Along with every other kid in the world, my 8 year old daughter Scarlet is experiencing at home, online learning during the “Stay at Home” novel Coronavirus Pandemic. She is receiving daily assignments of online activities. As I’ve been witnessing hers and preparing my own, I am evaluating what makes the most effective distance learning tools.
Recently, Scarlet was asked to log into a math website and complete a task geared toward teaching coin-counting. This cartoon animation had her making 25 cents with nickels and dimes.
I try to let Scarlet do her online learning with as little distraction as possible, but this got to be too much for me! She was dragging coins to a spot on the screen until she accumulated 25 cents, and then it would celebrate her accomplishment with a silly jingle. I felt like my daughter was turning into a chimpanzee.
I closed the device she was using and drew a grid. “I’m going to teach you a homonym; a multiple-meaning word,” I told her. “This is a table; not the kind you eat on. You use this to make sense of numbers.”
We made a few tables with varying totals and different coins available. She made many different combinations of coins to show the same amount.
While filling in a row of varying coins totaling a dollar, Scarlet made a slight mistake. The table already had one half dollar and one quarter. She wrote “5” in the nickels column which made me happy, but then she wrote “2” in the dimes space. I knew what had happened. She equated the value of one nickel with the number to be written in the field. No biggie. As it turned out, we happened to have toy coins that I had dug out of the closet. I presented the actual coinage on the carpet. Scarlet almost didn’t let me get out all five nickels, having realized her mistake.
Eventually, I made some puzzles where I would fill in certain coin fields and have Scarlet solve the missing number. “If you are making one dollar out of pennies, nickels, and dimes, and you have 8 dimes & 3 nickels, how many pennies will you have?” Not only did Scarlet solve the problem easily, but when I asked her to describe what she had done in her head, she walked me through her thinking.
This is what was missing from the chimpanzee-producing online practice. The software allowed Scarlet to drop coins onto a spot on the screen and either rewarded her with a jingle or delivered a negative noise. It was up to Scarlet to figure out what worked best for getting the jingle to happen: Pull the lever to get the banana.
I’ve witnessed software programs that stop a kid after a few wrong answers and reteach a concept before allowing the student to continue an activity. Another way to check for thinking is having students type or video-record their reasoning for an answer. Then the educator can interact with the thinking, praising accurate steps, guiding ideas, and correcting missteps.
The closer to simulating the tailored responses of a human teacher an online program can produce, the more thinking it will stimulate in the student. How can you make a program applicable to the most practitioners, while simultaneously being tailored to the most personalized outcomes/answers?
The exciting and informative live chat #MasteryChat that takes place on Twitter between 8 and 9PM on Thursdays discussed the topic of “Visual Thinking” on January 10th, 2019. I’ve always held the belief that the more connections students make to a lesson, the more they will remember. Also, the more emotionally attached they become to their learning, the more they will get out of it.
Teaching nonfiction text can seem like a boring topic. Here is a way I get kids creative about their learning: They make mini booklets about the text features that help them navigate through nonfiction texts.
This is great because it gives them a reason for listening: They need to know what to include in their books. Each page models and defines a different text feature or part of a nonfiction book.
The learning tool becomes a toy. Students love looking through their creations all year long. They are proud of what they produce, and show them to their peers and parents.
Here’s how it works. First, I spark the class’s excitement by showing telling them they are going to make books. Then I show them a mini book. Everyone loves that! They begin antsing to make one. That is when I share a unique style of nonfiction text; The “instructional text” that tells how to make a mini book. I point out the sequence words, and we picture in our minds what is happening to the paper.
After students display good listening skills, it is time to hand out paper. I walk around and model as well as help make the folds. The cutting from fold to the center of the paper is tricky. There is always, without fail, a couple of kids who mess it up and have to start over.
Once they have their booklets made, students number the pages. This year, to get everyone back on track, listening carefully, I made this process hilarious by acting like the students couldn’t possibly guess what the next number was going to be. For some of them, I made up riddles and algorithms. Even though the kids obviously knew that the numbers were simply chronological order, they loved it. They were recreating my jokes days afterward in new contexts.
The next thing that we do is put the vital information on the cover of the book. The project usually takes several days to complete, and I don’t want any books to get lost. The “Locating Info Mini Booklet” by (name of student) is placed in “Unfinished Work” folders, to be continued later.
When we work on the mini booklets again, I have students label each page. They look at the list that I post on the board for them. Then we make a “Table of Contents”. Finally, students write explanations for each text feature on its page. Some of them, like the “Title Page”, are virtually self-explanatory. Others, like “Graphic Organizers”, require many examples. Students are only permitted to decorate, which they are all iching to do, AFTER all of the information is completed.
This project is more than just visual. The crafty nature of creating your own learning tool is sure to coat axons with much myelin.
The title of this Newbery Award winner intrigued me. I read it in October of 2018. I have 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?
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.
How are you using evaluation in everyday lessons? What do you have your students evaluate?
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.