Hats On To You

My head is swimming in a storm of figurative language, ideas, memories, and desires to share stories right now. Room 207 is a buzz with homonyms. Twitter is popping with robust vocabulary that is inspiring existential, pedagogical philosophies. I have stumbled across a heretofore unknown superpower, asking “Why?” –Soon to be blogged.

And finally, have you ever had the experience of someone seemingly reading your mind? There are those friends who know you so well, or the two of you have shared so many of the same experiences that he/she can tell what you are thinking throughout a conversation. The idea of completing one another’s sentences is the costume for this super power. But, have you ever met someone who simply shares many of the same interests, experiences, life values, and goals; so many in fact that you seem to have known each other far longer than you actually have?

I only just met Kate Lindquist, and that only virtually on Twitter, a few weeks ago. But, the way she is tweeting things that are right up my alley reminds me of the relationship between Rodion Raskolnikov and Porfiry Petrovich from the godfather of dual personality psychology thrillers, “Crime and Punishment” (Dostoevsky, 1927). Petrovich, the local detective, has no idea Raskolnikov committed murder, but the latter feels like Petrovich is on to him through the entire novel. The recent tweet is a perfect example.

better qualityThe picture at the top of this blog is from my very first year teaching. Those kids are in high school, now. I was doing all kinds of culture-building activities, mixing in art, philosophy, and story-telling. This was the year that I dreamed up “The Polite Pirates”. One of the special days throughout the year was “hat day”. This theme spurred all kinds of ideas, one of which, as you can see by the picture, was making pirate hats that did the opposite of filling strangers with fear and dread; They were to spread cheer and peace. We also came up with new classroom roles: The Peace Pirates.

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The first ever Peace Pirates

One boy and one girl would be chosen each week to be incharge of making sure that the classroom was manageably quiet. They were given a “Peace Tool”, which is a little plastic drum with beads in it. When tilted slightly, the beads spill, simulating a beach-like sound. The class whispers “So peaceful” in chorus. They love it. And, it works.

The next year I added to the theme by making two “Peace Hats” that the Peace Pirates may wear. These were made of gigantic cardstock fronts that every student added some peaceful idea to, decorating the front with color and peaceful symbolism. There were words, pictures, cartoons, etc. I had to readjust the band that held it onto the students’ heads each week, but that was part of the formality of picking new Peace Pirates.

It was the following year, year three of Peace Pirates, that I finally wrote a story for the Peace Hat policy. [This is wear (get it;) Kate’s tweet comes in.] The story is about the power of the hat. I wrote it to bring power to the Peace Hat, but it is about hats having meanings or messages.

While the story was only okay, it took on new life when it was changed into a play to be read during a readers theater for parents. I love engaging top notch students’ help with projects as a way to differentiate through enrichment. The year that I made “The Peaceful Hat Story” into a play I had a student named Brandon help a little. We were learning Google Docs that year, and I had Brandon reformat some of the text, separating paragraphs into speaking parts. Honestly, I did most of the work, and had to fix some of

Brandon’s help, but he felt like a million bucks, having participated in the project. As a reward and payment for his participation in the project, I put his name on the bulletin that I printed out for parents. Of course Brandon was in this play during the readers theaters performance! Some of his crew congratulated him with comments in the shared Google Doc. My favorite thing about this experience, though, was the ending that Brandon gave the play. I have left it just as he typed it all of these years, explaining to future classes that a student wrote that. It cracks me up, and I can’t think of a better way to end the thing!

The Peace Hats are not worn as much anymore. This year’s haven’t even graduated from artwork to hat! But, the Peace Pirates get to sit at our classroom island. Looking out over our classroom from their peaceful perch, they still use the Peace Tool to encourage a quiet environment. In this way, none of my Polite Pirates will need to dawn the invention explained at the end of the Peaceful Hat story.

And, here it is in play form.

 

A Peaceful Hat Story Readers’ Theater

by Mr. Weimann

CAST:

  • Narrator 1
  • Narrator 2
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Captain Iron Knee
  • Zeus
  • Swashbuckler
  • Sailor

Narrator 1:  (in a gruff old piraty tone)  Behold, ye landlubbers be sittin’ in on the finest collection of courteous kids these here parts have ever known.  We have a tale to share saving shenanigans for silly sailors and piraty persons performing peaceful feats!

Narrator 2:  (in a normal voice.)  Oh, good grief that pirate talk is hard.  And, I’m pretty sure it didn’t make much sense, either.  What my friend meant to say was that this class of students has a story to convey through one last readers’ theater.  And, guess what! It is a polite pirate tale.

Narrator 1:  Yeh, there be some strange personages patroling these planks.  Watch out for the disease. It be catchin’ ye off guard, and shir ta frighten ya.

Narrator 2:  My friend is referring to Onomatopoeia, which is no disease, but rather the literary term defining words that represent sounds.

Onomatopoeia:  Grrrrrr.  Argh!

Narrator 1:  There she is!  That was thee disease.  She roams these waters. Be plenty oh pirates ‘fraid of her.

Narrator 2:  Sure.  If you are unaware of Onomatopoeia, you may be frightened by…

Onomatopoeia:  Wham!!!  Slam!!! Bam!!!

Narrator 2:  But I just told everyone who Onomatopoeia is, so we’re good here.  Let’s get on with our talel.

Narrator 1:  If you insisteds.  You be the boss, with yer fancy talkin’ and profesionalies explainin’.

Onomatopoeia:  Stomp, stomp, stomp, SLAM!  (Door slamming shut)

Iron Knee:  (bursts in on Zeus stirring a pot)  What’s for dinner!? I’m starving!!

Onomatopoeia:  CRASH! (pot falls to the floor) SPLAT! (Sauce lands on Zeus’ hat.)

Zeus:  Oh, no.  Look at my hat.  What a mess. I cannot cook with such a messy hat.

Iron Knee:  I’m so sorry, Zeus.  I did not mean to be such a distraction.  I should have walked quieter and closed the door gentler.

Onomatopoeia:  Sob, sob

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Preparing for performance

Zeus:  I forgive you, captain.  I just don’t know what to do.

Iron Knee:  Well, you could wear my hat, if you must have one.  I’ll have one of the swashbucklers clean up yours.

Onomatopoeia:  Gasp!

Zeus:  I couldn’t possibly!  Your captain’s hat doesn’t belong  in the kitchen.

Iron Knee:  Nonsense.  What does it matter where it is worn?  It will cover yer head. That is all.

Narrator 2:  It did not require much persuasion for Zeus to dawn the captain’s illustrious hat.

Narrator 1:  There was much need, those, for the young piraty cook to be wearin’ many dishtowels on his little roundish head.  For the captain, he be havin’ a rather largish head, so his hat be hugish on top oh the cook’s.

Zeus:  This feels better… pretty good… almost too good… powerful…  Back to that sauce.

Onomatopoeia:  Swish, slosh, splirt… (Zeus stirs the sauce.)

Narrator 1:  Every stir that cook took made the hat-wearin’ rook look…  power caused him to shook…

Narrator 2:  Are you a poet now?  I don’t think shook is even a word.

Narrator 1:  It most certainly is!  The cook shook with might.  And, maybe. Maybe I will be the Poetic Pirate!

Narrator 2:  You might shook with…

Onomatopoeia:  Clank!  (Zeus drops the stirring spoon.)

Zeus:  Sauce, I am tired of stirring you round and round, round and round.  I want you to thicken, and I don’t think that I should have to slave over you to make that happen.

Narrator 2:  As if in answer to the person wearing the captain’s hat, a humungous bubble rose up from the surface of the brown goo.

Narrator 1:  (with gusto, like a professional actor)  Zeus grabbed a knife from the counter, and held it like a cutlass high above his head.

Narrator 2:  Don’t steal the show.  You’re only a narrator.

Zeus:  Insubordinate gelatinous mutineer!  You shall pay dearly for your rebellion.  I will have no rivalries on my ship!

Onomatopoeia:  POP! Splat.

Narrator 1:  (with a flat boring voice)  Zeus removed the captain’s hat.

Onomatopoeia:  Utter silence.

Zeus:  Oh no, what have I done?  Captain’s hat is covered in mutinous muck.

Onomatopoeia:  Creek, click.  (the door opens)

Swashbuckler:  Hey, what are you doing with the captain’s hat?  I have yours right here, all cleaned up and ready to go for you.

Zeus:  What?!  The captain gave this to me!  I did not steal it. You can go stick your nose in someone else’s business!

Narrator 2:  Now, the swashbuckler, who had returned with the chef hat that he just washed as a favor to both the captain who had asked him to, but also as a courtesy for his good friend the chef, could not help but laugh out loud.  Little did the chef realize, but he looked ridiculous with a pile of dishtowels still atop his head. As he yelled, the pile swayed to and fro like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Onomatopoeia:  Ha, ha, ha, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle

Narrator 1:  (incredulous)  A Dr. Seuss book?  Really? This story is so far removed from Dr. Seuss, that…

Narrator 2 :  (cutting off the other narrator)  Rather than experience the wrath of his friend, who was turning as red as a beet at this point, the swashbuckler backed out of the kitchen still clutching the chef hat.

Onomatopoeia:  Step, step, step

Swashbuckler:  I wonder what got into him.  Where should I leave Zeus’ hat?  I’ll just wear it until I find a place.

Narrator 1:  (back to a piraty voice)  Well, my mateys, this fine friend of a fellow forgot all about the look shook cook’s hat he took.

Narrator 2:  (to himself)  Oh brother. (to the audience)  Even when another sailor asked him…

Sailor:  What’s cookin’?

Narrator 1:  (piraty)  He be still forgetin’ he be dawning that puffy white hat!

Swashbuckler:  Nuttin’ much.

Sailor:  Tis that a new dish?

Swashbuckler:  Dish?

Sailor:  What we be havin’ for mess mate?

Swashbuckler:  What mess?  I cleaned this deck this morning!  It’s as shiny as your bald head!

Sailor:  (a little hurt)  Hey. I just be wonderin’ what’s the eats we be slavin’ aways fur.

Narrator 1:  (still piraty)  Look here. This sailor fella be thinkin’ that a regular old swashbuckler be the chef o’ the ship.  He be thinkin’ this ‘cause the swashbuckler be keepin’ that chef hat on top of his dare head.

Narrator 2:  Are you going to keep talking that way throughout the entire play?

Narrator 1:  (piraty)  It be startin’ to grow on me.  That there be an idiom, if ye not fir-mill-yaaarrrrrrJ

Swashbuckler:  I can’t take this anymore!  I’m outta here. (throws chef hat on the ground)

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Performed on “International Talk Like a Pirate Day”, September 19th

Onomatopoeia:  Kirr whop!

Sailor:  I wonder if he realized he was wearing the chef’s hat.  I think…

Onomatopoeia:  Churn churn churn

Sailor:  I think I might be able to have a little fun with this.

Onomatopoeia:  Slosh, swish, swoosh,  ring, slosh, swish, swoosh, ring

Swashbuckler:  Hey chef, I’m starved.  What grub we got for supper?

Narrator 1:  (no longer piraty, but kind of confused)  Wait a minute. Is that the same swashbuckler from before…  like two minutes ago?

Narrator 2:  Yeah, that’s right.  We should probably infer that some time has lapsed.  You’re a narrator; why don’t you tell everyone?

Narrator 1:  (still regular voiced)  Could it be that the chef hat has some kind of magical power, so that it transforms the appearance of anyone wearing it?

Narrator 2:  I think you are over-thinking it.  These are pirates. They probably just see a chef hat and assume a chef is wearing it.

Narrator 1:  (a little hurt)  Oh, so pirates are less intelligent than other people, huh.

Narrator 2:  Not this again…  Look, this whole tale is about hats.  I think it is safe to say that there is something going on with the whole who wears a hat, and what hat it is matters business.  Let’s find out how the tale ends.

Narrator 1:  (piraty again)  I be hearin’ correctly?  Somebody mention themselves some grub?

Narrator 2:  Here we go…

Onomatopoeia:  Mmmmmmm

Sailor:  Grub.

Swashbuckler:  You ignorin’ me man?!  What grub we be eatin’?

Onomatopoeia:  Mmmmmmm

Sailor:  Grubs, man.

Swashbuckler:  I asked you what grub.  Why you be askin’ me what grub?  You is bein’ the cook ain’t ya? What you doin’ foolin’ me dis way?

Sailor:  We be eatin’ grub my matey!

Narrator 1:  (normal, and out of piraty character)  Is he saying “grub” like the animal, or grub, as in the slang term for food?

Narrator 2:  Narrators are supposed to supply information, not ask questions.  The sailor is playing a joke on the swashbuckler. The word grub can be used both ways, and he is implying that the swashbuckler will be eating actual insect larvae for lunch.

Onomatopoeia:  Splash!

Narrator 1:  Wow!  The swashbuckler did not seem to appreciate the joke.  He just dumped his whole bucket of dirty water on to the trickster sailor’s head.

Onomatopoeia:  Wham!!!   Bam!!! Slam!!!

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This was the crew that turned the story into a play. 2013

(conversation off stage)

Captain Iron Knee: All hands below deck!  Batten down the hatches.

Zeus: Where did this hale storm come from?

Swashbuckler:  Where is sailor?

Captain Iron Knee:  The sails will be ruined.

Swashbuckler:  No, I mean where is the sailor who I threw a dirty bucket of water on?

Onomatopoeia:  Thwack, thawack, thwack

Sailor:  Attack!  Attack! Someone is attacking the ship!  Man the nine-irons! Jib the sails, or whatever you do with sails.

Narrator 2:  As you may have guessed, the sailor was blind with the bucket on his head.  The dark, combined with the sound of huge hale hitting his bucket head, disconcerted him to the point that he began running around raising sail and preparing for battle.

Narrator 1:  Sailor unknowingly saved the entire ship!

Swashbuckler:  You raised the sails yourself?

Sailor:  I am a sailor.

Zeus:  You had the foresight and extreme intelligence to place a bucket on your head?

Sailor:  Well…

Captain Iron Knee:  You are the hero of the whole ship!  What a brilliant idea! How did you ever think of it?!

Zeus: Yeah how did you come up with that?

Sailor: Well you didn’t let me finish before.

Zeus: Well, then who did it.

Sailor: The Swashbuckler did.

Captain Iron Knee: What?

Zeus: Well then I guess we can congratulate both of them.

Captain Iron Knee: Yeah.

Narrator 1/Narrator 2: And, that’s exactly what happened.

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Piraty Personages;)

To Coddiwomple is Classy

Education is an experience; This is our purpose.

The vision is coming into focus, while it is getting hazier and more illusive.

21st century teaching should less resemble the space race of the 1960’s than take on the attitude of video game designers from the 80’s & 90’s. The space race was meant to show up Russia. Who could touch the moon and return to Earth first? Whomever could cover the distance of the playground, tag the wall, and return to the starting point first, wins. Wins what? Wins the race. For what? Why?

Granted, we learned lots of things through the process of racing to get to the moon. Sometimes it is necessary to have goals. Shooting for the stars will get you off the ground… sometimes. But, what if your goal was to find out what else was out there, other than stars and what we already know? What if your goal was just to explore, in general? There is the whole funding issue.

A friend of mine (Thank you Kate Lindquist@heARTISTatWORK 9h9 hours ago) introduced an incredible vocabulary word to me just yesterday. I was of course flattered that she thought of me, especially in connection with such an interesting locution. A Google search, blog read, and some introspection lead to some seriously fun philosophy gymnastics.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 4.39.15 AMThe word was coddiwomple. It means to “travel with purpose to an as-of-yet unknown destination”. If you were to boil Western Civilization down to just a handful of concepts, one of the most poignant, I believe, would be “goals”. We are obsessed with them. There have been countless coaches and seminars selling the necessity of setting good ones. A contemporary wave of self-help is focused on washing away the stress of not meeting them; failure.

A recently published blog by  Mar 28 about hiking presented a paradigm-shift away from being goal-oriented. It provided the etymology of the word saunter; coming from the word saint. A portion of text from John Muir explains the origin coming from people pilgrimaging to the Holy Land. Now, these travelers had destination goals, but clearly they understood the importance of the process as an experience. Touching down in the center of a holy place in a helicopter so that you can check it off of a list of todos, hardly seems like the end of a pilgrimage. And yet, this is exactly what some educators are teaching their students to do.

 

“Your mission is to figure out a way to get the robot to deliver something to the cup,” is not an awful way to get kids thinking, tinkering, toying, and trying. What if you said, “Others have gotten this robot to place this ball inside of this cup. What can you have it do?” Now the student will be coddiwomple-ing.

This term takes the goal and shifts it forward. So many times we keep pushing ahead. We have reached the moon. What’s next? Explorers kept pushing on until every square foot of planet Earth had been touched by human toes. I propose playing on the plains, rather than hurrying over hills.

As I prepared to deliver the definition of coddiwomple I was tempted to write some of my own words: I came up with this fun prose, “Meander with meaning.” I erased it, though, because it is inaccurate. To coddiwomple does not mean mess around. There definitely is a purpose to the play. We should teach students to love the wrestling of ideas in addition to showing them how to pin down a problem.

Sources:

The Adventure Diary. (2016, November 4). Why You Should Coddiwomple Your Way Through Life…. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://adventurediary.co/coddiwomple-definition/

Mountain Buddha. (2019, March 28). The Simple Joy of Walking in the Woods. Retrieved March 29, 2019, from https://journeyofathousandmiles.blog/2019/03/28/the-simple-joy-of-walking-in-the-woods/

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.