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Skype a Scientist

With Earth Day just around the corner (April 22, 2021), one idea you may want to consider is to “Skype a Scientist.” Using this website, you can browse through a list of hundreds of scientists, or search for them based on keywords such as their specialties. Once you find one you would like your class to converse with, follow the instructions for getting in touch with the scientist through the organization so you can arrange your meeting. (Though I haven’t used the site, I am guessing you can use the video conference tool of your choice, and are not limited to Skype.) Another way to use this resource is to take a look at scheduled events hosted by scientists, and register for free through EventBrite.

person holding container with seaweed
Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels.com

To connect with more scientists for Earth Day, register for NASA’s free virtual Earth Day Event. (Of course, NASA is on my mind after yesterday’s review of Astronauts Zoom!) For even more ideas on how to spend Earth Day – and the days leading up to it – be sure to check out my brand new Wakelet of resources curated just for the occasion.

Astronauts Zoom!

I’m excited to announce a new nonfiction book by Deborah Lee Rose, author of Scientists Get Dressed and co-author of Beauty and the Beak. The latter will always be near and dear to my heart because Rose first contacted me when she saw the connection between the story of Beauty, an eagle who received a 3d-printed prosthetic beak, and articles I had posted about my students’ adventures with 3d printing back in 2016. With her new book, Astronauts Zoom!, Deborah Lee Rose continues along her path of providing first class STEM materials for young children.

Persnickety Press/WunderMill Books is publishing ASTRONAUTS ZOOM! in celebration of 20 years of astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). This “Astronaut Alphabet” features high-quality photographs of male and female astronauts from several countries so that children of any gender and race can see someone reflective of them representing this incredible career. One unique aspect of these pictures, as Rose pointed out to me, is that “you can rotate the book fully, and the photos taken in space will still be correct because there is no true “upside down.”

public domain photo from NASA

With age-appropriate – yet challenging – vocabulary as well as inclusion of both the technical and entertaining aspects of spending time in microgravity, Astronauts Zoom! will be an excellent addition to any classroom library or child’s reading collection. Though it is a picture book, there are many levels to approach it from, so re-reading it is definitely a pleasure.

There are informational pages in the book that expand on the simple sentences used for each letter, list the vocabulary, give additional facts, and name the astronauts who are pictured along with their countries of origin. In addition, you can download this free Educational Guide to accompany the book:

In the past couple of years, we have watched the first all-female spacewalk and the first African American astronaut to spend an extended period (longer than a few weeks) in space. On April 9, 2021, the station is scheduled to have 10 people aboard as crews rotate in and out. With all of these historical events, as well as excitement over Perseverance and its implications for humans to make trips to Mars in the future, Astronauts Zoom! is the perfect book to share with students to garner enthusiasm for STEM and reaching for the stars.

Click here for more information!

Poison Pudding

Today’s post was inspired by a question from a reader from Denali Montessori Elementary. She mentioned a game that they play in their GT classroom called, “Poison Pudding.” This is how she describes the game: “I set up a course on the floor with a duct-taped grid on top of a tablecloth. The kids try and figure out the course one by one by stepping on squares. If they stepped correctly, they get another turn. If not, they go to the end and the next person goes and so on until they have figured out the course.”

She asked if I knew of any other movement games for GT, and I could not think of any, other than unplugged coding activities or The Human Knot (which is used a lot in teambuilding activities). I could see some of these ideas from Cult of Pedagogy being implemented in a GT classroom, but I was wondering if you, the reader, have any other suggestions. If you do, please comment on this post or e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com. If I get more than a few recommendations, I will compile them into a new post to share with everyone. In the meantime, try “Poison Pudding”! It sounds like a great memory challenge!

Image by Eluj from Pixabay

G/T Awareness Week

It’s G/T Awareness Week in Texas (April 5-9, 2021). You can learn more about it from Texas Association for Gifted and Talented here. They are asking people to share our stories about why G/T matters to us, and I thought I would write a bit about that today.

In the nearly 30 years that I spent in education in Texas, I saw a lot of progress being made. Students who would have been written off as impossible to teach in 1990 have many safeguards and supports in place now that didn’t exist my first years in the classroom. (Though some of us may debate whether these were improvements), achievement expectations were raised and accountability measures were established.

But while our state has struggled to raise up students who struggle academically, it has, in many ways, exiled those who are ready to learn more. Systemic issues, and the emphasis on helping some groups of students has led to neglect of others. There are those who would argue that these “others,” ones who begin school years already at or above grade level, will do fine. Some do. They learn to tune out repetitive lessons, do practice work they don’t need, and ace tests that require little study. Others become “behavior problems.” In the meantime, as they grow older, they become less enthusiastic about attending school and less likely to seek out challenges or independent learning because they rarely had the opportunity to learn something new or the need to learn how to solve difficult problems.

Ideally, all students would be able to learn at their own pace with just enough support to keep them from getting frustrated and plenty of motivation to continue their studies. But the reality of a system that prioritizes grades and test scores over new learning, overloads teachers with too many students and extraneous responsibilities, and rarely offers pre-service or in-service training aimed toward serving students who are academically gifted, makes it more important than ever that we continue to raise the bar for students who exceed expectations instead of bombarding them with the message that they’ve gone as far as they need to go.

G/T matters because every student matters. And we need to put just as much effort into providing new learning to students who are ahead of many of their peers as we hope the academically gifted will put into learning and achieving throughout their lives.

The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention

With the trial of Derek Chauvin in the news, as well as numerous stories of horrible aggressions toward Asian-Americans here, I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks thinking about how I would handle such a situation as a bystander. I am not brave, by any means, but would like to think that I would find some way to try to help the victims – especially considering my own past of being assaulted while people stood by.

I am grateful to have recently discovered these resources from Hollaback, “The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention.” The organization provides training on using The 5 D’s, so if you belong to an organization that could partner with them, you may want to reach out to them to see if they can help your community. In the meantime, just reading through the 5 D’s along with examples has helped me to feel more empowered to act if I encounter a situation. Before seeing these, my first impulse would probably have been, “Direct,” which I would then cower away from because I am terrible with confrontation. But I now see “Distract” as a better option – not only for me, personally, but also as more likely to de-escalate a situation. Unfortunately, that would not have helped in the case of George Floyd, but neither did “Direct.” The bystanders in that case, especially the brave young woman who chose to “Document” what was happening, were unable to save Floyd from being murdered but did what they could. They will forever be haunted by what they witnessed, but those who attempted to stop this tragedy will at least know that they stood up instead of just standing by.

It would be helpful to give direct training to young people, at appropriate levels for the age groups, so that they practice using each method and identifying when each would be the best to use. We tend to give students mixed messages by telling them to “Delegate” (inform an adult of the problem) but then accusing them of tattling, and we definitely don’t do enough to teach them the “Distract” method, which could help them when dealing with peers.

The best we can do in education is work hard to eradicate prejudice altogether, but in the meantime we need to help children – and adults – to understand the strategies we can use to undermine it in our presence. Some other helpful resources for this are, “Racism Interruptions,” and “The Bias Toolkit.”

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

Your True Colors

You may have noticed that I’ve been playing around with re-designing this website, which has included trying different color schemes. I keep getting sidetracked as I teach myself different tools, and though I’m fairly proficient when it comes to technology, I have a lot more to learn about design. I think my attempts at creativity hurt my husband’s eyes whenever I ask for his opinion so my drafts range from rebelling against his traditional perspective with crazy rule-breaking combinations to realizing that it’s not really my goal to blind my readers.

I’ve done different units on color with various age groups, from investigating the science behind it and writing poetry with my 5th graders as we read The Giver, to teaching about Color Theory in my Principles of Arts high school class. Along the way, I learned about Canva’s free Color Wheel tool, how to assess my color IQ, and Color Theory for Noobs. We examined websites like this one to see how different colors can evoke different emotions.

Since then, I’ve learned about Adobe’s Color tool, which can extract color themes from a photo you upload, or allow you to choose colors and find pleasing additions to create your own theme. If you subscribe to the Creative Cloud, you can even save those palettes in your libraries to access from your Adobe products.

I also learned about Coolors, where you can explore palettes that are trending, or generate your own. On any of these sites – Canva, Coolors, Adobe – you can copy the hex code of any color and paste it as a custom color in presentations you are making.

So, teachers and students can use these tools to improve their designs. But you can also use them for introspection. @WickedDecent shares a Slides activity to use with students where they identify their own Personal Color Palettes. This would go well with another activity my students used to do where they designed their own “Character Strength Floorplans.” Or, you could extend the idea by having students design color palettes for historical figures or book characters, justifying their answers with researched evidence.

Another way to go (especially if you are using yesterday’s post about dining traditions) is to explore what colors mean in different cultures. The Kid Should See This has a great collections of videos on this topic. And if you really want to delve deep into all things colorful, this 5-Minute Film Festival includes videos and multiple resources.

orange yellow green and blue abstract painting
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com