All posts by engagetheirminds

Fight the Coded Gaze

In a recent episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Zoey, a software developer, learns that her company’s smart watch has a coding glitch – it doesn’t recognize Black people. What she discovers is that this is not merely a software problem but a systemic problem in her company and her industry, where there is a disproportionately low number of Black employees. Though the show is fictional, the storyline is not. As more and more products utilizing artificial intelligence enter the market, we are finding that even computers can exhibit bias.

As Joy Buolamwini explains in this TED Talk from 2016, facial recognition programs are dependent on machine learning, and that learning is dependent on training sets. If those sets are not diverse, then we end up with problems like those described by Buolamwini and others.

After realizing that she needed to be part of the solution for this problem, which Buolamwini describes as “The Coded Gaze,” she set up The Algorithmic Justice League, which aims to combat racism as well as any type of discrimination in artificial intelligence. In a recent Twitter thread for National Geographic during Black History Month, Buoloamwini gives more examples of the ways AI can fail.

As artificial intelligence becomes more ubiquitous, it is important to continue to encourage diverse groups of young people to learn how to code ethically so that future generations will not inadvertently (or deliberately) create biased programs.

To help students learn more about how artificial intelligence works, here are some new free resources from Code.org. Also, here is a post about Machine Learning for Kids that I did in 2019.

I will be adding this post to my growing collection of Anti-Racism resources. Please take a look, and feel free to offer suggestions!

Photo of Joy Buolamwini, byNiccolò Caranti, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Storytime + Tinkering

Visit this collaboration between the Exploratorium and Mr. Limata’s Storytime to access a wealth of ideas joining literature with making. Mr. Limata is an elementary school teacher who shares read-alouds which have been paired with creative activities he has used with his second grade class. From balancing sculptures to imaginative ideas for creating with shadows, this page offers concrete activities that teachers, librarians, and parents can use to involve their students in S.T.R.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math)

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

St. Patrick’s Day Resources 2021

I know that this will come as shock to many of you who are faithful readers, but I am feeling pretty good that I got Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day covered this year before the end of February. Not only that, but I spent a little time today making my St. Patrick’s Day S.C.A.M.P.E.R. activity into both a Slides presentation and a Jamboard. Talk about UNPRECEDENTED!!!!! (No one needs to know that I was putting off folding laundry and doing yoga in order to achieve these magnificent accomplishments.)

If you are unfamiliar with S.C.A.M.P.E.R., here is a previous post where I explain the acronym. You might also note that the paper version of St. Patrick’s Day S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is for sale on my TPT page, but don’t waste your money on that, since you can just download the Slides and print it out if you want. For free! I’m working on updating all of my resources and making them free because that is exactly how much housework and exercise I am willing to sacrifice for you.

And that’s not all! I noticed that quite a few of my St. Patrick’s Day resource links were not working anymore (not surprising, since I’ve been publishing this blog for nearly nine years), so I gathered updated versions in this Wakelet for you.

Now I must go scour the March calendar to see what I’ve forgotten…

How Do You Really Feel About Pi Day?

If you’ve never celebrated Pi Day (March 14th) in your classroom, you may be missing an opportunity to get your students really excited about math. There is something quite magical about this number that appeals to curious young minds, inviting those who even believe (wrongly) that they don’t have mathematical minds to join in the fun.

Or, maybe not.

I was looking for new resources to add to my Pi Day Wakelet, and realized that I had somehow missed that Vi Hart, worshipped by my students for her math videos about Fibonacci as well as her awesome sketches of slug cats, has a tiny bit of a problem with Pi celebrations. She eloquently explains her argument in this video from 2014, Anti-Pi Day Rant.

I only discovered Hart’s argument by first unearthing Why Pi is Awesome (Vi Hart Rebuttal) by The Odd 1s Out on YouTube. (FYI – there is the comment that, “This is all bull crap” around 6:42 in the video.) And that, to be honest, is the first time it ever occurred to me that Pi might not be all that.

Side note: The first comment I saw under the rebuttal video was, “When the 2 quietest and smartest kids in class have a heated argument and everyone takes notes and grabs popcorn,” which seemed quite funny to this former GT teacher, who listened to debates like this in her classroom all of the time.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you really want to add a bit of a twist to Pi Day in your classroom, maybe you could show the students Hart’s video a few days before March 14th, and ask the students to persuade you as to why this number should be celebrated. And then you can use the ideas in my Pi Day Wakelet.

There are subsequent videos about Pi Day by Vi Hart in which she seems to soften her stance a bit – even one asking Pi to stay home last year to avoid coronavirus – but I haven’t watched all of them. Suffice it to say that my world was rocked hard enough by one anti-Pi video that I need a bit of time before I watch more.

from giphy.com

6 Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online

I’m back online here in Texas after our week of crazy weather. It’s 74 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny today – and I’m perfectly happy for it to stay that way!

My latest blog post for NEO was published last Thursday while my fingers were still too cold to type on a keyboard. “6 Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online” emphasizes the importance of offering plenty of opportunities to children to learn and develop aptitude in this area. During my 29 years in the classroom I observed that spatial reasoning was often overlooked, but has many extremely practical applications in our everyday lives. I also saw, and was the casualty of, gender discrimination in this area. Though I think physical practice is the best way to sharpen spatial reasoning, I mention many free digital tools that you can use in the article. In addition, I’ve made this Wakelet of over 40 links to games, toys, articles, and websites that support spatial reasoning.

My previous NEO articles have been:  Let’s Talk a Good Game: Mining Talk Shows for Classroom Engagement Ideas, How to Do More with Less Screen TimeHow to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual ClassroomsTop Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

Teaching for Tolerance is Now Learning for Justice

I confess that I have never liked using the word tolerance when it’s used in conversations about race, gender, or any other targets of stereotyping and prejudice. To me, “tolerance” has always connoted a level just above hatred and far below acceptance. I have tolerance for careless drivers (my husband does not) and I tolerate physical pain fairly well – but I’d be more than happy to rid my life of both.

So, when I saw that Teaching for Tolerance, an excellent website that provides incredible resources for classrooms intent on abolishing bigotry, had changed its name to Learning for Justice, I applauded the upgrade. The new name does not only appeal to me because of the elimination of a word that seems to be limited in its ambition, but also because of the important verb substitution. Switching from “teaching” to “learning” communicates that no one is an expert and that we are on this journey together.

As we continue toward reaching an understanding of what “justice” means in this country and this world, it is vital that we look toward a future where we embrace differences instead of tolerating them and recognize the importance of lifelong learning about ourselves and others.

I will be adding this post to my growing collection of Anti-Racism resources. Please take a look, and feel free to offer suggestions!

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay