Meet Me in the Middle

I didn’t watch the Academy Awards last weekend, but I remember scrolling through Twitter and suddenly seeing masses of Tweets about Tyler Perry. He was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this year, and gave a short, but inspiring speech calling upon all of us to “refuse hate.” I watched the speech later on YouTube, and knew immediately that it should go on my Inspirational Videos for Students Pinterest Board. Not only does Perry refuse hate, but he dedicates his award to “anyone who wants to stand in the middle, no matter what’s around the walls because that’s where healing happens, that’s where conversation happens, that’s where change happens.” If you haven’t had a chance to see and listen to this speech, I encourage you take a moment to fit it into your day.

I will be adding this post to my Anti-Racism Wakelet, but I want to re-iterate Perry’s words because they are not just about racism. We must stop hating “the other” and stop pre-judging people based on the categories our brains find more comforting to assign.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

My Heritage

We may fear artificial intelligence with all of its potential harmful uses, but as with all technology it brings benefits as well. One of those is being employed by a website called My Heritage. A site for tracing and keeping records of your ancestry, it has recently added a new tool called, “Deep Nostalgia.” You can apply it to your photographs in order to animate them, and it can be quite enchanting. Of course the intent is to help you to imagine relatives from the past as they might have been when alive. But I played around with it to see how historical figures could be brought to life.

Since it is Women’s History Month, I looked for a website that listed past women who have made an impact on the world. I came across Bessie Coleman, the first Native American (she was part Cherokee) to get a pilot’s license. I was drawn to Bessie’s smiling image because it reminded me of some of the teenagers I taught in the past, and I immediately wanted to know her. I downloaded the following photo from Wikipedia.

I then went to My Heritage, where I had already created a free account, and uploaded the photo to my album. When you open a photo in your collection, you see an option to animate it in the top right corner. It takes a few moments to “apply its magic,” and then your video appears. There are several different ways to animate the image, so you can play around with trying different movements that seem to fit the personality of the portrait. When finished, it is saved to your album, and you can share it multiple ways, including downloading it.

Don’t you wish you could meet this young lady?

Of course, my curiosity is never quenched, so my next attempt was to find an image of someone from history before photography existed. I found a drawing of Boudica, legendary warrior queen, uploaded it to the site, and waited with skepticism. However, this also produced amazing results. I haven’t tried rudimentary drawings, like stick figures, but I have a feeling there are probably limits to this artificial intelligence tool.

My Heritage also has an app, so you can use pretty much any device to animate the images. The videos are short, but just long enough to make you feel like you are glimpsing through a window into the past. If I was a history teacher, I would definitely use My Heritage to help my students connect to people who may seem irrelevant and unreal (if they are even mentioned) in the pages of a textbook.

How Do You Really Feel About Pi Day?

If you’ve never celebrated Pi Day (March 14th) in your classroom, you may be missing an opportunity to get your students really excited about math. There is something quite magical about this number that appeals to curious young minds, inviting those who even believe (wrongly) that they don’t have mathematical minds to join in the fun.

Or, maybe not.

I was looking for new resources to add to my Pi Day Wakelet, and realized that I had somehow missed that Vi Hart, worshipped by my students for her math videos about Fibonacci as well as her awesome sketches of slug cats, has a tiny bit of a problem with Pi celebrations. She eloquently explains her argument in this video from 2014, Anti-Pi Day Rant.

I only discovered Hart’s argument by first unearthing Why Pi is Awesome (Vi Hart Rebuttal) by The Odd 1s Out on YouTube. (FYI – there is the comment that, “This is all bull crap” around 6:42 in the video.) And that, to be honest, is the first time it ever occurred to me that Pi might not be all that.

Side note: The first comment I saw under the rebuttal video was, “When the 2 quietest and smartest kids in class have a heated argument and everyone takes notes and grabs popcorn,” which seemed quite funny to this former GT teacher, who listened to debates like this in her classroom all of the time.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you really want to add a bit of a twist to Pi Day in your classroom, maybe you could show the students Hart’s video a few days before March 14th, and ask the students to persuade you as to why this number should be celebrated. And then you can use the ideas in my Pi Day Wakelet.

There are subsequent videos about Pi Day by Vi Hart in which she seems to soften her stance a bit – even one asking Pi to stay home last year to avoid coronavirus – but I haven’t watched all of them. Suffice it to say that my world was rocked hard enough by one anti-Pi video that I need a bit of time before I watch more.

from giphy.com

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

Inauguration Day Lessons

UPDATE 1/20/2021: My friend, Suzanne H. gave me another resource to add to this list, 8 Videos to Teach the Inauguration Process. Also, PBS immediately released a lesson plan for the poem written and read by Amanda Gorman at the Inauguration, “The Hill We Climb.”

With only two more days until the United Stated Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2021, most of you probably have decided on your lesson plans for the week. However, for those of you who like to fly by the seat of your pants or don’t mind doing a little tweaking when you see something that suits your needs better, here are some lessons you should definitely consider.

Discovery Education is doing an Inauguration Day Virtual Field Trip on 1/19/2021 at 12 PM ET. Dr. Jill Biden will be one of the special guests presenting. If you and your class are unable to attend, don’t despair. There are plenty of other lesson resources on this page from Discovery that you can use for grades K-12.

iCivics has a lesson plan for The First 100 Days that includes a customizable Google Slide Deck.

For grades 9-12, you may want to try this PBS lesson to “Write Your Own Inauguration Speech.”

Although the EdSitement lesson, “I Do Solemnly Swear” is listed for K-12, the activities look more appropriate for upper elementary through middle school.

You might want to focus on the history of poetry that is read at presidential inaugurations, and discuss the work of this year’s inaugural poet, 22 year old Amanda Gorman. What does it mean, if anything, that there was no poet invited to speak at Donald Trump’s inauguration?

If nothing else, I encourage you to watch and listen to Amanda Gorman reading from one of her poems below, “The Miracle of Morning.” Though this is not the one she has written for the inauguration, it very well could be the magnificent anthem of hope that all of us need.

The Homework Gap

For this week’s anti-racist post, I would like to thank Tiffany Arce (@tarce29) for sharing the video below on Twitter. The video was created in support of the 1 Million Project, which was formed in 2017 to give more students access to high-speed internet at home. The initial concern was the academic rift that was being created between students with and without this advantage on homework assignments. As we all know, that rift became gargantuan when entire school days ended up online due to the pandemic.

The embedded video is a simple demonstration of the difference that high-speed internet access can make during one activity on one day in the life of a student. Aside for the fact that the quality and quantity of homework assignments is a topic that needs to be addressed in our education system, I think that we need to accept the fact that high speed internet access has become a necessity rather than a luxury. Even as we are in the process of distributing vaccines right now, people in many parts of the country are at a huge disadvantage if they cannot receive digital information about the availability and method for signing up.

According to the data, an inordinate amount of students who do not have any or adequate internet connections at home are students of color. This is another example of how systemic racism continues to suppress student achievement in education.

If you are a teacher, please consider this carefully when you assign any work to be done at home. In addition, we all need to do what we can to rectify this by supporting programs that provide high speed internet to entire communities instead of just a privileged few.

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.