Animations With Kids – Butterflies

After a slow start getting in touch with teachers, my Animations With Kids project is on a roll. I think.

It needs a better title, though.

I almost have finished up with the first classroom at Irvin Elementary, and am already started with the second. Next week, I’m going to begin with 3 new classrooms at a new school (new to me; the school is actually quite old and established, I think) in Concord.

The new school
My new school!

On Monday and Tuesday, I visited my latest classroom. They are going to do the other half of the butterfly story.

Monday’s was a really good session. I felt like the kids were hanging on to every word I told them, and the whole class was absorbed. It was a great feeling.

Alert kids looking at satellite images.

I showed them these two satellite images of Concord, NC, comparing 1985 to 2011.

concord 1985
Concord in 1985
concord 2011
Concord in 2011

You can see the great amount of development, especially on the western side of 2011. You can see the race-track, which has been around since 1985. The great blob that joins it in 2011, just to the northwest, is Concord Mills (Concord Mills was built around 2000-ish).

When I showed the class these images, at least half the class had their hands high in the air, wanting to ask, “what’s that glare on the first image,” or trying to convince us that the orange spots in the 1985 image are fall leaf colors.

“But that image is from the summer,” I explained.

“Then maybe it’s flowers? Oh, oh, it’s actually the butterflies.”

So I had to explain about how far in space a satellite is, and that it can’t see things as small as flowers and butterflies.

There were 18 kids in the class, and at least 10 were hanging out of their seat, trying to answer every question I asked. Super! They liked getting up, walking to the front of the class, and pointing to something or other on the images on the screen that they had a question about.

But then I went back on Tuesday, and things were a little less organized. My fault. First, I was late. Yikes. Well, I was like 20 minutes early the day before, so I think somewhere in my mind I thought it would all balance out. I was wrong.

I showed them “Mr. Turtle Gets Sick,” which by the way, has now surpassed 600 views – oh, the popularity – and that part went great. I had kids literally staring at the screen with their mouths open. This way, they have a model to follow for the butterfly story.


Watching Mr. Turtle Gets Sick

Then I was to give each kid a slip of paper from the butterfly story. And even though I had carefully been intending, that morning, to slice up the remaining pages to ensure there was enough for each kid, I apparently had zoned out at the last minute of my preparations, and I didn’t realize it until I passed out slips and came up 3 short. For some reason, just at that moment, all these kids who knew enough to ask bright questions and chime in with all sorts of information, became suddenly incapacitated! “I don’t know what to draw! Can you help me read this?”

Of course, they couldn’t ask me these questions by raising their hands from their seats. Instead, I had a whole posse surrounding me everywhere I went, calling out questions, or just wanting to tell me about the dead turtle they’d seen on the beach, all this while I was trying to figure out which kids didn’t have a slip yet, and how I was going to conjure slips for them. I ended up giving one of the girls the task of drawing the title page, and then I cut apart two of the pages with the most words to split them into separate ones.

Did the uproar subside then? Hardly. It felt like every kid wanted me to check their drawing after every new stroke. And one kid just smeared a bunch of blue and green and brown on her page, and marched up to confidently tell me that she was finished. This led me to remind them (a little later, so the kid wouldn’t realize she was the target) that all this is going to end up on YouTube and do they want sloppy, ugly work on YouTube? I probably shouldn’t have used the word “ugly”, I think I took them aback.

So that girl re-did her drawing, into something much, much nicer. One kid colored in some of his tree bark with brown, but not the others. So I gave him a hint about that. The same kid was supposed to be drawing a landscape that had been shorn of wild places for butterfly habitat, and he instead drew flowers and trees. I tried to gently nudge him through that. One kid wanted to figure out how he could draw green trees to stand out if there was a hill of green grass right behind the trees. Well. His drawing turned out amazing, actually. And something that was really sweet is how many of the more careful and steady young artists in the room would help the less coordinated kids in sketching their drawings and giving them ideas.

So it was a bit of a crazy day. Quite the contrast from Monday. I didn’t quite feel any more that, “oh, I’ve got all this in the bag!” I hope the teacher is not second-guessing having me in the class!

Lessons from the election

This was the first election where I knocked on people’s doors, called people, wrote postcards to people, and stood outside the polls handing out sample ballots. I also made campaign videos specific to North Carolina. So my top take-aways (for helping out with¬†local races) are:

1. Human contact trumps social media. At least, I think. Everyone wants to make a viral video that millions of people watch. But I’m probably not going to do that. My videos were watched by a couple of thousand, at most. And, most likely, those few thousands already agreed with the video. Did those videos help tip any of them into making sure they make it to the polls? I have no idea. Whereas when you go canvassing, you talk to individual people and you can see them nod their head, or you can have a conversation, or you can respond in a way that’s adapted to what issues they’re bringing. You’ll reach less people at a blow, but that face-to-face contact is probably a richer haul than most of what is flung out on the ethernet.

2. But make material for social media anyways. So that the Ethernet is not just drowning in the lies of the other side. But as to what extent you should make video ads that give positive information about your own party, versus creating negative ads about the competition, and whether those negative ads should be about tangible things like school-cuts or more intangible but bedrock things like not cheating and lying: I think I’ll write another post about that.

3. Canvass with a friend, and to friends. There was a very nice lady in my county who was going out knocking on doors, so I just joined her. And our lists of houses to visit were mostly people, based on their voter registrations, who were going to be friendly to us, not run us off. We didn’t want to debate anyone. We just wanted to encourage people who think like us, but who don’t always vote, not to sit this election out.

4. Do most of the work ahead of time. Because the last weekend, I was just frozen, hopeless, and scared, and couldn’t do much of anything.

5. Take note of things you don’t like in your own party. I thought there were definitely things happening that were racist. I am going to try to bring this to the attention to some of the higher-ups. It’s definitely not just the other party being racist.

6. Manipulation of the early vote polling lines. One of the candidates was outside the Board of Elections, apparently every day of early voting, passing out a half-sheet flier promoting herself. This was for a school-board position. That means there’s no “Democrat” or “Republican” or other distinction by the name on the ballot. You could go to the polls intending to vote a straight ticket, and then just have no idea who belongs to what party when you get to the school board section. If someone was standing by the election line telling you how great they are just before you head in to vote, that could very well be convincing.

7. Give recognition where due. Especially the people who volunteered like crazy and kind of ran the show for no money while getting yelled at by the county leader. Maybe flowers, lunch, a card, a movie, or all of it, would be nice.

8. Be a little evil. I was at a polling station distributing information – a polling station in the heart of Racism, USA, to be specific. The wife of one of the opposing candidates running for judge was also there, stumping for her darling husband. That was all fine and good and she seemed nice enough, but then an old man came by in a ‘Make America Hate Again’ hat, and he decide to plop his fine self just in front of where all us poll workers were stationed – about 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats – and start spewing a bunch of hate. It flashed in my mind that this man would have been attending the Hitler rallies with fervor had he lived 80 years ago in Germany. Then Mrs. Doting Wife of the Judge walks up to him and passes out her fliers and helps him figure out where he needs to go, as if he’s just a kind old man and not a monster that wouldn’t mind plucking me up and throwing me into a fire. After that, every time the Doting Wife of the Judge wandered in front of me, I started airily conjuring up any and all sordid stories of passionate affairs I could think of, starting with that weird one of the lady who killed her husband’s lover in Delaware, and ending with a confident statement that any woman who has worked in order to put her husband through law school will likely one day learn her husband is a cheater. And then I couldn’t think of more stories, so I searched on my phone, and struck gold with ‘Anna Karenina’, but before I could get to that, Mrs. Doting Wife departed. Was that evil of me? But I don’t actually care.

Oh, and her husband lost to a Black woman.

Triumphant grin

9. John Knox is trying to save the republic. Who is John Knox, you ask? I didn’t know either till one day I was at an early voting polling site, and an old gentleman strolled up and took his place with his fliers next to me. He was a Republican, but I decided he must actually be nice after an old lady exited the polling station in her wheelchair. It had just started to rain and she had no umbrella. Me and all the rest of the poll workers just kind of stared vacantly at her, but Knox suddenly left the line with his giant umbrella and walked the lady to her car under its shelter. So I concluded that he is not evil, and later on, I realized something. Knox was running for a judgeship. He was running as a Republican, but he was not the Republican the county had endorsed. They’d backed another guy. And there was a third candidate, the Democrat. Now the thing is, in our county, the Republican almost always wins. But because there were two Republicans running for this single seat, about half the Republicans voted for Knox and half voted for the endorsed guy (actually, Knox got more votes than the endorsed guy.) And the Democrat therefore, although she got less votes than the two of them combined, got more votes than either one of them individually. So she won, and she is the first Black woman to hold this judgeship. And given my observations that John Knox is not evil, maybe he joined the race on purpose to make sure the Republicans split the vote and the Democrat wins.

Animations with kids

Yesterday and today, I visited a classroom at a local school. It was really great. We haven’t started animating yet or anything, or even illustrating.

But we read our story (about butterflies) and talked about life cycles. One kid got carried away and after we talked about caterpillars morphing into butterflies, said something like, “and butterflies change back to caterpillars.” But then a little girl said “nooooooo!” and we got it all cleared up.

They know all the words they need to know: chrysalis, life cycle, etc, etc. They are really good readers, and I had them compare a butterfly and caterpillar, and one kid said, well, they don’t look at all the same, and another kid said, well, the middle part of the butterfly where the wings attach are kind of like the caterpillar. They compare, contrast, they do cause-and-effect. I think they’re great!

And we watched Mr. Turtle, twice, so the kids would know what kind of movie we want to make. They really loved it, so my heart goes out to those second-graders four years ago at Northside Elementary who made it. Wow, they are now in sixth grade!

I told my new second-graders: guess what! There’s actually an American state that has banned plastic bags (I only knew this because of where I spent the summer), and it’s the state with the most number of people, all the way out on the west coast. Any guesses which one? They guessed the United States, Mexico, Florida, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Alaska, Hawaii, and New York, and Texas, and finally we told them it was California. We pulled out a map and did a little geography lesson and showed them all the states they’d mentioned, and then they started saying: we should ban plastic bags in North Carolina, too!

Utter darlings!!

Then, I was explaining how the butterflies fly south in the winter to Mexico, and I don’t know why, but quite a few of the kids had the idea that it’s colder in Mexico than in the US. There was a big globe handy, and I told them about the equator and how the closer you are to the equator, the hotter it is. “So is there really a line around the middle of the earth?” No, there’s no real line, and no words floating around saying “equator”, either.

For some reason, we got on the subject of lava and how underwater volcanoes and ocean islands form. They were really interested in that, so I will keep it in mind for future book ideas.

I told them all to close their eyes as I read them the butterfly story, so that they could imagine what kinds of pictures to draw along with it. One kid spent the whole time telling another kid: you’re not closing your eyes! Close your eyes! You haven’t closed them!

Last but not least, I felt like I should step up to the plate, since my PhD was in satellite images, and show them images of our town of Concord back in 1985 and then in 2011. I got the images all from the huge repository hosted by Google Earth Engine and used the satellite called Landsat 5, which was launched way back in the 1980s! I think it was 1984. And it kept going until 2012. It captured almost three decades of images from all over the world. When you process satellite images, you have to pick out three “colors of light” to use, so I used #1, shortwave infrared, #2, near infrared, #3, blue. Using these three colors together is not 100% accurate as to how the earth looks, but it makes the green of the forests and the blue of the lakes pop.

As soon as I showed them the 2011 image, a kid said: I was born then!

(Gone are the days when I was startled that a kid born in 1999 is older than infancy).

Well, it was great luck that I’d chosen the year of their birth, it was totally by accident. Hearing the glad news, I said: Great! Now you can see what Concord looked like the year you were born! Immediately, a couple of kids started whispering insistently, no, no, I was born in 2010.

I told them: when I went to college, I spent the whole time studying satellite images. Suppose a desert is getting bigger year after year. With the satellite, you can watch that pattern and measure it. It’s really important to know what deserts and rivers are doing. One kid said: it would be very bad if a desert was getting bigger. I took advantage of the moment and told him: that does happen! There’s lots of places around the world where deserts are getting bigger, and it means people might not be able to grow as much food.

And that is maybe the closest we’ll get to discussing “climate change”, because apparently those words aren’t allowed in North Carolina schools, or something of the sort.

And finally I told them a couple of times that I hoped maybe they would all go to college, study about satellites, and then also help to protect the earth. Does it actually sink in when you tell kids things like this? Or do they forget everything when they start partying in the sixth grade?

The purple bus

I had to go to the license plate office to pay the car registration. It is in a very dangerous part of town, as far as driving goes – the streets are busy and scary, and cars zoom about like masterful bullies –¬† but luckily, I found out I can take the bus there! I started off on Union Street, then walked to the library (also on Union Street) and from there I went west about 4 blocks till I came to the bus stop. The bus was supposed to come at 10.42. Of course, according to tradition, it did not come until 10.52. But no matter, I stood and read a book, and all around me were beautiful views of hilly fall-colored slopes stretched in all directions.


Then the bus showed up. I was only to ride it for 6 stops, or about 10 minutes. Just perfect! I didn’t need to transfer, it was a short walk to the bus stop, and I’d be on and off the bus in no time. And the bus made things easy because a women’s cool voice announced every single stop (and then a man’s stately voice repeated it in Spanish). So I was able to follow along and checked off four stops, but then all of a sudden the announcements stopped. I thought it was because we were passing through an empty stretch with no stops, but no! We whizzed past my stop without me knowing it. But I think it was for the best. Google maps had told me to get off at the stop right after the coffee factory, and then cross the street, and walk 3 minutes to the license plate office. But it’s dangerous to cross right there — certainly no pedestrian signal, and the traffic light is so crazy and has cars going in so many directions at the same time, I’m sure it’s not safe.

Luckily, the bus was almost at the end of its route, and getting ready to turn around. I was still expecting my Google-specified stop, when lo and behold, we pulled into the vast Wal-Mart parking lot. I have lived here nearly all my life, but it wasn’t until yesterday’s bus ride that I figured out where the Wal-Mart is in relation to everything else. Honestly, I haven’t missed much!

Passengers got on and off at the Wal-Mart, and then the bus maneuvered its slow way out the other end of the parking lot, and now started its clumsy way back-tracking its route. I got off at the very next stop, in front of the Aldi. I had to walk about 30 seconds alongside the highway (luckily there was a grassy bank; no sidewalk) till I came to a little shopping complex, and then I walked 5 minutes across the parking lot to where the license plate office is tucked in. I never knew until that day where the Aldi and license plate office were. I feel like a new person.

I was in and out of the license plate office in about 20 minutes (reading my book as I stood in line), and then I had about 20 minutes until the bus was *scheduled* to come back. So I went back across the parking lot, back down the grassy edge of the highway, and into the Aldi. I bought almond chocolate cookies, returned outside, found a nice spot on the grass a bit back from the road, and ate cookies and read my book, waiting for the bus to come back. It was expected at 11.57. I knew that means, “add ten minutes”, so you could have knocked me over when at 11.54, I looked up and saw a bus zooming past, en route to the Wal-Mart. I figured it actually might get to the Wal-Mart, unload, and spin itself about in time to come back to the Aldi stop at 11.57. But I waited and waited and nothing! Finally, at 11.02, another bus came zooming down the highway, en route to the Wal-Mart. This time I paid attention: yes, this bus was labeled ‘purple’, and I watched it as it proceeded to the traffic light, and turned into the Wal-Mart.

I checked the transit map and there’s no other bus that’s marked to come down that highway. I don’t know what that first bus was. At 11.08 (11 minutes late), the purple bus came back to the Aldi stop, and I rode it about 10 minutes till I again disembarked a few blocks west of Union Street. There was a hijabi lady on the bus, so I gave her a really big smile. The walk coming back to Union Street very very beautiful.


It cost $1.25 each way on the bus. I had made sure ahead of time that I had exact change. But because I caught the second bus so soon after getting off the first bus, I thought my transfer pass might do the trick and save me five quarters. Unfortunately, the bus driver was very strict: transfer passes ONLY valid to get on a different colored bus.

The bus in Concord

They have something called the “Rider” bus system here. I think it’s six different routes, all color-coded. I needed to get to the train station last week, and I hate driving, and didn’t want to leave my car at the train station anyways, so I decided to take the bus.

My train left at 10:55. The bus was supposed to get to the train station at 10:48. I thought: yes, I know the bus will probably arrive late, but surely the 7 minutes cushion will smooth things over.

So I had my bag packed with presents for friends and a few changes of clothes, and I had an extra coat hanging on my hand for cooler evening weather, and I locked the door, walked out of the gravel driveway, a bit up the sidewalk, through a shady back lane, and there I was at the bus stop! I got to the bus stop at 10:00, and the Orange bus was supposed to get there at 10:07. So far, so good!

Because I was stress-free and didn’t have any big PhD dissertation hanging over my head, I got to instead look up at the blue summits of the sky and marvel at the perfect fall beauty of it, at least until 10:12 rolled around and there was still no bus. Five minutes late, huh? Surely the bus will be around soon. But then it became 10:15 and now the bus had exceeded my 7 minute cushion. It finally showed up, and bumbled its way down Church Street, around the mall, me egging it on in my head to go faster. Somehow, we made it to the transfer station at 10.26. I raced over to the Blue bus. The counter was re-set; my 7-minute cushion for the train was still intact.

At 10.31, the buses started bustling out of the transfer station driveway. Great job, I thought — you’re only 1 minute off schedule. But then, my Blue bus suddenly paused! All the buses were rolling out, except one which was sidelined, and for some reason, our Blue bus decided to wait politely for the sidelined bus to make its move. That’s very nice, but I had a train to catch. Now it was 10.32. We finally reached the street just as the light turned red. We waited at the light literally for 3 minutes. So it wasn’t until 10.35 that the bus actually started on its route. At a blow, my 7-minute cushion was cut to two.

We were supposed to get to the DSS at 10.38; instead, it was 10:48. Ten minutes late! By now, I was investigating whether any Lyft drivers could help out, but the earliest Lyft estimate arrived at the train station at 10.59. That wouldn’t help me either. At this point of accepting I was going to miss the train, the driver suddenly stepped on the gas. We exited onto a empty, lonely ramp surrounded by forest, passed the Kannapolis city limits, whirled by A.L. Brown High School – all within 2 minutes – and somehow at 10.52 we made it to the train station. According to the schedule, it’s supposed to take 10 minutes to get from DSS to Amtrak, but we did it in four. I made it with 3 minutes to spare. And the train itself was actually like 2 minutes late, so everything was fine, and soon I was whizzing through fields of yellow wildflowers, and little brown creeks flowing out of forests, and horses in pastures caught in a quick glimpse through trees, and small towns of central, rural North Carolina, with just the tiniest touch of pale yellow or dark red wreathing the landscape in tufts and drifts here and there.