black chess pieces on chess board

Journeys in Film: Queen of Katwe

I have been eyeing the Journeys in Film website as a potential blog post for a couple of months. You can join the site for free, and it has an extensive library of curriculum to accompany different movies. The only downside, of course, is that you need to be able to somehow access the movies — something that can be quite cumbersome in schools. Though Journeys in Film does not solve that problem, the site does have a nice link for each film that offers suggestions for all of the ways to stream or purchase each film.

The latest resource I’ve noticed from Journeys in Film is for a Disney film called Queen of Katwe. This movie is based on a true story about a Ugandan girl who meets a mentor who teaches her how to play chess. I thought it was a fitting resource to share today, when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with a Day of Service, as the discussion guide highlights the incredible value of mentors in the lives of young people. I have personally seen students’ lives changed by mentors and Queen of Katwe is a shining example of the difference mentors can make.

The curriculum/discussion guides on this site are extremely thorough and of high quality. Though I think full-length movies should rarely be shown during a school day (try Class Hook for short clips that support your curriculum), there are definitely exceptions to this rule. If you want to inspire your students, apply some of the lessons of chess to everyday life, or motivate a new generation of mentors, Queen of Katwe may be worth a couple of hours of class or after-school time.

black girl playing chess at table in room
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Stories That Need to Be Told

On Monday, January 17th, 2022, we will honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. I say, “we,” though I know that not everyone, even today, appreciates this man’s contributions to the advancement of civil rights for all. And there is a disturbing amount of people in our country who would rather not acknowledge our past. Some will ignore the date, some will protest against it, and some will argue that commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. somehow harms the children of this generation.

My anti-racist link for this week is to a Storycorps video about one of the men who motivated Martin Luther King Jr. to become an activist, Maceo Snipes. Snipes was an army veteran who returned from fighting for our country in World War II, voted the next day, and was murdered for exercising his right — one of the many rights he defended valiantly as a soldier.

This egregious crime prompted a young college student, Martin Luther King Jr., to write a letter that was published in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. In that letter, King refers to the “scarecrow” arguments racists utilize to defend their terrible acts, attempting to justify themselves by claiming they were only protecting White people from Black people who want to take over. Sound familiar?

We often recall Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech this time of year, but I think we need to make sure we don’t forget why that speech needed to be made. It’s not pleasant to think about the horrific sins of our past, but we are in grave danger of returning to them if we choose to ignore them.

For more resources for teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr., you can go here. I will also be adding a link to this post to my collection of Anti-Racist Resources.

light landscape people art
Photo by Wilson Rodriguez on Pexels.com
person pointing on a miniature toy robot

Day of AI

I know, I know. You’ve got tons of curriculum to cover and here I am telling you about learning that isn’t going to be on a standardized test. But here are a few things that might change your mind about participating in Day of AI 2022: it’s on May 13 (so many of you will be done with standardized tests, or close to finished and we all know how challenging it is to keep students engaged at the end of the school year), you don’t have to do it on the exact date, you need absolutely NO experience, and the resources and participation are absolutely free.

No matter what your opinion is of Artificial Intelligence, the fact is that it is becoming more and more prominent in our everyday lives. Explaining it to our students, and educating them on the potential good and bad ways that AI can impact their lives makes sense — and the resources provided on the Day of AI page are fascinating and relevant. (There are more to come, but you do need to sign up for the free registration to access them.) There will be activities for grade K-12, and you might find, as I did while looking at the materials, that you learn some things you didn’t know as well.

One of the most popular posts in recent months on this blog has been the one I did last year on AI generated poetry, so I know that there is definitely some interest in this topic among my readers. Code.org has dedicated an entire section on AI lessons for students here, and I have a Wakelet collection of other educational resources on Artificial Intelligence as well. From Blueprints for Alexa to Machine Learning for Kids, and multiple fun Google Experiments, there a multiple ways to help your students understand the basics of AI and consider its implications while having fun.

blue bright lights
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
happy birthday to you wall decor

January Resources

Happy New Year! One of my commitments for this year is to continue to provide free resources to educators to help you engage and empower learners. To that end, you can find a new Wakelet collection for January holidays and winter here. It includes some links from the December collection, new ones that I’ve discovered, and some links shared by Donna Lasher on her wonderful site. There is also a link to a Martin Luther King Jr. collection, as we celebrate that holiday in the U.S. this year on January 17th.

I am trying to make my collections more global, so please let me know of any major January holidays that I should include other than the typical U.S. ones. When I do a Google search, it is difficult for me to distinguish what may be truly meaningful dates in other cultures from ones like National Peanut Butter Day (January 24th if you are interested). Not that National Peanut Butter Day isn’t important, but it’s not without its controversies…

Peanut Butter Dog GIF By Wetpaint on Giphy.com
mother and her daughters feeding the birds

Gifts for the Gifted — Experiences

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Way back in 2015, one of my Gifts for the Gifted recommendations was “Time with You.” It bears repeating that whether you are a teacher or a parent the young people you care for, in most cases, really desire your attention more than material objects. This is why I often recommend games that can be played with the family or in small groups in the classroom. Since this post is coming to you so close to Christmas, though, I wanted to let you know of a few possibilities that won’t require package delivery or fighting store crowds. There are some ideas in that post from six years ago, but I have some others you might want to consider:

  • Listen to audiobooks together. You can get a subscription to Audible, or one of the others listed in this article. Or you can check them out for free from a school or local library. I use the free Overdrive app to check out mine.
  • Work on puzzles together — maybe even while listening to your audiobook! (I got this idea from Nick Offerman, who said that he and his wife, Megan Mullally, do this all of the time.) You can do physical jigsaw puzzles, or free virtual ones like these. When my daughter got to be about 8 years old, we started doing puzzles together in my Games Magazine (there is a children’s section), and we still work on some together whenever she is home from college.
  • Travel the world without leaving the house or dealing with pesky luggage requirements. I haven’t tried this yet, but I am eyeing a few of the packages for us for on the Family Friendly page of Amazon Explore, like getting up close with the animals at the Toucan Rescue Ranch in Costa Rica or visiting the fortune-telling chicks of Dei Gratia Farm. And, teachers don’t forget about the virtual field trips you can do with Flipgrid!
  • Geocache! I can’t tell you the number of hours of fun I’ve had with my family and with my students doing this free activity. (The activity is free but you may need to invest in some equipment if you are a teacher, as you need working GPS.) Here is a way to get started. If you are a teacher who needs to stay on campus with your students, a scavenger hunt or an escape room activity can also be great and adapted to be high or low-tech.

I hope these ideas help, and that everyone has a great semester break! I will be back in the new year!

Make and Solve Balance Puzzles with Mathigon’s PolyPad

Mathigon is one of the many free resources I’ve included in my Wakelet, “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.” It is rich with incredible interactive lessons that are visually appealing as well. Some examples I’ve mentioned in the past are the “puzzle a day” every December, its “Almanac of Interesting Numbers,” mathematical origami, the “Panorama” tool for seeing mathematical applications in careers, and “Alice in Fractal Land,” which you can find on the Activities page. (The Patterns and Sequences lesson is a good tie-in to the 12 Days of Christmas lesson I posted last week.)

One of the many tools I haven’t mentioned that you can find on the Mathigon site is “Polypad.” I was reminded of this when I saw a Tweet from @DavidPoras that showcased a fun way to customize some puzzles using the Algebra balance scale. In a way it reminds me of “Solve Me Mobiles” and the Balance Benders books we used to use in my elementary classroom or those Facebook math riddles that get passed around from time to time. With his permission, here is a screenshot of David’s Tweet:

See this idea from @DavidPoras on Twitter here.

In case you don’t have Twitter, here is the link to David’s puzzle. If you want to make your own, he also gave this link for the tutorial. (One thing to note that I didn’t see in the tutorial is that you can use the image icon in the menu at the bottom of the screen to upload your own images.) You can find more tutorials here. The Question Builder and Link Sharing videos will be helpful if you are making this type of activity. Creating your own puzzles does require free registration, and you will want to go into your Dashboard in your account and make sure you are registered as a Teacher in order to see the Question Builder tool.

If you happen to make more of these, please share on the comments. I will be adding this to my Math Wakelet, as well as my December/Winter one (under Stem). I might have a bit of time to create a few more puzzles, as I know teachers are short on time, and will share them here and on the December Wakelet if I do.

Thanks to David for the inspiration and to Mathigon for providing such an incredibly engaging site!