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Saving Summer: Flat-lining.

The Ongoing Battle Between Science Teachers And Fake News

NPR-Ed posted an article this morning about how science teachers encounter young minds already signed onto misconceptions and falsehoods. This touched a hard nerve with me, as for years I’ve done my best to straddle the dangerous tightrope between critical thinking skills and teachings of celebrities/prophets. Every time I teach a mythology or origin mythology unit I state a disclaimer that this is just what other cultures believe, and if they practice a religion/faith, their leaders at their place of worship have studied these same stories, too, to gain better understanding into their own ideas, beliefs, and faiths. This seemed to work most of the time. I strove for diplomacy and inclusion.

But these are not ordinary times, and I need to think differently.

via GIPHY

And I appreciate the final piece of advice, perhaps the only piece of advice there is available to us:

“For cases like this, Yoon suggests teachers give students the tools to think like a scientist. Teach them to gather evidence, check sources, deduce, hypothesTize and synthesize results. Hopefully, then, they will come to the truth on their own.”

Though I am not a science teacher, last time I checked I am a human on this planet and am bound by the same rules of physics and biology. The ELA teachers’ tasks include those critical thinking skills in any discourse about literature or informational media. The same advice for the science teachers serve all content area teachers, but it may not go far enough. The questioning techniques such as flipping a question around, as well as helping students understand their neurological processes of being stuck in “right-fight” mode. When we think we’re right without evidence or based on wobbly beliefs/bad arguments, we are already on the defensive. How can one come to ‘truth on their own’ if they already think they live there?

Examples:

What if the earth is flat? How did thinkers prove it wasn’t? Why do people want to believe this?

What would result if they’re right? What does it mean if they’re wrong? Is it okay to believe something that isn’t factual? When?

Why is this cartoon funny?

 

How to Prove to Yourself (or Shaq) the Earth Is Round

Top 10 Ways to Know the Earth is Not Flat

How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It)

A philosopher’s 350-year-old trick to get people to change their minds is now backed up by psychologists

And if you need a list of handy-dandy critical thinking skills, here you go.

In the daily bombardment of hateful rhetoric, dog whistles, and profanity, perhaps cooling down and allowing for mindful space to think is going to keep us all sane. We are all a mix of beliefs, truths, opinions, and facts. Maybe just remind our students that some things they believed when they were little they don’t believe now, and that it’s okay to change minds. What things do they want to see in the world to change, and what is their plan on trying to get others to think about things differently?

 

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Los Zumbis de Washington

 

via GIPHY

This will be a long post: I am retracing my steps on the creation of a unit. TL:DR: Zombies and survival themes are great for 8th-grade students. E-mail me if you want resources or have questions.

One of my teammates Nate had a fantastic idea for argumentative work:

Zombies.

With the help of my teammates Nate, Sabrina, and the Notice & Note social media site, especially Beth Crawford, we unleashed zombies. Trying to put together a unit without common planning or time to meet (each of us is in different phases in life: I could work on units all weekend, and I did over mid-winter break, but it’s better to collaborate with trustworthy, competent folks). We did the best we could, and it needs tweaking and refinement, but out of the box—not too shabby!

I put the call out to Notice and Note and received many great ideas. Beth Crawford followed up with Google docs resources, etc. Some things had to be left behind, and some were added without assessment concepts nailed down. But then again, when you’re dealing with flesh-melting concepts, it’s hard to nail anything down.

Took pics after Zombie Tag and created a Walking Dead look using Snapseed.

The Lumbering Steps:

  1. Overview: this needs work, no doubt: 
  2. Personality Inventory (aka “Body Armor”)
    • Rationale: students would discover their own personality traits, both figurative and literal, that add positive benefits for working with other partners. The goal was to have them create a personality inventory and share their strengths and advantages with others.
    • What worked: students like knowing where they fell on a quasi- Meyers-Briggs scale and gamer’s quiz.
    • What needs to be better: more time, and more explanation on how their inventory works with other personalities, or what pitfalls they might encounter. Critically thinking about attributes is one of the most difficult things to do.
    • We first used this document:
    • But then I changed my students’ work to thinglink.com
  3. Top Ten Survival Items
    • Partner: pare down to fifteen items out of the twenty: You know you’ve succeeded when a group of kids argues about duct tape versus rope for twenty minutes.
    • Rationale: coming up with important items in times of scarcity for survival, and perhaps how to plan ahead (we are in earthquake territory, after all)
  4. Annotated Bibliography
    • Rationale: having students curate their resources for research using an annotated bibliography would help them understand the importance of discerning and critiquing articles closely and carefully.
    • What worked: It served the purpose of getting kids to read, and by golly, they did really try: not sure how many I have turned in, but I know many of them were engaged in this. As soon as I re-introduced it as a “playlist” of a topic, the lightbulbs went off!
    • What could be better: more time to read articles together, and more focus on truth, opinion and fact lessons.
    • This is a poster my friend Sharon Clarke and I put together on our collective wisdom:

      Sharon is the best.
  5. Integration:
  6. What worked about integration: we barely scratched the surface. Maybe next year we can get the whole school involved.
  7. Writing: the partner teams had to write a collaborative ‘end of world’ scenario. This writing will appear on their shared PowerPoint.
    • What worked: they got this, mostly.
    • What could be better: More time. (Seeing a trend here?) Students didn’t have time to fully craft their POV points in the story: the plan was to have them create a story together, and then write a first-person narrative on what they were doing when everything fell apart, and how they eventually met up and survived. Students who love role-play and writing jumped right on this: students who are not quite patched-in with their own creativity didn’t. But as all good growth mindset conversations end: YET.

8. Zombie Partner Shared PowerPoint: The partner created a shared PowerPoint with many of these pieces. One aspect was the “film” slide: add any multimedia possible that goes along with survival or zombies, or film themselves. Some kids used their webcams and shot pics/videos, others found videos on YouTube, etc.

9. Article Links samples:

Here are some articles, etc. I gathered so students could choose for their annotated bibliography:

There were more, most I posted in ActivelyLearn and Canvas.

What I didn’t get to do: a handcrafted survival guide. 

Sigh.

Maybe next time.

What we will do: next week before spring break, I am giving them a choice of three writing prompts that are directly connected to SBA Brief Writes:

Mrs Love Zombie Presentation Final Survival

Please let me know if you have questions, or want to add to this awesomesauce.

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Structure Series: Essays for the 21st Century

 

Writing a quick paragraph on social media is good practice.

The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.

Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?

Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.

Some close reading/close writing ideas:

  • Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
  • Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
  • Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
  • Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
  • In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?

Quora

Medium

Flipboard

Op-Ed Pieces from NY Times, Washington Post:

The Right Call: Yale Removes My Racist Ancestor’s Name From Campus

No, Robots Aren’t Killing the American Dream

In contrast, posted in Medium:

A warning from Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking

There is always more to the story. Consider what perspectives or voices are not being heard, what are the perceptions, and what is ‘stochastic terrorism’ —

From Quora:

Read Chris Joosse‘s answer to What is it that conservative voters just don’t get yet? on Quora

 

These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.

 

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Game on.

Get Ready Pac ManGreat conversation the other day: student in my “struggling” reading comprehension group reminded me once again that many kids aren’t necessarily “bad” readers, but not motivatedto read. We had a few moments just to talk about what we were reading, a topic at hand, a bird-walk, so to speak, and he and I discussed a high-level, critical analysis about: games.

We talked about the genres and analyzed the varying classification of the wide variety of video/computer games. (The student sent me this link, by the way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_genres) Recently, I had a conversation with my husband about this very same topic, in the context of  deep critical analysis of World of Warcraft. I know – many of you (teachers) are scoffing or rolling your eyes. (By the way, eye rollers – grow up.)

What is fascinating to me is this question: why are we humans participating and practicing in the worlds that yield no results or product?

Or do they?

One Alpha game that has come on the scene in MineCraft.  MineCraft scares the snot out of me, and I’m not sure why. Our Robot Overlords are busy working on enslaving human productivity and time to create Lego-esque worlds and kill zombies. When I can find the link to the article, one enterprising young man went as far as to create a world, a virtual world, that ran on its own “red dust” electrical power. Can you say “Mr. Anderson?”

Another virtual world is obviously Farmville.  Millions of Facebook users work diligently on this (distopian) commune,

We all have burning questions, and it is job 1 for teachers to help students identify and recognize those questions and motivations. We are given low basal readers for checkpoints and reading strategy instruction. I have a certain amount of buy-in and fear. The fear comes from the thought of NOT adhering “with fidelity” to the “system” somehow any failure or lack of progress of my students will be squarely on my shoulders. Which, it would be. If I can honestly report that I kept the program in its inherent and intended form, then perhaps that will shield me from any negative results.

A term my husband has been using recently is “emergent behaviors.”  The context he uses this in is the explained best just by thinking of ways that humans, animals, forms and functions do or create the unexpected.

The words that come to mind when thinking about the activities of these types of games far exceed the simple, violent FPS label:

1. Resource management

2. Professions

3. Product and Productivity

4. “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality: Elitism and bragging rights (talk to anyone who’s flying around on a Onyxian Drake.

But what even scares me more is the next generation of “games,” and this puts the word “generation” in a different context. Both the same student and my husand informed me of this little AI darling, who is programmed to make moral decisions based on squishing, or not, snails: Milo, the Computer Boy.

Think I may be sick.

Now, I must also write this: While we are so busy creating fake boys and girls, and getting fake jobs, and getting fake results, we are neglecting our real boys and girls. Student informed me the other day: “Mrs. L, did you know the band member of KISS are Jewish?” Reponse: Yes, as a matter of fact I did. Follow up: “And did you also know they had to wear that make up to hide from Hitler during the war?”