Coming back after all these years?

It’s been many years since I used this blog. Many years. In the time since I last blogged about my class at Trillium Charter School a lot of things have happened. I left Trillium 5 years ago to start work at Opal Charter School which is a Reggio Emilia inspired school located within the Porland Children’s Museum. It was a year of learning in many many ways but when the opportunity opened up at Catlin Gabel school to start a brand new position as the school’s first Academic Technology Coordinator, I jumped at it. For the last 4 years I have had the opportunity to try something completely new. After 16 years as a classroom teacher it wasn’t easy to lose the daily experience of working with kids but at the same time it gave me more time to venture into new territory. One of the things that I have missed is the opportunity to just document what has been going on for me. Of course I have had plenty of opportunities to write, but I haven’t felt compelled to get back into blogging. That might very well be changing.

I have decided to reopen the use of this account. While I considered starting something completely new, I really like the idea of having years of blogging available as some context of my old life. I don’t want to just start from scratch, but rather return to something that I left alone for a while. I hope people might actually go back and look at some of my old posts and see what I was up to for all those years in the classroom. The work of democracy and equity is one of my great passions and I want to return to it.

Here we go….

Final Automata for the People

I’d love any and all feedback on this video and attached work. Comment or email me at robvannood@gmail.com. I completely loved everything about this project.

This is the final version of the documentary of the automata project my students did. This was a project that lasted for two months and includes the following writing work. The attached PDF (below) contains student self portraits, an artist statement, a photograph of their final automata and the story they wrote that centers around the automata itself. The stories are in alphabetical order. Enjoy. Automata for the People Stories

Automata Film Rough Cut

As the kids worked on creating automata part of my work was to document the process. Below are the two parts of the film so far that shows what steps we took along the way. This is the rough cut. There are many changes that I am working on for a final cut. I hope to burn a copy for each student. In addition I am creating a book that goes with the film that includes all the pieces that were presented at the Automata Exhibit (artist statement, self portrait and story based on the automata). I plan to publish this using Blurb and will send out the link for those who want to purchase a copy.

Singing!

Singing with Eron  (click here for the link)

For the Past four Thursdays we have been enjoying the chance to do some singing.  Breaking up into two groups (3rd/4th and 4th/5th) and getting a chance to sing for 50 minutes with kids from Jeremy’s advising has been a real treat.  The first couple of weeks we focused on warm ups and figuring out songs that we all want to sing together.  For the last few weeks we are just getting together and singing, while at the same time learning some techniques to better control our breathing and our voices.

Experiments

One of the requirements that the state sets is that each student has scored work samples in math, writing, speaking and science. We have been doing all of these things throughout the year but we dont often do the kind of scoring the state asks for. The scoring itself, based on rubrics are actually decent ways to measure progress and understanding in these areas up and beyond testing.

Today we spent much of the day looking at creating a science work sample, more specifically around the scientific method of asking questions, posing hypothesis, setting up and performing experiments and analyzing results. As we have been doing so much work around toys I thought that would be a perfect place to design an experiment.

When the kids walked in this morning there were
Matchbox cars on the tables and I posed the challenge of coming up with questions that would allow for them to create experiments. We talked about different types of questions (verifiable, significant and experimental) and looked to see which ones they came up with fit in which category. We were looking for experimental ones and I asked kids to pick one they liked and begin to design an experiment which they could carry out tomorrow. Getting the right question and designing a good experiment around it isnt easy and I spent a lot of time pushing the kids to think deeply about their questions and how they could be answered.

Additionally Mila brought in a container filled with large owl pellets. This was a perfect opportunity to model a good experiment with them. I posed the question for them (what do owls eat and how much?) and they each came up with hypothesis. I then gave them the procedures which would help them come to an answer. This process is good scaffolding for them. It helps set up a clear process they can look back upon when creating their experiment about toy cars.

For the most part they really enjoyed digging in to the pellets and discovering what remains of birds, shrews, moles and rodents they could find. It takes a strong stomach and most of the kids really enjoyed it. We still need to finish cataloging the remains and graph the findings. Tomorrow we’ll do that as well as finish writing up theil experiments with cars.

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Automata for the people

Over the past few months we have been spending a lot of time learning about, designing, creating, experimenting and building automata.  My work, along with giving technical support and guidance, has been to document the process. Looking at a completed automata one doesn’t fully appreciate the amount of time, thought and effort that has gone into its creation. I wanted to make a short film that reveals that work.   Below is the first very rough cut. I am working with the kids to refine it, add more kids voice, and explanations.  If you have any thoughts or ideas please comment.

Group Conferencing

The writing process isn’t an easy one. I have always believed that writing is one of the hardest things that we learn to do. It involves so many different skills. You need to access your creativity, you need to be able to be organized and deal with frustration, and you need to be willing to take feedback and make changes based on what others are suggesting. Plus, you are really creating from nothing. THAT in itself isn’t easy, especially when you are expected to create in a way that makes sense for others. In other artist endeavors like dance, music and painting, the audience has room for interpretation, but with writing things need to make sense. There is a reason why not a lot of adults like to write or feel that they are any good. It is very difficult.

One of the great challenges, beyond the initial creations, is to then get feedback from others and make significant changes. Revising, for most writers, is a complicated task. When you have just finished a first draft it isn’t easy to then turn around and make changes to it. I have always supported this process using what is called the “6 Traits of Writing”. These traits help readers and writers identify certain aspects of writing and by doing so you narrow down focus. How many people have receive vague feedback from teachers or others in regards to their writing. “I liked this.” or “This doesn’t make sense”. or “Add more description.” The 6 traits let us give feedback specific to the writing. The 6 traits are…Ideas/Content, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Organization, Voice and Conventions. When we look at a piece of writing with these various lenses we can then more easily support the revision process. “Let’s focus on your word choice…..”

Along with teaching about the various traits I also help the students reflect on their own writing by having checklists that allow them to think about the traits. Once a piece of writing is finished students can use a checklist that asks them specific questions related to each trait. Do you have a lead that pulls people in? Do you start sentences in various ways? Are there places where descriptions are given using the senses? To sentences start with capitals and end with periods? etc. If there are things that students realize they have not done they can go back and make those changes on their own.

Following the individual reflection it is vital to get feedback from others. Having an audience makes the writing purposeful and it gives an opportunity to make changes that will help the audience understand or enjoy the piece more. But giving feedback isn’t easy either. A conference is a time to share work and get feedback and we use the same checklist. However, not everyone is able to give the kind of feedback that makes a significant difference even if there is a checklist to support the conversation. That means I spend a lot of time teaching how to conference. By modeling the conferencing process with the class everyone can start to see how a conference can and should be run.

Traditionally I have had students do one-on-one conferences. But the thing that I have begun to notice over the years is that students more often than not come back from those with only minor changes, regardless of the teaching and prep that we do. However, when we meet in larger groups, much more usable feedback is given. For that reason I have created conferencing teams, where groups of 3-4 kids meet together and use a group protocol that I have created (see photo below). This protocol is a structure for kids to give feedback mostly by asking questions of the writer. The idea is that the audience doesn’t give suggestions but rather shows where revisions can be done based on the questions that are asked.

For instance, Malachi was sharing a story with the group about a fish that was making its way from the ocean to the river and encountered obstacles in the form of sharks, damns and fishermen. As he was reading the group would ask questions “what kind of fish was it?” What was the river like?” “How big was the shark?” “What about using the word sniff instead of smell as it is more interesting?” These questions then can be taken back to be used to revise. The questions present a means for the writer to think about the places where they can rework their piece.

The pictures below are ones of kids conferencing together about their Automata stories.

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Sharing instruments

Friday, the day before Emilee left on a 3 week trip to Europe, the kids had a chance to share the instruments they have created. Kids showed how their instruments worked and talked about things they were proud of and places for improvements. It was the culmination of three weeks of musical instrument design with Emilee.

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Adding stories to our Automata

The original idea behind the automata was to design a toy for the toy company. But as we have spent so much creating the majority of the students have begun to express reservations about selling their work. I don’t blame. We discussed alternative ideas and what emerged was an art gallery where kids could make a personal choice about selling or not.

Additionally I am asking them to create stories that will go with the automata. If the automata was just a scene or moment in time how could they build a story around it? Many kids were ready to just jump right in and get their pencil on paper. Others needed to talk things out with a small group. One way to help shape a story is to have others ask questions. This questioning allows a common shaping of a story. For kids that struggle with getting ideas or starting a story this process can be very helpful. In the photo below one student is standing in front of a series of starting questions that others build upon with questions of their own. After doing an initial large group questioning kiss got in small groups. After 30 minutes we all got together and kids got up and read what they had.

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