person pointing on a miniature toy robot
Computer Science, K-12

Day of AI

I know, I know. You’ve got tons of curriculum to cover and here I am telling you about learning that isn’t going to be on a standardized test. But here are a few things that might change your mind about participating in Day of AI 2022: it’s on May 13 (so many of you will be done with standardized tests, or close to finished and we all know how challenging it is to keep students engaged at the end of the school year), you don’t have to do it on the exact date, you need absolutely NO experience, and the resources and participation are absolutely free.

No matter what your opinion is of Artificial Intelligence, the fact is that it is becoming more and more prominent in our everyday lives. Explaining it to our students, and educating them on the potential good and bad ways that AI can impact their lives makes sense — and the resources provided on the Day of AI page are fascinating and relevant. (There are more to come, but you do need to sign up for the free registration to access them.) There will be activities for grade K-12, and you might find, as I did while looking at the materials, that you learn some things you didn’t know as well.

One of the most popular posts in recent months on this blog has been the one I did last year on AI generated poetry, so I know that there is definitely some interest in this topic among my readers. Code.org has dedicated an entire section on AI lessons for students here, and I have a Wakelet collection of other educational resources on Artificial Intelligence as well. From Blueprints for Alexa to Machine Learning for Kids, and multiple fun Google Experiments, there a multiple ways to help your students understand the basics of AI and consider its implications while having fun.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
3-12, Math

Make and Solve Balance Puzzles with Mathigon’s PolyPad

Mathigon is one of the many free resources I’ve included in my Wakelet, “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.” It is rich with incredible interactive lessons that are visually appealing as well. Some examples I’ve mentioned in the past are the “puzzle a day” every December, its “Almanac of Interesting Numbers,” mathematical origami, the “Panorama” tool for seeing mathematical applications in careers, and “Alice in Fractal Land,” which you can find on the Activities page. (The Patterns and Sequences lesson is a good tie-in to the 12 Days of Christmas lesson I posted last week.)

One of the many tools I haven’t mentioned that you can find on the Mathigon site is “Polypad.” I was reminded of this when I saw a Tweet from @DavidPoras that showcased a fun way to customize some puzzles using the Algebra balance scale. In a way it reminds me of “Solve Me Mobiles” and the Balance Benders books we used to use in my elementary classroom or those Facebook math riddles that get passed around from time to time. With his permission, here is a screenshot of David’s Tweet:

See this idea from @DavidPoras on Twitter here.

In case you don’t have Twitter, here is the link to David’s puzzle. If you want to make your own, he also gave this link for the tutorial. (One thing to note that I didn’t see in the tutorial is that you can use the image icon in the menu at the bottom of the screen to upload your own images.) You can find more tutorials here. The Question Builder and Link Sharing videos will be helpful if you are making this type of activity. Creating your own puzzles does require free registration, and you will want to go into your Dashboard in your account and make sure you are registered as a Teacher in order to see the Question Builder tool.

If you happen to make more of these, please share on the comments. I will be adding this to my Math Wakelet, as well as my December/Winter one (under Stem). I might have a bit of time to create a few more puzzles, as I know teachers are short on time, and will share them here and on the December Wakelet if I do.

Thanks to David for the inspiration and to Mathigon for providing such an incredibly engaging site!

3-12, Anti-Racism, Science

What is Medical Racism, and How Can We Educate Our students About It?

I was listening to a show on NPR the other day that made my mouth drop. The program claimed that many Black Americans are automatically placed lower on kidney transplant waiting lists due to their race. Today. In the year 2021. It turns out that there is a formula used to calculate how well your kidney is functioning, and this GFR tool includes an adjustment for Black people based on an assumption made years ago that their genetic makeup enabled their kidneys to filter better than White people who had the same filtration rate. You can read more about this, and the faulty reasoning that that led to this biased math here. It seems that a task force has recently mandated that this variable should be removed from the calculation, and it has already been removed from some health care systembs, but how many people have died waiting for a transplant as a result of this widely applied algorithm?

I had, of course, heard about racism in healthcare before. For example, there are reports that Black patients are prescribed pain medication at much lower rates than White ones because of the stereotype that they are “faking it so they can get drugs.” And this is not isolated to Black Americans; other people of color are also victims of biased treatment. I think what surprised me about the kidney story was that there was an actual formula, embedded deeply in the medical field, overtly designed to ignore other symptoms in favor of a person’s race.

In other words, systemic racism.

There are movements to address these problems in medicine such as changes in medical school curriculums. But I wanted to find out if there are things we can do before students attend post-graduate school, as not all children will become doctors. Some of them may end up in fields like pharmaceutical research, marketing, or policy making that could also impact health care.

Parents Magazine has a good article by Danielle Broadway, “How to Teach the History of Racism in Science Class,” that gives some solid recommendations for teachers. Beginning with the “Teaching Hard History Framework” from Learning for Justice for K-5 to examining the cases of Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in high school, students can learn lessons from past mistakes and analyze current ones. Another resource I would add is this TED Talk from Dorothy Roberts.

As with my other Anti-Racist posts, I will add this to my Wakelet. I hope that it is a helpful resource for teachers who want to make the world more just.

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

3-12, Math

Math Fun with The 12 Days of Christmas 2021 Style

Interesting math patterns make me happy, so I really enjoyed doing a unit on math masterpieces with my 4th graders several years ago that included Fibonacci, Sierpinski, Pascal, and the 12 Days of Christmas. Unfortunately, several of the links that I included in that post back in 2016 no longer exist. But the good news is that some newer ones have surfaced. Time, then, to go back to the drawing board…

If I was doing this lesson today, I would begin by posing the question of how we could figure out exactly how many presents the extremely generous “true love” would have purchased by the end of the famous “12 Days of Christmas” song. After some discussion, suggestions, and student collaboration (and maybe listening to this funny version from Straight No Chaser), I would then introduce this great spreadsheet Eric Curts just posted. It will help students think about their math and learn a few spreadsheet skills. After students complete this and you debrief, you could then ask them what they think the price of all of those gifts would add up to today. PNC has a nice summary of the cost of each gift and the total, but don’t show it to them until you’ve gotten some estimates! Students who need a challenge could be tasked with designing a new spreadsheet for those calculations.

Next class, I would introduce them to Pascal’s triangle. I wouldn’t tell them what it is at first. I would give them this worksheet, this one, or the first page of this one to complete. You can see on the latter link that there are some additional pages that give suggestions for patterns students can look for in the triangle once they have successfully added the correct numbers. Even more patterns can be found here. Note the Fibonnacci numbers, and how you can get Sierpinski’s triangle by coloring in certain numbers! And then, you can point out the pattern, shown here, that reveals how many total presents are received each day. (The printable triangles I linked to don’t have that many rows, so it’s up to you if you want them to make that connection on their own.)

For more advanced students, you can show them this video, which demonstrates how Pascal’s Triangle can be used to find coefficients or probability. Here is an interactive from Mathigon for those students who want to go deeper, too. Shodor also has an online triangle you can manipulate and color as well as recommended lessons. This Geogebra one is fun to play with, too.

If you’re loving these math resources, don’t forget that you can go to my Wakelet page, where I have links to two different math collections full of engaging activities, “Math, Art, and Nature” and “Math Sites that Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.” You’ll also find my December collection and Fun Stuff!

3-5, 5-8, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Writing

Coding with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.

Books, Creative Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

Gifts for the Gifted Teacher — Creative Acts for Curious People

I’ve been doing my “Gifts for the Gifted” series for almost 9 years. Though I freely admit that the title is a bit of a misnomer because my recommendations are not just for students who have been identified as gifted, I am about to launch another series that may also be misunderstood. At least no one can accuse me of inconsistency. With that in mind, here is the inaugural post of “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher.” While I got a lot of joy out of the books, games, and toys I’ve bought for my students over the years, there are some things that I just think are great for teachers, themselves (which will indirectly benefit their students, so win/win). And during these times when teachers are, quite frankly, getting the shaft, I would like to make some explicit recommendations for anyone who wants to show their appreciation to an educator with a thoughtful gift.

Definition of Gifted Teacher: An educator who loves to learn and to challenge, engage, and empower her/his/their students with relevant and meaningful curriculum. p. 1 of the Engage Their Minds Dictionary, 2021

My first entry for “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher” (oops, that almost became “Gifs for the Gifted Teacher” which I am now officially copyrighting for my next series…) is a book called, Creative Acts for Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg. The foreword is written by David M. Kelley, (not to be confused with David E. Kelley, famous writer/producer of a billion television dramas) the founder of IDEO and a professor at Stanford. David M. Kelley is someone I’ve admired ever since I’ve done my deep dive into design thinking, and Stanford’s d.school is the dream school that I would have totally applied to if it existed thirty something years ago.

The book is thick, which is always a huge plus for me. It is full of activities curated by Sarah Stein Greenberg from great design thinkers at the d.school and beyond, and includes some challenges to try out. Though I see teachers finding it to be an awesome resource, I feel like anyone who has had a problem to solve or may have one to solve in the future could use Creative Acts for Curious People. It’s not just about brainstorming new ideas, but looking at things through different lenses, team building, and working to develop empathy. Altogether, there are 81 Creative Acts in this book, and many could be used with any age group.

I took this book on a trip, and devoured it quickly. My one regret was that I forgot to bring a highlighter, so I’m now re-reading the book and highlighting suggestions that give me ideas. In other words, I am basically coloring every page. I was going to wait until I finished this task to write this review but I got so pumped while I was doing it that I stopped to type this post instead.

I am going to restrain myself from gushing about each and every activity, and just give you a couple of samples. A simple one that you could easily use with students in elementary and up is “Expert Eyes”, where you assign them a place to walk around and make observations on their own by drawing them. Then you have them walk with someone else (for school this could be a buddy from another grade level, parent, teacher, volunteer, etc…) and do the same walk and draw what the companion describes out loud. Depending on the age, do this one or two more times with different people. Then compare the drawings from each time and discuss the new insights you might have gained from looking at the same area through someone else’s eyes. Simple but powerful.

Another example I got really excited about is “The Monsoon Challenge” which would probably be better for older students. The assignment was given in a course called, Design for Extreme Affordability, and the students had to design something to collect as much “rain” as possible. The rain was a sprinkler on a ladder. With less than a week and $20 for each team, the students needed to ideate, build and (hopefully) test prototypes that could be adjusted and ready for the class day of the demonstration. I won’t give away one of the truly genius solutions one group designed, but it’s worth reading the book to find out!

If you know a teacher or leader of problem-solvers who is innovative and loves to guide others through the design process, this book would be the perfect gift for them. I know I will be incorporating a lot of the ideas in my workshops and would have enjoyed using them with my students when I was in the classroom. You can get Creative Acts for Curious People where I purchased it, Nowhere Bookshop, or your favorite independent bookstore. I’ll also be adding this recommendation to my collection of “Books for Maker Ed/Design Thinking.”