The girl who turned her back

“I never met a child who didn’t like this project.” This is what I tell everyone when describing making science animations with kids.

Until last week, when this girl we’ll call Leah turned up with an attitude for her session with me. As we have been progressing quickly along, I was already at the stage where I sit with each student for about 15 minutes, sometimes more, and watch and prompt them as they animate their section of the movie on my laptop. I had taught them the animation lesson the week before, and yet … the very first student to have a go at it had been a little unsure; she seemed to have forgotten everything.

So it flashed upon me that why not, as one student is animating, have the student next-in-line to sit beside us and watch, so as to just help refresh how the Blender3D program works ahead of that next student’s turn. Because I really wasn’t looking forward to re-explaining and hand-holding to every single student.

One doing, the other watching
New configuration: One doing, the other watching!

I thought it was a great idea, but it hit an immediate snag. Flush with my decision, I looked at my list, and lo – the next student in order was Leah. “Leah! Come sit with us.”

Leah was engrossed in a computer game.

Called her again; asked her to hurry up (still being friendly). Leah actually starts complaining out-loud. That was my first sense of annoyance. Excuse me – I did not come all the way to your school to teach you 3D animation and make a movie with, only for you to complain about it. Never happened before!

The teacher induces Leah to come over; Leah slams down on an extra chair. I tell her to get back up while I maneuver it into position just behind the kid who’s working in front of my laptop; this adjustment was apparently a big shock to Leah’s system. The teacher comes over and tries to console her. Leah now has a very hurt look on her face, and out sticks her lower lip as though she’s going to cry. She’s not even looking at the screen or paying attention when I glance back at her, so I give her a little prompt. This is another too-great shock to Leah’s system, and she heaves herself in her chair so as to turn her back towards me and the laptop and the other kid!

And at this point — at this point, a few years ago, and back when I was teaching in Philadelphia, I might have felt really sad and like I needed to sooth Leah and explain to her just what we’re doing and why it’s so cool and get her cooperation. But apparently, I am way different these days, because I lost my patience and ordered Leah back to her seat. I can’t believe my daring! I didn’t even really care. I was just like, whatever, girlfriend, you don’t want to be here, then don’t waste my time.

Instead, I called the next kid after Leah up and had him watch. And I skipped right over Leah’s section of the animation, and went on with all the other kids.

As soon as Leah was dismissed, she went back to her teacher, to complain again – not sure what about this time! All I caught was, “I was sitting there and she told me to go back…” And then as I flew through animating with student after student, Leah would sometimes come back and take a look at the screen. I ignored her. Then, after lunch, when I was back with her classroom, she comes up and says: “when’s it going to be my turn?” I told her flatly, “you already had your turn.” “No, I didn’t…”

Yesterday, I saw a tweet that said: we don’t have good attitudes every day. So why should we expect our students to have good attitudes every day?

Very true, very good point. But I don’t think Leah needs any coddling or any soothing from me. Can’t believe I was less than kind, understanding, forgiving, and soothing towards a kid but certainly had a better outcome in the change of her attitude than otherwise.

Making a snail in Blender

I poked around some online examples and tutorials.

This snail was super cute and ended up being my inspiration! Can’t get any cuter.

And then this was a nice and straight-forward tutorial for making the spiral shell, which I stuck on top of the snail.

snail
snail in Blender3D

He’s a little lop-sided and one-eyed, and after all, that shell on his back looks kind of unappetizing, but that’s what I have so far.

This is the snail that goes with the animation I’m making with one of the fifth-grade classes at Wolf Meadow, who are doing a great job animating so far. Yes, we have already started animating – can’t believe it’s gone so fast!

Quiet pause in the class

After some rough days, just had one of the best lessons I conducted today at Wolf Meadow. This was with a group of kids whose lesson last week was a complete wash, mostly due to some miscalculations on my and my partner teacher’s part. Well, we tried again this week, and it went so well.

When I do these lessons, I get so nervous about keeping a flow going; or I get nervous that if I don’t keep the pace relentless, I’ll lose the kids — they’ll start daydreaming or get distracted. Or if I don’t keep talking, then it will seem like I don’t have things straight in my mind, and the kids will start smirking.

That gets tricky when you get to a part of the lesson where you’ve been demonstrating and showing the kids things for a while, and you’ve piled on tools and tricks and tips, and now you have a new twist to show them, and — and — you’re out of breath yourself, but still feel like you need to plow right along.

Well, today, when I got to such a point, I took a breath instead! I took a pause. And the kids didn’t explode into chatter. I asked them instead: what do you think about this?

Positive claps all around.

Anything that’s really sticking out for your?

Ah, one kid said something, I just don’t remember what!

Then I told them: okay, there’s a bit more teaching to do before I let you all come up and practice yourselves, so let’s all take a deep breath. And we did quietly take a breath.

Way back when I was an actual teacher, I remember some of the “veteran” teachers would say things like: you can use silence so effectively in the classroom. Pauses and check-ins can be very helpful. Well, it’s a very nice tip, but I never made it to the stage where I was actually an effective enough teacher to be able to employ such nifty techniques. But here I am!

What the kids call me

I used to always just have all the kids call me ‘Mejs’, when I visit schools for ‘Animations with Kids’.

But then, the teacher I first worked with in the fall insisted on the kids calling me ‘Dr. Hasan’, plus she would always introduce me to the kids, or refer to me, as “my doctor friend.” I think she did that as an aspirational thing for the kids – look at this person who is a science doctor, you can be that, too. Mrs. Bravo-Boyd herself is of immigrant parents, and she really liked that I was, too.

Animations with kids – my little readers

I have to take aside every student, one by one, and record with them. They read out-loud their little slip of paper on which is printed the words for their page of our animated story while I record (I just use the ‘Voice’ program that came installed on my laptop, is that lame? But it works pretty well.)

When I record, I don’t know if the kid is going to be a glib, fluent reader who polishes it right off, or is going to halt and stumble between every word. I can’t deny that when I get one of the halters, there’s a voice inside me saying, ‘Heaven grant me patience’. But one thing that I do love so much about this ‘Animations with Kids’ program is … I have time to give the kids. I’m not the teacher, I’m not following a curriculum, and aside from my other obligations, I don’t necessarily have a strict deadline. So when I get a kid who’s not yet such a good reader, we can spend the time together to let the kid practice. They can take the time to sound out words. I don’t really have to hurry or rush them – I don’t even have to swoop in and read out the word in exasperation if they don’t get it right away. We can sit in silence for 30 seconds while they take the time to think it out in their heads. They can practice the sentence as much as they want, and then, we can record it a couple of times. We listen back to the recordings – the kids always like that. Sometimes adding: I can’t believe that’s what my voice sounds like! I think they all feel special and important that they are getting recorded.

I’ve observed a lot of various speech defects. Some kids can’t say ‘s’, which is in fact a little tricky for the rest of us to understand! They’re not lisping – they don’t replace ‘s’ with ‘th’. They just knock it off the word altogether.

Some kids don’t say ‘r’. That’s always kind of cute. I had a girl who just mumbled. With her, extra practice didn’t seem to help. She seemed to mumble more and more when I recorded again. Oh well.

Sometimes when we record again, the kid, gaining confidence, will give a smoother rendition that removes some of the stumbles and pauses between each word. Sometimes not, though; or sometimes the kid doesn’t want to record again. Then I’m stuck in the video editor having to cut out all the pauses. Yes, that gets old.

Another fun part is getting the kids to read with expression. When the kid gets into the spirit of things, it sounds really cool! I’m excited for the animations at McAllister to get done, because there were some very expressive kids there.

Today, I recorded with the last of the McAllister kids – mostly the ones who had been absent or I’d just not gotten to last week. One of them is a new kid. He moved in after we started the project, so he hasn’t even made his drawing yet. I tried to get him up to speed last week. He was the last kid I pulled. I sat him down in the bright little office inside the library where I was recording. It was almost the end of the school day, we had about 4 minutes. Also, he looked sullen and like he’s been crying. His teacher had ordered him, “get it together!” as we slipped out the classroom. And it became evident very quickly that this kid has some major speech impediments and was also not the best reader. So I told him: don’t worry, we don’t have time right now, but I’ll get to you next week.

Next week was today. And it went really well with him, after all. I hadn’t been sure that it would, but he turned out to be a very dogged kid who wanted to practice again and again. He made the funniest faces when he messed up. He gave me the funniest sly looks when he wanted me to prompt him with a tricky word in a whisper in the middle of his recording. And his speech impediment wasn’t so bad after all once he’d practiced. He’s another one who doesn’t say ‘s’ at all when it’s at the beginning of a word. But he does say it if it comes at the end of the word. And when we listened back to his recordings, and he heard himself say ‘tart’ instead of ‘start’, he would notice and grimace and say: oh! why do I keep saying it like that?! It was very interesting to see to what extent he was aware.

He was really proud of having read his long sentence with some very long words in it, and marched up to the librarian and wanted to show off to him. And this is the kid who’d been crying the first time I tried to record with him, and apparently also burst into tears during a library session yesterday.

 

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.