Tag Archives: empathy

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen.  It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book.  Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.

I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago.  Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person.  After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers.  She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis.  So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.

I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed.  The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms.  Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer.  She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore.  However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona.  Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different.  Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences.  Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.

This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up.  To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author.  If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.

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Tooth Traditions Around the World

Silvia Tolisano of the Langwitches Blog shared in this post how a teacher from Argentina is trying to help her first graders learn about the “tooth” traditions of other countries.  Students are invited to add to this Flipgrid their own stories about what happens when they hit that favorite milestone of losing a tooth. Similar to the other lessons that I’ve shared that help students to learn about commonalities and differences throughout the world, this is a wonderful idea for crowd-sourcing knowledge from our young people about a topic that means quite a bit to them!  Unfortunately, there is a disadvantage for those of us who are mono-lingual, as several of the videos that have already been shared may be in a language you do not know.  (I tried using Google Translate on my phone with some interesting results…)   Maybe including some hand-drawn pics like the one below might help.

I enjoyed hearing Maggie H.’s comparison of England and India (I think my students will be horrified to hear that some children plant their teeth!).  Considering the wide variety in monetary value that teeth seem to bring just within my tiny class, it might also be fun to research the currency exchanges mentioned and do some math along with your geography lesson.

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image from Cathy Meier on Flickr

This is How We Do It

My gifted and talented first graders study geography and choose different countries to research.  @storymamas recently tweeted about a book called, This is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe, and I thought it would be a good resource to use with this class.  Children like to see the differences and similarities of places around the world.  A few years ago, I sent out a Twitter plea for people from other countries to add pictures of their playgrounds to this slide show, and my students enjoy comparing the sites to our own and finding the locations on a map.

Lamothe went much further than collecting images on a slideshow for his book.  You can read about his writing process for This is How We Do It here.  He created all of the illustrations in his book based on photographs shared with him by families in seven different countries.  My students were fascinated with everything from how the featured children got to school to how they slept.  They were surprised by uncanny resemblances to our own culture (they have a Smarboard in their classroom, too!) as well as unimaginable contrasts (an entire family sleeping in one bed!)

You can download a free activity kit to accompany the book here.

Mom’s Dream Home

Since my 2nd graders are studying structures right now, it seems only right that they should design one of their own.  With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought I could make their designs seem more relevant if they had a “client” in mind.  I keep talking about the importance of empathy in Design Thinking, and they seem to have a difficult time empathizing with fictional characters, so I chose someone they might know a bit more.

We started by brainstorming things that their moms like.  One hand immediately went up.  “Facebook,” the student declared.  LOL, I thought, hoping this wasn’t about to become one of those situations where the students volunteered more information than needed to be shared in a public school setting…  My own daughter would probably respond, “Playing Sudoku on her iPad while she watches ‘Call the Midwife.'”

Fortunately, the rest of the responses were pretty standard.  “Peace and quiet” seemed pretty popular, as did “sleep” and “me.”  Some of the students suggested they also put things that their moms don’t like, such as shoes on the floor, to help them with their later designs.

After the students brainstormed decent lists, I showed them an example of a house floorplan.  We talked about what unique rooms we could add to customize a house for their mom.  “For example, you might like basketball so an indoor basketball court would be in your dream home.  But what would be in your mom’s?”

The floorplans are just rough drafts at the moment, but you can see a couple of examples below.  I’m still debating what the final product will look like.  Draw the outside of the house and do a green screen video?  Make a card with the house facade on the outside and the floorplan on the inside?  I think the moms will get a kick out of what their children think they value no matter what the medium of delivery, but I’d be happy to take any of your suggestions in the comments below!

By the way, if you would like some other ideas for Mother’s Day activities, here is my post from last year.

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This student decided to provide a literal “emergency escape hole”
Photo Apr 23, 12 55 54 PM
Note the Antique (anttek) Room, the giant facebook screen, Hawaii (Hawwi) waters, and the Stress (sress) Room.

The Bear and the Hare are Quite a Pair

One of my suggestions listed in “Telegenic Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break” is a lovely short video called, “The Bear and the Hare.”  It is actually a John Lewis advertisement, but these annual holiday commercials have become traditional favorites due to their outstanding artwork and storytelling.  I have a link in my original post to an activity that Joelle Trayers did with her students, asking them to use empathy to imagine what the bear might give the hare in return for its thoughtful gift.  I thought I would try it with my 2nd graders this year, and here are some of their responses:

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(a GPS collar)

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Empatico Registration Open

In July, I posted about a website, Empatico, which endeavors to match classrooms around the world.  The site is now offering free registration for teachers of 8-10 year olds who would like to participate.  There are four “Spark” activities to choose from. Empatico provides the lesson plan and downloadable resources for each one.  When you register, you select the activities that seem a good fit for your class, as well as the days of the week and times that will work for a live internet chat with another group of students working on the same project.  Empatico will e-mail you once the organization finds another classroom with similar interests so that you can then arrange a specific day and time for the students to virtually meet.

To register, visit Empatico, and click on any of the hyperlinks that offer, “Get matched with a class.”  It is recommended that you choose more than one activity in order to get matched more quickly.  Although this project is just beginning, it has a lot potential for helping students to see other perspectives and develop empathy.  According to the site, “As students learn together, they explore their similarities and differences with curiosity and kindness and develop practical communication and leadership skills.”  Programs like this can promote more understanding around the world, something that seems to be urgently needed in today’s society.

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Engage

Engage is a two minute video from “Let it Ripple” Film Studio (also the producers of The Science of Character).  It’s a good reminder that we only have a short time on this planet, so it’s important to make that time meaningful by helping others.  Accompanied by the soundtrack of, “Give a Little Bit,” by Rodger Hodgson, Engage might be the little nudge of inspiration that your students need to become more involved in the world around them. A similar video, which you can also find on my “Inspirational Videos for Students” Pinterest Board, is “The Time You Have (in Jellybeans).”

H/T to @ibceendy for sharing this link on Twitter!

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from Engage by Let It Ripple