Where gifted kids love to learn!

Where gifted kids love to learn!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Born In China - Disney Film

Today we went to see Disney's Born in China . This is a film depicting the terrain, life, and seasons of China. Born in China follows three animal characters through their lives, exploring topics about family, survival, and ecology.

 A doting panda bear mother guides her growing baby as she begins to explore and seek independence. A two-year-old golden monkey who feels displaced by his new baby sister joins up with a group of free-spirited outcasts. And a mother snow leopard—an elusive animal rarely caught on camera—faces the very real drama of raising her two cubs in one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments on the planet. Featuring stunning, never-before-seen imagery, the film navigates China’s vast terrain—from the frigid mountains to the heart of the bamboo forest—on the wings of red-crowned cranes, seamlessly tying the extraordinary tales together. (source)

A little excerpt about China:

"Almost no country on earth can rival the impressive landscapes and cultural heritage of China. As one of the world’s oldest civilizations, China has a rich history that began thousands of years ago. Today, modern China is home to 1.3 billion people, the largest population of any country on Earth. This population is diverse, with over 56 officially recognized ethnic groups and 298 living languages." (source)

An addition to simply being a beautiful film, this was a great way for us to reconnect with our studies on Ancient China. Much of the terrain and wildlife in the filmed regions have been untouched for hundreds of years. As well, the narrations did a wonderful job of visiting culture influences of animal symbolism and history for Chinese cultures. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

LIGO Field Studies - Day 2

Again I have to start by expressing my gratitude to all the parents, on the trip and at home, for their support and encouragement. We had great day today visiting the LIGO facility in Richland. LIGO is one of two research facilities in the world studying gravitational waves. The tour included a walk-through of the site, loads of information about how and why the research is done, and a visit with the scientists working in the lab.

There were several really interesting hands on experiments. This sorting colors while using color filtering lenses was a fast favorite.

LIGO also had this really interesting device for illustrating wave lengths. When you spun the tube and strummed the guitar you could see the waves in the strings.

This experiment seemed simple in design but did a really good job of altering sound waves.

I think a few kids just liked the silliness of them. They were pretty fun to see people wear.

The presentation about what they do, and why they do it, was very good. Our host did an amazing job.

The tour of the facility was great. We got perfect weather for it. Sunny but cool with blue skies.

Here we are standing over giant laser tunnels. As we stood there, 2km spans of lasers were being fired in giant vacuum sealed containers.

And of course, we left some time for fun. It’s not a good field trip without at least a little playtime.

I’m sure everyone is glad to be home and settling in. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thank you for everything!

LIGO Field Studies - Day 1

Let me start by extending a big thank you to everyone for helping today go so well. It was a long day of driving through a quickly changing terrain. Tacoma to Portland to Richland all in one day. Not a small endeavor. But everyone is good spirits and seems to be having fun.

For those reading at home, here are a few glimpses into the trip. 

Here is a picture at the Lego exhibit inside OMSI.

Here we closely examining rendering of famous artifacts in Lego. The art work was primarily done by Nathan Sawaya.
We learned a bit about Nathan in the preview video we say upon entering the exhibit.

Here we check out a Lego recreation of a famous vase. The likeness in some of the recreations were impressive.

Here we check out more of Nathan Sawaya’s work.

There were some pop art style sculptures as well.

After OMSI we left for Richland. It was a long drive but very scenic. We took much of the Lewis & Clark along the Columbia River.

As we wrap up our night in preparation for the main event, the LIGO tour, we test out our own telescopes and got some play time in.

I imagine tonight will be a well-rested one for all of us. Then tomorrow, breakfast, packing, a tour, and then onward for more sightseeing.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Painting the Universe

A big, and favorite, curriculum topic of the year is astronomy. We love it. We love learning about the moons, stars, planets, and all of the amazing things in between. 

This year for one of our annual auction projects, we decided to create a painting incorporating some of our ideas of the universe. 

It started with an old giant canvas we found hidden away in our storage area. After dragging it up stairs and finding a spot for it, we coated it with a soft grey and purple under-coat. We learned about gesso and untreated canvas. Gesso is used to preserve and prepare canvas for paint. It makes later layers more vibrant. It also reduces the rate of decay that natural fibers go through over time.

Using acrylics, we kept adding tint to the gesso to get a really interesting abstract design that would work as the ground work for our universe. This was a great way for us to practice what we've learned about painting, brush strokes, and blending.

After completing the under-coat, we did star strips. Using simple masking tape we lined off large sections. In the exposed sections, we painted purple and blue swathes to represent the darkness of space. Each of these swatches was then speckled with stars and comets.

Then we sectioned of really large squares over-lapping the star stripes. Each of these large squares were painted in one of the colors of the light color spectrum. 

Next we painted a sound wave bar graph. We used this to represent the sounds of the universe.

We have a few more things to do before our abstract universe is complete. But it has been a really fun way to integrate art into science, or science into art...depending on which you're more excited about. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

More Mentoring - Leadership skills

When we talk about mentoring, it's very easy to lean on the side of the social and emotional aspects of these kid-to-kid interactions. There are countless benefits that help ensure kids are healthy and happy through development of strong relationships with others. These are all fantastic things. Every one of these benefits alone make any peer mentoring program worth the time and investment.

But we talk less about the other benefits. One big benefit being the development of leadership skills

Forbes lists the top 10 leadership skills/traits as:
- Honesty
- Delegate
- Confidence
- Commitment
- Positive Attitude
- Creativity
- Intuition
- Inspire
- Approach

It may come as a surprise to those who aren't familiar with peer mentoring programs, but these are the same traits necessary to be a successful mentor. 

During our weekly mentoring we focus on the development of all of these skills. The program was created to give students an opportunity to be the best version of themselves. 

Here are a few ways that happens.

1. Mentors are expected to guide and instruct their younger peers. Each activity we do is based on an age appropriate math or science concept. The 3rd and 4th graders are then expected to translate these ideas to the students through guided hands-on activities. This gives them an opportunity to learn how to give information, manage learning, and organize people. 

Leadership skills practiced - Delegate, Communication, Positive Attitude, Approach

2. Mentoring students are expected to navigate difficulties, conflicts, and disruptions. Each mentor is paired with two or more students. Being pre-kindergarten or kindergarten age ensures that not every lesson goes as planned. There are adults nearby to monitor how things go, but we give each mentor space to handle their group as they see best.

Leadership skills practiced - Delegate, Communication, Inspire, Intuition
3. Mentoring students are expected to participate each week through the entire school year. Each week is a new lesson. 

Leadership skills practiced - Confidence, Commitment

4. Each week, mentored students choose their mentors. This gives mentoring students a chance to develop long term relationships with younger students. It also puts them into the situation to deal with unfamiliar students. 

Leadership skills practiced - Confidence, Honesty

So while these mentoring programs make for adorable pictures, cute interactions, and new friends ... they also develop the skills necessary for students to become future leaders. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Paper Bridges - Part 3

The saga of trying to build bridges from paper has continued. The length of the span increased, but with it our motivation to make better bridges grew. 

Additional criteria for success:

1. The bridge must span the distance safely. No swaying or buckling.
2. The bridge must have at least one accessible lane as tested by a toy car.
3. The bridge must be free standing. It can have pillar support but only if it connects to the bridge, not the table or floors.

For this third bridge attempt, we still used legal size printer paper. Printer paper is thin and weak. It doesn't have much stability on its own. The focus is to develop stability through design, not raw materials. 

Some pretty solid bridges were created. We were able to test and measure them with weights. In an effort to gauge long term success, we are tracking measurements from each session. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mayan Math Meets Modern Technology

 Today we explored a really great math game hosted by the Smithsonian. The game teaches us about the vigesimal counting system used by ancient Mayan cultures. The game is comprised of two parts: Figuring out clues about occupations that relied in the math system, and practicing the math itself.

It took a little adjusting to the base 20 system at first. 

It also took some mental flexing to visualize the new number symbols. 

And we had to try to figure out the clues of the three occupations. 

In the end, we got it. We made it through two of the puzzles in no time.

This activity is a great example of our efforts to integrate our studies. This blend of math, technology, and history are a great example of why we do things the way we do.

Finding resources like the Smithsonian, only make our efforts that much easier.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Paper Bridges - Part 2 vs. State Standards

Paper Bridges

This on-going project is part of our engineering section of this year's curriculum. The basic premise is that bridges need to be built out of affordable and reliable materials. We discuss the use of resources and how important it is to use as few resources as you can to make a safe and viable project.

In the first session we used only heavy printer paper. In the second session, we introduced tag board. No adhesives or staples were allowed. Materials need to be joined using folding methods. 

Another criteria for session two was that cars must be able to pass over the bridge. In session one we just created a structure that could hold weight. Now we are working on having these bridges be usable. 

During our tests, we increase the expanse of the bridge. In session one it was 6 inches. In session two it was 8 inches. In each test we measure and record the amount of weight the bridge would hold.

Our record so far is over 4 lbs of weight. Pretty impressive for just paper and tagboard. In our next session we will significantly increase the span of the bridge and introduce adhesive tape.

http://www.nextgenscience.org has a great discussion about the value of these types of projects. The Next Generation Science Standards are the new standards being used by Washington state. The goal of these new standards is to improve student understanding of engineering and technology for all grade levels. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Grading Skills Not Letters

If you look back through my blog you'll find that Jessica Lahey is an author I write about occasionally.  Her works have been very influential on my views and approach to teaching. Her book "The Gift of Failure" was one that I started on a whim, and then became enthralled after just a few pages. I'll warn any reader, parent or teacher, to brace yourself with as much humility as you can. No matter your preferred approach in dealing with kids, you'll find yourself mirrored in more than one of the scenarios in the book. It's not easy to be reminded of our shortcomings. Much in the same way that Brene Brown writes (another amazing author), Jessica Lahey is candid. She tells the reader the truth. It's not easy to hear. In a society where most of us experience communication in two modes, passive or inflammatory, hearing a calm but direct voice is unexpectedly disarming. 

In this post I want to talk about grades. The following quote by Lahey introduces the feelings that students experience subconsciously when dealing with grades. 

“Before third grade, when scores and percentages did not matter, I wrote freely and honestly about what made me happy. But then foreign numbers began appearing on my papers, numbers representing other people’s approval or disdain. At first those numbers were inconvenient little shapes that hindered my ability to write without care. But soon I began to rely on those numbers. I became addicted to A’s, craving more when I got snatches of praise. And I started to drift away from what I had been writing as a younger child. Before I realized it, I was writing for those little, crawling black shapes and red marks."  ― Jessica LaheyThe Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed

This quote accurately represents the nature of school for students. Grades are an affirmation. The problem is that while we think of this kind of immediate affirmation as a motivator, it's actually a deterrent to learning. The "A+" addiction creates this drive for persistent affirmation of our skills from an external source. Yet as parents and teachers we know we want students to create quality work for the sake of creating quality work. So why do we such a simplified grading system?

Here is a sample of my project scoring sheet. It's broken down into six skill based categories. 

You'll notice that my grading system relies on a compiled score from a variety of skills. I also don't use letter grades anywhere but the report card. The reason they get used on report cards is that other schools wouldn't know what to do without them. Now that is not to say that there aren't other schools challenging the letter grade system, just that it's still the norm to rely on letter grades for assessing students. My focus is on grading competence and effort. Pairing a varied scoring system with a self reflection segment for each project has been very successful in my attempts to help students see past the competitive (internal and external) nature of letter grades. It give them a chance to measure their own growth without comparison to other students. Don't get me wrong. Students still try to compare their scores. The difference is that when they do it now the conversation is different. Instead of it simply being a barrage of letters being blurted at each other in an unknowing attempt to create a class hierarchy, it's a discussion. One student might mention their high score in the area of "organization" and another will respond by noting their high score in "articulation". Other students might lament their low score in "technology" but then follow it up with a boast about their high score in "creativity". 

My hope in sharing this post is that you'll take some time to reconsider your grading system. Not just you teachers. As parents you have one as well. You may not have it listed on a wall or in a rubric hand out but my guess is that you rummage through backpacks looking for red lettered grades on the top of papers. Think through what you want your kid to really gain from school. Do you simply want them to have a pristine report card? Or would you like to them to develop the skills and competencies  necessary to be a successful adult? One of these things requires a few bad grades and some genuine feedback. Trust me when I say, giving a student an "A" is way easier than giving a student a "C". An "A" grade makes everyone happy. A "C" likely means an upset kid or parent. Still, I'd prefer that these hard feelings be experienced in the safe place of my classroom instead of the harsh adult world of the workplace. 

They'll get a million chances to fail with me. How many will they get with their future boss?

Thanks for reading!
-Mr. Botsford

Friday, February 10, 2017

Toilet Paper Solar System

We found this really great activity shared by ASTRO out of San Francisco. It was a simple, yet effective way, for us to see relative distances of some major objects in our solar system. 

Each square of toilet paper represents a simple measurement of space. It's very rough but easy to understand. The instructions read:  
"Use the table of distances provided to mark off the distances teach of the planets. The
number in the table is the number of sheets of toilet paper needed to reach the orbit of each
planet from the Sun, so keep a running count as you go along."

Provided is a copy of the chart providing the relative distances and the more specific distances.

These practices are a great way for us to expand on the WA state education standards for 4th grade. Here is how they read:

Standards for Grades 4-5 52 
Washington State K-12 Science Learning Standards 
Version 1.2 EALR 4: Earth and Space Science Big Idea: Earth in Space (ES1) 

Core Content: Earth in Space
 In prior grades students learned that observing and recording the position and appearance of objects in the sky make it possible to discover patterns of motion. In grades 4-5 students learn the full implications of the spherical-Earth concept and Earth’s place in the Solar System. The upper elementary years are an excellent time for study of the Earth in space because students have the intellectual capacity to grasp the spherical-Earth concept and the relationship between the Earth and Sun. This major set of concepts is a stepping-stone to a later understanding of all concepts in astronomy and space science and an essential element to further understanding of how the Earth and other planets formed.

Check out the activity here:  www.astrosociety.org/education.html