tmm_aiv_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Weimann, M. (2018, July 19). “From Paralyzing Parameters to Powerful Potential; The Classy Pawn”. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://thecaptainofclass.com/2018/07/19/from-paralyzing-parameters-to-powerful-potential-the-classy-pawn/

Weimann, M. (n.d.). Willow Lane News Update. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from https://sites.google.com/eastpennsd.org/willowlanenews/home

Can Tech Tools Stifle Creativity?

Just over a week ago I produced the coolest off-the-cuff formative assessment using Google Slides. Students accessed a slideshow that I threw together right before getting them from recess. There was a picture in it that I wanted them to use to identify arrays.  

My 3rd graders have struggled with learning multiplication at the very beginning of the year, as I have struggled teaching it right out of the gate. See, my district just signed on to use iReady math, and everyone is experiencing some growing pains.

Scarlet
Scarlet plays with some blocks I brought home.

We have been looking at arrays, frontwards and backwards. I had brought some connecting blocks home to take pictures for a quiz I would administer, when an idea hit me. My daughter Scarlet was enjoying constructing shapes with the blocks, and she built a robot. Rather than making nice neat rectangles for my students, I’d have them find the arrays that lay hidden in this robot. I love combining life experiences and teaching moments, so I told my students about the robot’s inception and their assignment. They loved it and jumped right in.

I had taken a picture of the simple combination of blocks and uploaded it to a Google slideshow. Students were to find the slideshow (a copy per student) waiting for them in their Math Google Classroom. They were to identify different arrays by circling them. I also told them to label the arrays appropriately; Putting the number of rows first, and then the number of columns.

sloppy iPadMy classroom has a mishmash of different devices. I literally did not know how they were going to outline their arrays, but I did know that there was more than one way. The iPads are pretty easy. Kids can click on the assigned Google slideshow and immediately start drawing and writing all over the slides, without opening it in the Google Slides App. When students are done they can save/submit the work as a PDF.

On the Chromebooks and Macs, students could put shapes on top of the arrays, but then they would have to adjust the shape to be transparent. Students found a tool called “Scribble” under the “Line” icon within slides that worked the best. They could draw (using two hands) a rectangle around the arrays they found. Then they used the regular “Line” to connect the array to a “Text Box” that they typed the array inside. These lines were very thin and black, so students worked out a way to change the color and thicken up the lines. They also used this experience to find out how to change the font size, color, etc. of text. I witnessed my students teaching themselves the technology, problem-solving in many more ways than one, using creativity for practical reasons, and experiencing tremendous success, both practically and mathematically!

All in all, the lesson was a smashing success. I was very happy with how well my students did identifying the arrays. And I was incredibly impressed with the ingenuity they showed in figuring out the best ways to show their work, using the tools at their disposal.

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Heather Moser Empowers EPSD Teachers w/ Terrific Tech Tools

Now, this is where the title of this blog comes into play. The aforementioned lesson took place on the Thursday before Columbus Day Weekend. On Monday (Columbus day) my school district had a professional development inservice. I attended an incredible session titled “iPads Untethered”, taught by East Penn Tech Instructional Assistant, Heather Moser. She started out the teacher learning time with an app called “Sketches”. Kids can use this app to easily draw all over images that are either shared with them or they generate from taking a picture. The sketches can be saved in organized folders, shared, or submitted. We then moved on to doodling all over images in Notes, another easy to use app that comes preinstalled on iPads. It was as though Heather knew about my lesson and was saying, “Gee, Captain, you could have simply used one of these.”

The catch is that both my students and myself grew threw our productive struggle. Problem-solving ways to show arrays within Google Slides helped us learn all kinds of things. Also, I liked my ability to link comments to student work when it came time for me to provide feedback and grades for this assessment on the fly. In the future, when my students have one iPad/kid I can use the awesome apps that Mrs. Moser showed teachers during professional development. Robot

Those simple-to-use drawing tools would make it much easier and faster to perform an assessment like the one I had planned, but would this rob my students of the opportunity for productive struggle? As digital tools make life easier and easier, we teachers will have to be creative in finding ways to make tasks challenging. 

Student-Owned Education is Classy

It’s not just about giving kids access to computers and the Internet; Teachers must instruct kids how to use technology “innovatively.” It’s all about the SAMR model (Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition). Teachers should stop worrying about redefining technology, and let it redefine their teaching. Then substitution, augmentation, and modification will fall into place.

What has technology done for our teaching?

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This pic shows my trusty van, the 1st vehicle I ever owned, in front of a flower shop that one of my crews painted during the summer of 1994. (Collegeville, PA.)

When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to run my own outdoor house painting business through a corporation called College Pro Painters. This company hired and trained college students to operate franchises — reproductions of the original business begun by a college student, Greig Clark, from Canada in 1971. The training did not spend any time teaching us managers how to paint. It concentrated on teaching us how to train our painters to produce high-quality work by requiring seemingly “barely achievable” expectations. We also learned how to hire our workers, estimate prices, budget supplies, and land jobs.

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Here I am getting a crew ready to spray the outside of a house (1995).

I had painted for one of the College Pro Painting franchise owners the summer before I was hired to run my own business. It had been a rewarding, successful, and lucrative summer job. Thus, I knew how to paint, and I could do it well.

There came a point in the summer that I was managing three different crews made up of between three and five painters, each, when I was frustrated by the rate of slow production and low quality work. I confessed to my district manager, my boss, that I wished I could just go out there and paint the darn houses, myself! He told me a story.

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One of my crews painting a twin in Pottstown, PA (1994).

Before becoming the district manager of the entire North Eastern United States, he had been in the same shoes as me. He was estimating, budgeting, hiring, and training with barely time to sleep and eat. Then his dad got ill. His mom had died when he was young. He had no siblings. It was up to him to help his father.

Maybe you think his business suffered. It didn’t. This incredible businessman began running his business from home. He started having his foremen stop by his house in the mornings. They would pick up orders and estimates. Then they would get supplies from the paint store that the manager had called in. The foremen would talk to the homeowners, walking them around at the end of each day, discussing the progress of the project, and even finalize the job, collecting the final check.

phone-2476595_960_720The ground-breaking technology that made all of this happen back in 1990 was the… ready for this? Telephone. Homeowners called an 800 number to ask for estimates for painting. Because the manager was stuck at home, he was able to check his leads several times a day, calling homeowners back nearly immediately. He scheduled all of his estimates on the same day and back to back, rather than spreading them out. By the end of the summer, the manager who seemed the most limited was able to produce far more painting work than any other manager in his district.

This tale resonated with me. Rather than taking over the work that my painters were producing “under par” and slowly, I gave my employees more responsibilities. I stopped running around town like a manager with his head cut off. No longer did I talk to each painter. I only spoke with the foremen. They became the ones who communicated with the homeowners. They were the ones responsible for the job, anyway! The quality of work slowly rose as foremen realized they wouldn’t be able to collect the final payment until the homeowner was happy. It became the leaders of the crews who put pressure on their painters, instead of me micromanaging everyone. Needless to say, I won the Rookie of the Year Award at the end of my first summer running my own business (1994). And, it was thanks to the encouragement of my district manager, who empowered me with vision and leadership.

What does this have to do with teaching?

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Don’t fall into the trap of letting technology innovate you. You be the innovator.

How often do teachers take over the learning for their students? How can technology revolutionize the reach of student-ownership? The technology that was cutting edge in 1994 was the beeper. I got pages when leads called for an estimate. I would pull my painting van over at one of the dozen pay phones I frequented and call the 800 number to collect my lead info. Then I would call the future customer, right away. Nowadays we get instant notifications when a social media message or comment comes in. We must teach the next generation how to manage this barrage of technology. Don’t let it innovate you. Be the innovator.

We have all heard the derisive term used in competition when a competitor conquers his opponent so thoroughly that he is said to have “owned” him. It was made popular during the inception of the Internet by hackers (Savagegump, 2005) gaining complete control over a program. Teachers should stop trying to “own” their teaching. Let students control their own learning. Let technology redefine your teaching, and LET GO.

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My most successful crew was rewarded the best jobs. Here, they are painting the largest project of the summer, 1994… $8,500.

This blog is a byproduct of two experiences: Participation in the “live chat” #MasteryChat on September 27, 2018, hosted by @chadostrowski CEO of @teachbetterteam that centered on “Student-Ownership”…  And, reading Deubel’s (2018) “Technology Integration: Essential Questions” for a class from Kutztown University.

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The #masterychat was an awesome experience. Can’t wait for the next one!

Sources:

Deubel, P. (2018). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site: http://www.ct4me.net/technology_integr.htm

Savagegump. (2005, February 11). Owned. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Owned [More than just a definition, this is an etymology of the term.]

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016, January). National education technology plan 2016: Future ready learning: Reimagining the role of technology in education. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/netp/

Classy is Impressive

I am beginning to administer quizzes and collect assessments. Students and parents should understand what it takes to earn a “4” on report cards. It is a mindset.

The Captain of Class

You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?

Listening GIF-downsized_large There is getting into line, and then there is…

My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are…

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Stories Are Magic Potions: Use With Care

 

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The Fourth, Ever, Newbery Award Winner, 1925

I’m back to reading the Newbery Award winners. The fourth-ever winner, published Julyimg_8887.jpg 9, 1925 (according to the information provided on the dust jacket) was a curiosity to me because, rather than a novel, it is a collection of stories collected from the native people living in South America.

 

As Dr. Rutledge points out in The Psychological Power of Storytelling (2011),

Stories have always been a primal form of communication. They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, archetypes, myths, and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.

I was looking forward to reading these tales, thinking that they would connect me to a deep string of humanity that would be tied to nature. Instead, the first story alarmed me with a message of self-destruction.

 

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Initially, I hesitated writing in this old copy of “Tales From Silver Lands”, but it helped me engage with the text. 

As is normally my custom, I began my reading, writing notes in the margin of the text. I immediately loved the description of setting and character development, so I marked the IMG_8015text to share with my third grade students who are just beginning to learn how to “set a story” in a place and time. The author begins his book speaking of his experience visiting a tiny village in Honduras. Although the buildings and road differ greatly from the homes and streets that his readers of 1925, and even today, know, the children playing in a cool stream on a hot day resonates with all. In fact, I was greatly inspired by the use of the inclusive language, “…as any other little chap of his age, white, brown, or yellow” (p. 2), connecting his readership with the people he was writing about.

 

All of this served to butter me up to appreciate a terrific tale that had been told and retold for hundreds of years by the indigenous people the author was visiting. The amazing literature had cast a spell on me. I was bent on learning what would happen to some of the first humans to inhabit the jungle. There were birds singing, animals meeting and talking in harmony, and hardworking, talented, and powerful human heros. Just when you think that this sensational salve is a love potion promoting literacy, irony cuts through the beauty like the machete that the two young men in the story use to level every single plant of a part of the jungle.

The premise of this first tiny tale is that there are two talented brothers who are told to clear land in a forest to begin their adult lives. The father of these youths tells them to do all of the work within seven days. A wise owl discusses the problem of losing his habitat with a wizard of the jungle. The two hatch a plan to thwart the sons by deceiving the father.

At this point, I am wondering who I am to route for; the humans who seem to have an IMG_2687impossible task, who I empathize with, who are set up as the heroes of the tale; or the owl/wizard team who are about to lose their homes. The way the wizard attempts to stop the sons is through turning the father against them. The father is told that his hard-working sons are lazy and not clearing the land. Each time this happens, the father increases the amount of land that they must level. Now, this seems to go against the owl/wizard’s plan, and yet they continue their scheme until the sons are finally asked to do more work than they can handle.

Here, I want to tell you that it is only because I am planning on blogging about this book 6280907548_55d7291e4a_bthat I am reading it so carefully. If I hadn’t, I am sure that I would not have been able to shake the spell of the story. I like the hundreds of people who heard the story told by the elderly woman of the Honduras village that Charles Finger visited, who, incidentally, was depicted as smoking a cigar when Finger found her, and then threw it down to tell the tale; I, also, would have been completely mesmerized by the plight of the young men who wanted to please their father, earn their inheritance, and be successful in life. Just like a character in a fantasy fiction who has a spell broken awakens, realizing that his love had been an aberration, I found myself shaking my head at the human-size iguana who helped the human youths by showing them how to harness the power of the forest animals to clear every plant from the land that the very same forest animals use to make their homes, find food, and live.

Another reader and endless listeners of this tale would surely be swept in by the poetry, “I must do what I can, Is the thought of a man,” the seeming teamwork between human and beast, the defeat of evil in prevailing against the efforts of the wizard, and proving oneself to elders. I can easily imagine the recipient of such powerful storytelling being completely sucked in. What is the problem with this? Only that the storyteller was misleading listeners. Granted, the themes of working hard, never giving up, being ingenious, and listening to nature are all valuable lessons, but curtained in this spell of a story is the theme of humans enslaving the earth. It isn’t a surprise that the two youths are victorious in the end. The old iguana who “climbed into a tree and stretched himself along the branch of it where he could best see, and the birds gathered in a great circle, and matchless melody going up to the sky” would rest there until the next human cuts his tree down, also. Then more humans would cut down every tree that those singing birds occupied. When the magic of this wonderful story melted from my brain, I was aghast at the horror of the animals who were depicted as happy to help the humans destroy their habitat. The storyteller was sharing a tale that convinced listeners that nature wants humans to destroy her. In the end of the tale the brothers plant fruit trees on their newly cleared land. Do you think that they would tolerate the singing birds, who helped them clear the land to plant the trees, eat the fruit that grew there? Certainly not.

Again, I recognize that the themes within this tale were useful to previous generations. Humans struggled to master technologies, easing their existence on this planet. We have benefited from the inspirational stories of our elders motivating us to assimilate the best character traits for growing into the mature species we are today. Rather than this blog ending on a negative note, I’d like to challenge future storytellers to use their power for positive change. It is time to harness the magic of terrific tale telling to empower youths and adults alike for creative, innovative aspirations of helping humans come together to live harmoniously. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for the “love potion” of storytelling to be transcendent than amorous, anyway?

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I couldn’t even believe what I was reading! Be careful with the power of storytelling. Use it for good. 

 

Rutledge, P., Phd. (2011, January 16). The Psychological Power of Storytelling. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/positively-media/201101/the-psychological-power-storytelling

Getting to Class; Turn Day One Jitters into Day Won Class

It’s August. Back to school sales are raging. Letters are arriving that tell students who their teachers will be this fall. Nervous energy is buzzing through bodies… Not just students’. Teachers worry about the first day of school, also.

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August First, 2018 — This is what I saw when I pulled up to my building.

 

Here is a couple classy ways that I deal with the start of school jitters:

  1. I have a goalONE goal for the first day. I’ll accomplish more than the one thing, but I measure my success based on this one thing. It isn’t the same every year. Sometimes it is learning everyone’s name. Other years, all I wanted was to get everyone back home safely. Nowadays, my goal usually centers on classroom management. I like  the momentum to begin in my favor, so I establish myself as captain. The class is my crew. “Any questions? That was rhetorical. Put your hand IMG_5681.PNGdown.” I don’t just withhold my smile until Thanksgiving; I’m not even pleasant for several weeks into the year! Of course, I am kidding. The pleasantries are paired with the smile, and it is more like Christmas when they appear. It’s my Christmas present to the crew class. Oh kay, seriously… don’t make it impossible or too vague, like “I want everyone to like me,” “Everyone should have fun,” “The class should love school…” They sound good, but are disastrously defeating. Simple is always best. “Everyone will leave the first day knowing the rules of the classroom; If nothing else, they will understand my expectations, period” 
  2. Meet that first goal and your golden! There isn’t a number two. I lied when I said, “Here’s a couple things…” The whole point of the one goal is for there to only be one thing that you are concentrating on. Okay, but if you are interested, there is one other thing that I do before the school year begins that has seemed to help: I make up some sort of slogan for the year. This is something that I have never shared with anyone, so it is rather ironic that I am blogging it to the world! It began this practice when I was long-term subbing. Before the year began, I came up with a little mantra that I used to keep me pumped up. It didn’t make any pedagogical sense, but it seemed to get my blood moving. I would tell myself, “We (yes, I use the royal pronoun when referring to myself; I am not multi-personality; at least, one of my personalities does not think so;) are going to kill it this year.” (I almost typed an exclamation mark at the end of my personal rallying cry, but it was really just a small whisper that I told myself.) Last year it was something like, “Everything before now has just been practice. This year I’m going to make it happen.” Notice how the motto is generic. In this way, it is difficult to fail. If I just do something different or better, I am successful. I don’t attempt to define “It”*.

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    My classroom on Aug. 1, 2018 gives me the jitters:) The castle has been “stormed”!

Remember this one last tidbit of advice: The person that you are warring against, when it comes to overcoming nervous energy is YOURSELF. Everyone experiences his/her own battles, and therefore each will need his/her own battle strategy. Win Day One, and you are on your way to a year won in more ways than… You get the idea.

back to school conceptual creativity cube
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*This is the same “It” that defeated the Knights Who Say Ni from Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail.” Or, is it the “It” described by Dean Moriarty, when he is listening to jazz in a night club in San Fransisco in “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac? I think it lies somewhere between the two.

Restraint is Classy

I have class; I’ll pass.

I had a professor in college who taught a generic introductory counseling course. I’ve always remembered one lesson that he taught: “Do not overreact.” When a kid tells you something, don’t show your cognitive cards; hide your inner thoughts until you have all of the facts.

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The Captain of Class Models Calm-ness During Evacuation Drill

A kid tells you that another kid did something hideous; An unclassy person would jump to conclusions before all of the facts were gathered. It would not show class to start yelling or become accusatory. This would shut down the road of communication between you and the one sharing information. If you fly off the handle and begin bashing the behavior, the spicket of information will surely close and you won’t be able to effectively help the youth.

It is very possible that the kid telling you about his/her “friend” doing something inappropriate was in fact talking about him/herself. The student might just be feeling you out; What would my teacher’s reaction be if he/she learned I did this? I have had kids say they did outrageous things that they hadn’t, just to gage my reaction. If you don’t give them a reaction, they know that they can tell you anything.

One of the most common bad behaviors in elementary school that this could be applied to is stealing. When students come up to me and tell me about something that was “stolen”, my first reaction is to lessen the accusation. “Is it possible that the object is just lost?”

Student: “I just had my pencil on my desk; No, it was STOLEN!”

Me: “Could someone have thought that the pencil was theirs; Was the pencil unique to you? Would you be able to easily identify it?”

Student: “Oh, yes. I know my pencil!”

Me: “Before we begin accusing people of being thieves, lets just do one  more sweep of your work area; Also, we can ask your neighbors if they have seen a random pencil floating around.”

Student: (sometimes reluctantly, but usually calm) “Fine.”

Nine times out of ten, the object turns up having NOT been stolen. The pencil or other object was completely unidentifiable as THAT student’s, and someone else was using it. It is always a hoot when it is right on the floor under the student’s work area.

Some more examples:

Kid: “So and so kicked me”/Me: “Is it possible they were just swinging their feet, and they accidentallyScreen Shot 2018-04-08 at 11.38.36 PM touched you?”

Kid: “That person said something inappropriate. They said ‘hell’.”/Me: “You know, in some families and cultures, that isn’t a hugely awful expression…”

Kid: “My partner deleted my whole document!”/Me: “Do you think that he/she did it because they were mad at you, or is it possible that this was simply an accident?”

Find out the whole story, learn all of the facts, empathize with the rationale as best you can or is appropriate, then act. Throughout all of that, do not let emotions muddle your investigation. Also, don’t project your prejudices. You just found out someone did something considered very bad. Perhaps the person even confesses it to you. Do not even look alarmed. Pretend you hear this all of the time. Chances are, it happens all of the time, all over the place, whether you have experienced it, or not.