Animations with kids – paid in hugs

I get lots of hugs from second-graders these days. It’s pretty nice. Sometimes when I show up in the class or the library, I get four or five little pairs of arms coming around my waist.

Rarely, but it does happen – happened today! – it’s a bit of a manipulative gesture! It means, can you please pick me to animate with right now?

Sometime, it’s a very excited girl who hugs every adult who walks into class.

Sometimes, it’s from sheer glee because they weren’t expecting me to come, and when I do, they come running.

And sometimes – and this is really cute – they’re not really popping a big grin or otherwise looking pleased. But nonetheless, they leave off whatever’s occupying them at their table, and they come ambling over, without really even looking at me, and give me a hug as though checking off an item on their to-do list.

Today, I got the cutest hug ever. I was at McAllister recording with a shy boy, and when we were finished, he kept inching closer and raising his arm to me, but then dropping it. He didn’t look at me, either, just off to the side. I thought he wanted to give me a hug but was too shy. I tapped his shoulder; he raised his arm and dropped it again. I opened my arms, and there! hesitation gone, and we hugged.

I can report that fifth-graders are not such big huggers.

Snail story – animations with kids

Did you read about “George, the loneliest snail”? It’s a really sad story about the last of a tree snail species that died on January 1, 2019.

I had two stories to write for my “Animations with Kids” project at Wolf Meadow. One I had thought of back in the fall. But I was stuck for the second story I needed for the second class.

This school has a high minority population. I wanted, therefore, to do a story with them about environmental justice. Like landfills or power plants being clustered too close to poor or minority-heavy neighborhoods. Oh, look! I wrote an article about that for WIRED. Yeah, and the lady got really mad at me, what can I say?

Any case, I never wrote that environmental justice story for the Wolf Meadow kids … I was trying to figure out what the exact topic would be and before I put pen to paper, I read about George the snail. And I decided to switch to that topic.

I hesitated a little bit, also, with the environmental justice story because it’s, unfortunately, somewhat of a political thing, right? Like, the people in power are actively setting things up so that landfills and other dirty, polluting structures are going to be where poor, less powerful people live. So I wasn’t sure that what I might write, environmental justice-wise, would be very welcome by the school authorities.

And besides, I don’t know too much of the specifics of the environmental justice situation in Concord, and how it might be specifically affecting the kids at Wolf Meadow.

Now that I’ve met the kids, I’m glad I did the snail story instead. Because these kids have sweet smiles and eager faces, and I don’t know that I could have taught them about environmental justice in a healthy way. Maybe I would just have left them feeling helpless.

So snail story it is! But, I’m a little worried about that one, as well. First, I’m not a snail expert, of course. I sent my story to four different snail professors (what a job!) to have them check. I heard back from 2 of them. Scientists are nice.

So they’ve checked it for accuracy, but what kind of bothers me about the snails in Hawaii is that you know Hawaii was stolen from native people there, and before the new people arrived, the snail populations were doing just fine. So it’s the westerners who have contributed to the declining wildlife .. but it also seems to be all western scientists doing the work to now try to save the snails! It’s kind of ironic. Oh, wait, I wrote another article for WIRED that touched on just that same theme! I’m not sure I’m really making that clear at all in my snail story.

Animations with kids – fifth graders

I’ve now started with Wolf Meadow Elementary. As with all the other schools, the teacher I”m partnering with is amazing, kind, and supportive.

The only difference is now I’m working with fifth graders. I have worked with ages up to age 21, but that was in mixed-age groups put together in a library or at the university. This is the first time I’m working with a classroom that’s not second or third grade. I was a little afraid older kids might have an attitude, might be rolling their eyes at the whole project. But these fifth graders have not. It’s really cool to be working with them, and they are doing such good work so far. Last week, we read our stories and talked about the science behind them. This week we are drawing. There definitely is a difference between fifth grade drawings and second grade!

Today, one of the fifth graders called out, “do you like Trump?” He was clearly a product of a very racist home, just the way he said it and his nerve in calling out. Mind you, about 75% of the class is either Hispanic or Black. So they all have to deal with him. I was a little sad to see that afterwards, one of the Hispanic girls went over to sit beside him as everyone was drawing, to keep him on task (this kid apparently acts up all the time). I feel bad that the Hispanic girl thinks this kid, who isn’t worth any of her, is something she has to put effort and care in it. We often don’t recognize the little ways and efforts that kids have worked out to try to keep harmony and consistency amongst their peers.

Any case, I didn’t answer that bratty kid – I also didn’t really go over to him and check his work. I feel super sorry for any teacher who doesn’t have that freedom. And I feel sure that any racist person reading this will also want me and my volunteer program out of the schools. They will never understand – don’t care to understand – what kind of panic someone like Trump causes. I’ve read articles on and off since the 2015 campaign about teachers having to deal with kids who wear ‘Trump’ t-shirts, or kids who said nasty things. Imagine having to teach and care for a child who is spouting rhetoric whose end goal is ethnic cleansing, genocide, and death. I am sure I could not have handled that as a teacher. You’re already being yelled at, being snapped at, being mocked at as a natural thing by your students. Now you have to listen to racism and attacks on your life, and act like you don’t care and it doesn’t bother you and doesn’t frighten you?

At Irvin Elementary, in the hallway, the kids had hung up drawings of their heroes. Trump was among them. It’s so scary.

I believe that my 15-year-old self would idealistically have told me: I have a chance to show the little “do you like Trump”-er that racism and hate isn’t a path he has to follow! That I can model for him a different way! I can show him someone like me belongs in America! And that as a moral person, I should care about ALL children, even little racists. I can change his life!

But you know what? Me right now doesn’t really have the energy to do that. I really don’t. I don’t care about the little racist enough to want to change him. I think back to the day after the 2016 election, when we were all told that if we are just nice to the “economically distressed” folks out there, then they won’t want to kill us after all. Your perspective on things really changes when recalling things like that.


Is Mary Poppins anti-science?

I guess a lady who floats down from the sky on an umbrella would, on first glance and by a lazy observer, have to be classified as anti-science. I guess?!

I saw the movie this weekend, and I loved it. But some comments made me pause, just for a bit. There was a repetition by many characters that “logic” and “practicality” and “sensibility” are boring and rather than being the foundations by which we live organized lives, they are impediments to achieving our dreams; barriers to saving ourselves and our families.

It was exactly those kinds of movies, and those kinds of books, that spoke to me when I was little. I didn’t want to be bogged down by boring, flat, and colorless logic (i.e. science). Of course, I would rather have an imagination and lead a life rich with fancy and humor and glimmers of magic.

But now that I have a Ph.D. in science, I sense there’s something lazy and wrong about these depictions. Yes, science is logical, but goodness, for something that’s so logical, there’s still an awful lot of creativity and imagination in it. Magic, too. Coding, for just one example, is pretty magical.

We need to find a way to teach science to kids so it’s as exciting as Mary Poppins’ huge dreams and schemes and talking cane. All those kids who think they are artistic and creative and want to dream and write and imagine need to understand that there’s room for all that in science, too.

And we need those kids in science, for our own sake, as much as we need the kids who love calculations and rules and gadgets and wear NASA shirts!

Groups hugs, nose-pickers, and racism – the highs and lows of Animations with Kids

I’ve been teaching animation basics to the three classes at McAllister Elementary. I’m able to walk to the school – 30 minutes, each way, it’s really nice. There’s an ice cream shop on the way. And a new shop that sells baked goods and chips and sandwiches and stuff.

When the last class came in the library and saw me, they all squealed, and half of them ran up to me and gave me a hug. They all tried to jostle for the best position, or waited for their own turn to say, “she’s mine!”, or called out, “group hug, group hug.” Goodness. I’m rarely that popular.

We did our lesson. Because this was my third day in a row teaching the same thing, I was getting pretty good and had the flow down, had tweaked and improved how I was explaining things to the kids.

Animations with kids lesson
Making the cardinal move

I demonstrated how Blender works uses a cardinal bird that I made – it’s a good choice because it’s the state bird of North Carolina. When I ask the kids if they know what the bird is, the first one always guesses “robin.” And I tell them, “no.” So the second one guesses, “a red robin.” But the third then guesses cardinal.


For the second half of the lesson, I have the kids come up one by one and maneuver the cardinal around themselves. They pick a spot on the movie number line, and then they either make the cardinal “go”, or rotate it, or change the size. After all 15 kids have done something, the end result is pretty cute:

With my first class at McAllister, we had time for every kid to give it a try. With the second class, two boys were naughty and kept blurting out. So the librarian took them aside, and I skipped them. And for the third class – well, I ran into a problem, quickly, because two little kids were picking their noses like the WHOLE time I was teaching them. They weren’t really trying to hide it, even. And I didn’t exactly want them to touch my laptop. And I didn’t want to tell them, hey, it’s because you’re picking your nose. You don’t want to crush a child in that way.

But I remembered the class the day before when not every kid got to animate at the end. I figured I could swing things so that by the end of the class, we’d just “run out of time” before we got to the nose-pickers. Of course, I’m learning more and more that “running out of time” – as long as the kids aren’t being chaotic – is very much under my control. I can just come up with things to talk about, things to show them.

Problem was, one of the nose-pickers at least was a very sweet girl who was being very quiet and patient and kept raising her hand to get a turn at my laptop. I felt pretty bad about that.

Two kids were being loud and obnoxious. One of them was a Black boy, and he wouldn’t stop talking. The other was a white girl and she wouldn’t stop talking either, but I swear, I think because she was an innocent-looking red-head, I must have over-looked her obnoxiousness. She kept raising her hand and asking in a most sad and mournful way, “when are you going to pick me???” So towards the end, I did – and I didn’t call on the Black boy. And I regretted it because at the very end of class, she and the Black boy – who were sitting side by side – were cutting up again. And only one of them had felt the consequences of it. I felt really really bad and I’m realizing when I only have a few seconds to make these judgment calls, there must be racism that’s lurking in the background and making the decisions for me, to an extent. It’s not a good feeling to walk away with.

At the very, very end – because I still needed an excuse not to call on my nose-pickers – and I felt even worse that the obnoxious red-head got a turn when the nice and quiet nose-picker did not – I decided to show the kids an animation. I showed them “All About Butterflies” that I just finished with Irvin Elementary. This way, they could both appreciate what their neighboring second-graders had done, and get a sense for what they’re about to do. Unfortunately, the kids were pretty riled up by that point and they didn’t really watch, they just sat and made comments. I was sitting behind them, and trying to point out: look, that’s a rotation, and other pointers. I didn’t really catch what the kids were saying. I did sense that the comments were not exactly very laudatory.

Finally, the librarian marched forwards and put an end to the movie-watching and the kids’ giggles. “Boys and girls! I am so angry right now. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry with a group of boys and girls. I cannot believe what I’m hearing. How dare you all make fun of the movie? Would you all like it if you all had worked hard on something, and then another class watched it and made fun of it?”

Immediate silence. I had also turned the movie off.

“Folks, I can handle you all talking and saying things, but what I cannot tolerate is you all making fun of other people’s work. This has given me a whole new opinion about this group of boys and girls which is going to be very, very hard for me to let go of! Who worked very hard on that butterfly movie?”

It was only then it occurred to me that indeed, the talking during the movie hadn’t been very nice to the second-graders who had made it! But I have a tendency to take things personally. So if someone makes fun of my work, my first instinct is to think: oh, yeah, it’s not really that good. Oh, what should I have done to make it better? All while trying to hide that I was mad at being made fun of.

Silence from the kids. So the librarian again: who in this room worked very hard on this movie?

The kids pointed to me.

“And who else worked hard on this movie?”

“The other second-graders.”

“That’s right. The second-graders at Irvin. How rude is it for you all to make fun of them. I was waiting for one of you to say: stop making fun, this isn’t nice. And not one of you did …” And it went on like that. The class’ teacher in the meantime had come in and was apprised of the situation.

“Oh my word!” she said.

The kids turned around. “How did you get in here without us noticing?” But she put her finger to her mouth.

And now both the librarian and the teacher were giving the kids a lecture, and finally the teacher said: “Rude! That’s the word for it. It’s not even disrespect, I’m just glad you used that work, ‘rude’, because that’s what it is, and that’s what we should call it.”

Whew! So the day started with me getting hugs from everyone and everyone running at me with big smiles, and it ended like that. I have another tendency that when someone is ‘rude’ to me, my default is to think it’s my fault. I must have done something to cause them to be that rude. So in a most contrary way, it was actually after the librarian started lecturing the kids that I started to feel bad – like I started to feel that I had messed up, or been foolish. So the day didn’t end all that great.

But I can say, and I have seen it again and again with the teachers I have worked with – wow, what great souls we have in our schools. Really, we don’t deserve them.


The Concord, NC buses are not always 10 minutes late

The last time I rode the Orange bus on a Saturday – same bus stop, same time – it was 15 minutes late. So I thought there was no harm in now showing up 10 minutes late and still catching it, but it would appear that I missed it. Shucks.

And one time, I was catching the purple bus, and I again banked on a secure 10 minute cushion. So I showed up just about 3 minutes late to the stop. As I walked up, the bus pulled up from the other direction! I had to run to make it to the stop in time. And then, I actually delayed the bus further because I hadn’t had a chance to count out my change. I had to do it while the bus was waiting on me, and my $1-bills all disappeared at the crucial moment.

Update: I ended up catching the bus a bit later in the afternoon. Same bus, same stop. I got to the stop 3 minutes late, and the bus came 2 minutes after that. Wow!

I learned something new about writing grants

First, the “something old”: what did I already know about writing grants? It’s miserable and soul-sucking and the work of the devil.

And the “something new”? I learned that you should make yourself the ‘Founder and Executive Director’ of something, it doesn’t matter what, in fact, it can be something stupid and just hot air, just as long as you style yourself in that way.

Then make sure you talk about how your mission is to “understand, heal, and grow.”

And that you want to “connect allies.”

Also, wiggle your eyebrows around and look sad and innocent and appealing and angelic.

I mean, I get that these are all well-meaning people, but I’ve always been suspicious when people start spouting off the latest craze-words. Why don’t they notice how unoriginal they are coming across? But they get all the grants, so I guess no one seems to notice. It’s just me that’s annoyed about it.