Historic Tale Construction Kit

I was in an admittedly unwarranted foul mood this morning while I wracked my brains for a blog post. I have plenty of ideas, but none of them felt “right” for today. Then I ran across this Twitter thread I had saved, originated by Professor Annie Oakley Rides Again (@ProfAnnieOakley) and couldn’t stop laughing at all of the replies. The professor let her art history students use the “Historic Tale Construction Kit,” and once she shared the link with her Twitter followers to this tool hilarity ensued. Click on the image below to see some of the responses in the thread. (Warning: some images are not suitable for children.)

I know you’ll want to try it, too. To add text, click on the background. (May not work on mobile phones.) A few of the images are a bit gruesome, but I know my high school students would have had a blast with this. Some teachers have their students use memes to make rules for the classroom, and this would be a fun alternative. Retelling a modern tale or current event in this setting could also result in some creative products. As you can see in the example below, Margaret McLarty (@MagsMcLarty) designed a Queen-inspired tapestry.

designed by @MagsMcLarty using Historic Tale Construction Kit

Tag me if you or your students design something clever with this tool!

On Being Wrong

A few weeks ago, I vowed never to discuss politics on Facebook again. Vicious statements were being thrown around even amongst some in my friend group, and I realized that getting involved was only escalating people’s anger. Then a friend of mine who has some different political views than I do invited me to participate in a small group chat on Messenger with a few of her other friends. We are all from vastly different backgrounds, and have diverse opinions, but it has been very illuminating for me. In fact, it has made me question some of my own strong perspectives and, yes, to admit that I might be wrong about some things.

In this TED Talk from Kathryn Schulz, a “wrongologist”, in 2011, Schulz talks about the fear that many of us have – that getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us. It’s a characteristic I observed often in my gifted students, and I can attest that I am extremely hard on myself when I make mistakes. Fear of making mistakes can paralyze people. But overcorrecting for that can also have terrible consequences. As Schulz demonstrates when she describes an example from the medical field, “Trusting too much in the feeling of being on the right side of anything can be very dangerous.”

When we are certain we are right, we often make false assumptions about those who disagree. According to Schulz (and I certainly have observed this) we: assume the other side is ignorant because they don’t know all of the facts, then assume they are idiots because they have the facts but don’t interpret them correctly, then assume they are evil because they are intelligent but still don’t agree with us.

At the beginning of this video, I thought that it probably would end up being a poor choice for me to recommend on this blog. It’s 17 minutes long (way beyond the attention span of many students), and it’s from almost 10 years ago. But, as Schulz explains (wisdom she gather from Ira Glass), our lives are full of, “I thought this one thing was going to happen and this other thing happened instead.”

So, I will admit that I was wrong. I think this video would be great to share with students from 5th-12th grade, and with adults everywhere. Schulz is witty, brings in great examples, and the information is just as relevant (if not more so) today.

When I think about the things that I know for sure, that I am absolutely confident about, I can count them on less than 10 fingers. One belief I have is that we must try to understand each other instead of jumping to “the other side is evil” whenever we disagree.

I’m willing to bet some people would argue with that statement.

But, I’m also willing to allow for the fact that it might be wrong.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 A few 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 on every Friday in 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, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.

Weird Enough Productions

Tony Weaver Jr. is a hero. I don’t use that term lightly. In fact, I hesitate to use it at all. But when I started doing research on a Tweet from @ProjectFoundEd about this man, I discovered more and more reasons to admire him. In this 2020 world of self-serving politicians and celebrities, Tony Weaver Jr. is the humble, talented, and empathetic champion we need.

Every week, I write an anti-racist post, but Tony Weaver Jr. is one of the many Blacks in our country who dedicates his life to anti-racism. Though his activism stemmed from personal experiences, he explains in this TEDx talk, “Why the World Needs Superheroes Who Look Different,” how other young people were his true motivation. In the CNN video that first led me to seek out more information about him, Weaver expresses such honest emotion about his passion for his work that you know his dedication will never waver.

Weaver is the young entrepreneur who started a company called Weird Enough Productions. “We tell stories that inspire people to embrace their quirks, and get hype about being themselves,” it states on the “About” page. Weird Enough Productions is responsible for a project called, “Get Media L.I.T.” which provides a platform for teachers and students (age 12 an up) where they can use comics and lesson plans to learn about social-emotional topics, media literacy, and digital citizenships. The comics feature a group of young people called “The Uncommons,” who are a diverse cast of characters designed to be representative of the many faces in our population. When you sign up for Media L.I.T. as a teacher, you will have a dashboard to which you can add classes, make playlists of the comics, and push out assignments. Each lesson is either categorized as, “Learn, Inquire, or Transform.” This tutorial for getting started is very helpful.

Get Media L.I.T. is exactly the type of material that will appeal to young people – relevant and visually intriguing. It is a great way to teach students about topics that are not generally covered in the curriculum, and to expose them to fictional heroes who look like them. In addition, the “Transform” lessons offer ideas for how the students can apply what they have learned to make the world a better place.

I will be adding this post to my list of Anti-Racism posts on Wakelet. Please consider sharing it with others, especially those who have the power to make a difference in the classroom. You can learn more about Tony Weaver, Jr. here.

screenshot of Tony Weaver Jr. from “Why the World Needs Superheroes Who Look Different”

An Experiment in Gratitude

This video is old (2013), but I think it’s a good time to revisit it. It is the first in a series of videos produced by Soul Pancake (the same people who brought us Kid President) on The Science of Happiness. In “An Experiment in Gratitude,” the host shares the results of a study devised to determine how much gratitude affects happiness. The adults who are featured each take a survey to get a base line score for their happiness levels, and are then asked to write a letter to thank someone who has made a positive difference in their life. To their surprise, they are asked to call the person they wrote to and read the letter out loud.

I won’t divulge the results of the experiment, but I think you can predict that expressing gratitude does boost levels of happiness. If you want to get more into the science, here is an article that explains how the two emotions are related. And, if you are not feeling particularly grateful lately (because, you know, pandemic), here is another article on how you can make a conscious effort to change that.

This video is only about 7 minutes long, so it’s a good one for older students. However, be aware that there is some “language” between 5:20-5:27 that may not be considered appropriate by some. If you are looking for some ideas on how to encourage your students to think about gratitude, be sure to check out my Thankful Wakelet, which has many links for all ages. And for more Inspirational Videos, try my Pinterest Board.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The Good Project

I hesitated about doing this post. I know that educators are struggling right now. You are trying to do what has to be done, and you don’t need anything extra. Getting through what is already required by your district and/or school is stressful enough.

But, The Good Project is really… well… good! It is meaningful, full of free resources, and incredibly relevant. And you, the teacher, can differentiate for yourself by choosing the level of classroom integration you want. Whether you decide to select some of the materials to embed in a curriculum you already have, or go deep with the 170 page lesson plan The Good Project provides, I am pretty certain you can find something that will benefit your students.

I learned about The Good Project when the video, “Beyond the Science Club: A Good Project Dilemma” was tweeted. When I jumped down the rabbit hole, I realized some of my favorite old friends were down there – Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero (also responsible for Visible Thinking Routines). In fact, they were the rabbits who created this fantastic hole I stumbled into.

In their words, “The Good Project promotes excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing people to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society.” I don’t know about you, but I think we desperately need some conversations about those 3 E’s – excellence, engagement, and ethics. The Good Project gives you all the tools you need to do this with your students.

Though The Good Project’s resources are primarily created for secondary students, I could definitely see doing some of the activities and lessons with upper elementary and middle school – particularly gifted students. For example, I think the Value Sort activity would go well with the unit my 5th graders did on Character. If you are looking for specific ideas to use with your students, you can use the Activities Database. You can weave in ethical dilemmas into your social studies or science activities. (There are even a couple of interactive ones students can do online.)

To go deeper, I would suggest the Good Collaboration Toolkit or the Lesson Plans.

The Good Project does not tell students what to think, or what is right and wrong. It gives them space to do their own thinking about their values and what is important to them. With class discussions, it can help them to see different perspectives, and learn about the complexities of the decisions they make. The Good Project poses questions about very real-life decisions that we are likely to encounter so that students can take time to analyze the potential effects of different choices.

image from The Good Project Overview