The girl who turned her back

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

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

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

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

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

Leah was engrossed in a computer game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a snail in Blender

I poked around some online examples and tutorials.

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

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

snail 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!

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.