Watching kids watch each other’s animations

I made “Mr. Turtle Gets Sick” with a class of second-graders in Chapel Hill 4 and a half years ago.

And every time I go into a new classroom, those kids watch “Mr. Turtle”, too, so they have an idea of what this project is like.

It makes me really happy to think that after all these years, the messages from those first set of kids are still being heard. My audiences are always so engrossed! And the movies from all these new classes will hopefully be used as models in my future classes.

In fact, I already had my fifth-graders at Wolf Meadow watch the two animations (Mr. Glump and Handbook to caring for the Earth) the second-graders at McAllister made. They laughed, they leaned forwards … okay, some just kept on drawing and whispering through the movies, too, but they were still pretty interested!

Kids in Concord, plus some of their parents, watching “Mr. Turtle gets sick”, which the kids in Chapel Hill made. Mind you, they’re watching it now for the third time and still full of interest!
The fifth-graders in Wolf Meadow watching the animations made by the second-graders at McAllister

Last messages from my animating kids

I like to finish each film with ‘Last messages’. I did it first with “Mr. Turtle Gets Sick”. I came up with the final thoughts myself. But this time around, I thought I’d ask the kids, and this is what they came up with..

The second-graders who made “Mr. Glump and the Poisonous Pond”:

  1. Algae is bad
  2. Fish can die
  3. clean the fish pond
  4. Do not pollute
  5. Don’t spray poison on your yard
  6. Keep things clean
  7. Protect fish
  8. If you have a question, go to the library and check it out
  9. Check out books
  10. Libraries are cool and teach you a bunch of things
  11. Keep reading.

Isn’t that lovely? There was a second class of second-graders who worked on this same film, but when it was their turn to offer final messages, they turned into holy terrors instead, so we skipped that part. And I condensed the first list into the following:

glump final message 3

And then, in connection with “Handbook to taking care of the earth” (the kids came up with that title; I love that they thought to include a fancy word like ‘handbook’!), here are the final messages:

  1. We only have as much water as we have, so let’s take care of it
  2. Don’t pollute water
  3. Please don’t pollute
  4. We want to swim in nice, clean water
  5. Pay attention to class, don’t pay attention to things that don’t matter
  6. Pay attention to family and friends, and important things
  7. Ignore people talking about silly stuff

handbook final message 3

Isn’t that lovely all over again?

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 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!

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.

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.

Animations with kids – pond algae

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.

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!

Are you low-class for electioneering?

When I was little, I didn’t want to belong to any political party, because it seemed like politics was a power-hungry world and I didn’t want the rot rubbing off on my purity and high-mindedness.

Also, you know, I didn’t think that people are actually evil. I thought if someone was evil, I could talk to them and show them a new way and we’d all hold hands and be friends at the end.

Now that I know better, I have no choice but to be more political. It’s not a matter of politics anymore, anyways. It’s actually more like battling fascists, Nazis, and evil, so things have changed. I wrote about my best tips of local campaigning here. I’ll probably stay pretty active here on out.

But, there’s still a side of me that questions the effectiveness of political campaigning. At best, you might get someone who wasn’t planning to vote to show up in the poll line. Or get someone else who was planning to vote, but hadn’t really thought about when, to really commit.

Compare that to the downsides. There is something noisy and intrusive about cold-calling people, passing out fliers, and knocking on doors. It’s not very effective at creating a conversation. If people stop to talk to you, mostly it’s because they don’t want to be rude, and since you’ve just met them, they’re not as likely to really open up.

If you, therefore, really, really, really don’t want to mire yourself in the messy and pedestrian and low-class occupation of electoral campaigning, then I think you have an out. Rather than engage in direct politics, just spend large chunks of time reaching out to people in whatever way possible to create good citizens in a very deep and lasting way. Do this at all times, not just during election season.

I once lived across from two little kids and their grandmother. Why did they live with their grandmother? I don’t know, I never bothered to ask. I talked to those kids only on the day I was moving away. I wish now I had gone over, introduced myself to the grandmother, and helped the kids with their homework if they ever needed it.

That was when I was a master’s student. And then it happened again when I was a PhD student. I lived across from a family of refugees – I think maybe from Myanmar. It never clicked in my mind that I should knock on the door, introduce myself, get to know the kids, and see if I could help out or hang out with them. In fact, I didn’t even realize that they were refugees until someone pointed it out, after about two years of being neighbors. If I had bothered to think about it, I could probably have figured this out much earlier.

Combined, the family from my Master’s and the family from my PhD adds up to quite a handful of kids who I could have taken to the UNC science expo, say, or to the string quartet concerts in Hill Hall, or I could have taken them to the computer labs and shown them how to use mapping software. Sharing my interests with the environment with them could have been really impactful, both in how they live their lives and how they later vote.

So if you really feel like electioneering is too slimy a business for you, then just be active in other ways that are deeper, sweeter, and less forced.

And as you build those deeper and sweeter relationships, you might even decide that the depth and sweetness of them will protect you from moral peril if you should one day also venture in the more direct and blustering world of direct political engagement!


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.