DO Something

Our country’s values are making me sad.  More sad each week as news arrives of yet another black victim in the hands of a police officer.

I have spent much of the day reading social media as I never have before: reading articles, watching videos, and reflecting on the reflections of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances on Facebook.  Posting, reposting, reading and writing are all expressions of emotion, but I urge us, especially those of us who are white to make a promise to DO SOMETHING.  We have the privilege of choosing whether or not to speak up.  DO SOMETHING.

I have compiled the articles I have come across today which have been posted by those whose opinions I greatly admire and respect. While I haven’t yet read all of these articles, I found each through someone who always pushes me to think more deeply.  I plan to add to this list in the coming week and will repost this list again.  Please share additional links here in the comments, on my Facebook, or Twitter accounts and  I will add them to this list and read them myself.  This is barely a something in the act of “DO SOMETHING” but having these in 1 place will hopefully give me and others a source of reflection and information to share with others.  Click here for a beginning of a list on articles being circulated on social media.

If you are white, like me, promise yourself you will do something.

My promises today are:

  • Have ongoing conversation with my sons about their role as white boys in being allies for people of color and speaking up for and documenting injustice when they see it.
  • Continually donating money to organizations which are supporting social justice and individuals who have suffered from racist acts of violence.
  • Get involved in local campaigns to ensure that police oversight and community policing is a priority for our elected officials.
  • Get involved in national organizations that are pushing for bringing justice to police officers who have committed racial acts of violence.
  • Talk about these issues.  In person.  Not simply over social media.
  • Not remain silent when I hear white people I know making racist assumptions or unknowingly denying their white privilege.
  • Think deeply about how to ensure that my work in the public schools is focused on issues of social justice and helping empower students to know how to advocate for themselves and speak up for and document injustices when they occur.

Many today have shared their feelings far more eloquently than I can.  Writing my emotions is not something I do well.  Speaking and listening is far easier for me.  But I need to move on from reading social media and actually take action.

Warning…This is a Tech-Free Post

Despite my current experiment of exploring ways to snuggle up with technology with my son, I must disclose that my true love is math.  And though I am finding ways to use technology to open rich conversations in my home, finding ways to talk math with my kids comes a lot more naturally to me.

So I was thrilled when I reconnected recently with Christopher Danielson who is not only a fabulous math teacher, but like me, is also a lover of talking math with his own kids and blogging about it.  His original blog, Overthinking My Teaching, is a gem which merges his thinking about Common Core Mathematics with riveting tales of his own two children’s experiences with math.  More recently, he started a blog Talking Math With your Kids which is…well, just that.  He makes these gorgeous tools for exploring patterns and tessellations with your kids that you really should buy.  You can find them all by clicking here, but don’t go straight to the store.  Read his blogs as they are fabulous.

Since my last post discussed tracking my husband’s flight to San Diego while sitting at the dinner table (and how the next thing I knew, my toddler had climbed out of his high chair and onto the dinner table to grab the laptop), I thought I’d share how the tiles I purchased created a totally new and improved dinner vibe.  We really did make these designs while noshing on pesto. (And yes, the Common Core Math for Parents is another Gem by Christopher Danielson)

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Honestly, we didn’t really talk about anything.  IMG_0736We just created.  Dinner was virtually silent.  It was magical.  And the turtle tiles have been on the kitchen table for a week now.  Egan refuses to let me clean them up. They’re so soothing, in every way.  It makes me think about how as parents we’re so often searching for just the right App.  My theory is that we want educational things that our kids can do independently so that when we’re cooking, reading the newspaper, feeling tired, chasing younger siblings, etc., we feel relieved that though our kids may be in front of a screen, they are learning something new.  And while I understand the desire for the “App for it,” may the ‘it’ be Chess, an independent version of Bedtime Math , Checkers, crossword puzzles, etc, we should be searching for ways to fulfill this desire for independent exploration and problem solving WITHOUT technology.  That’s why I love Christopher Danielson’s desire to make physical things that promote independent exploration and mathematical reasoning, without any “App for it.”  And while he may eventually “App-ize” these ideas, they’re still so deliciously appetizing now.

But it certainly hasn’t been just Egan who has loved them, or the quiet moment of exploration…IMG_0737

 

Dream Jobs

My step-daughter is a senior so we all have college on the brain. The other night at dinner we somehow got to talking about what job we would have if we had the freedom to return to Graduate School.  Our conversation never got very far as adult dinner conversation in our house is frequently punctuated by Mason singing, “I Like to Move it Move it” and requesting more “quack-a-mole” for his burrito as only a 2-year-old can do.  However had our toddler been more curious about graduate school, here’s what he would have learned.

I love gorgeous visualizations of numbers.  Graphs.  But nowadays the humdrum bar graphs and pie charts of our youth are often replaced by simply elegant ways to see numerical relationships.  Egan and I look at graphs together as often as possible and most often, the most elegant ones involve technology.

What 7-year-old Warriors fan wouldn’t want to analyze this graph?  curry_heatmap.gif

So you can imagine my delight when a friend recently told me about Flight Aware which allows you to track  airline flights in real-time along with seeing other data.  Tonight my husband was flying to San Diego so Egan and I checked out his flight.  There was so much to talk about that we had the laptop at the dinner table (please don’t tell anyone), but it was  THAT good.

flight path
If you put in your airline and flight number, you can see where the flight is, but that’s only the beginning.

early graphAt any point you can see speed and altitude graphs and we had fun predicting what they would look like 1 minute, 10 minutes and 1 hour from now.  Egan’s hypothesis is that the wiggles in the speed graph were when the plane passed through fog and clouds.  But by far the most exciting part for both Egan and me was seeing all of the airborne flights on the same map and zooming in to find Mike’s flight and zooming out to see where the flight paths were the most dense.all flights.png

directions

The dense spots, the outliers, the time of day…we were together left with a lot of unanswered questions which need more investigation.  I guess the laptop at the dinner table wasn’t all-bad.  Or at least it wasn’t until I looked up from my meal to see that Mason had stood up in his high chair and crawled onto the dinner table to push its buttons.

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6-Year-Old Addendum

Egan and I were in the car this afternoon discussing yesterday’s conversation about Ezra, the boy in the video.  He (rightly-so) was concerned that I wrote “limb disorder” instead of “limb difference.”  Enough said.  Love that kid.

I Was Born Like This…

Over the past two years I have given several talks about coaching kids to have a growth mindset in the math classroom along with my colleague Marlo Warburton (who happens to have her own, fabulous, homemade Khan-Academy-esque homework help videos).  One artifact from these talks is a Google Doc. which is shared among all the teachers who have attended one of our workshops.  On it, teachers add quotes, articles and videos which they have used when coaching kids to work on having a growth mindset.  This video about 9-year-old Ezra French, born with two limb disabilities, was recently shared on that Google Doc.  I don’t know who shared it, but I love that new ones pop up there every now and again.


After watching it with Egan, I asked him his reaction.  He first said, “I have a lot of challenges too.”  I resisted my inclination to point out that Ezra’s physical challenges far exceeded Egan’s and instead asked him to tell me more about how he felt a personal connection to Ezra.  He talked about how he can relate to Ezra in sports and that he often feels like he has to try a lot harder than other kids to do well in sports.  He’s right.  Again, I bit my tongue to not say, “Yeah, but look at how much HARDER he has to work.”

Egan was fascinated that Ezra has two limb-disabilities and knew the term from a friend in his class who has one as well.  I asked him what Ezra said that was most meaningful to him and he repeated that he felt close to Ezra because he has a lot of challenges just like Egan does. I really wanted to talk with him about how much you can overcome and accomplish when you really dedicate yourself to something you love, but Egan’s attention was rapidly waning.  He asked to watch the video a second time, which he did, riveted.

I again asked him what Ezra had said that he could relate to and REALLY wanted him to say, “I have to think about what I have instead of what I don’t have.”  But he just wanted to return to sorting his Pokemon cards.  So I shared that quote, telling him that this was the part of what Ezra said that was most meaningful to me.  He was nonplussed.  How quickly I forget that his attention span for these conversations is so brief.  It’s intense when it’s there.  And then it’s gone.  Our few moments, though, were quite meaningful.

Snuggled up with Math

Though it feels like a lifetime ago, I started my career as a 5th grade teacher in Oakland and every once in while we’d do Math Mondays where we literally did math for the entire day. We’d tackle a huge problem which took an hour or two to solve and after finding pleasure in that, we’d do math games and puzzles for the rest of the day. My students would beg for these problems as they felt so different from the day-to-day skills covered in the textbook.

Though I haven’t taught math now in 3 years, today I had something similar to a Math Monday. I had lunch with an old friend who I met almost 20 years ago when she led some of the first math professional development I ever did through the Bay Area Math Project. She’s now a math professor at SF State and we spent much of lunch talking about ways to use technology to broaden kids’ understanding of math. By broaden, I literally mean just that. When kids need a greater challenge in math, how can we push their thinking deeper instead of simply giving them work from the next higher grade level’s standards?

I have a friend whose son is in first grade in Oakland and his teacher basically uses the iPad to teach math. I don’t know what program they use (though I should), but her son finished the entire first grade curriculum, then second, and is now working on the 3rd grade standards. I have very strong feelings about why this is not the right way to approach differentiating for a student for whom the grade level material is too easy. However, I’m going to refrain from saying more about that here, at least for now.

Today  I had my own Math Monday where I explored several online math sites which could push kids spatial and logical thinking, so literally broaden their definition of ‘what is math’ instead of simply doing more math at a higher grade level.

And after a quite satisfying Math Monday, I was eager to share some of my findings with Egan. Bloxorz is a great game to develop kids’ (and adults’ spatial reasoning). There’s an app for the iphone along with several math game web sites that host it. I found it here.

If you’d like to see quick demo, here I am playing it (and struggling a bit at the end where I then left the finishing touches for later).

Egan loves it and frankly is as good at it as I am.  That’s the beauty of taking the numbers out of math.  He and I are on equal footing when it comes to spatial reasoning as it’s definitely not a strength of mine.  While he normally gets visibly upset when he loses, he could laugh at himself when the block fell off the course and he had to start the level again.  I challenge you to play it with your own child and see who has a better intuitive sense of this three-dimensional spatial reasoning.

Goooo Slowwwwwww

10 points if you can name where this video was taken before reading the rest of this post:

File_000 (1) from Allison Krasnow on Vimeo.

Yesterday was the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.  Egan is in Pack 274 in South Berkeley/North Oakland.  Because our neighborhood sits atop the sinuous Berkeley/Oakland city lines, we love the community we are developing among kids who don’t go to school with Egan, but yet live just a block or two away.  As you can see from the above video, judging which car comes in first through fourth in each of the numerous heats is a task requiring years of developing your meditation talents in order to truly clear your mind and focus only on the finish line.  Luckily our pack leader Alison Wellsfry has developed her laser focus and more importantly her eyes in order to have earned our complete trust.  For each heat there are 3 judges, Alison calls the finish while one parent verifies the 1st and 2nd place cars and a second parent verifies the 3rd and 4th place cars.  There are winners among the Tiger, Bear and Webelo Scouts and then championship heats between the winners of each.  By the time we got to the championship heats, there was VERY little difference among the speeds of each car.  A kid suggested filming the finish using the slow-mo feature on the iPhone.  Check this out:

File_000 from Allison Krasnow on Vimeo.

Since we used only eyeball judging for the rest of the races, we didn’t rely on the slow-mo video.  The real story here is that although I’m sure there were some adults in the room who knew that the iPhone has a slow-mo feature for taking videos, it was a 7-year-old who thought to use it.  I actually had no idea that filming in slow-mo was as simple as pressing a button while filming.  It didn’t occur to me to use it, but I would have assumed that was only a feature you could use while editing in iMovie, not live, in the moment.

But what this really makes me think about is how rarely we encourage our kids to use technology to IMPROVE upon what we are doing without it.  Kids practice skills like shooting times tables as they fall from a pixelated sky, playing chess against an opponent with infinite patience, or watching a show while the babysitter puts their younger sibling to bed. But what if we offered screen time as a way for our kids to improve upon what they’re trying to do without it?  Or we handed over the iPad with the caveat that they have to create something new with it instead of it being a passive endeavor?

What so excited me about a Tiger Scout suggesting that using slow-mo video would help us judge was that it later led to a debate among us about where the ideal placement of the video camera would be.  Why are photo-finishes never filmed with aerial footage?  Since I held my phone above the track, but not perfectly perpendicular to the finish line, were my results slightly askew and not accurate?  Should I have laid on the ground and held my phone vertically at the finish line instead of holding it aerially?  Egan was excited to figure out the best way to film it and at some point we’ll probably investigate.  He’s not-so-secretly hoping that we’ll clean out the garage so we can offer to store the Pinewood Derby track at out house and have year-round trials to determine the best camera-placement in addition to him having year-round access to testing out the speed of different construction ideas for his next car.  He’s got about 12 bikes, 4 pairs of skis, a bike trailer, a major beer brewing setup, and a lawn mower to contend with before that wish comes true. He came in second of all the Tiger Scouts and advanced into the finals against the older kids.  He’s proud, but already planning for next year.

 

Everyday Elegance

I happened upon this video today, posted by photographer Jimmy Chin.  Apparently The Atlantic has a multimedia experiments series which you can (and I just did) subscribe to.

It’s peaceful, gorgeous , meditative and mesmerizing and both Egan and I watched it in silence several times. Which is a pretty strong statement about the power of this video as if you know Egan you know that he’s virtually never silent. Click here to view the video

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Around our third viewing, I noticed that Egan was tracing the path of each animal as it moved across the screen.  His lone finger looping around in rhythm with the water striders, ants and birds.  It reminded me of my calculus teacher, Mr. Benson, who used Mathematica to trace sine waves with points traveling around the unit circle…but I digress.  And I wanted to share an ounce of this coolness with Egan, who is 6, not 16.

So we looked at this snowman which I had recently drawn as part of a workshop for 5th grade math teachers. But really, before reading another word, you need to click on the snowman below to get the full effect of the 5th-grade-fully-standards-based falling snow.

And we played with the speed of the snowballs, to see how when they move slowly they look like snowballs and when you speed them up to 20x, they look like streaking hail (or ‘destroyer bullets’ if you are my 6-year-old son) and then, when I found him on the floor wrestling with the dog as I played with the varying speeds of my snowballs, I realized it was time to watch the bird video together one last time to bring back a bit of peace and quiet before bed.

Beginnings

I am immersed in technology.  Three years ago I left my 8th grade math classroom and took a job as a Teacher on Special Assignment for Instructional Technology.  My mind is filled with ideas of when we should and shouldn’t have students learning with or from technology.  I often wonder what role technology should play in family life.  Are there times when snuggling up with my children and an iPad can feel as intimate as snuggling up with a book?  And if it does, is that ok?  Frankly I feel guilty even suggesting this.

As parents, we often view technology as the babysitter to calm or silence our kids or a way to get our kids to practice academic things with fewer complaints.  And while I most certainly understand its power in these realms, this blog is a place to explore how to use technology with our kids in more intimate ways.  How can snuggling up together to watch a short video create the beginning of a conversation that ultimately allows my children to think more deeply about themselves, our family’s values, and their place in this world?  My intention is to explore ways to redefine the role of technology in family’s lives.  Let me be clear, I am not advocating that you use MORE technology in your home.  Friends and colleagues are often surprised to hear how little screen time and technology my sons use in ours.  However, I want to provide an alternative way to use it which could even replace ways you currently use it.

I told Egan nothing more than there was a cool invention using a soccer ball that I had learned about.  We watched this video late tonight, after school, after swimming lessons, after basketball practice and during his second dinner.  I stopped the video a few times to see what he understood, answered his questions about renewable energy and why Africa wasn’t a country.  But mostly, we just watched in silence.

As soon as it ended, he asked to watch it again, which we did.  And then his imagination took off.  He talked about how scared he was last time there was a blackout and how sleeping with the Soccket would help him feel safer at night.  He asked if he could be an inventor even though he’s a boy (since the CEO of this company is a woman he assumed only women could be inventors).  Digging through his drawer he found his outdoor whistle and pondered whether he could invent a whistle which would generate electricity and excitedly determined that 24 blows of the whistle could generate 24 hours of electricity once his invention was complete.  He asked how big 2 billion is (the number of people in the world without reliable power in their homes) and talked about how sad he was that not everyone could read in bed with their parents at night.  Eager to know more, we checked out the Uncharted Play web site and watched this video.


Egan loved that he could read the subtitles so we paused after each frame so that he could read them with care.  He excitedly wrote the title of video on his independent reading log for his homework tonight.  All this conversation, breaking down of stereotypes and thinking from a 4 minute video.  My hope is that readers of this blog will show these videos to your own children or use them in your classroom.  See where the conversations go, find common themes from week to week.  My intention is that having an audience for this blog will push me to continue to find these small gems in the often overwhelming and impersonal world of technology.