with Michelle Cameron
This Week’s Critiques
We heard some great stories this week. As part of our critiques, we discussed:
Working on Description
This week’s prompt was a selection of evocative photos. They put beautiful or disgusting imagery in their pieces, and know they can and should take it even further.
We discussed some of what makes a great descriptive piece:
Next week, 10/7, we will revise the first of several pieces.
As part of this week’s homework, they should refine the piece they select to bring into class until it is the best they can make it. I’ve asked them to take this seriously and follow the following guidelines:
- Fix it and read it again until they’re satisfied that it works.
Next week, they should bring in three copies of their work:
Make sure that work adheres to these formatting requirements:
Bring in up to five pages of a work in progress.
Yes, They Still Have to Write, Too!
As usual, please have your students work on one of the following:
It’s fine if they want this to be the piece we revise.
An Open invitation to All
Polygons in the Machine
with Kim Rodgers
On Monday, we continued working with the Fabulous Function Machine by using polygons! “Polygons?” the kids asked. Yes! After suggesting many different types of polygons to put into the machine, some of them finally started seeing a pattern with the number that came out (the output was the number of edges of the polygon +1). We decided to write another T-chart next to the one we were using, substituting digits for the number of sides, along with the output. Now the lightbulbs really started going off! Once the kids saw the numbers line up, the pattern was easier to see. Using their journals, they wrote in words what they thought was going on in the Function Machine. Explaining mathematical thinking using written words is something a lot of kids don’t have experience with, but is an important skill to develop.
The next function that went into the machine had two steps to solve. Many strategies were used, one of which was focusing on numbers that were easy to work with, like: 0, 1, and 10. These numbers are small and help us see patterns, often allowing us to spot clues that are harder to see with larger, random numbers. While we were performing this function, some students thought they had it figured out, but one pair of numbers had them stumped. It didn’t fit with the pattern the other pairs were displaying. A couple of the students mentioned it, and lo and behold, I was the one who had written the wrong output! I told them it is always good to ask questions, because even adults can make mistakes!
We finished up class with a puzzle. Pairs of students were challenged to figure out a way to take 10 index cards, with one number each from 1-10, and put them in an order that would allow the cards to be dealt out in a certain way. When their stack was turned upside down the first card they flipped over had to be 1. The next card they put on the bottom of the deck. The next card they flipped had to be 2. The following card went on the bottom of the deck...and so on until they had a pile of cards in order with 1 on the bottom and 10 on the top. Each group had their own story of the strategy or strategies they used to figure this one out. A few groups got each other’s e-mail addresses to make sure they finished before class next week. At the beginning of class they will share their journey to figuring out the answer. Much of the challenge with algebra is figuring out a strategy that helps you solve the problem. If one isn’t working you switch to another! Reminding kids to break down a problem into manageable parts is one of the goals for the class.
Next week we encounter a malfunction with Professor Arbegla’s Fabulous Function Machine. Can we help her fix it?
Foundations of Philosophy (Ages 9-11)
with Sally Zeiner
In Leo Lionni's picture book, Frederick, a community of mice prepares for the winter by gathering food. Frederick gathers colors and words. Was this necessary? Was this work? What is work?
In Monday's class, the students grappled with these questions. These are difficult questions, not easily answered. We do not look for one right answer in class, but instead work to express ourselves, to listen respectfully, and then reconsider our positions in light of new ideas. Ask your students what they think work is after this week's conversation. Many students thought work should include effort and purpose. What does your student think?
Next week we will be discussing Chapters I, IV, and V of Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children. Please ask your student to bring his or her book, as it is very helpful to ground ideas and comments in the text as we begin our conversations. We will start by working out a basic understanding of Robin Hood's life and times before moving on to discuss the ethical issues raised by the stories.
Philosophy for Children (Ages 12-14)
with Rich Piscopo
Monday's class flowed with a little less fluidity due to tackling a very deep and complicated concept: What is quality? How do we know when something is good? I asked how one person could see a movie and say it was good, and another person can see the same movie and say it was bad. How can this phenomenon occur?
I referred to Socrates who asked (paraphrased for class use), "Do you like something because it's good, or is it good because you like it?"
This led to a review of Plato's Theory of Forms, which states that there exists an absolute, universal, perfect essence of Goodness. Goodness is not relative. Even if no humans ever existed, this essence of Goodness would still exist. I countered this with the view that Goodness is relative. That, as one student put it, under one setting something can be good, but under a different setting the same thing can be bad.
Through our continued dialogue, we revealed that in order to tell if something is good or bad, we need something to compare it to. We need to establish a basis of comparison. But, can't a thing be good in and of itself, without having anything to compare it to? I used the example of a Stradivarius violin. Does this violin of exceptional quality exist as good, in and of itself, without needing another violin to compare it to? Or, is its quality defined by comparing it to other violins?
How do we proceed with this conundrum? As I mentioned last week, we begin by defining our terms and establishing criteria. I introduced the thinking skill of establishing criteria by first defining what criteria are. This went slowly at first, but all students eventually understood the concept that criteria are standards or principles of comparison which we use when we make a judgment. All students were able to apply this concept by the end of class. Since this idea may not have quite set in, however, I will open class next week by reviewing and practicing using this skill until it is mastered.
Knowing how to establish criteria is a very fundamental critical thinking skill. All of our decision making is based upon it. It is therefore worth the time and effort invested in mastering it.
I ended class by saying to the students that in our search for Goodness, immediate answers are not as important as the process of figuring out one's own set of principles, one's own standards, one's own criteria with which one makes sense of the world.
From Nomads to Agriculture!
Our morning began with a review of vocabulary from last weeks class. Students read aloud questions I had prepared on worksheets and then wrote the answers, recalling how to spell each term using our Word Wall. We talked about what makes a syllable and practiced clapping out syllables for a variety of words. It was great to see those that can read and spell assisting other students that are just learning!
Next, I had students draw and cut out crescent shapes from construction paper in preparation for our reading of Story of the World, Chapter 1. We gathered in our reading circle and learned about the life of nomads and the advent of agriculture along the Tigris and Euphrates river in the Fertile Crescent. Students began to color and label maps of this area to see how the geography resembles a crescent shape. We also spent some time discussing cave paintings as an early form of art and communication. Students looked at several pictures of cave paintings and asked some very insightful questions about what materials ancient people used to make paint. Next week we will continue our exploration of cave painting art when students work to create their own cave painting scenes in class!
Building a Shaduf
In the afternoon, after reading about the advent of agriculture and irrigation in the Fertile Crescent, students enjoyed more time outside as we used a variety of household materials to build our own working shaduf.
We wrapped up our day learning a new math game. We used dice and craft sticks to practice adding up to one hundred, making sure to trade in every 10 ones for a bundle (10).
Try this one at home together!
with Leigh Ann Yoder
Last week we focused on how computers represent numbers and letters using binary code. We kicked off this week with a review of our homework and a simple magic trick using the binary number system. Your student should be able to easily perform this trick, but more importantly should be able to explain it!
The lesson this week was Image Representation. Computers store drawings, photographs, and other pictures using only numbers. The activities we did together demonstrated how they do this.
As a precursor to the activities, we needed to have an understanding of what a Picture Element is, otherwise known as, Pixel. We also had to define compression.
We focused on one simple compression method called run-length encoding used mostly by FAX machines, but I also spoke briefly about other methods including the popular GIF, JPEG and PNG. Although I wouldn’t expect students to completely understand these terms, they should know they represent different methods of compressing images. Students should also be familiar with the terms lossy and lossless.
If students are interested in delving deeper into this subject they can start HERE.
Homework and Videos
Parents and students were emailed a detailed list of homework due for next week's class. In addition, please watch the following video on cybercrime, as it may be of interest to both students and parents:
Also, please make sure to view this video from last week (some students did not watch it!).
with Michelle Cameron
The Art of Critiquing
Today was the first opportunity we had to critique writing the students did at home. Quite a number of them chose to refine the stories they began in last week's class. We reviewed the rules of critiquing and the kids did a great job of not speaking while their work was being discussed.
Among the topics we touched upon as a result of their work:
Today's prompt involved creating a character. We used The Writers Circle personality and situation card decks, to give the writers a starting point from which to create their characters. The stories they started were inventive and there was a lot of laughter around the circle as they read these early drafts.
But, as we discussed, we've just touched the tip of the iceberg regarding character development. I'd like them to focus on this during their homework.
For homework this week, students have the following options:
I'm really enjoying working with your young writers and look forward to next week!
Foundations of Philosophy (Ages 9-11)
with Sally Zeiner
I hope that your children enjoyed our first philosophical discussions as much as I did. They are a thoughtful and articulate group of children. I know you all would have been proud of their insightful remarks today on the nature of bravery.
We began by going over the class rules which are simple: please do the reading, come prepared with the book, the syllabus, binder, and pencil or pen, and arrive on time. I told the students that I know it is often Mom or Dad who is the last one to be ready to go out the door, and so they should try to help as much as possible in the mornings.
We also talked about the rules for our philosophical discussions. We are going to be challenged to think carefully about our answer before we speak, and to be very thoughtful and offer examples when we disagree with another student's position on a question. As you might imagine, these are skills that will be very useful.
Today we also read "Dragons and Giants" and "Cookies" from Frog and Toad Together. We spent much of the class discussing what makes an act brave. Some of the students are still working on writing up their final positions on bravery to turn in to me next week. We ended the class by discussing willpower. All students should write their positions in answer to the following question: Is it true that giving all of the cookies to the birds means that Frog and Toad "have lots and lots of willpower"? Please make sure that they explain their positions (just a couple of sentences will be enough).
For next week, students should read Frederick by Leo Lionni. Please find a copy of Stories of Robin Hood Told to Children; we will be reading three chapters for our third week.
Have a wonderful week!
Philosophy for Children (Ages 12-14)
with Rich Piscopo
At the beginning of every year, I put much effort into rebuilding the trust we enjoyed at the end of the last year. My main objective at this point is to form our "community of inquiry", which, of course, is based upon trust.
A student (or any person) needs a nonjudgmental environment before they will share their thoughts. By the end of class, we began to arrive at where I want us to be. That feeling of exploring together began to emerge.
We covered lots of ground in our review of chapters one and two of Lisa. The question was asked, "How do we know what the right thing to do is?" We explored the question of what code or principle we should use with which to guide our lives. This is exactly what Lisa and her friends in the novella are seeking. We all agreed that reason is a good guide for our lives (in the way Socrates used it to guide his life). But, also like Socrates, we agreed that we should always be open to new ideas and new evidence, much as a good scientist remains open to new ideas and evidence.
So, onward with the journey of discovery!
Next week we begin chapter three of Lisa, where we will explore the idea of quality. How do we know when something has quality? How do we know when something is good? How do we measure the value of an idea? By its consequences? Can an idea be inherently valuable, or do we ascribe value to it?
We begin this search by defining our terms, then establishing our criteria. As usual, I'm sure it will be a very interesting class!
with Kim Rodgers
Our first day together began by talking about respect in the classroom and how to be able to have a discussion with a group of 11, showing with our body language how we were listening to each other. We then went around sharing our names and a mathematical operation that represented ourselves...or one we just liked!
Here’s where the class dove into our first challenge! Professor Arbegal sent us her Fabulous Function Machine. Using a T-chart, the students had to figure out what was going on inside the machine. The first few times we used it, students found themselves over-thinking what could be happening, which was a good first lesson. Don’t overlook what might be quite simple! They broke into groups and came up with a function of their own. This was challenging as well, because they wanted it to be difficult for the other groups. I had to remind them that the goal wasn’t necessarily to stump the others, but to create one that required some problem solving in a manageable way. After some tweaking, the groups got together and presented their functions.
I was so impressed with this group’s ability to participate right away. I stressed with them that they weren’t expected to be right all the time, but that they were expected to TRY. Every single student displayed this right from the start.
I didn’t assign any homework, but if they are interested, they can come up with some functions for your family to solve. Next week, we will introduce more sophisticated functions and begin putting together an Algebra Toolbox.
See you then!
with Leigh Ann Yoder
We are off to a great start in CSU, and WOW did we cover a lot this week! I started with an introduction to the class and an overview of some of the things we will be learning this semester. The goal of the class is to familiarize the students with computers which are EVERYWHERE in their lives. It makes sense to understand how they work. It is also important to think about the social issues, performance issues and human issues which computers present to us every day. All students will learn what the field of Computer Science really is, and hopefully, a few will become interested enough to pursue it further.
We jumped right into our first unit called Data: The Raw Material. Students now understand the difference between data and information. Data is the raw material that computers work with and information is the real-world entity that is represented by the data. Our focus this week was how data is stored and transmitted as a series of zeros and ones, also known as binary numbers. The students applied the concept and learned how to represent words and numbers in binary code.
For fun, ask your student how high they can count using the fingers on just one hand (hint…the answer is not five) -- you might be surprised! Then ask them to show you how.
We had a mini-math lesson comparing the binary system to the decimal system. I only expect students to have a general understanding of these higher-level math concepts. Often I will teach concepts that I know are above many of the students, but this brief exposure will hopefully aid them as they progress in their studies. For students that are interested in learning more about number systems, here is a great video:
If students want to practice the skill of converting numbers between binary, octal, decimal and hexadecimal, here are some worksheets. They should have a basic understanding of how data is managed in RAM (electricity), on a hard drive (magnetism) and on DVD's (using light). They should also be familiar with the terms bit, byte, and ASCII. Most importantly, they should understand how a computer stores numbers and letters.
I told you we covered a lot! I hope the students enjoyed the first class and are excited to learn more about the field of Computer Science.
It was a pleasure welcoming all our six to eight year old students in class today as we kick off our semester of Egyptian Exploration!
Our morning class began with an introduction to History, as we asked the question: How do we come to know things about the past?
I read aloud from the Introductory Chapter of The Story of the World, Volume 1 which discussed what it means to "do history". Students shared some fun facts about their own personal histories from stories they know of their birth and infancy, and we learned about the two basic methods for uncovering information about the past:
We began to build our Word Wall, which we will continue to expand on with new vocabulary as the semester progresses. Today's words were: History, Archeologist, Artifact, Continent, Egypt. We will develop both language and writing skills as students learn the definitions of new words and practice writing and spelling them each week.
When Sally joined our early elementary class to lead the instruction in the afternoon, they were happy to tell her about their morning's work. They showed her Egypt on the map, and proudly told her that it was on the continent of Africa. Then we found and named the other continents. Some of these children already knew about the first continent Pangaea. After talking about Pangaea we took a look at the insides of our planet, and drew our own cut outs of the earth. Children who are comfortable writing labeled the parts of the earth.
Our class has a wide range of abilities and experiences with reading, writing, and math, and this is absolutely age appropriate. To assess each child's grasp of number and quantity I started by reading Math Fables. As we worked through the stories we made the numbers with cuisenaire rods, concluding by finding all of the ways to make 10. As the semester unfolds, children will be working in small groups in math according to their individual needs.
This is a delightful and engaged group of children and we are looking forward to working together!
See you all next week!
Jayne & Sally