I was glancing around my classroom before I unplugged the Christmas lights and took off, yesterday, and I saw this: A chess board had been “put away” by being placed on the Red Bin. The Red Bin is the place where notes, money, messages, etc. for the office are placed first thing in the morning. They then get sent down to the office with our lunch count in the green envelope seen under the chess set.
We are just beginning our school chess club, this year. I accepted too many members, and don’t have enough of the nice big vinyl boards with 3 inch plastic pieces for everyone. (Christmas idea;) So, we have been using a mishmash of different sets. The one in the picture is magnetized, that’s why the pieces can stay in place.
What struck me about this pic is the concept of actually sending the board to the office! Did a student think that this was a message for the secretaries? Should we move a piece and share the board with another class? There is a buzz around the school of students becoming increasingly interested in this “thinkers game”. I have been working on populating a webpage from my classroom website with chess related information that could be helpful not only to the members of our club, but any beginning player. Mr. Vitale, my third grade teammate and partner in running the chess club, and I have made several videos to post on this website. My dream is for the whole school to become interested in playing chess. I wouldn’t be upset if other elementary schools caught this vision. Wouldn’t it be great for our district, state, country to learn, practice, and master thinking strategically, analytically, as well as creatively?
Mr. Vitale and I began a chess game this past week during lunch. We couldn’t finish it, so it remained set up in Mr. Vitale’s room. He couldn’t help but show and talk to his students about it. I took pictures and shared them with my class. By Friday, we were able to complete the game, but only after both of our classes worked on analyzing the following images to help with potential moves. It was fun, exciting, motivating, and infectious. By Friday, my students were sneaking onto Chesskid.com whenever they could. I found iPads with chess games begun, hiding under notebooks.
Here is an idea: Teachers sign up for the Chess Challenge. The magnetic board travels around the school, visiting learning spaces (not just classrooms). A chess enthusiast, either chess club member or one of my students or myself, can visit participants, if desired, to help with some chess instruction. (In other words, teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to be good at the game to participate.) A paper with notation will accompany the board. This will also be posted on the website for classes to keep up with the game, virtually. The color a class is responsible for will depend on which is moving at the time the game arrives at their doorstep. If it is Black’s move when Room 205 gets the board, then they are part of the black team. When a class captures a piece, they get to keep it until the end of the game. They can display it as a chess trophy. Much of the game is strategy, so rooms could even display thinking by posting writing or drawings of the ideas that prepared their move. Perhaps awards could accompany the moves that displayed creative, analytical thought.
My aim is to not only spread the love of chess, but inspire thinking, especially an affection for analytical reasoning. Lets get kids excited about using their cognitive abilities as much as they are pumped to tackle, shoot hoops, hit home runs, etc. The brain may not literally be a muscle, but it should definitely get exercised!
My daughter Scarlet and I visited a restaurant the other morning to purchase some bagels. I ordered a “Baker’s Dozen” of various styles; plenty of Scarlet’s favorite, the one with sugar piled on top. When I asked the person behind the counter to slice and toast two of the bagels, so we could eat them then and there, I was told that I’d have to buy two more bagels, outside of the baker’s dozen. “The Line, where they assemble sandwiches and cook things, would have to toast the bagels,” it was explained.
Rather than schooling the employee on customer-service or being difficult, I opted to have two of the baker’s dozen sliced right there and forego the toasting. I felt a little
cheap, but it was a principle-thing. I had purchased the baker’s dozen to save money. Buying two additional bagels would have canceled that, and then we would have too many bagels to eat over the course of the next couple of days.
You should know that there were, maybe, three people sitting and eating in the restaurant, and there was one person behind me in line. In other words, it was not rush hour. It seems to me that the main reason for the toasting needing an additional purchase was because the computer didn’t have a way to send an automated message to “The Line” when a baker’s dozen was being purchased. The only way for this worker to communicate that two bagels were to be toasted was by producing a separate order… Or, she could have grabbed a couple of the thirteen and asked the people working “The Line” to toast them… verbally… perhaps with hand gestures or signs.
Empathy: This deserves a whole series of Classy Blogs, but let me start here. In every single situation, I try to empathize with each person involved, because I believe attempting understanding motives is classy. When you know where someone is coming
from, it is easier to behave classy. In this instance, the girl taking my order could very well have been new. Perhaps she was told to only use the computer. Maybe she was specifically told to avoid extra transactions, outside of the automated system. “If a customer wants his bagel toasted, you HAVE to press the toast icon on the keypad,” a manager may have said to her right before I placed my order. It isn’t impossible for there to even be an unseen difficulty for this girl to walk the ten feet and talk to “The Line”. Her ex-boyfriend could be working over there, and they just broke up. Who knows? The one thing that I did know was that this girl could not see through the automation of the ordering system before her.
It reminded me of a movie that I do not recommend you watch. It isn’t the drug use and profanity that keep me from suggesting you see “Idiocracy”. The movie has gone from satirical comedy to frightening realism. Its preface is a world 500 years in the future that has become idiotic due to people’s intelligence devolving. While there are several ways this is depicted, one is the use of computers with nothing but icons on them. When I first saw it, I thought it funny, but watching it a year or so ago made me dangerously depressed.
Here is some more empathy: I understand why automation exists. The people at the head of companies want to make as much money as they can. This is only natural. I would like to have more money, too. By lowering the steps necessary to take care of customers,
limiting the amount of time a living human being is needed for communicating with people, the companies can hire fewer people, thereby spending less on employment. Also, automation can lessen the amount of trivial needs that their paid employees have to deal with. When there is bad weather and I call my gym to see if it is still open, I am surprised to talk to an actual person. I apologize for simply wanting to know if it is open. “Yes, we are open,” a courteous receptionist assures me. I feel badly for how many times that person is probably going to have to deal with my question throughout the morning. An automated system could help them.
On the other hand, when I have a pressing need or question that I know won’t be
addressed by an automated system, it is infuriating to have to jump through a million hoops to talk to a real person. Sometimes I mask myself as a person seeking to begin a new account just to get to talk to a live person. When I get “transferred” to a person who can “help with my specific issue,” my cynicism makes me wonder if my lengthy wait is just part of meeting the company’s hold-time-quota: “You’re going to wait, whether you realize/want to, or not.”
In the case of my morning bagel customer-service crisis, it was sad to see a young woman be boxed into an algorithm that didn’t allow her the ability to show the classic “customer-first” concept that makes the service industry classy. Doctors are equipped with an awesome amount of valuable information via the Internet, which can make their work of diagnosing patients’ ailments more effective. Who would be okay with the doctor texting you what they find? The 2009 movie “Up In the Air” gets it. George Clooney plays a businessman who is hired in order to fire people. When his job is threatened by an online career-termination skeem that a fresh, young mind thinks up, Clooney’s character insists that the inventor travel with him to witness the class necessary for handling this delicate procedure properly.
Fighting automation is a losing battle. “Let the robots take the jobs…” Kevin Kelly (2012) thinks robots should win the jobs that can be automated, “And let them help us dream up new work that matters.” There will be hiccups along the way, and Scarlet and I might have to eat a couple untoasted bagels, but it’s worth being able to type this on a computer instead of being busy with farm chores; one of the many ways robots have rescued Americans.
Judge, M. (Director). (2006). Idiocracy [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: 20th Century Fox.
It is interesting that the American Library Association (ALA) would choose a history text for its first-ever children’s literature award winner. Was the organization making up for only just now (1922) beginning to honor kids’ books? Were the organizers thinking they’d catch everyone up to speed? “This is what has happened in the past; Now, lets award one book each year.” I’ll tell you one thing: This is one classy history book. Here are 5 features I found to be extraordinarily classy.
1. Figurative Language: What struck me first and foremost was a combination of beautiful prose and mountains of metaphor. To begin at the end of the book, on page 482 Van Loon refers to the world as a “workshop”. He sees the steam, gas, and new-to-his-era electric machines forging a global factory. The story of Hendrik’s history ends a few
years after The Great War. He concludes the new world is a place where political lines are as important as the edge of a concrete slab under a picnic pavilion (my metaphor;) Van Loon sees the “Iron Horse,” machinery in general, as the true victor of the First World War, running wild over, across, and through the entire world, regardless of man-made borders. Was he right? What would Van Loon make of today’s robots, not to mention the Internet!? The previous nearly 500 pages are teeming with as many metaphors.
Here is a fun passage for discussion:
And now that I have almost finished I discover that certain chapters gallop, that others wade slowly through the dreary sands of long forgotten ages–that a few parts do not make any progress at all, while still others indulge in a veritable jazz of action and romance. (p. 446)
Present Hendrik Van Loon’s self reflection prior to reading the text and then categorize the readings. Which chapters or sections would you label “gallop”? Are there any that were “jazzy” with action? Romance?
2. Evidence-Based: The forever swinging pendulum seems to have exorcised more than just public prayer from schools. A friend of mine told me recently that she was pointing out the similarities between the Greek myths and the story of Moses from the Bible. Her students had no idea who Moses was. Whether you are religiously-minded or not, this should alarm you. I am pleased to report that Van Loon mentions Moses, Abraham, and even Jesus in his history of mankind. He does this in a classy way. Rather than telling the reader what the Bible says, Van Loon provides outside sources. For example, a letter from AEsculapius Cultellus (Roman physician) to his nephew, written in 62 A.D. tells of a first hand account of treating Paul (the apostle) of the New Testament (p. 119).
3. Provides the People’s Perspective (a little): In addition to hitting many of the main events of history, Van Loon pauses to describe what life was like for a common person. Napoleon, his feats, the land his army conquered are all important facts to know. These
events affect the course of history. Van Loon provides more than just the basics in his blitz of history. He paints a picture of life for the Frenchman who was proud to take up arms to help Napoleon. The way the Roman Empire gradually usurped land and people, assimilating other cultures into its own is a lesson in and of itself, but learning about the life of a slave under Greek and Roman rule brings the everyday life of thousands to light. What was life like for them? It is easy to project attitudes onto others, yet the author of “The Story of Mankind” gets into the character of his subject illuminating everyday struggles and fears, helping the reader empathize with the characters in the story of history.
Here, I have a criticism. Of course with any history project it is going to be “The Story of Mankind” according to the author, who in this case is a Dutch-American professor from Cornell University. In his view Holland and England were heroes to the natives of the Americas in the seventeenth century (p. 324). With sympathy, he provides the mildly racist annotation, “During their first relations with weaker races, all European nations have behaved with shocking brutality.” Although it is interesting to read about France exploring and fortifying the Mississippi River, cutting English and Dutch settlement off from westward expansion early in the new world exploration, absolutely no attention is given to the “mankind” that already inhabited the Americas. Of course space is limited, but an entire chapter is devoted to the relationship between Russia and Sweden! One of the best books I have ever read, devoted to the people’s perspective, is “A People’s History of The United States” by Howard Zinn. Before reading this text, I did not realize that in the year 1491 the Americas were more populated than Europe and that the largest city of Europe paled next to the Aztec capital, modern day Mexico City. There is a youth edition.
Discussion Point: Page 449 suggests that “Athens and Florence, during the hey-day of their glory, had only one tenth of the population of Kansas City.” The larger-than-life influence of Greece and Italy on our culture makes it feel like these peoples must have had infinite populations. It was a bit of a paradigm shift to realize that a tiny group of people could have such a large influence over a vast amount of time.
4. Thought-Provoking: An informational text is naturally going to be educational, requiring cognitive engagement, but Van Loon has a knack for skipping the boring stuff of history and presenting ideas that get the neurons fired up. He assumes the reader already knows the basics of the American Revolution. Instead of covering the main points, Van Loon attempts to shine light on the unique angles. In the United States we focus very much on the ground battles led by our hero, General George Washington. How much attention is given to the weakening of the English army by its enemies from the European mainland, and how much that affected the outcome of our revolution?
Van Loon does an excellent job pointing out that there is always many factors that contribute to a single historical event. The famous Congress of Vienna, that ended The Great War are referred to as “reactionaries” in the chapter on “National Independence” (p. 381).
5. Opinionated: Here is a topic deserving of its own blog. It is not classy to believe what everyone else believes, just because everyone else believes it. Believe something based on the evidence available and how much sense it makes. The classiest people possess their own independent opinions. With knowledge of subject and contemplative thinking, they form cognitive constructs that they then share with others. Additionally, they are prepared for varying opinions. An example of Van Loon’s “opinion writing” can be seen in the chapter “After Seven Years.” He explains that the men who were responsible for ending the First World War treated the, at that time (1921), modern situation as if it were colonial times (1719), rather than recognizing the rise of the industrial age and accepting a more global perspective. He points to the way they sat around a map and drew arbitrary lines dissecting land with little regard for the people and industries that lived there. It is heart-wrenching for me to read text written between the two world wars: “Meanwhile in their agony and distress the people will turn to the cure-alls offered by Bolshevism and Fascism” (p. 480). Was Van Loon a prophet? No. He simply took what he saw happening around him and formed an opinion. If only we can be so classy.
Watch out for…
Violence–Can’t really talk about war or humanity without mentioning murder. What was the French Revolution without mention of the great invention of the guillotine? What little kid needs to picture heads rolling on the floor? –none. I would sticky-note and smooth over or couch the violence in age-appropriate concepts. For instance, “Learning history can be a way to help avoid mistakes made in the past. One bad thing that happened a lot, is war. Sometimes people and countries avoided war by getting together and talking. But, not always.” How to Talk to Kids About Violence
Here is an online version of the entire original text, complete with illustrations and hyperlinks from the index items to the “pages” containing the relevant information.
Van Loon, H. (1921). The Story of Mankind. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Company.
Zinn, H. (2007). A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror (For Young People Series). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. [This was accessed for free via Overdrive through my public library. I read it on my iPad.]
Zinn, H. (1980). The People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins.
Everyone is the “hero” of his own story. No matter what happens, the teller comes out on top. The classy teacher will know this, appreciate the mindset, empathize with each student’s self-centered, egocentric view of the world, and use it to foster classy heroes, rather than megalomaniacal monsters.
Have you ever heard of someone putting a person in his/her “place”? This person uses the mask of teaching a student a lesson to vent emotions. Could this be any less classy a concept? A student is disrespectful. The teacher feels like the student would act more honorably if he/she understood his/her “place” in the construct of school hierarchy. So, the teacher, an educated grown up, belittles the youth through verbiage, discipline, or even just a look/body language (ignoring the student). The only thing that this unclassy adult is doing is showing the naturally narcissistic youth how to be truly disrespectful.
The classy teacher redirects. Instead of belittling an already little kid, build him up by showing him what a hero would do. It isn’t because of the “rules” that we don’t yell out in class. That isn’t a classy thing to do. Heros don’t interrupt. “This is what you want to do next time…”
What is a hero? The hero is a person others idolize; For kids, that is themselves. A hero is someone people look up to because of accomplishments (Cipriano, 2014). A mediocre basketball player is not as heroic as the one who leads the team to victory. Ancient civilizations made up stories and created their heros, the gods. The United States of America lavishes heroism on George Washington.
A hero is someone people connect with in order to feel better about themselves. George Washington, the father of our country, lead a rebel, underdog army to victory over the greatest military in the world! Identifying with this hero fosters pride in country and therefore person for being a citizen of that country.
Treat each student like he or she is a hero… They are… in their own minds. Help them achieve their personal greatness by assuming their hero status.
Another thing that forms people into heroes is overcoming adversity (Cipriano, 2014). The survivor of calamity is a hero to others. “I could never have done that; I would never be able to put up with that; If that had been me I wouldn’t have conducted myself nearly as classy…” An easy way to help students become the heroes they already believe themselves to be is by providing “opportunities of challenge”. When I tell my students the expectations for lining up, I make it nearly impossible for kids to do. Then I pretend to be “in awe” of the students who can actually do it. These kids are then seen as heroes from a lineage of class beyond human capability. Without making my expectations seem (they must be somewhat obtainable) unfeasible, there would be no hero. The hero can do the impossible.
A misconception: Some teachers have the philosophy that their students all have A’s until they start doing things wrong or losing points. That is not what I am talking about. The line isn’t perfect until it isn’t.
Don’t treat students as if some day they will eventually do something great. Help them grow into their greatness by believing in them. They already believe in themselves. Build their belief into something constructive; something worth adding to. Good luck creating a class of heroes.
Before school the other day, I was called to the office to help with something or other. The bell rang while I was there. When I went to walk up to my room, it was a little late, and I was joined by one of my students who eats breakfast in the cafeteria. This student isn’t a fast walker, but he kept up with me as I quickly maneuvered between and past meanderers.
As I lead this student to walk faster than he would have, I thought about how I typically walk, and how that differs from most students. I walk purposefully. After the announcements and taking lunch count, I explained this to my class. To do something purposefully means to do it with a cause, meaning, or reason in mind. You have a purpose for doing it, and that goal drives you to act a certain way. Acting purposefully is classy.
“To an observer, it may simply look as though I walk speedily, but there is more to it than that,” I explained to my class. I was moving quickly in order to get to the classroom as soon as possible, because I wanted to see my students. It is common for me to walk quickly because I interpret moving from one location to another as down-time; unproductive time. “Finally,” I concluded, “I wanted to model for my breakfaster how one might maintain a pace that will enable him to have enough time to unpack, fill in his Assignment Book Page, and begin a morning work choice… all before the announcements.” They chuckled because the boy from my story is often seen finishing these tasks during my introductory lesson of the morning.
The antonym of purposefully would be “lazily” or behaving as though your task was meaningless. If teachers want well-behaved, classy kids, we will need to make sure that our lessons are full of meaning and purpose. Following this logic, it can be expected that a group of students performing a task that has no or little value, would not do it purposefully. Rote repetition breeds misbehavior. By definition, repetition is UNthinkingly doing something over and over; like a machine. Give students something to think about, and you are giving them purpose.
Also, in order for this to work, students must comprehend the purpose of the task they are given. I constantly tell my students to sit up straight, but I give them several reasons, none of which contain the phrase, “Because I said so.” Did you know that standing straight, in addition to looking classy, promoting health, clearing airways, etc., actually makes you more “Powerful” (Cooper, 2013)? What kid doesn’t like that idea?! Even when I occasionally have my students practice something that might require repetition, I supply a reason that encourages them to try to improve upon the task with each successive attempt.
After explaining this concept to my class, I asked them to come up with their own examples of doing things purposefully. Discussion included brushing one’s teeth. You can just run the toothbrush over your teeth and use up enough time, so that your parents think you did a thorough job, or you can actually brush them in such a way that you relieve them of debris and plaque. Gingivitis is a painful, expensive gum disease that 60% of 15-year-olds should have prevented, but didn’t (Dowshen, 2015).
A funny example that I related to was eating. There was a slight misunderstanding of purposeful activity when a girl suggested eating the right food. I re explained the concept of behaving purposefully, before telling the students that I often find myself so engrossed in my work that I don’t realize my hunger until I am famished. Then I get angry that I have to stop and consume some nutrients. It is irritating because, as an adult, I have to find food, which means putting my project on hold, going to a restaurant or store, finding what I want, paying for it… You get the idea! This takes up valuable time; The time is only as valuable as what it was being used for, however. It is important to participate in activities that have meaning, purpose, and hold value. When I finally have my food, I devour it like a Velociraptor.
I had my students write down their examples and draw pictures of someone behaving purposefully. They also drew a picture of what it would look like if someone performed the same task purposelessly. We had fun sharing those with each other to close the lesson.
Two things in closing: First, sometimes it is classy to walk slowly. The classiness comes from the reason for the behavior. It would not be classy to speed walk through a museum. This is a place where you should take your time to ponder artwork. You cannot do that quickly. Secondly, I am often struck by the paradox that I am supposedly a classy person, who writes rather sloppily on the dry erase board. Isn’t messy penmanship unclassy? Not necessarily. If my purpose was to model perfect handwriting, then, yes, my scrawl would be less than classy, to say the least. However, I am usually modeling taking notes, when I write on the board. I only write what I think students should take down in their spiral notebooks. The speed I use, which prohibits beautifully crafted letters, demonstrates what it is like to jot down ideas while listening. Along these lines, I rarely ever write complete sentences on the board. Parents often complain about their child’s penmanship. This is the last thing that I would focus on as a teacher. Why do doctors messily fill in prescriptions? Is it because that is what doctors do, or is it because they fill in a million, as long as the pharmacy can read it, it works, and their time is used better speaking with and looking at patients? So, parents, would you rather a creative composer, or a very neat transposer?