Parable of the Polygons

My students adore Vi Hart videos.  I think the kids understand maybe 1/2 of what she is saying, but she makes math fun and stimulates their curiosity.

Parable of the Polygons” is an interactive website that was created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case.  Having watched several Vi Hart videos, I expected the site to do one of the things Vi does best – teach me math.  But I was mistaken.  “Parable of the Polygonsuses math to teach about racism, sexism, (and all of the other negative”isms”) and what we can do to help eradicate them.

from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case
from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case

I innocently played each activity trying to make happy polygons until I realized that I, a self-proclaimed non-racist, have had probably zero effect in persuading others to be less biased.  Using math, I learned that, unless more of us make an effort to seek out more diverse colleagues and friends, there is little chance things will change.

This is definitely an activity that I will be doing with my students and I hope to make some changes in my life based on what I learned. From now on, this little square is going to be on the lookout for opportunities to meet more triangles :)

What Should We Be Teaching?

The other day I ran across an article authored by Mark Manson for the Business Insider called, “5 things we should teach in school but don’t.” (You’re probably thinking someone should have taught me to capitalize important words in a title, but that is actually way the title appears, not my lack of capitalization education.)

Before I read the article, I jotted down a few of my own ideas so I could compare them to Manson’s.  This is what I came up with:

  • Career Counseling
  • Innovation and the Design Process (including reflection and revision)
  • How to Handle Money
  • Metacognition
  • How to Protect our Brains in the Case of a Zombie Apocalypse

Okay, so maybe the last one is somewhat extreme – but a little survival training could do us all a bit of good.

Manson’s ideas don’t quite match mine – but first on the list is Finance.  I completely agree with his assessment that our nation’s lack of education in this area is behind a lot of the economic difficulties we are experiencing today.

Logic and reasoning are also recommended requirements according to Manson – something I do not dispute.  I think these skills are implicitly taught in many subjects (including computer programming), but an actual class or two on this topic would benefit many students.

I urge you to make your own list (feel free to add suggestions to the comments below) and to read Manson’s article to find out what else he finds critically lacking in today’s high school curriculum.  He has a good point that we shouldn’t rely on our grandparents’  course of study to prepare today’s generation for the future.

Public domain image by Russell Lee on Wikipedia.
Public domain image by Russell Lee on Wikipedia.

iBesties and Jewelbots

I am constantly prowling Kickstarter for new products that I think might be good for my students.  Lately, two STEM-related toys aimed particularly at girls have been on my radar.

The first, “iBesties,” only has 3 days left in its campaign as of today. They are very close to reaching their fundraising goal of $50,000. iBesties are dolls accompanied by books.  The purpose of iBesties is to raise awareness of careers that currently employ very few women – especially those related to science and technology.  Not every child likes to play with dolls, but iBesties look like a great alternative to Barbie for those who do.  If you back iBesties on Kickstarter for $40, you  will receive a doll and a book around April of 2016.  Check out their Kickstarter site for more info here – but do it soon!

iBesties dolls - McKenna and Jada are being offered in the Kickstarter campaign
iBesties dolls – Mckenna and Jada are being offered in the Kickstarter campaign which ends 7/31/15

The second Kickstarter product that recently caught my attention is “Jewelbots.”  Jewelbots are basically friendship bracelets, but they are wearables (short for wearable technology).  The bracelets can be programmed using an app to do such things as light up when another person wearing the Jewelbot nears you, send Morse code messages to each other, or notify you when you receive a text message.

One characteristic of Jewelbots that intrigues me is the potential to program the jewelry using Arduino IDE.  This opens up many more possibilities for the use of these deceptively simple bracelets – and might be an attractive way to motivate tweens and middle schoolers to learn more about programming.

With over $100,000 raised already, Jewelbots don’t need our backing to reach their $30,000 goal.  However, you might want to pledge $59 just because you know someone who would be excited to receive one in March of 2016.  The funding deadline is 8/7/15, but don’t wait too long!

Jewelbots - Friendship Bracelets with a Techie Twist
Jewelbots – Friendship Bracelets with a Techie Twist

Zombie-Based Learning

Yep.  You read that correctly.

How have I not heard of this before?!!!  Problem-based, standards-based, project-based…. All familiar to me.  Zombie-based?  Not so much.

image from Pixabay.com

The only reason I know about it now is because of another of Edutopia’s fabulous 5-Minute Film Festivals.  This one, posted on 7/17/15, is about inspirational teachers.  I scanned the list and, well, the word, “zombie” kind of jumps out at you.

David Hunter invented Zombie-based learning as a way to engage students as they learn about geography.  It’s aimed at 4th-8th graders, and he created his own graphic novel to supplement the lessons.  Curriculum standards are covered; you just happen to be evading zombies as you learn them.

I don’t know about you, but geography was such a yawn subject when I was in school back in the day.  With Zombie-based learning, I might have actually been interested in the location of Siberia and whether or not its climate was conducive to zombies.

I have not tried the curriculum,  You can check it out over here, and look at examples.  To use the curriculum you will need to fork over some cash.  You might find it worth it.  After all, you’re really getting two things for the price of one – an engaging curriculum for your students and a survival guide for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Let’s face it.  It’s coming.  It’s only a matter of time…

Shake Off Your Math Fears

Jo Boaler, the Stanford professor behind YouCubed.org, works hard to dispel fixed mindsets about math.  She recently shared a video from the 2015 YouCubed summer camp in which her students show their enthusiasm for problem solving and their willingness to learn from their mistakes.

YouCubed.org

For those of us trying to promote a Growth Mindset, particularly regarding math, this video is a great resource.  I also encourage you to take a  look at the YouCubed.org website for more great materials, including the “Week of Inspirational Math,” which would be a great way to start off your school year.

littleBits Educator Resources

I have mentioned before that, if you are going to spend money on a Makerspace, littleBits are a worthwhile investment.  The company has added to their Educator Resources since my last post, and I want to point out a few links that you may find useful, especially if you are new to using this product.

image from Flickr user Lisa George pour Ultra-lab
image from Flickr user Lisa George pour Ultra-lab

 

littleBits now offers an Educator’s Guide.  It includes some of its older resources, but nicely bundles them into one document.  In addition to the Challenge Cards that I’ve posted about before, the Guide also includes specific curriculum references and justifies their use in the classroom.  This could be very helpful to those of you applying for grants.  I also like the “Reverse Engineering” suggestions on page 21, the “Example Lessons” on page 23, and the “Troubleshooting Tips” on page 25.

Another item that I noticed on the littleBits Educator Resources page is the “Project Booklets.” This PDF gives project suggestions based on the type of littleBits kits you have.  This way you will not challenge your students to a project that includes pieces you may not have.

Don’t forget that littleBits offers Educator Discounts, and that some of the kits can also be purchased from other vendors, such as Amazon.com.

For more information on littleBits, check out my previous post.  And, for more Makerspace resources in general, I have a “Make” Pinterest Board that might interest you.

 

Mindset Book Study Update

“The judges were biased.”

“The coach just doesn’t like me.”

“My teacher doesn’t challenge me enough.”

Have you heard any of these statements from a child before?  I know I have.  When my daughter told me that her scores were low in a synchronized swimming competition because of the judges, it was very tempting to agree with her.  I knew she was devastated by the numbers, and I wanted to console her by letting her think it wasn’t her fault.

But then I remembered what I learned about a Growth Mindset. And I knew that blaming her scores on the judges would only be implying that she would never have control over her level of achievement in this sport.  Instead of agreeing, I gently prodded her into thinking about what she could have done differently, and how more practice might have helped.  By the end of the conversation, she felt better about the plan we put in place for her to make those scores higher next year.

At the beginning of the summer I mentioned that our school is doing a Parent/Teacher Book Study with Mindset, by Carol Dweck.  I just sent out an update to those participating about Chapters 4 & 5. Chapter 4 is an excellent section about sports, and every parent and teacher should be able to identify.  You can apply its lessons to any area in which one strives to achieve.  The new Smore I sent out to those involved in the book study encourages thought and discussion. It includes a video, song suggestions for young students, and other links.

michael jordan quote

One thing that Dweck mentions in Chapter 5 about businesses is that we are failing future employees and leaders by praising them in the wrong way as children.  By saying things like, “You’re so smart,” we are sending the message that they achieve things because of innate talent instead of hard work and perseverance.  This article by Angela Stockman is a treasure chest of alternative ways to praise – which are more specific and show  that we recognize students who have worked hard to earn their success.

Feel free to take a look at our Smore, and/or add your own comments to the Padlet link that is included.  Also, if you would like more Mindset resources, here is a link to my Pinterest Board for Growth Mindset.

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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