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.

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.

 

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.

cardinal4

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.

 

First viewing party – Butterfly story

It was really nice!

IMG_20181217_134829

The kids in the two classrooms said their movie was ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘terrific’, etc, etc. This was all in front of their parents.

I was really happy with the number of parents who showed. In one of the classrooms, there were like 10! I got surveys from each and every one. What I forgot to do was to ask for their email addresses, so I can keep sending them future videos. But that time will come. I’ll remember next time.

My first partner teacher was so amazing. She was the one who’d written a note to the parents and gotten so many of them to come. Then she gave me a little present at the end 🙂

And I had presents, too, for the kids. The Walt Disney Family Museum had sent them little souvenirs – bookmarks, pencils, postcards. It was great. The only thing with the postcards is all the characters on them are exclusively white. So I am going to use the more landscape-y scenes and figure out what to do with the character postcards.

post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum
Post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum

I also made certificates for the kids:

Animation certificates

Do they look bad? The blue/yellow/pink/green shapes that were glued on – I’ve been lugging those around for about 5 or 6 years. They were from some event in the Chesapeake Bay, when I used to work there. I don’t even remember what the event was, but they had cut out all those designs so nicely, and I felt so bad about seeing a whole lot of left-overs all tossed in the trash. So I grabbed them and have finally found a good use for them.

The ‘great job’ stickers I got from Staples. They were in the clearance bins for 75 cents or something, and there were like 72 stickers in each packets. And this is the Staples attached to the mall to which I can take the bus or walk, so I felt really good and resourceful.

And I felt wonderful after the viewings – like we really had done something good and meaningful. I kind of flew into this whole project more on gut instinct, rather than as part of a carefully considered career pathway. But it’s been pretty cool. I feel really entrepreneurial. It’s a nice feeling. I feel like we’re doing something fresh and nice.

The film itself – well, I think next time I’m going to have to do something with the flipping pages. It makes me dizzy to have them fly past all the time. But other than that, I thought the caterpillar scrunching itself along was super cute. And the drawings and everything looked so good. And the kids’ animations are just lovely! And so are their voices.

Here it is: “All About Butterflies!”

So that’s one film down, 5 more to go!

How to gently give kids feedback

Over at McAllister, we have already made the drawings for their animation project. That means we have about 45 illustrations floating around, from 3 second grade classes.

We’re doing the preliminaries before winter break, and then we’ll do the animating afterwards.They’re going to make two different stories in between them.

On the first day of illustrating, looking over the kids’ shoulders, one drawing in particular was sloppy. She was supposed to be drawing a messy garage, so I guess the sloppiness was in the spirit of the ‘messy garage’, except you couldn’t even really tell that’s what it was. I wasn’t sure if that was the best she could do, or if she had just splattered down colors haphazard out of carelessness.

So when she told me, “I’m done,” I suggested back, “well, why don’t you also draw a car for the garage?”

That’s when she pointed confidently at a blob, and said, “that’s the car right there.”

I was a little afraid if I kept pushing, she might start crying … like, “what do you mean you can’t tell what I drew?” Or maybe she would throw up her hands and say, “I don’t care! I don’t want to do this anymore!” I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say in the gentlest way possible, either, but I sat down beside her and made an outline of a garage and a car on another sheet of paper. Then I added some boxes in the corner of the garage, and we agreed we should add some tools. Eventually, she said: “I like that, can I use yours?”

So she was really welcoming of the help, after all. She added a fence, and then I sketched in paint cans. And then the kid beside us, who was also really sweet, helped her to spell “paint” on the paint cans. Then I said, “what else does the picture need?” hoping the girl would say, “color.” But they thought I was still talking about the paint cans, so the boy said, “they need handles.” They were going for all the details! So we added handles on the paint cans, and then the boy leaned over and add smears of paint along the top of the cans! They were both really cute helping each other.

I guess it was a bit of an iffy situation; maybe the girl’s reaction could have been very different. But in this case, I think she really appreciated the extra help. And although I like to say that the kids do all the work on these projects – this is the first time I remember helping with a drawing – I think this was okay to just provide a boost up.

Teaching kids animation

I’ve taught computer animation (in Blender) with the first classroom at Irvin, and today I go back to teach the second classroom.

The kids ooohed and aaahhed the whole time. I hope it goes as well today.

First, we all made an animation together, so they could get the hang of it:

 

And then I sat down with each kid so they could animate their own page:

Makes each kid be the “director” of their own little section of the movie. And it’s nice to see them do something highfalutin with a computer.