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laboratory test tubes

What is Medical Racism, and How Can We Educate Our students About It?

I was listening to a show on NPR the other day that made my mouth drop. The program claimed that many Black Americans are automatically placed lower on kidney transplant waiting lists due to their race. Today. In the year 2021. It turns out that there is a formula used to calculate how well your kidney is functioning, and this GFR tool includes an adjustment for Black people based on an assumption made years ago that their genetic makeup enabled their kidneys to filter better than White people who had the same filtration rate. You can read more about this, and the faulty reasoning that that led to this biased math here. It seems that a task force has recently mandated that this variable should be removed from the calculation, and it has already been removed from some health care systembs, but how many people have died waiting for a transplant as a result of this widely applied algorithm?

I had, of course, heard about racism in healthcare before. For example, there are reports that Black patients are prescribed pain medication at much lower rates than White ones because of the stereotype that they are “faking it so they can get drugs.” And this is not isolated to Black Americans; other people of color are also victims of biased treatment. I think what surprised me about the kidney story was that there was an actual formula, embedded deeply in the medical field, overtly designed to ignore other symptoms in favor of a person’s race.

In other words, systemic racism.

There are movements to address these problems in medicine such as changes in medical school curriculums. But I wanted to find out if there are things we can do before students attend post-graduate school, as not all children will become doctors. Some of them may end up in fields like pharmaceutical research, marketing, or policy making that could also impact health care.

Parents Magazine has a good article by Danielle Broadway, “How to Teach the History of Racism in Science Class,” that gives some solid recommendations for teachers. Beginning with the “Teaching Hard History Framework” from Learning for Justice for K-5 to examining the cases of Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in high school, students can learn lessons from past mistakes and analyze current ones. Another resource I would add is this TED Talk from Dorothy Roberts.

As with my other Anti-Racist posts, I will add this to my Wakelet. I hope that it is a helpful resource for teachers who want to make the world more just.

photo of woman looking through camera
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Math Fun with The 12 Days of Christmas 2021 Style

Interesting math patterns make me happy, so I really enjoyed doing a unit on math masterpieces with my 4th graders several years ago that included Fibonacci, Sierpinski, Pascal, and the 12 Days of Christmas. Unfortunately, several of the links that I included in that post back in 2016 no longer exist. But the good news is that some newer ones have surfaced. Time, then, to go back to the drawing board…

If I was doing this lesson today, I would begin by posing the question of how we could figure out exactly how many presents the extremely generous “true love” would have purchased by the end of the famous “12 Days of Christmas” song. After some discussion, suggestions, and student collaboration (and maybe listening to this funny version from Straight No Chaser), I would then introduce this great spreadsheet Eric Curts just posted. It will help students think about their math and learn a few spreadsheet skills. After students complete this and you debrief, you could then ask them what they think the price of all of those gifts would add up to today. PNC has a nice summary of the cost of each gift and the total, but don’t show it to them until you’ve gotten some estimates! Students who need a challenge could be tasked with designing a new spreadsheet for those calculations.

Next class, I would introduce them to Pascal’s triangle. I wouldn’t tell them what it is at first. I would give them this worksheet, this one, or the first page of this one to complete. You can see on the latter link that there are some additional pages that give suggestions for patterns students can look for in the triangle once they have successfully added the correct numbers. Even more patterns can be found here. Note the Fibonnacci numbers, and how you can get Sierpinski’s triangle by coloring in certain numbers! And then, you can point out the pattern, shown here, that reveals how many total presents are received each day. (The printable triangles I linked to don’t have that many rows, so it’s up to you if you want them to make that connection on their own.)

For more advanced students, you can show them this video, which demonstrates how Pascal’s Triangle can be used to find coefficients or probability. Here is an interactive from Mathigon for those students who want to go deeper, too. Shodor also has an online triangle you can manipulate and color as well as recommended lessons. This Geogebra one is fun to play with, too.

If you’re loving these math resources, don’t forget that you can go to my Wakelet page, where I have links to two different math collections full of engaging activities, “Math, Art, and Nature” and “Math Sites that Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.” You’ll also find my December collection and Fun Stuff!

photo of fireworks display

Fun Ways to Make it Through the End of 2021

It’s that fun time of the year where it’s getting serious because it’s near the end of the semester, but difficult to be serious because holidays and vacations are quickly approaching. Some students have work to finish, while others completed the entire semester in October. And the more exhausted teachers feel, the more energy the students seem to have. In anticipation of all of this, I’ve been working on my December collection of resources, which you can find here. It includes links to wintery activities, as well as specific holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa). There are lesson ideas, puzzles and games, and arts and crafts. Just a few things you will find are:

If you look at the collection on a computer screen (instead of on your phone), you will see that I divided the resources into columns this year to make it a bit easier to find things.

Sometimes you just need to do something silly and non-curriculum-related, so I also made another collection that I’ve creatively named, “Fun Stuff,” with links to things like Google’s Blob Opera, a Rebus Generator, and Google’s Quick Draw.

And don’t forget I have a set of Brainteasers and Puzzles that also might do when you are looking for something to fill in some extra time.

You can see all of my public Wakelet collections here. Hopefully you will find a resource or two to help you make it through December!

sparkling bright fireworks in black sky
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Gifts for the Gifted — Microbit v.2

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. 

I actually wanted to recommend Microbit V.2 in my 2020 list, but noted that it was difficult to find it anywhere to purchase in the United States, the location of a majority of my readers. After collecting even more resources for it throughout this year, I was once again eager to include it — but found it to be almost as elusive. However, I dove into locating some stock and I think we may be in luck.

The Microbit is a “pocket-sized computer” with LED’s, buttons, and sensors. The original version has been out a few years, but last year saw the release of version 2, which added audio sensing and a speaker. You can read all about it, and see some examples of cool things you can do with it, here. Many places still sell the first version, so be sure you are getting Microbit V.2 if you want the audio capabilities. This is the page that shows retailers, but I’ll also list a couple at the end of this post who currently have some in stock.

BBC Microbit V.2

To use your Microbit, you will need a computer (with micro USB cable) or mobile device (with bluetooth). You will create code for it on a device, and then transfer it to the Microbit. Directions for getting started can be found here. A battery pack will be needed if you are using a mobile device, or if you want to use your Microbit away from the computer. That’s why I recommend purchasing the starter pack which includes the cable and battery.

There are several platforms you can use to code Microbit (get a summary here) including Scratch and Make Code. You can also set up a free Microbit classroom if you are an educator. Technically, you don’t even need a Microbit if you are using the Make Code editor, as there is a virtual one for testing out your code, but what fun is that?

For some of the lessons and fun project ideas I’ve collected, you can check out this Wakelet. And don’t forget that next week, December 6-12, is Hour of Code week.

Here are some potential places to get a Microbit V.2 as of 11/29/2021:

  • Amazon (cable and battery pack included): $38.90, only 12 left in stock
  • Walmart (Microbit only, so you would need to purchase a Micro USB cable and batter pack separately): $40.79 + shipping is kind of a high price, to be honest, but the result of supply and demand at the moment, unfortunately.
  • PiShop.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $25.95 + shipping, which I think is $18 for the US based on this page
  • Elmwood Electronics.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $21.87 + shipping. The extremely helpful customer service rep, Stewart, told me, “Shipping to the USA from Canada (we’re in Toronto) can be extremely variable. Our US sister company Chicago Electronic Distributors – can accept educational orders, and are set up to work with US tax exemptions and payment systems. If your readers wish to contact info@chicagodist.com for a quote, we can transfer stock from Canada and fulfill from our warehouse in Florida. This might add 10 days or so to the order time, but we do have the stock.”

If you are not in a rush to get it, and you are good with buying your own USB cord and battery pack, SparkFun indicates they will have some Microbits in stock by December 5th for $15.95 + shipping. You can add yourself to a waiting list to be notified. You can also add yourself to a waiting list at Adafruit (no indication of when they will get new stock) for a $19.95 pack with the battery and cable.

Gifts for the Gifted – Brain Connect

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. 

Remember those plastic sliding puzzles you would get as party favors or in cereal boxes or for wedding gifts back in the old days?

Just me?

Okay. They looked like this.

Adobe Stock Image

And you had to slide the tiles to get the numbers in order. Or maybe they had a picture that was all mixed up and you were supposed put the picture back together by, again, sliding the tiles.

Or, you could just pop out the tiles like I did and press them back in…

Just me again?

I think I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog that spatial activities never came very easily to me, so it’s probably not a surprise that I didn’t really like those puzzles. But I’m all for cultivating a growth mindset and challenging myself now that I’m older. So, I went ahead and ordered Brain Connect even though it wasn’t in my preferred game category (word games). I thought, and I was right, that it would tick some of the boxes on my Gifts for the Gifted criteria list.

First of all, Brain Connect is definitely not your mother’s or grandmother’s sliding puzzle. There are four puzzle boards included in the game, and each one has small tabs beside each row and column. The tabs are kind of like off and on switches. You keep them so that the red color shows except for the places where your path should join. Those you make green. So, you’re basically trying to connect the green squares by sliding the tiles in the middle to make a continuous path.

There are two recommended play variations in the set. The first one is to exchange a board with another person, have them randomly switch two tabs to green, give it back to the original player, and race to see who finishes first. The second is to use the cards in the box by flipping one over and having all players slide the same two tabs over so that they are racing to complete the same challenge. Of course, it won’t be exactly the same since their tiles will probably have begun in different places and there are potentially several answers for some of the challenges. You earn cards based on the place you achieve (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) each time. To win a multi-player game, collect 10 cards first.

You could also play the game solo if you happen to like that kind of entertainment.

Brain Connect is a good game to put in a classroom center, or to give your kids in the back seat of the car. Parents can play against children fairly, and you can give harder cards (the ones with wheels on them) to make it a bit more difficult for spatially gifted players. Durability-wise, it’s fairly easy to carry 4 boards around (maybe not the cards) without losing them. It would be nice if there was a bag, though, since the box takes up more space. The boards seem pretty impervious to normal mistreatment, like dropping them accidentally. But I wouldn’t rule out young hooligans like me who are tempted to pull the tiles out instead of sliding them.

Brain Connect is made by Blue Orange Games. As I am trying to support independent toy stores this year, here is a link so you can purchase Brain Connect from Kidding Around in NYC. However, you have some other options with Blue Orange. Go to their Shop page, and you can try to locate a store near you, or buy the game through their Shopatron page and “your order is automatically offered to local stores in your area that participate in the program.”

Coding with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.