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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
Animations with kids is going really well! The “Butterfly Story” is on hold for the moment, because due to scheduling, I’ve over at McAllister Elementary for the time being.
But the last time I was with the butterfly kids, in a new classroom, we at least came up with the title for that story. It’s to be dubbed, “All about butterflies.”
The kids at McAllister have come up with a title for their pond algae story, too, a rather inventive one. “Mr. Glump at the Poisonous Pond.” There is a Mr. Glump in their story, and he is quite an unsavory character. But one kid exclaimed: no, no! Can’t we make the title sound happy?
But the story itself is not really that happy. The same kid asked why there wasn’t a happy ending. I showed them pictures of the big red tide that swept Florida earlier this year. “Ewwwww!” said all the kids. I asked, when do you all think this algal bloom happened?
“100 summers ago? 10,000 years ago? 30 years ago? 100 years ago!”
So I had to tell them that it had happened THIS year, and that algae is a problem today. I was trying to explain why there’s not much of a happy ending.
I had the kids staring wide-eyed, open-mouthed at me. It was the same in both McAllister classes who are doing this story. I remember being their age, when you still think that responsible adults run the world, and that these responsible adults don’t let bad things happen. On the one hand, I feel a little guilty to be wrecking their innocence; but on the other hand, there’s still a lot of action and civic engagement in our stories, so I hope this learning process is a healthy and constructive one.
We had a lot of other title suggestions shouted out: “Call it Mr. Meanie-Mouth,” one kid suggested, referring to Mr. Glump. Another: it should be called “Mr. Glump doesn’t know how to listen to people.”
What’s really cool about this story it allowed me to I teach them about the Periodic Table of Elements, Nitrogen and Phosphorus, phytoplankton, the ocean food chain, and the role that rain plays in washing pollution on land into the water, within 50 minutes. All while also reading the “Mr. Glump” story and watching “Mr. Turtle Gets Sick“, so that they can familiarize themselves with the project. And we looked at a map of the US/Canada/Mexico, and found North Carolina, Florida, and the Chesapeake Bay (usually, the kids don’t even know where our home state is.)
And I even explained how once an algal bloom dies, it sucks oxygen out of the water as it decays. And that’s why fish die. They were very sad about this picture of fish dying. Again, there was that innocence: responsible adults are actually allowing there to be so much pollution that fish die from it? What?
And I told them how scientists can go out and scoop up water samples, and then measure the pollutants in the water in their laboratories, and that every single one of them can have that job when they grow up. I showed them a female scientist in action by a river.
The question with lots of enthusiastic response was: so if scientists scoop up water and measure the pollution, but algal blooms like the ones in Florida still happen, does it seem like anyone is listening to scientists?
Noooo!!!! came the chorus. Kids are so cute.
But ultimately — though of course I don’t know how long the feeling will last — I have now 30 second-graders at this school thinking that science is great, if their response is a way to gauge, and that scientists should be listened to. It’s not actually super-hard if you present science in a human, emotional way, rather than a rigid, competitive, ugly way.
Well, maybe I should hold that thought. Who knows what these kids will think in the future.
Oh, one more awesome thing that came up with one of the classes. The kids noticed that phosphorus is represented by a ‘P’ in the Periodic Table, but its first sound is ‘ffff’. So we even got to talk about phonetic sounds.
Same thing when we got to “phytoplankton”: why’s it start with a ‘p’? they ask.
I remembered at that moment that ‘phyto’ is a prefix; so I told them some of these words came from the Ancient Greek (is that right? or do I have the wrong ancient language?) and that’s why they’re spelled ‘ph’. They looked at me a little skeptical, like, what is Greek? Well, we didn’t have time to go into it.
And then I thought I’d sound really smart and tell them that ‘phyto’ means ‘light’ in ancient Greek. But I just looked it up and apparently it means ‘plant’. Shucks.