Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Fitting In

I so vividly remember an experience in first grade, it was sometime in the winter, and it was grandparents day. I was so sad because I didn't have grandparents in town, so I was going to be the only kid in my class without someone visiting me. Lo and behold, my neighbor, Alma, surprised me by filling in as my surrogate grandparent. I was thrilled. I wish I could get my hands on the picture of the two of us that day.

Another vivid memory was in Kindergarten, when my school set up a Santa's workshop store and we got to go buy gifts for our family members. Having spent my preschool years in a Jewish school, I was more than a little miffed that they only had Christmas stuff, which made it very hard for five-year-old me to shop for my family.

Fast forward to present day, three days ago. Walking into school on Monday morning I was greeted by a giant menorah (made by our students) and large inflatable Hanukkah bear. I smiled, and was surprised by the tears that tickled my eyes. The same thing happened last year. And I finally realized what it was.

I work in a Jewish Day School. After spending my whole educational career (really, my whole life) being a minority in schools that are "neutral" yet Christmas is covertly-obviously the center focus, I am surrounded by Jewishness. The school is decorated for Chanukah, everyone gives and receives Chanukkah gifts, kids and teachers alike dress in Hanukah garb... all of it.

And I fit in.

I'm not the minority. And it feels so good to belong.

For us educators, this speaks to the importance of building relationships with our kids. Maybe we are more precise with our language to be inclusive of all celebrations. Maybe we are more thoughtful with our classroom decor this time of year (and all year, really.)

Now, I know there are hundreds of thousands of others that feel how I did, and feel how I do. My hope this holiday season is that everyone has the chance to experience what it is like to fit in, to be in the majority, in a place where they spend a majority of their time.

Warm holiday wishes to everyone who celebrates a special time this time of year!

P.S. Yes, Chanukkah has a zillion different spellings. This post used several options!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Adventures in VR

Well, we finally got our VR goggles updated and running and the 6th graders finally got to watch their space creations come to (virtual) reality!

Now, it wasn't the smoothest roll-out, but it was worth all the bumps in the road to make it happen. Last month, our 6th graders used CoSpacesEDU to create their own explanation of concepts explored during their space unit. They studied the solar system, gravity, and the patterns created by the interaction of the sun, moon, and earth, and had to show these concepts on CoSpacesEDU.

We spent a full month updating the goggles and reconnecting them to the network as they have sat untouched since COVID. Thankfully, despite having the older goggles (these are now six years old!) we were able to work with ClassVR to get our account up and running again, and transfer the work done on CoSpacesEDU to the ClassVR portal. 

Note: I highly recommend giving yourself a good two weeks to make something like this happen if you're using the older goggles. If you have the newer ClassVR goggles, it works much, much smoother (and yes, now I'm saving up to get a set of the new goggles and retire these older, clunky ones!)

The kids had a blast. They loved seeing their creations come to life! Riding the roller coaster one group made, watching the planets bounce around in a solar system without gravity made by another group - it was lots of squeals of laughter and fits of giggles. We did learn (the hard way) to give your eyes and brain a break every five minutes or so, as the VR world takes a toll on both!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Hour of Code Week 2022

Hour of Code week is a week I look forward to every year. This year was extra exciting because published new Hour of Code videos! The one linked here is the one I showed the 2nd - 4th graders, since they've seen HoC videos before. (I found an older one that was more explicitly code-connected for 1st grade.) They are always in awe of seeing celebrities and athletes that are coding!

Here's our lineup this year:

  • 1st graders got to play CodeSpark's The Foos, which is one of my favorites. I love the simple and engaging format for the kids, and the graphics and storyline are unsurpassed! The kids always giggle at the "tushy dance" when the beat a level. It does a great job teaching perseverance in a kid-friendly way.
  • 2nd graders got their accounts and were super excited to code like "the big kids" get to code. They worked their way through Level B and were so proud of themselves! I love how this level uses directional words - north, south, east, and west - along with the arrows in the blockly code.
  • 3rd graders coded a 3D T-Rex game from the Hour of Code site. It was so much fun watching them code each step of the game, and the grins that covered their faces with each success lit up the room. If they finished coding the game, they moved on to to pick up where they left off in Course C, a perfect step up from course B.
  • 4th graders got their Scratch accounts and started Scratching their way toward video game design, which is their final tech project at the end of the year. To kick off our Scratch adventure, we coded our initials, making them bounce, spin, and dance.