It’s almost September 15th-ish, which means that Dot Day is quickly approaching! For those of you who have not encountered Dot Day before, it is an international event inspired by the Peter Reynolds book, The Dot. It’s all about celebrating creativity and “making your mark”! In last year’s post about Dot Day, I shared a few “new to me” Dot Day ideas for the celebration. This year, Breakout Edu has announced a brand new breakout adventure for elementary and middle school students based on The Dot. Students must solve the clues to set creativity and inspiration free. I recommend doing the breakout activity and then giving your students the opportunity to unleash their own inner artists as a follow-up!
If you teach older students who have their own phones, this might be a fun idea for an impromptu writing prompt. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has decided to make more of its artwork available to the public by digitizing it and allowing us to text requests. Only 5% of its entire collection can be viewed in the SFMOMA’s physical building, but thousands more pieces are accessible through this new feature. You can text the number 57251, and type, “Send me” followed by a keyword or color. There’s something suspenseful about the whole endeavor that makes it a bit addictive.
I tried it out by texting, “Send me kindness, ” and received the following, somewhat depressing, reply.
Maybe kindness was too abstract? So I tried, “Love.”
Now remember, this is the Museum of Modern Art, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the answer to my next request.
Not really sure what the museum bot was trying to tell me there…
Anyway, I soon discovered that trying to use this activity as a “pick-me-up” was a bit too unpredictable, especially after I received a sad portrait of the war in Iraq after I asked for “home.” However, my daughter and I did have fun using emojis and asking for pictures of bread and dogs. (It does work with emojis, by the way.)
Not to be outdone by artifical intelligence, I decided to end our texting communication by asking for something that couldn’t possibly be mis-interpreted in a bleak way by a computer. “Send me a rainbow,” I asked.
And it did.
A couple of weeks ago, my Kinder students were working on their #Awards. One boy looked over at another one, who was carefully drawing details on his paper.
“Are you an artist?” the first student asked with admiration in his voice.
“I used to be one,” the five-year-old responded, matter-of-factly.
“Really?” asked his awestruck fan.
“Yes. When I was 2 all I did was scribble-scrabble, but then when I was about 3 1/2, I became an artist.”
“Wow!” Fanboy said. “Why aren’t you one anymore?”
“Well, I ran out of paper,” Once-an-Artist said. He paused. “And ideas,” he added.
Then he looked me straight in the eyes.
“But I’m working on getting more,” he solemnly vowed.
I was reminded of this conversation when one of my tweeps, @TEKnical_Lit, shared the link to this powerful video. Like my Once-an-Artist student, it makes me sad – but hopeful.
One of my absolute favorite bloggers, Joelle Trayers, posted some pictures last week of some Hashtag Awards her Kinder students designed for themselves. Of course, I couldn’t wait to try the idea myself! I met with my 1st graders today, and we had a short discussion about hashtags. Then they designed their own hashtag awards. In a way, this is similar to a 6 Word Memoir activity because it helps me to learn so much about what is important to my students and how they see themselves. I might try this at the beginning of the year next time!
My 4th grade GT students study masterpieces each year. The story of the Faberge Eggs, annually created for the last Russian czar’s mother and wife, fascinates all of us – especially when considered in the context of the tragedy that later befell the family. I use this piece of history to discuss empathy – how Faberge displayed it with every detail of his intricate creations, and how the Romanovs’ lack of this important trait resulted in their demise.
Usually, my students create their own Faberge Eggs, and then design “surprises” to go inside a partner’s egg. They interview their partners and play different games with them to learn more about them. Then they have a week to make a design that will be particularly meaningful for the other person.
I have cried over some of the incredibly creative ideas that some students come up with for this project. One year, a student created a military medal for a student who had a soldier parent fighting overseas. There have been poems, clay objects, a message in a bottle, flags, snowglobes, and so many other little presents. The students scored each other on how meaningful the gifts were – and many of them made up for themselves in thought what they might have lacked in skill.
This year, egg designing season rolled around a bit later than usual. Since Mothers Day is just around the corner, I decided to have the students decorate their papier mache eggs for their mothers rather than their peers. They also created 3d printed surprises to put in each egg.
As generally happens when I try something new, there were some successes and some failures. Without the interviews and other activities we did in previous years, some of the “surprises” seemed to be less deep than in the past. (This could also be because of the 3d printing limitation.) Next year, I think we will need to do a few activities to help the students understand their mothers as people rather than just parents, and I will open the project back up to any hand-made surprise instead of only 3d printed ones.
Here is a link to some other Mothers Day activities in case you are interested.
Some of this year’s Faberge Eggs and “surprises” (in between paint coats)
Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.
Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic. “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist. It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons. Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.
Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece. It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance. Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting. The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.
For more on teaching with Guernica, here is a Pulitzer Center lesson on interpreting global issues through the lens of the painting.
Older students might also want to take a look at this video, which gives a 3d perspective of the painting.
And, here is a current event news article from Newsela that makes the connection between Guernica and recent tragedies in Syria. (You must log in to view this – registration is free.)
You might also want to try one of these lessons from Read, Write, Think, which also includes links to other Guernica-related sites.
In my 4th grade gifted and talented class, the students study masterpieces. In addition to masterpieces of visual art, we talk about literary, musical, and even mathematical masterpieces. When I saw the title for Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk, “Math is the Hidden Secret to Understanding the World,” I thought it might fit in well to the mathematical masterpiece section. Little did I expect that it would tie everything together that we had discussed all year.
I should mention that this year’s 4th grade class has some very passionate mathematicians in it. They worship Pi, see Fibonacci in everything, and sit on the edge of their seats whenever I mention that a math activity is imminent. But I wasn’t sure they would find Antonsen’s talk as revolutionary as I do. I was willing to overlook the mathematical examples that were over my head in exchange for appreciating the bigger picture, but would they?
Fortunately, Antonsen’s visualizations managed to maintain their focus, and even their awe at some point, as he gradually brought his audience around to the idea that mathematical equations and representations are actually different perspectives (a few heads raised a bit whenever he said this word, as we regularly talk about multiple perspectives). The “a-ha” moment, however, was when Antonsen said this, “So let’s now take a step back — and that’s actually a metaphor, stepping back — and have a look at what we’re doing. I’m playing around with metaphors. I’m playing around with perspectives and analogies. I’m telling one story in different ways. I’m telling stories. I’m making a narrative; I’m making several narratives. And I think all of these things make understanding possible. I think this actually is the essence of understanding something. I truly believe this.”
There were audible exclamations in my class when the word, “metaphor,” was used. We started the year by learning about figurative language. And the concentration in 4th grade in Texas is on Writing as it is tested at this level for the first time. So, looking at math as a way to tell stories and show different perspectives really captured the attention of my students.
I often tell my students about my childhood struggles with math, how I was often congratulated on my writing skills but made holes in my math assignments due to all of the erasures. It wasn’t until high school that I had a few great teachers who taught me to love math and helped me to see that my only obstacle had been my own fear of the subject.
If I had seen Antonsen’s TED Talk when I was in 4th grade, things could have been different for me far sooner. Instead of feeling like math divides people into those who can and those who can’t, I might have realized that math is actually the language that brings us all together.