Archive | January, 2013

Using Disney’s Short Film, “Paperman”

30 Jan

Disney just released their short film that’s nominated for an Academy Award, Paperman.

Like most Disney shorts, it’s adorable: romantic, nostalgic, humorous.  The film tells the tale of an office worker who meets a pretty girl on a metro line.  He loses track of her when she boards the train, only to see her again from across a sea of office skyscrapers.  He repeatedly tries, and fails, to get her attention again by throwing paper airplanes,  until at last they meet.

This is a cute movie to use in class for literacy instruction.  There’s a lot you could do with it.

Possible teaching points:

Movie watcher, like readers, predict what will happen next by thinking about what a character has done in the past, and using it to make a logical guess about what he or she will do in the future.

You could stop the film in multiple places to have students predict the next action(when he first throws a paper plane out the window, when he is looking at his last piece of paper, when all the papers are sitting on the ground.)

Or, if you’re not into prediction right now, you could work on envisioning.

Movie watchers, like readers, use the setting to help them understand the mood and tone of the story.  They do this by looking at color, environment, and sound.

The grey of the cartoon contrasted with the red of the kiss practically begs for kids to talk about the significance of color choice.  We can hope kids notice the stark, tall, uniform office buildings, the mindless uniformity of the workers.  Even the harsh rectangularity of the boss versus the kinder roundness of our hero and heroine–it all contributes to the mood and meaning of the piece.

Or, if you want to keep it simple and focused:

Movie watchers, like readers, notice when someone lingers on an object or repeats it frequently.  Lingering or repetition tell us that the object is significant for some reason.

This film does a great job of repeatedly coming back to that paper with the kiss…as an adult, it seems clear to me what it represents, but kids could have a meaningful and enlightening discussion on what it was supposed to show.  (Although, I’m aware that for some classrooms focusing on the paper with the kiss might also elicit quite a few embarrassed moans and gagging noises from the boys :).

Disney short films in general are great teaching tools for characters’ feelings and actions, symbolism and mood.  Have fun with them!


Who Needs a Peptalk?

26 Jan

Possibly the best video ever made encouraging everyone to “do something to make the world dance.”

Growth Mindset

26 Jan

Growth mindset–the idea that we don’t have a fixed intelligence, and that failure is a way of learning–is all the rage in education.  I believe 100% in the concept, even as I struggle daily with having a very fixed mindset about my own performance and intelligence.  The good news is that Carol Dweck, the guru of growth mindset, has research that suggests that a person’s belief about their own (or other’s) intelligence can shift from a fixed belief to a growth belief.

The even better news is that she, and others, have created tools to help us with the change.

Brainology , the online program that she and Eduardo Briceno founded, provides a curriculum for teachers of 5th-9th grade students.  The program teaches students about growth mindset and the idea of seeing your brain as a muscle that you can develop.

Eduardo Briceno also gave a Ted Talk on growth mindset.

JK Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address eloquently addresses the idea that failure is often necessary for success and fulfillment.

We had a wonderful school psychologist who used to remind us of how long children struggled and failed before they learned to walk.  When we’re young, we all believe we can succeed if we try, and try again.

This crazy video also shows people not afraid of failure…I’m sure they failed frequently to be able to accomplish the physical feats they pull off!  Wouldn’t it be great if we kept that sense that we could do it, that failure was really just an opportunity to learn and get better?

Hurray for Jerry Brown

24 Jan

His State of the State address was the first time I’ve actually been excited to hear a report on California’s “yearly progress.”  I’ve excerpted about half of what he said about education…I think he hits the nail right on the head.  I bolded phrases I particularly liked :).



Edmund G. Brown Jr.

State of the State Address

Remarks as Prepared

January 24, 2013Education

The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child.

We seem to think that education is a thing—like a vaccine—that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” 

This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students.

Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured. I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work – lighting fires in young minds. 

My 2013 Budget Summary lays out the case for cutting categorical programs and putting maximum authority and discretion back at the local level—with school boards. I am asking you to approve a brand new Local Control Funding Formula which would distribute supplemental funds — over an extended period of time — to school districts based on the real world problems they face. This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help. Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice. 

Shel Silverstein and Math

23 Jan


Shel Silverstein poems are always fun, and many of his works can be used during math instruction.  A few years ago I asked the class how much money the boy lost in the poem “Smart.”  One student painstakingly worked out the exchanges of dollars to quarters to dimes to nickels to pennies, adding the cents together and then subtracting the decimals with agonized groans.  At least that’s how I remember it.

At the end of class, as everyone shared their work, he heard a fellow student say, “all I really had to do was stop and think that he started with a dollar and ended with 5 pennies, which is a difference of 95 cents.”  When he realized the difference in their strategies, I thought his head would explode.  But he did learn a good lesson: stopping to think before you jump in to calculating can save you a lot of pain in the end. As a teacher I can’t help but think, “that was a lot of good math practice he had, too!”

Here are some questions you can use with poems to spark some great math thinking.

Shel Silverstein Math and Poetry

These problems vary a lot in difficulty.  Some would be fine for upper-elementary students, some are probably more at the middle school level.  You can modify them as you see fit, but they give you an idea of the kinds of questions you can ask.

I would have students work on these problems in pairs or small groups (and I would probably have done some lessons with one of the poems whole class, to model some strategies for attacking the problems.)  I can also imagine this being an activity that would look great as  a presentation, with the poem on a poster and the students showing with pictures, numbers, and words, how they solved the problems.

The Illuminations website also has a lesson relating Silverstein’s “Shape” poem to a math lesson.

Reading Rates

21 Jan

A few days ago I posted about the reading log we developed at my school.  One of the components of the log is the goal that students will have at least 600 pages read of completed books each month.  Where did that number come from?  It came from research on reading rates and fluency, mainly by Tim Rasinski, and then presented at Columbia Teachers’ College.  Students grow more fluent as they improve as readers, but they also begin reading books that are longer, with more densely packed text.

The reading goal works for students who are in chapter books–anything from Horrible Harry on up.  I wouldn’t use it with K-1 students, or children who are still below a level L reading level.  It’s a more accurate gauge of a child’s volume of reading than just tracking the number of books finished, which is common in reading programs, because book lengths vary so greatly.  A child who finishes a Harry Potter novels has read 800 pages, for example, whereas one who has finished a Magic Treehouse book has only read about 70 pages.

Reading rate and fluency is closely linked to reading achievement.  Fluency isn’t just how fast you read, of course.  It also involves prosody (the stress and intonation of your speech), expression, and the idea that you slow down when the reading is difficult or dense, and speed up when it’s easier.  The goal of 600 pages per month only addresses the first issue, of reading rate.

A teacher at my school made up a handout, the ReadingRateBookLengthChart, to give to parents at Back to School Night that explains the relationship between reading rate, reading level, and finished books.

A Smatter of Links

19 Jan

Vocabulary results from the 2011 NAEP show that, not surprisingly, stronger vocabulary is correlated with higher reading comprehension scores.  The test measured students’ knowledge of vocabulary words in multiple contexts.  For example, students might understand the word “acute” as it refers to an angle in geometry, but not as it refers to a feeling in literature (such as “he was in acute pain.”

Kaiser family media study finds kids are watching an average 7 hours 38 minutes of media a day, or more than 53 hours per week.  Children who spent more time with media had comparatively lower grades than children who spent less time, and overall Black and Hispanic children spent more time with media than white children; Black children spend nearly 6 hours with media and Hispanics just under 5½ hours, compared to roughly 3½ hours a day for White youth.  The racial disparity has increased since 2004 from a 2 hour difference to a 4 hour difference.   The amount of reading has stayed constant, at an average of 25 minutes per day.

Engrade is a free digital gradebook that allows you to access grades online from computers, tablets, or mobile phones, as well as contact parents and input quizzes and tests.

Science Friday has a great video showing an Octopus’s ability to camouflage with its environment.


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