Polyup: The cutest A.I.

Back in September, I attended a super secret user feedback panel for a brand new math app called Polyup.

File_001Since then, I’ve been working with them on and off on setting up structures that allow Polyup to be more accessible for the day-to-day teacher and their many goings-ons in their classrooms.

I’ve learned so much from the whole experience. And more importantly, I’ve had a chance to use what I learned about instructional and interface design.

At first glance, Poly appears to be a cute little calculator that incorporates a bit of coding in it’s ‘stacks.’ But some more exploration of the Poly machines reveal that this little character does so much more. A lot of which is still at the very edge of my own understanding.

I’ve been using Poly in my classroom off and on. Whenever there’s a extra 10 or 15 minutes buffer time, or when half my students are absent and my original lesson plan falls through. Or as an activity for the MathCounts club students to do while they wait for the high school leaders to arrive. Mostly, my students have been using the machines like ‘Four Fours’ or ‘Crazy Eights.’ It helps build number sense, strategic numerical planning, flexibility in computational thinking, and reinforces the order of operations, which these kids (I only use Poly in my intervention class) desperately need.

It’s fun, engaging, and the students who can get lost in a traditional classroom has a place to shine. The other students can shine too, of course. It’s a great place to start math conversations (“What makes an even number and even number?” “What does ‘divisible’ mean?”) that can be super boring coming from a math teacher but suddenly becomes fascinating when a cute orange jelly character with big eyebrows leads you to a challenging chip level which only some more math knowledge can help you pass.

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Reading: Children’s classics by Joan Aiken, part I

I was nearing the end of elementary school when I discovered these early reader books by Joan Aiken, but that didn’t take away any of my enjoyment reading them. I borrowed them over and over again from the library. Later, I spent part of my very first pay check from teaching on getting a set of my own.

Delightfully weird in that British sort of way (to an American like me, that is), The Wolves Chronicles is a set of 11 small novels about the adventures of Simon, Dido, and the people that intersect their lives. If you like A Series of Unfortunate Events, then I think you’ll very much like these.

The full set of books goes as follows, in this order:
1) The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
2) Black Hearts in Battersea
3) Nightbirds on Nantucket
4) The Stolen Lake
5) Dangerous Games
6) The Cuckoo Tree
7) Dido and Pa
8) Is Underground
9) Cold Shoulder Road
10) Midwinter Nightingale
11) The Witch of Clatteringshaws

It’s possible to read some of these books out of order, especially the more difficult to find ones like #8-9. But I’ll describe them in chronological order for the sake of, well, order. And because the series is so long, I’ll break my descriptions and reviews into parts.

It all starts with the events in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (http://amzn.to/2FkVYfz). Looking at just the events of this book, it’s quite scary and bleak. But the exuberance and call for empathy that the main protagonists Bonnie Green and her cousin Sylvia, and the goodness that Simon and others exude draws the reader into their world in a cozy way.

In the next book, Blackhearts in Battersea (http://amzn.to/2COMkQJ), Simon goes from side character to main and finally meets Dido, who is the real star of this entire contraption. Born under an extremely luck star (in more than one sense of the word), he moves from the Willoughby Chase countryside to a fictional Victorian-style London where wolves run around eating people and plots to pull things like Cersei did on the Sept hover under daily city life. Simon takes it all in stride, and you can’t help but kind of fall in love with him. Or, at least 11-year-old me couldn’t help it.

Nightbirds on Nantucket (http://amzn.to/2CIS1zt) opens with discovering the fate of Dido after the events of Blackhearts. She’s on her way to the New World and it’s a preverbal meeting of heroes and villains in a six-degrees-of-separation kind of way. Major character development for Dido happens in this book that guides who she is for the rest of the series.

The fourth book in this series, The Stolen Lake (http://amzn.to/2CK5KGj), is arguably the creepiest. Dido encounters some pretty dark stuff, and deals with some pretty dark souled people. This book does to the entire series what Goblet of Fire did for Harry Potter. It was also my first encounter with how the mind plays with time – my fascination with lifetime-spans can be traced back to this book. Oh, and there’s literally a lake that is stolen.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links will help support this blog and allow me to continue to bring you meaningful content.

Keep an eye out here for the next part! Until then, what are some of your all time favorite books for early readers?

A tour of my classroom desk

It’s high time for a view of my desk so that I record what it looks like if only for posterity’s sake.

There’s a few things to note before the desk tour, version 2018:

1) I lean towards minimalistic, utilitarian, styles. There will be no gratuitous photos that look like the Dollar Store threw up on my desk. There’s plenty of those out there – this is not the place for that.

2) It’s January. We all just survived 4 months of school. This is the real deal of how my desk looks on a day-to-day basis (cleaner, actually, it is winter break after all). There will be no desk-decor-porn of the copper and white and marble type.

What will you get? Well, here goes! First, an overview:

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I have a relatively small, and ancient, desk. You can tell from the scuffs around the edges that it’s been around the block. Out of 4 drawers, only 3 of them actually work.

Why not get a new desk, you say? A bigger desk? After all, I did get $300 to start my classroom from my first principal. Nah, I say. This desk fits perfectly in the spot between a cabinet and the whiteboard, in a location that is away from student’s curious, prying hands, and where I can access it easily at any time during class. If I got a bigger desk, I’ll have to reconfigure my entire classroom layout just to make it fit.

Also, more storage space = more junk. No thanks.

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This is a sideways view of the large, shallow drawer. Because it’s shallow, I like to store small, loose items in it. I especially like the collection of erasers my classroom floor has accumulated over the years. Whenever a student needs a eraser, I’ll pull one of these out for them.

The red index card file holder is for receipts I can use to get my yearly PTA reimbursement money. Or for tax-deduction purposes. The antiseptic towelettes are a no-brainer, curtesy of Cathay Pacific. That’s my personal stash of band-aids (I NEVER tell my students that I have band-aids, if they are actually bleeding, I send them to the health office, and if they aren’t bleeding then they’ll survive). I have no idea where those screws came from, but I know from experience that the moment I throw them away is the moment I discover where they go, so I haven’t gotten rid of them yet. The loose algebra tiles need to be put back into their usual, permanent home.

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Here’s the top drawer on the left hand-side. Also for small items, whether they are loose or not, but this drawer is deeper (taller?) so I usually put items that have some sort of ‘stack’ to them here. Like the extra pop-up post-its that I got recently, or the stack of SOAR tickets, I also have some loose twisty-ties and rubber bands (which really should be moved to the shallow drawer, but I like how my shallow drawer is sparse, so that’s why they are here). My old digital camera for taking ‘Super Star Student’ photos is here, even when I haven’t been doing the photo wall this year.

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The last working drawer is super deep/tall, and therefore tall things go here. Extra spiral notebooks, labels, manila folders, etc. There’s also a few bottles of paint, a bottle of whiteboard cleaner, and an emergency blanket in here.

That narrow box is a USPS mailing box that I took from the post office for free and covered with white duct tape. I have a few others of the like scattered around my room, mostly in the bookshelf, to organize tall, thin booklets and such.

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Daily-use things need to be within reach and in sight for me to be productive, and these red bins are the only desk storage items that I actually bought with money. Everything else I either DIY-ed for pennies, or were hand-me downs that I got for free. Those mugs were gifts, and the clear pen holder was at one point, a jam jar.

The top of the red bins has a photo of last year’s WEB leaders. They were a really good group, and it’s nice to have a reminder on why I’m doing this job in the first place. The koala clip was a gift from an Australian friend, the thank you card from a student, and the penguin contains some hand lotion.

The second level holds all my sticky notes. There’s a lot of sticky note pads that I’m work on finishing so that I can decrease the number of note pads I use at once. I don’t even know how I started so many note pads at once, and it bothers me. It’s like opening a drink, taking a sip, and then putting it aside and opening another of the same drink. It’s wasteful!

The third level has extra stamp pads, my ‘redo show work’ stamp, and a small notebook that my current principal has us use during staff meetings this year.

The bottom level are my stamps and the current stamp pads that I use now. I like to use up an item before I start another one. And yes, having two opened stamp pads would bother me except for the fact that one is larger than the other. The small one I use to stamp binder reminders because it’s easier to hold and I have to walk around to stamp these. The larger, pink one I use at my desk and it typically doesn’t travel unless I have temporarily forgotten where I put the smaller one.

And that’s it for my desk! Did I miss anything that you see but can’t tell what it is or why it’s there? What is your desk like? Leave a comment below!

Themes

While reading those end-of-the-year newsletters that are so popular amongst upper-middle-class American families, I was thinking back to when I tried to set themes to my years. 2014 was the year I did more of what made me happy, as a reaction to 2013 which wasn’t very happy for me at all. 2015 was the year I when I did things that scared me – going on blind dates using dating apps, buying a condo and officially being ‘tied down’ to one place. 2016 was the year of work. Throwing myself into masters classes, committees, projects, meetings. It was work overload.

Which was why I didn’t set up a theme for 2017, but looking back it ended up being a year of self-care and balance. I took better care of my skin. I was better about keeping my surroundings tidy. I reached out more to friends and family. I worked less and played more, and in general felt better for it, but it also felt like a constant battle between the two anyway. In the middle of the year, I set myself the goal of posting once every week on this blog, and with the exception of 2 weeks, I’ve managed to keep this up. I started to put what I call my ‘exit strategy’ into motion, although it’s far from being accomplished.

So it’s time for some direction-setting again. What is my theme for 2018? How do I want to evolve and grow? What areas to I want to focus on and what are my goals in these areas? The more I think about it, the more ideas ransack by brain.

Perhaps my area of focus in 2018 should be – focus. That would be nice to work on. Even though I’ve had more work-life balance this year, I’ve also been less capable of focusing. I pick up one thing only to put it down for another. Even my winter break TV watching habits jump from one show to another without finishing anything.

So, focus it is! Let’s do it!

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What’s your theme for 2018?

 

When losing makes you feel bad

Excuse the blank post last week. It’s been crazy hectic – for many, many reasons including the mountains of work, social stuff to make sure I’m still being a good enough friend to the people I like, family stuff to make sure I’m not cut out of somebody’s will, and just the fact that we were so close, yet so far, from break.

But it’s here! And I got a wonderful chance to zone out on the Friday before break – not only because I have 6th period prep and the winter talent show occurred with 6th period. I got a blessed 2 hours to decompress, put items back in their proper spot, and clean out the fridge for winter break shut down. I’m not a terrible fan of the school winter talent show anyway (sorry, Super Colleague, and you put So. Much. Work. into that thing too). The idea of sitting in one spot for hours on end, watching middle school students squeak through an orchestra set, or belt out pop songs in that ‘America’s Got Talent’ way that gets so old so quick…well, let’s just say I’m getting grumpy just talking about it.

32 hours after the last bell, I’ve managed to:

  • Put both my classroom and my home to resemble more of a learning and living space and less of a disaster zone
  • Went to a youth group lock-in for the first time since my own youth group days
  • Prided myself in setting up a popular white elephant gift (it maxed out on steals!)
  • Had a good, deep conversation with some good, deep people
  • Filled up my the trunk of my car with gifts (and laundry) and armed myself for my parent’s place for the next week
  • Caught 6 new Pokemon!
  • Hung out with one of my favorite friends and her young family
  • Played a new game and won twice in a row

Apparently, during the ages of 6-8, there’s a developmental phase in children that when they play competitive games – games with a winner and loser – they start to learn that losing doesn’t feel good.

I don’t want to play because you’re picking on me when you win! — a 7-year-old, said to me.

My friend explained that her 7-year-old has been saying something to that effect and feeling bad about himself when he loses games lately.  She was super patient and explained again to her son what being a good sport means. That both the winner and the loser should be a good sport. The winner doesn’t go in the loser’s face and brag about winning. The loser doesn’t blame the winner for hurt feelings. Both should instead say ‘Good game’ to each other and appreciate the time they had in playing.

The poor kid understood, and was able to say ‘Good game’ to me, but that doesn’t erase the bad feelings. That I know all too well. One can appreciate the time spent playing, but still wallow in the feelings of losing.

When a person doesn’t hit certain milestones in life, they start to feel like a loser. There’s a lot of unhealthy comparison, self-pity, and passive complaining. I’ve been there. And I can predict that on some level, I’ll always have a little bit of that loser feeling in me.

Can I say ‘Good game?’ Can I appreciate the time spent playing? Yes. Do I still feel bad? Yes.

That feeling bad doesn’t go away until it’s replaced by an action. Even a small one. From one of my favorite motivational business entrepreneurs:

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And this is a good place to stop here in 2017. Next up: 2018!

A link and some thoughts

Wow. Someone out there is doing this.

Well, maybe I’m late to the party, but this is pretty cool. I can see myself assigning some of these videos for students to watch, and then doing a flipped classroom activity. Not all the time, but maybe sometimes.

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Last weekend was CMC North at Asilomar. I went with a few colleagues from my school district. It was fun, and I had a good time representing Polyup. But I also felt a little sad that my favorite colleagues couldn’t go because our principal wouldn’t pay for them at first, even if the district was going to pay for our substitutes.

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Been listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text from the beginning again. Pulling out new thoughts and enjoying the fun that reading my favorite books from my teen years can bring.

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Recently, I purchased a new cage for my pet chinchilla. The new cage is a lot bigger, being able to fit the running wheel without scraping against the sides. But because it is bigger, it is slightly less easy to clean. And because the doors are the way they are, it’s much more difficult to both take Chin out and put her back after playing. So I’m feeling a little regretful of getting the new cage because, for some reason, it makes my interaction with Chin different. It feels less cozy, less close.

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Or maybe I’m just losing my mind and over-thinking it. My chinchilla is sitting at the corner of her new cage now, watching me type, like a little creeper. That much hasn’t changed.

The house of small cubes

A few years ago, I was surfing good Pixar shorts to show to my students on the minimum day before winter break when I stumbled upon La Maison en Petits Cubes:

 

A few days ago, I stumbled up on this article about the Pine Island Bay glaciers. La Maison en Petits Cubes immediately came to mind and suddenly, a whimsical story without words about isolation and how the visible parts of ourselves are nowhere near as complex as our hidden depths, turned into incredibly real science fiction. Or, well, fact.

It’s a lovely short film. And if some form of it happens, I’m sure there will be beautiful stories too…but next time I go to a place where I can walk, or carpool, instead, then I’m gonna.