Nerdwriter Explains Fidget Spinners (with appreciated parody)

I enjoy (and support via Patreon) Nerdwriter, who creates all sorts of interesting videos on a range of topics. His latest video release is one about Fidget Spinners, which our school has just banned as toys because we had kids throwing them on buses, spinning them into people’s faces, and selling them for profit in the hallways.

As usual, Nerdwriter incorporates parody with history for entertaining results.

You know … the arc of a fad.

Although he uses parody here, Nerdwriter makes an interesting aside: the emergence of devices with no buttons or tangible way to interact might pave the way for more tactile toys and devices, as people want their fingers and hands to be doing something. Or maybe not. Maybe we just have short attention spans and need something to divert our attention from full focus.

I had written about the spinners a few weeks back for Slice of Life, and since then, the spinners are all over the news with varying points of view on whether they are good or bad for students (despite the claims of the Fidget Defense League, I have yet to see any of my ADD/ ADHD students benefit from the use of a fidget spinner for focus and sustained attention. It mostly has been the reverse.)

Peace (the world spins),
Kevin

Using Comics to Interpret Poetry

Poetry Comics

I hope it’s no surprise that I like to give my sixth graders opportunities to make comics, and to use art as well as words in their writing and analysis. We’ve done visual notetaking and added art to many writing pieces, and used a basic comic model for a variety of writing activities.

Poetry Comics

Last week, as we were examining the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem — Paul Revere’s Ride or sometimes entitled The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere — I had them create a comic by pulling important lines from the poem and illustrating them to help tell the narrative story.

Poetry Comics

What I like is it allows me to see what grabbed their attention in a piece of poetry, and provides entry into analysis, and hopefully understanding, for those students who struggle with traditional writing but could use an artistic anchor into a text.

Poetry Comics

I should note that our conversation about the poem also dipped into what (and whose) stories are left out of the American Myth, thanks to the power and reach of Longfellow’s poem.

Peace (and all that history),
Kevin

Exploring with Parents, Kids and Coding

Family Coding Night

I helped facilitate a Family Coding Night event at my school last night, and we had about 25 kids and parents attend the event, which is part of our push to get more families involved in schools, to introduce the possibilities of programming, and to show off the new laptop computers that our community recently purchased for our school.

Family Coding Night

It was a great event, with kids and parents working together on some of the Code Puzzle challenges. My math colleague came along, too, because he wants to design a Week of Code for our sixth graders in June, and is seeking some resources and support.

As I both helped and eavesdropped around the room, I could hear all sorts of problem-solving and congratulations going on between moms/dads and children. We had kids as young as kindergartener and as old as middle schoolers in the room.

Code.Org, which sponsors the Hour of Code, has a lot of information about Family Code Nights, if you are interested.

Peace (coded for collaboration),
Kevin

Slice of Life: When Fidgets go Viral

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every now and then, something comes along to remind you about the viral social nature of kids. This past month, it has been the Spinner Fidgets, which is a sort of three-pronged plastic object with a spinning fulcrum in the center.

One day, there was none.

The next day, they were all over the place.

It’s really strange. And then, inevitably, they become a distraction and a problem as opposed to being a stress fidget, and we have to remind our sixth graders about “toys” in school, and how some students can use fidgets but not everyone. At a staff meeting, other teachers in other grades also complained, so much that the principal promised to send a message out to the entire student population about toys and school.

We try to not give that speech to our sixth graders, for its seems a bit draconian.

We gave that speech this year, just before Spring Break.

Here’s what struck me as even odder, though. My son is a sixth grader, too, but in another school, another school district. We received an email home from his sixth grade teachers, saying they were dealing with toys in class, and they were asking us parents to remind our studeto keep those objects home, please.

Spinners? My son says, everyone has them.

What about small cans of modeling puddy clay? We saw a quick rise in those, too, and we had to talk to students about stretching and modeling clay during class-time. Sure, I support hands-on creativity but not when I am trying to get them to write.

Yep, my son said. Those little canisters are everywhere.

Then, we hosted a friend of my son who lives near the Boston area — about 3 hours away from us — and guess what? Fidgets and modeling clay are a problem there, too.

Oh, and earlier this year, it was all about flipping/spinning/juggling water bottles, trying to get them to land with perfect balance. We’re still dealing with that one, and have cleaned up more spills of water than any other year I can remember.

Kids are funny like that.

I suspect that YouTube is the cause of all of this, as funny viral videos inspire viewers into replication.

I wish there would be a catchy writing and reading video that went viral. Then, all kids everywhere would be wandering with piles of books in their arms and writer’s notebooks spilling out of their pockets. We’d let that viral moment go without a sound.

Peace (spinning)
Kevin

Sketchnoting Tall Tales

Sketchnoting tall tales

I‘ve written about ways in which I am trying to bring more sketchnoting, or visual notetaking, into my sixth grade classroom as another means of active listening and active learning.

We did it with the presidential inauguration and this week, as we are diving into Figurative Language techniques, we did it while listening to the American Tall Tale of Davey Crockett (as an example of extreme hyperbole and storytelling). They had a lot of fun with this activity, and the doodling forced them to “close listen” to the stories of Davey Crockett.

The sketch above is mine.

Peace (doodle it),
Kevin

A Strange Concoction to Consider: Fan Fiction and State Testing


aafad 225/365 under new management … flickr photo by lamont_cranston shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

We’re into state test prep season (our ELA test is a few weeks away) and our state of Massachusetts is in the midst of some pretty significant changes to what we call MCAS. The state claims to have moved away from PARCC, but that’s not really the case with its MCAS 2.o or MCAS Next Generation.

Everything MCAS is moving to computer-based testing over the next two years, which is already posing a logistical challenge at my school, and the kinds of texts and questions and tasks being asked of my sixth graders are also changing, becoming more complex on many levels (reading across multiple texts and genres, paired multiple choice questions, etc.)

As I work with my young writers on learning how to approach what is known as the Narrative Task, I find myself amused at how the whole concept seems like a riff out of the Fan Fiction textbook. This is something we were exploring in Networked Narratives, too.

Let me explain …

The MCAS Narrative Task is built on the concept of reading a story, or a passage from a novel or larger piece of text, and then writing the “next section” of the story, with consideration of some concept — mostly, we’ve been seeing a focus on character and setting in sixth grade but fifth grade has been about shifting point of view.

So, for example, in a sample we did last week, my students read about a girl and a nanny, in a rainstorm, rushing to meet an unknown aunt. Their assignment was to continue the story, with the characters and setting, and determine what happens next. And yesterday, I had them plucking minor characters from novels we are reading, or have read, and write a new story.

In other words, just like fan fiction, you take characters that exist in literature and bring them into an imaginary space (or world) that you create, with a story that you write, and you bring them to life in ways that you choose. That’s fan fiction, in a sort of nutshell, right? For example, let’s pluck Hermoine and Malfoy from Harry Potter series and send them off on an adventure. Or what would happen if Katniss Everdeen bumped into Luke Skywalker? (At least, they’re not siblings. Or are they?)

We’ve been talking about Fan Fiction in Networked Narratives, as a way that writers find spaces to write, outside of school confines, with interests that bring them into a larger, but slightly hidden, online community. Fan Fiction has many elements of what we term Connected Learning.

Now, granted, some fan fiction gets a little … adult, in content. I don’t think the state folks want to see any slash fiction (note: not necessarily violent and not about the GnR guitar player, but a genre in which two characters from different books meet, and likely hook up) in my students’ writing samples. But this notion of taking a character for a walk into your own story has its roots in fan fiction.

Which makes it odd, and interesting, that the idea behind fan fiction would be the underpinning of the Narrative Task on a state test.

Peace (a fan of it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life (Day 31): Celebrating Losing

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Yesterday was Quidditch Tournament Day at our school, and my sixth grade classroom team — the valiant Blue Barbarians — just barely lost the 2017 championship. Just barely, by just a few points. That fact that it was so close, particularly given the athletic talent of the team that won, was cause of some celebration at the end of the long day of playing in our Quidditch Tournament. The last game — which featured our team versus the team that eventually won before an audience of a few hundred students, staff and family members — was right down to the wire. Every player was giving it their all with teamwork and hustle and positive energy.

What more could you ask for?

At night, we teachers came together as Pink Fury, and we played our sixth graders in our own Students vs. Teachers Quidditch match, and boy, I am tired and sore today. We didn’t win, either. In fact, the students beat us pretty thoroughly, but it was a great time, and fun to interact with them outside of the academic classroom.

The problem is that each year, we, the teaching staff, get a bit older — and slower, and more likely to tire out quickly — while our sixth graders each year stay the same age, like Peter Pan on the athletic gym floor. And with nearly 65 students signed up, they kept coming at us with fresh legs and arms. Eighty minutes of running, jumping, defending, throwing. You don’t realize how long 80 minutes is until you are in constant motion for nearly all of it.

It’s a long time.

Still, they won, fair and square, and we teachers then had our own little celebration at a nearby “establishment.”

Pink Fury Quidditch Team

Peace (in the air),
Kevin

PS — Our Quidditch game is now in its 18th year, and is played in our gym. We call it “literation in motion” and connect writing, reading, art, music and dance to our Quidditch season.

Slice of Life (Day 30): Making Quidditch Animations

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We do all sorts of celebrating for our school’s Quidditch season, which comes to a close TODAY with a day-long tournament for our sixth graders and then a students vs. teachers match this evening. I am tired just thinking about it. But it will be a lot of fun. Noisy fun. Exhausting fun. You get the idea.

Among the many classroom activities surrounding Quidditch, which includes various writing pieces such as diagramming plays and using expository writing to explain the plays, I show my students the basics of stopmotion animation using a site called ParaPara Animation (click the yellow wrench in the bottom right corner to get started). It’s simple to use, and a little quirky and a bit buggy, but the students love it. We had them making animations to celebrate Quidditch, and their teams.

Here are a few:













Peace (catch it),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day 29): Let’s Hear it for the Kids

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I am the teacher-advisor to our sixth grade Student Council, which is hosting a Spirit Week all this week at our school. Yesterday was Animal Appreciation Day, and the Student Council organized a “supply drive” for the regional animal shelter. By day’s end, the table in the back of my room was filled with supplies.

Shelter Drive

This picture is BEFORE three push-truck-loads of paper towels and other items arrived from the preschool through second grade wing of our school. The entire table is now overflowing. We have cat food, office supplies, paper towels and other items that the Dakin Humane Society has asked for help with. Some families also sent in checks and cash donations.

The sixth graders on the Student Council were so excited yesterday, as they went around collecting donations, and they have another project on tap today — a “mystery project” to have the entire school thank the non-teaching staff in our building for all they do. This includes bus drivers, custodians, nurses, cafeteria crew, and office staff. They wanted to show appreciation for folks who often are outside of the focus of thanks.

I love that.

Looking at the ever-growing pile of supplies for the animal shelter, I suddenly realized: I have at least one trip ahead of me to deliver the donations. And, I promised anyone who would listen (colleagues, wife, kids) that I WOULD not be coming home with a new dog or cat.

Promise.

Peace (please),
Kevin