Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Story Was Told

Hey Team!
Last December I told a story for The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers. 
 If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can click here, or copy and paste the address in your browser:

I was unfair to the kids. I am not sorry.

The Stick Game

For Team Time this week we played a game that the kids call, The Stick Game.

To play this game:
1.  I separate the students into 4 groups.  I divide them by gender, or grade level, and sometimes even by race.  The students aren't told how the groups are formed, and they often don't notice what the differences are.

2. I hand out sticks to each player at each table.  I traditionally give more sticks to players in certain groups than others.  Again, the students don't check.  They assume I am being fair, even though I have announced that I have no intention of being fair.

3.  I spill some sticks on the floor, and let some groups pick them up without comment, while others I yell at for picking them up and say that it's against the rules to pick up sticks off of the floor.

4.  I tell them that they have to each pay a 4 stick tax every 10 minutes.

5.  In order to earn sticks, they have to answer the questions correctly.  It costs one stick to answer the question, but you don't get it back if you answer incorrectly.  You only get paid for correct answers. I can ask whatever question I want.

6.  In between question session, you may buy a Law Plate for 8 sticks.  You may then propose a law.  If I decide to accept the law, it passes; if not, it either dies, or they can pay 4 sticks to put it to a class vote.  If the class voted it in, the law passes.  Whether your law passes or not, you don't get your money back.

As the game begins the students notice that some of the questions are super difficult. For example, question 1 was "How do you spell my first name?"  Even I struggle with this.  The person that got the point, is suspected of cheating.  He belongs to a certain group that I am favoring, I ignore the allegations.  Other questions involved certain student's middle names and the names of another student's parents.  Other questions involved really difficult math that only a few students knew how to solve.

When it came to buying laws, one group tried to buy a law that says "All biased questions will be asked about things our group knows."  I told them that everyone could possibly know all the answers to the questions. Vetoed.  But, they can put it to the class and have a vote for 4 sticks.  No deal. They knew it wouldn't pass.  Another group tried to pass a law that said, "No more taxes."  It passed.  But, when another group tried to pass a law that said that everyone should get 10 sticks, I said that I didn't have enough sticks because they had abolished taxes and I didn't have enough income for this venture.  They amended the law to say that 10 sticks would be given out once the funds were available to do so.  I said no.  They paid for a vote.  They soon discovered that 3 of the 4 groups had 3 members each, and one had 4.  If they were to give each person 10 sticks, the group with 4 would have more.  They had already paid for a vote, so they voted.  Only the table with for members voted for the law.  Not even the table that proposed the law voted for it. That is when we ran out of time.

We will play this again.  I want them to see how to change the system and make laws that fight the unjust rules.  I want them to make laws that aren't selfish.  I want them to pay attention to what is unjust even if it isn't affecting them.  I want to make them so angry that they fight back.

None of these metaphors are perfect, but I hope to give them a glimpse of how hard it can be to be treated unfairly by the system.  If you have any ideas or additions for this activity, please let me know.  I am eager to make it better.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Discovering our humanity

A few weeks ago I asked the students to tell me what humanities me. They told me it was the human "-itis". We settled on that meaning, "What it means to be human and live in the world with other humans." We talked about all the different ways humans conflict with each other, and we conflict with our world. I meant this to lead up to a discussion on how we treat people in our society that have disabilities and are physically different from us. However, the conversation took an interesting turn one day. We began to talk about things like, the Black Lives Matter movement, gender equity, economic inequality and religious persecution. I, delightfully, did not guide this conversation, but kept the language kind to all people and corrected gross misconceptions. I thought this was a good conversation that would springboard into my own agenda on people with disabilities. 

However, this week I polled the kids on what they got from humanities this semester, and most of them replied with some idea from our conversation on how we treat each other. It's not that they forgot our discussions on Deaf Culture, but they thought our discussions on what they called "the -isims" were more significant. They were particularly drawn to the issues of race inequality and the gender wage gap. I am blown away, but not surprised, by the level of understanding and compassion these students have for issues of injustice. My goal now is to give them tools so that they can effect change in their society and make it a better place. These kids inspire me everyday.
The gender wage gap as understood by one of the 4th graders.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Books! Books! Books!

Hi team,
I hope you had a safe and restful new year. We begin our year with book reviews. We will be writing reviews of our favorite books, reading new ones and reviewing those. The students will be using their critical eye to evaluate literature. 

We will be using the website to provide us with a save and easy framework to organize our ideas and share it with each other. Rachel Goldberg, who is in charge of our school library, is helping us through this literary adventure. If you have not received the email about Bookopolis, she writes,

"I hope this note finds you well. I'm writing with news about Bookopolis, a new tool that the 3-4s will be using in their classes. We're very excited to introduce students to this secure social network for children to share book reviews and recommendations with friends (at first, within the class and eventually, within the larger Bookopolis community, but never with the general public). We learned about the site through the American Association of School Librarians' annual list of Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, a trusted resource in web tools for the classroom. An alternative source would be:

Bookopolis will give students an authentic audience (other kids) for which to write book reviews, share recommendations, and a way to learn about new titles that their friends are reading. We will also use Bookopolis as a vehicle through which to teach digital citizenship skills, including security (creating usernames and passwords); online communication with others (writing messages to friends and sending recommendations); and writing for a particular audience (what to include and what not to include). Plus, the kids can earn badges for writing reviews, adding books to their shelves, and sharing recommendations with friends. We think it's going to be a lot of fun for them.

As the teachers who created their accounts, we have the ability to monitor all of their activity on the site. I created user names for all of the kids. Their usernames do not contain their names (only initials and numbers) and no other identifying information about the children is shared on the site (such as school name, location, etc.). If you're interested in logging in to your child's Bookopolis account, we're happy to share login information with you. 

We will be doing three types of writing activities in Bookopolis: Book Buzzes (short snippets that will be seen only by classmates); Book Reports (longer writing assignments that will only be seen by the teacher); and Book Reviews (which will be reviewed by the teacher and by a member of the Bookopolis staff to make sure that they are appropriate to be shared with the entire Bookopolis community). None of these activities will be available to the general public. 

If you have questions or would like to learn more, please don't hesitate to reach out. We're planning to start using this with the kids within the next week.

Thanks very much,"

Many of the students are very excited about their Bookopolis accounts and are filling them up with the books they have read, are reading, and want to read.

We are also working with Nicola's Books. They have offered to let us come to their store where they have a huge box of advanced reader books. These are books that a publisher sends out for those in the literary community to read before they are published in order to create a buzz about the book. They will give us books to read if we write a review of the book for them to put on their website. While all students will be required to write a review, submitting it to Nicola's will be optional and with parental consent.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Math Awakens!

Hi Team!

Our math project for January is Music Videos.  We were inspired by the music video, "Long Division Style", to use a song we already know and change the lyrics to make a math song.  The goal is to take one or more concepts in math and teach them using a song.  Despite breaking into two separate groups, we both came up with Star Wars song to do.  We decided to join forces.  We will start with the Opening Theme and talk about all of the different types of math that we know of.  We will use "The Imperial March" to explain multi digit multiplication and long division (and whatever else we can think of.)
Coming up with math ideas!

Our imaginations hit hyperdrive today and we came up with everything from stormtroopers with math equations to Jedi that use math to solve the problems.  At one point we had 13 students in heated discussion about how to put math into Star Wars.  Or, should I say Math Wars.
Writing it all down.

If you are any good at writing lyrics, have some cool things we can use as costumes/props, or really good at video editing, please let me know!!  We can use all the help we can get.

Star Wars Opening Theme

Star Wars Imperial March