Parsing Data at the Museum of Science

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We took our students on a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science yesterday (long day!), which is a wonderful space of interactive displays and special exhibits (The Grossology Exhibit, in particular, was a huge hit with a certain kind of kid).

I was particularly interested in a special exhibit around math that had all sorts of interactive engineering technology activities (design a skyscraper, build a song, determine probability of a huge flipping coin, etc.) and something known as the Hall of Human Life.

In the hall, you had the option of collecting a wristband, and as you did a series of activities, it showed you your data in relation to 200 other museum visitors. There were activities around nutrition, calories burned with each step, how light affects your sleep and depth perception, focus and attention, flu symptoms, balance and more. I suspect that many of these “activities” are really research projects for some grad students in the Boston area. The results shown are often broken down into categories, such as age and sex and other factors (which you put into the computer when you pick up your wristband).

hall of human life data

What is cool is that you can come home, and check out your data from the online site, too (anonymous, as we are only a wristband number – no name was ever asked), and the chart above shows one of the data pools from a set of questions around social networks. I found it intriguing that the museum found a way to engage us in a series of interesting activities, probably as a anonymous research subjects, and the spit the data out for us to examine as part of a larger collection.

We had a blast at the Museum of Science, and this was just one small piece of the day that stuck with me as I looked at my own data this morning via the website portal (I am the red dot).

Peace (in science),
Kevin

Considering the Composition of a Selfie

Comic Selfie Collage

I had an interesting moment recently with two of my classes. We were watching the movie version of Tuck Everlasting (after reading the novel) and there is a scene where the Stranger (played by Ben Kingsley) stops alone in the woods and pulls out a handheld mirror, holding it up and examining his own facial features for signs of age.

I wish I could share a screenshot of the scene. He’s holding the mirror up high in the sky with his left hand, staring up at it with a stern expression while touching his face with his right hand. I never thought twice about it because it seemed obvious what he was doing.

Students in both classes, however, said the same exact thing as soon as they saw what he was doing, and their reaction was immediate and spontaneous, shouting out:

“Selfie!”

This is the first year that this has happened with the movie, and it reminded me again of how fast pop culture and technology is flowing through our world. A year ago, only a scattered few might even have heard of a selfie. Now, it’s become a youth touchstone, an automatic response to anyone who holds any kind of screen in front of them.

“Selfie!”

We had some time after state math testing yesterday, so I did a mini-lesson around selfies. We looked at the famous one from Ellen at the Oscars and talked about some elements of composition of the selfie:

  • face(s) in foreground
  • some sort of background visible
  • smiling, happy selfies are more likely to be viewed than sad, depressing ones
  • faces are off center, and shown on upward angle (because phone is held up, facing down)
  • some faces are closer; others farther away — giving the viewer multiple points to examine (more interesting than a single selfie, they agreed)
  • famous people are more likely to become viral
  • Instagram is the reason why selfies are so popular

Then, I brought the students into Bitstrips and told them: “Create a webcomic selfie and feel free to make it crazy.” Most were very excited about the assignment — they love making and using avatars in our comic site.

But one kid dropped his head.

“Do I have to? I am so sick of selfies.”

Maybe the tide is already turning.

Peace (in the mirror),
Kevin

Bringing Voice Front and Center: Student Haiku Podcasts

I don’t know of a better format for class podcasting than the haiku poem. It’s a theme that is short, focused and allows for easy sharing of words as a group. We continue to work on poetry, even after April ends, and yesterday, some students shared their poems as podcasts as National Poetry Month came to an end. We used our class Soundcloud account to share out.

Peace (in the poems),
Kevin

 

It’s Quidditch Day (for us)

Icy Revolution Collage
Today, we play our annual Quidditch Championship between the four sixth grade classrooms. I don’t know if my homeroom team — Icy Revolution — will win or not, but I do know that the day is going to be crazy, hectic fun. And loud. Real loud.
(and tonight, the kids play teachers in a Quidditch match. So, yeah, tired bones … here I come)

Peace (with a snitch),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Teaching to the Test

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Like many of you who are classroom teachers, we are in the midst of “state testing season.” Or at least, we are entering round one (round two comes in May with Math). This week, my sixth grade students will be diving into the state reading assessment in two two-hour blocks.

There was a time, years back, where I did very little to prep them, feeling that “teaching to the test” was against everything I believed in as an educator. I  changed my mind over time as I realized they needed more overt help in navigating the test. I could not ignore the data showing how much my students were struggling and how glaring some of the weaknesses were.

I felt guilty about not helping them.

So, yes, I now teach strategies all year — good, solid reading and writing strategies, I hope — with an eye towards the state testing, which will be undergoing change in the years ahead with PARCC. I still feel a bit odd about teaching a lesson with overt references to our MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the kids groan when I mention MCAS. But I’ve come to realize that this is now part of my job. I don’t drill and kill about it. I teach strategies for approaching unknown reading passages and questions. I frame these lessons in a real way — these are the strategies that readers use all the time. I am just making them more visible. I hope.

Literary terms

Yesterday, we did a review of literary terms, partly as a way to lodge some ideas into their heads and partly to connect these terms to the novels we have been reading all year. Still, I have to admit: the timing of that review was designed to align with this week’s testing.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that, even with all of my intellectual defenses outlined above, that this is bad teaching and is still something I don’t believe in, as something that won’t help my students become stronger readers and better writers and more engaged citizens of the world. I walk away from these kinds of lessons with tinges of guilt that I just can’t shake — a different kind of guilt than I felt in the early years after looking at test scores and realizing my silent protest was hurting my students. On any day of the week, I’d rather have them be writing what they want to write, and being creative in a variety of ways with media, technology and words. That is why I got into teaching in the first place.

And so, I still feel guilty about the strategic moves into teaching for the test, even though our scores have gotten better over the years and I now pour over data to see where weaknesses might still exist, and I wish I could in good conscious return to my days of silent refusal, to focus on teaching for learning, not teaching for testing. But I fear those days are now gone.

Peace (in the silent protest),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Lifting Off with Quidditch

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

If you read this blog every March (who does that? Slicers), then you know our entire sixth grade is moving into Quidditch Season. That’s right. We play Quidditch at our school. I believe this is the 13th year of the game, which first came into being on a suggestion from a student and has morphed into a challenging Physical Educational activity with connections to literature.

The rules have developed over the years but this video we made a few years ago for the 10th anniversary gives some pointers on how to play (feel free to steal it and remix it for your school):

Each of the four sixth grade classes chooses a name and identity, and then on the day of the Quidditch Tournament, the entire day is turned over to the four teams playing each other (and then a new tradition started last year — teachers and staff playing students in the evening. I’m already tired just thinking of it).  This is our teacher team from last year: Pink Fury.

Pink Fury Quidditch Superstars

Normally, the process of a class coming up with a team name is a lengthy process, involving lots of brainstorming, voting, elimination, more voting, and compromise. So, imagine my surprise when my entire class, on their own, came up with their team name this year: Icy Revolution. I had to make sure no one objected. No one did. They all worked together outside of my field of vision (I refuse to talk Quidditch until we start talking about Quidditch; Otherwise, it’s all they talk about. They try to engage in that conversation during the first week of school, believe it or not).

One student has already begun designing our team logo of a lightning bolt, dripping with ice, and a snitch in the background.

Icy Revolution

I am so impressed and so … let the games begin (as soon as we get through state testing.).

Peace (on the Quidditch Pitch),
Kevin
PS — and here is how they play it at college. I like our version better.

Slice of Life: The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

As we finish up our critical reading of Three Cups of Tea, I led my sixth graders through a discussion of the United Nation’s document, The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children, yesterday (We used a child-friendly version). This UN declaration is referenced in the book and was also mentioned as we spent a day last week learning about Malala and her story of one girl seeking to change the world through advocating for education of girls.

 

Of course, before we could discuss the document, we had to discuss the United Nations. Most students were only vaguely aware of the name and only a handful in my four classes had any sense at all what the UN was and what it does in the world (or even that it is located in New York City). The declaration for children, while very general in nature, gave them an insight into their own lives, and how lucky they are to in a safe and supportive place in the world. Reflecting on why such a document would even need to be created and ratified by world leaders is an eye-opener in itself. And questions about who enforces the rights of children? Another lesson on the real world politics of the global stage.

As part of a writing assignment, they had to choose one of the articles of the declaration and write briefly about the importance of that article. Here are a few examples:

I thought Article Seven is most important to children because it talks about education and earning to be responsible and useful. Children will have to know this if they wish to be successful later in life. Also, the article states that children can play and have an equal chance to develop themselves. I think that is important. — Emily

 

I think Article Four (protection) is important because if we didn’t have any of those rights, then America wouldn’t be like it is today. Most children probably wouldn’t receive protection, special care, good food, and medical services. If none of this was available, then children’s lives would be in a worse way, not getting any of the proper essentials to survive. That’s why I think Article Four is the most important one. – Jackson

 

I think Article Six – “You have the right to love and understanding …” is the most important one because without love, I feel life would be awful. It’s like having a parent take care of you because they have to and not out of love and understanding. If people don’t understand you, then you feel alone, like you’re the only one in the world who feels they are going through the tough time or problem. Even if you’re rich, if you have no love, you have nothing. I feel wealth comes from the heart and not the ATM. – Jacob

 

I think that the right of a child that is most important is that “you have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.” I think this is important because a name is essential so that you can be called something other than “child,” “girl,” or “boy.” The right to be a member of a country is important too, because if you don’t have that right, you’d typically be homeless and you might not be welcomed anywhere in the world. – Victoria

Empathy begins with understanding, and action in the world begins with young people understanding the world through the experiences of others. Yes, this UN document probably has no teeth — children still get lost from the view of the world leaders. My sixth graders at least had a chance to appreciate not just the hardships endured by other children in the world, but also the promise of good lives.

Peace (in the peace),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Tackling Student Work

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I brought home two huge piles of student work to assess over the weekend. It’s more than usual for a weekend and more than I would have liked but our trimester closes soon and I hate having student work hanging on my desk for a long stretch of time — it’s not right for my writers and it’s not good for my own stress to see it there, a reminder of what I need to do.

You know what I mean?

In between moments of family time yesterday (including taking my son and a friend to see the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, and watching them trying to figure out time vortex paradoxes even as they were giggling at the story), I dove into our Parts of Speech projects, which we wrapped up last week. I’ve written about this particularly project in the past (during a Slice of Life, as it often falls in March) but essentially, students show mastery of Parts of Speech by color-coding their own writing.

I’m not a huge fan of Parts of Speech, as I don’t think it helps them particularly as emerging writers, so we try to make it lively (lots of activities in the classroom) and as authentic (their own writing) as possible. I like the visual look of the color-coded work, too. But after 80 Parts of Speech projects, my brain was swimming in nouns, verbs, etc, and particularly … adverbs. Those darn adverbs are the trickiest of the bunch.

Parts of Speech

So, that project is done. Now, it’s on to a pile of open response writing for our Three Cups of Tea book, where students wrote along the theme of “challenge” in a few ways. I’ll be doing that reading/assessing today, in the mall, as I bring my oldest son and his friends to watch the new 300 movie. Wish we well.

Peace (in the assessment),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Getting Published in the Paper

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I had a column of mine run in the local newspaper yesterday, as I explained the rationale behind our continued teaching of Three Cups of Tea, in light of the controversies behind the book and Greg Mortenson. The column was partially spurred on by some questions from our School Committee about why we would still be teaching this book, and partially because this particularly column in our local newspaper is a place to feature teacher/writers from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (although others do periodically write).

Chalk talk

Here is a podcast of my column:

Peace (in the inquiry),
Kevin