Friday, May 05, 2006

Kindergarteners trapping fairies

Here's a little bit of info on how Mrs. Wright, who teaches Kindergarten at Lakewood Elementary, tied in an Ann Arbor phenomeon... fairy doors. The activity is very creative and expressive. I'm very impressed how these students figured a way around "speaking softly" to encourage the fairies to come out!

Read more about the classroom experience at

This page has pictures of the "fairy traps" that the children devised. Don't forget to check out the rest of the site, which explains the whole fairy door concept.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

An environmental math activity

Caring for the environment is a hot classroom topic. While I'm sure teachers can find all kinds of curricula on the subject, here's a current events activity I'm making up as I go along. First, learn about GM's Hybrid Bus. Then, using some math projections, calculate the hybrid bus's impact on the environment.

Here's a great place to start:

This blog post talks about how much fuel hybrid buses can save each year. The fact is stated this way, "In fact, if America's nine largest cities replaced their transit fleets — totaling 13,000 buses — with GM's hybrid buses, the cities would save 40 million gallons of fuel each year — a greater savings than 500,000 small hybrid vehicles would produce."

Just how many math problems can a teacher extract from just that sentence?? It gets better! Someone posted a response suggesting that school districts could replace their current diesel buses with these hybrid buses. Can you calculate the fuel savings for your district's bus fleet if they went fully hybrid?

Wow. Social commentary, involvement in social media, all wrapped up in environmental science and pinned together with math.

It's amazing what you learn at every turn. Happy computing!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sometimes you just need to prove something by action

UC Berkeley integrative biologist Marian Diamond has been researching how good food, bright surroundings and fun toys coincide with better-developed brains in rats. She calls it "enrichment." Her program, "Enrichment In Action," begins to to create her dream of moving research from the stodgy labs to real-life application.

While the theory seems obvious to me, I have to really honor this woman for pouring 40 years into this idea, and taking action. She's out there, in Cambodia, "enriching environments" for children. They're healthier and happier because of her work. This is an awesome thing, because so many of us dream about it, but few actually *do* it.

Here's an article from Science Matters:

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Destination ImagiNation results

What an experience! It was my first year coaching a D.I. (Destination ImagiNation) team. I had four third-grade boys. (Yes, I thought many times, "kill me now!") We took on the improvisational challenge, with absolutely no presentation, acting or improv skills.

My son was one of the four boys. It was very frustrating for the boys, being the youngest in their level of competition, and with this being the first year they were actually going to get a score. They were very excited about the prospect of advancing to the state tournament. Honestly, I knew they wouldn't make it, but I really didn't want to rain on their parade. I kept a very open, "we'll see what happens," attitude.

Half-way through the process of preparing for competition, we fell apart. The boys were being boys, and I asked their teachers for help. Once the parents had been looped in to a very crazy game of "operator," everyone was hurt, angry, and we all wanted to throw in the towel. Except for four determined boys. Up to this point, D.I. was "fun," and, frankly, a chance to socialize outside of school. I struggled greatly with balancing letting them learn their own lessons, and preparing them for the *huge* challenge ahead. The last thing I wanted to do was to let them continue on their path of ... well, socializing... get to competition and be surprised that they were actually supposed to do research and practice some skills. As a coach, I couldn't sit back and let them do that.

Apparently, not sitting back -- pushing these boys -- was the right decision. I'd like to say that we took this DIsaster to a top-ranking team, but let's still be realistic. They were competing against fifth- and sixth-graders with many more years of experience than these boys. However, this team of four third-grade boys pushed themselves to pay attention during evening meetings. (Can anything be worse on a child?) They didn't fully "get it," just what they were supposed to accomplish, during these meetings, but they did try. Every week. The did not understand what they were supposed to be practicing and researching between meetings. But, they showed up the morning of competition, ready for whatever they were to face.

Okay, now for the results. The boys drew a very difficult combination of elements, one they knew from practice that was just going to be hard. They pulled together a skit and performed it. That right there satisfied my definition of accomplishment. For them, they scored 139 out of 300. It doesn't sound stellar, but their scores reflected points in every category. In other words, they did *everything* they were supposed to do. Maybe they didn't do it with the level of sophistication that was called for by the challenge's definition, but they did it.

These boys didn't let anything scare them. Even now, they have a much bigger sense of what they could have done, but they have a sense of pride because they participated and didn't give up.

I went into this competition day, fully committed to never looking back at D.I. once that performance was complete. I hated the entire process. I dreaded every meeting. But, now that we're done, I found myself staying behind to wait for the scores. Everyone from our team left, except my family. And when we got the scores and one element came back with a zero score, I challenged. I knew these boys knew that they had met this element, and I knew what I had to do. I challenged, and the judges agreed.

They gave us the points for including the element, and 0.83 points out of 25 for the way they included it. Yes, it's a pathetic score. But, now I can go back to them with that score sheet. And they'll listen. They'll have to, if they want to improve for their performance next year.