Saturday, December 26, 2015

Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner

One of my fifth grade girls writing a poem
at the Area 2 School in the Mathare Valley
Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum is a well-written and inspirational book that tells the story of the two authors and their relationship and work in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Kennedy Odede grew up in Kibera and Jessica Posner was a college student from America who met and fell in love in Kibera. I have been to the Mathare Valley slum of Nairobi three times now to work with the teachers and students of Missions of Hope International and the descriptions of the slums gave me a much clearer insight into the lives of the children I have worked with. They live a life that Istill find hard to imagine even when I have seen where they live. Jessica went to live in the slum, which to me is something I have been told is unheard of for a white American to do. I appreciated the descriptions even as I cringed at how brutal life in the slum can be. I also know how hard-working the people of the slum can be and how much education is valued (when you can get it). Seeing how Kennedy and Jessica built a school for girl's out of their dreams and all the other ways they have found for the people in the slum to empower themselves shows how hard work and imagination can give hope and transform a community. There is a love story here as well as Kennedy's journeys to America to receive a college education. I could not put the book down and it is a book most people would enjoy reading. It relates the importance of education to the lives of so many growing up in poverty around the world, especially to those who normally do not have the opportunity to even go to school.

Here is one of the fifth grade students from the girl's school in Kibera that Kennedy and Jessica started reciting a poem that she wrote:

Here Eunice recites her poem in New York City and is interviewed along with Kennedy and Jessica:

The last two times, in 2014 and 2015, I have been to the Mathare Valley slum, I have taught poetry writing mainly to the fifth students at the Area 2 School as well as to the 6-12th grade students at the Joska School so this girl's ability to write poetry is something that is wonderful for me to see, because I have been constantly amazed at the poems written by the Kenyan students I have worked with, even when most of them have never written a poem before. I just have to up my game in how I present them for others.

Here is a poem based on William Blake's "The Tyger" written by one of my fifth grade student's named Mary. She is just as talented as Eunice.

That is the first poem that Mary wrote and she wrote it in less than 30 minutes. Here is some of Mary's story and what happened a year later when I saw her again this summer.

I worked with two new classrooms full of enthusiastic fifth graders at the Area 2 School this past summer and I again used "The Tyger" as a model for writing animal poems. I had a little free time during lunch my last day there and I asked the teachers if I could photograph the poems that the students had written on their own that I hadn't seen yet. I saw this poem by Sidney on Aids. I wish I had time to have found out more about Sidney's poem, but this little gem was written in his notebook. They were asked to write poems talking to animals, but Sidney took his second poem to a completely different conversation. I had met Sidney in 2014. We had performed the "The Rainbow Fish" to the students at the Area 2 School. I was the starfish. The next day the students performed the play for us taking on our roles, which included a videographer with a fake camera on a pole. Sidney played the starfish and so I had this photo of all the starfishes together at the end of the video. The kids nailed the play. I don't know how they did it, but it they performed it much better than we had! There is so much talent in the slums!

You can find out more about my trips to the Mathare Valley here.

If you have Amazon Prime you can watch the PBS show"A Path Appears Season 1" episode 3 to see a lengthy portrayal of Shofco, the program these people set up in Kibera. 90% of the show (with the school, the streets, and the kids) reminds me so much of Nairobi's other slum Mathare, but this video delves much deeper into the violence against women and girls and how they are helping. I just watched it and it is well done. It starts at about 40 minutes into the episode (BTW it is not for kids).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Facilitating Focus and Reducing Stress Through Bouncy Bands

I recently received a class set of Bouncy Bands for Desks for all the students in my fifth grade class through a project on Donor's Choose. After just a few weeks of use, I give them a big "thumbs up" or maybe a should give them a "toes up" instead.  You can read my Donor's Choose project here. Last year, I added a classroom spin bike to my class with great success and it is in constant use throughout the school day. My students still spend a lot of time sitting at desks and these Bouncy Bands provide a simple way to provide movement as they sit at their desks. I wasn't exactly sure how these would work when I ordered them, but I have found them to offer no distraction at all and the kids keep their feet or one foot on them and I watch them slowly bounce their legs as they sit and pay attention or do their work. My students say that they really like having them on their desks.

Here are some things I have learned in setting them up for my class.

1) Parents like the idea and readily contributed to the Donor's Choose project!
2) Let the students install the Bouncy Bands on their own desks with the help of a partner.
3) I tell the students I don't want to see them used as "slingshots"- by that I mean don't pull on them and release them to make a sound. I also tell them they are not to be used as "trampolines" -in other words don't stand on top of the band and push it towards the floor.
4) Following these rules, the bands are completely silent.
5) I got a band for every desk and child in my classroom. You never know which student is feeling stressed out, sometimes it is the quiet and still ones. I don't think these are just for your overactive students.
6) I wish they made one for my teacher's desk!
7) If you can't get a class set, acquiring one or a few might help settle down students that you think could benefit from them. Parents might also choose to buy one for their child's use at school. I know that as I was ordering these for my class, a parent in a class down the hall purchased a few for their child's class.
8) The company also makes a Bouncy Bands for Chairs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Movie Guide: The Better Angels- a film about a young Abraham Lincoln- lesson plans

Here is a movie guide to "The Better Angels" that you can use when showing the movie to your class.

The Better Angels is a 2014 movie depicting three years in Abraham Lincoln's life (1817-1819) when he was a boy living in backwoods Indiana. It is a beautiful black and white film directed by A.J. Edwards and presented by Terrance Malik. I recently watched the movie on Amazon Prime (currently streaming free for Prime users or as a rental):The Better Angels.  It is also out on DVD:  The Better Angels DVD.As I watched this cinematic beauty, I wondered how interested my fifth grade students would be in such a visually artistic movie that was quiet and contemplative in spirit. I decided to write up some lessons and try it out with them. With guidance and conversations before, during, and after the movie, they were thoroughly engaged with the movie.

The Better Angels - Trailer from Amplify Releasing on Vimeo.

My class had been working on a colonial America unit, so I introduced this movie as just a movie about a boy and his family in 1817 Indiana trying to eke out a living on a sustenance farm. I never told them that it was a film about Abraham Lincoln until after it was over (I just skipped the first few moments of the film in front of the Lincoln Memorial).

I discussed a lot of information about movie-making before showing the film and gave my students some specific things to look for while watching the film. This process proved vital in keeping them interested and aware as they watched. It led to numerous great discussions with my students that continue even a week after watching the movie. This is not a movie that you just pull off a shelf and show to your class. If you are not engaged and they are not prepared, I don't think it would go over very well.

I would recommend this movie in your classroom if you teach grade four or above. You do need a plan before you show the movie, because of that I have put together a guide to the movie on Teachers' Pay Teachers. It is an 11 page PDF with conversations to have before watching the movie, activities for the students to take notes on during the movie, and things to do after the movie. I also include a guide with links to various resources about the movie that you may find interesting in attaining more background information about the film and how it portrays a boyhood Lincoln. You can check out my Guide here: Movie Guide: The Better Angels. If anyone uses this guide,  I would be interested in your feedback.

Note: the portrait you see at the top of this page is of a print by George Bucher Ayres from 1861 taken by Alexander Hesler of Chicago on June 3, 1860. It has been written that this image was Lincoln’s personal favorite portrait. The glass negative was broken in the mail on the way to the Smithsonian Institution in 1932 or 1933. This historic photograph has been passed down in my family and is the first photograph taken of that print

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How to turn your iPad or iPhone into a classroom movie and photo studio with iOgrapher

Maybe you have a classroom iPad or two (or even a classroom set) and you want to use one for more than playing classroom games or educational apps. Maybe you have always wanted your students to use an iPad in more creative ways. I know I did, but the iPad is sort of unwieldy as a camera or video taking device and kids have a hard time holding, stabilizing, and keeping control of an expensive iPad. There had to be a better way. I recently discovered an iPad case made by iOgrapher that not only solves these problems, but turns an iPad or even an iPhone into a mobile media shooting device. You can easily and fairly cheaply turn your students into iPad videographers.

Upon discovering the iOgrapher and realizing all that it made capable, I immediately put up a project on Donor's Choose for my classroom and got it funded. The fun began when the various components I ordered came to my classroom and I was able to set it up quickly and try it out with my students.

The iOgrapher case allows attachments like lenses, lights and microphones to be easily added to the case and it also allows the case to be mounted on a tripod or monopole. The iOgrapher is a case that easily snaps onto your iPad or iPhone. It is made from high grade polycarbonate and is very lightweight and sturdy, It has handles on either side to hold your iPad and to stabilize any videos you are making. For the first time I felt confident in handing off the classroom iPad to my students to let them film throughout the school without worrying about them dropping it. The iPad always looks dorky when you use it to take a photo or video, however with the iOgrapher it looks like something more professional and cool and clever to use.

We are still trying out the iOgrapher and all the attachments that we got, but here is a listing of what I ordered as well as my opinion as to which are the best things to buy to use with the iOgrapher in the classroom.

First off you need an iOgrapher case. They are made for various models of iPads and iPhones and you have to get the correct model so it will snap over and hold your iPad securely. We have an iPad Air and got this case: iOgrapher Mobile Media Case for iPad Air. Models are made to fit the iPad Mini, the iPad 2/3/4, and the iPhone 5 | 5S,

Once you have the iOgrapher case, you can now connect the case to a tripod. The Davis & Sanford EXPLORERV Vista Explorer 60" Tripodwill do the job for under $20. While you definitely want a tripod, you might also want a monopod/selfie stick. I don't think this will be used as much as a tripod, but I ordered one of these heavy duty ones that will take the heavier weight of the Ipad or even a DSLR camera. It might come in handy on field trips, when we don't want to bring a tripod. This is what I ordered: Quik Pod Handheld Selfie Extendable Pole for Action Cams, Point and Shoot and DSLR Cameras.  In the past when my students were making videos, I usually held the iPad when they made green screen videos or jury rigged the iPad, precariously, to the document camera arm so that the camera would point down so students could make stop-motion video. With the tripod, my time is freed up and I won't have to worry about having the iPad get jostled off the document camera. I also ordered a Muku Shuttr - Selfie Remote / Camera Shutter  for those instances where students might want to control the recording of a video themselves while using the tripod. This like the monopod are not must have items, but add-ons you might want to consider. 

Using additional lenses with your iOgrapher is what makes  using the iOgrapher case fun and useful. Lenses are pretty cheap and they worked really well when I tested them. The thing to note is that the iOgrapher allows lenses that are can be threaded at 37mm, so look for those. They screw right onto the iOgrapher case. My favorite lens so far is the Zykkor 0.42x 37mm Titanium Super Wide Angle Fisheye Lens with Macro. This adds a lot of variety to classroom photos and videos. It was fun making Animoto videos with a different look. It was fun using the iOgrapher case and holding it above students to get some pretty cool photos. I also got the NEEWER 37MM High Definition Professional Photography Camera Lens - Wide Angle / 0.45X Macro Conversion Lens  with a 37MM Filter Thread, but it didn't take as dramatically different photos as the fish-eye or I just haven't found the right use for it yet. I did order a Polaroid 2X telephoto lens, but it was sold out after my order was madeand I was not able to replace it with another lens, so someday I hope to order a lens like this to see if it works well Neewer® Deluxe 37mm Telephoto Lens 2 X PROFESSIONAL HD.

I ordered this microphone to get better sound when recording video: AmoVee SG-108 Shotgun DV Stereo Microphone . At first I placed in the mount right over the camera so I could plug it into the headphone jack on my iPad. Then I noticed that the end of the mic showed up in my photos. It won't fit on the middle mount when the light is also mounted, so I had to place it on the mount furthest from the headphone jack. The wire from the mic to the jack is just too short. You can plug it in and then mount the jack, but it is stretched to its limit and may break over time. I then ordered this cable to make the connection easier: Rode SC4 3 inches Microphone Cable.

With the mic on it, the iOgrapher starts looking very professional (something the kids can appreciate) but the final add-on you would want would be an LED camcorder video light. I ordered this one NEEWER® 160 LED CN-160 Dimmable Ultra High Power Panel Digital Camera / Camcorder Video Light, LED Light which also comes with a couple of filters. You will need batteries or an energy pack to run this. I am still waiting for the batteries I ordered, so I haven't tried it out yet. Thisi should work well in low light conditions or to remove shadow from the faces of people in videos.

You can mix, match, or chose other brands of add-ons to work with iOgrapher case. There are more expensive microphones and lights, but for my elementary classroom and their non-professional videos, these should be enough for us. You certainly can set up your classroom with the essentials for $150-$200 dollars and if you are a teacher who uses Donor's Choose, you can cut the cost in half by using their always available matching codes for the first week your project is live. We are still in the learning and experimental phase, but it has certainly added a fresh buzz as to how we can use the iPad as a more creative took in the classroom. There are all sorts of iPad apps to use when taking photos and videos as well as for producing videos that should make for all sorts of creative endevours.

Welcome to iOgrapher from David Basulto on Vimeo.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Using a Classroom Spin Bike to Learn Self-Regulation

I have always liked to exercise and have been a long time competitive runner ever since running  cross-country during high school. I have competed in about 50 marathons and 5 Ironman distance triathlons among hundreds of other races, so I love the challenge and the competition, but there is something more that I gain from exercise. A daily workout of an hour or more helps me solve problems, think creatively, and deal with the stresses and pressure of daily life (particularly when teaching). That appreciation for movement is something I have always wanted to add to my classroom environment, but how do you get your students to understand the benefits of movement and exercise?

Riding the Seacoast Century last fall on my ElliptiGO
A few years ago, I read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, but I put it aside and just tried to encourage exercise by modeling and encouragement. After almost 40 years of competitive running, hip surgery curtailed my ability to run a few years ago. I was pretty lost, trying to find a replacement until I discovered the ElliptiGO. I was back to exercising (over 6000 miles just last year alone) and I felt so much better and my brain was popping with all sorts of creative ideas for life, daily teaching, and for my journeys to teach in the slums of Africa.

My students enjoyed hearing about my ElliptiGO adventures:  100 mile rides, winning races, and just the overall novelty of seeing my ElliptiGO, but still I wasn't sure how to translate my excitement about movement to my students.

Through my ElliptiGO adventures, I met another enthusiast named Luke MacDonald, who lives in Nova Scotia. He helps run an organization called Run For Life that raises funds to place small silent spin bikes in classrooms throughout his region of Canada. They have placed hundreds of these bikes in classrooms with great success. Reading about Luke and the results that teachers were reporting, I became instantly intrigued and my brain started humming about how I could get a spin bike into my own classroom.

Luke provided me with lots of information and he had teachers, principals, and other people send me testimonials and information about how the program works, how they use them in a classroom, and the results on individual  students and whole classrooms after they have been introduced into a class.

I decided this was for me and set up a Donor's Choose project (see my proposal here). With matching codes from my district and Donor's Choose as well as using some money we had won as a class, it was quickly funded. In Canada, Luke calls these bikes Spark Bikes. I found the same bike on Amazon, where it is called the Fitnex X5 Kids Upright Exercise Bike. The bike is kid-sized! It would fit pre-preschoolers on up to fifth graders. All my 5th graders fit on it, although some are getting a bit tall. At first when it showed up, I thought I had been hoodwinked as it looked so tiny, but once you get the seat and handlebars on it, the size is perfect.

Here is our classroom spin bike
The bike is not really an exercise bike in that kids will not get their daily exercise in the classroom using this bike alone. They are just not on it long enough and that is not the point (although it does provide some fitness). The point it that kids learn that exercise can help them focus, calm down, and deal with stress or anxiety so that can be ready to learn. Here is an article from Scholastic on the learning of self-regulation with young children: Self-Regulation: The Second Core Strength. Here is an article on using the spin bikes in schools in Canada: Sparks Fly & Self Regulation in our School System. Here is a news video showing how a fifth grade class in Canada uses the Spark Bike: CTV Live .

Here are a few things I have learned in the few weeks we have had the spin bike:
  • The bike is completely silent (really-it is not distracting at all)
  • If you get one, let the kids help put it together (the tools are provided)
  • Teach the kids how to adjust the height of the saddle (they do this easily)
  • Set it up in the classroom (mine is in the back) facing the front so that kids can be a part of a lesson (don't hide it out of view- very quickly it becomes like a piece of furniture).
  • Set up a schedule for use by all students (not all may want to use it every time). I just have my students go in order and tap the next rider after about 5 minutes (actual riding time may be 2-10 minutes)
  • Keep the bike in use all through the day (they do work, eat their snacks, work in a small group and anything else classroom related while on the bike).
  • Some kids may "need" to use the bike and others learn to let them.
  • Don't use the bike as punishment.
  • I expected students to go full tilt when riding it, but this doesn't happen after the first days, they tend to go very leisurely and that is just right!
  • In less than a week, my students had the routine down and kept that spin bike spinning all through the day.

I also got this mat to put the spin bike on and it is perfect: Supermats Heavy Duty P.V.C. Mat Ideal for Spinning Bkies (24-Inch x 46-Inch).

I think this is a wonderful addition to my classroom. I hope to report further on the positive results. I also hope to see all the classrooms in my school one day having their own spin bikes... and then in my district... and then across America. I think this is a wonderful way to teach in a positive, fun, and life-long learning sort of way the value of exercise, movement, and self-regulation to our students. It will also definitely help the classroom and school's learning environment. I see and know plenty of students in my own school, who definitely would find using a spin bike to their benefit, to the teacher's benefit, and to the whole school's benefit.