Aya Academy of Excellence


Confessions of a Bad Blogger

Confessions of a Bad Blogger

I met up with a collective of dynamic women online writers today for a session focused on the nuts and bolts of blogging. The participants, comprised mostly of lifestyle-focused writers, divulged their personal and professional experiences regarding why they started blogging, what techniques they used to reach their audiences and which technologies best supported their growth as online writers. I was captivated by the breadth of expertise within the room – one participant has been blogging for less than a year and has accumulated a mass following for her posts on motherhood, fashion and everyday living. I was in awe. I realized that I’ve been doing so many things ‘wrong’ (there is truly no right way but I’ll revisit that later.)

1. I don’t market my blog. Some of the bloggers spend significant time checking SEOs to see where people are finding their posts and use that info to drive more visitors to their pages. They tag their images and do not rely on automatic links to share their content. Me…I click the Pinterest button and then I’m so done. I felt like an underachiever…and I may be OK with that…more on that later.

2. Image(s) is EVERYTHING! I use my cell phone to take pictures – and although the images are reasonably clear, for crisp images, a higher quality photo, and therefore camera, can be a deciding factor for people to visit and follow your page. Images tell a story as much as text and I’ve been telling half the story.

3. Plug it in, plug it in. I don’t have plug ins because my blog is a supplement to Aya Academy’s online presence. Currently I have a separate website, Pinterest, Twitter and blog all using the same AyaAcademy handle. Converting to a full fledged website would mean changing the identity of either the blog or website….I feel to merge them would make me feel a bit like Norman Bates…psycho…I’d have two identities operating in one space. After today’s meeting I realized the blog is more a teaching and sharing tool while the webpage is an operational tool to brand and sell our services and programs.

4. One track minded. Throughout the session, I kept pondering whether I was doing it right….and for the right reasons. Page views didn’t matter to me until I realized that I was a dwarf in the midst of page view giants. Am I just pecking my thoughts out to an empty room? Does it matter? I had a come to Jesus moment and realized that the blog has been a cathartic exercise in the past but it is time to let it evolve so that it is reflective of the growth of our company. Who wants to be the best kept secret?

5. Size does matter. I write way too much at times. And it is ok to share a succinct thought, now and again. I blame Ms. Wolf and Ms Bryant, my former lit teachers who imposed 1,000 word count essays for that.

6. A One Track Mind. It’s ok to have a little variety in our posts. Veering from purely instructional posts is ok. Breathe, and repeat, it’s ok.

So I have been doing it right until the moment my eyes opened to realize that I want more for this blog…it’s not merely an online journal but an interactive space to share and connect with others. Now that I know that, to keep doing what I was doing would of course be wrong because it would stunt growth. I appreciated every second of being amongst this contingent of ladies today and am looking forward to getting the Most Improved award the next time we meet.

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Interactive Game Board

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Although recall is at the bottom level of Blooms Taxonomy, creating a baseline understanding of key people and significant events is instrumental in creating the foundations for critical thinking.  You can take the simple matching activity up a notch by having your learners construct an interactive game board using basic materials you can find at the dollar store.or hardware store.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Type up a two-column matching activity board.  We created one to review 20 African American Scientists. (click the title to get a free copy of the PDF.)
  2. Hole punch a circle next to each entry in both columns.
  3. Cut thin strips of aluminum foil.  Attach foil using transparent tape to the back of board.  Cover each foil strip completely before attaching the next strip. Each end of the foil should appear through the opening of each hole punch to connect the correct answers of each column.
  4. Insert a D battery into a casing.  Attach wire to each end of the casing.  One wire will attach to a light bulb and mini clamp; the other wire will be attached to a mini clamp only.
  5. When the clamps touch to the correct combination from column A and column B, the light bulb is lit.

I used this activity in class a few years ago with middle-schoolers.  This is one of the family engagement activities we will use to provide families an opportunity to reinforce learning.  During one session, families will create 3 blank templates that can be interchangeably used for different classes.  


Connect Four: A Critical Thinking Game

Here’s a cool way to get learners to think critically about concepts or historical events.  I call it Connect Four, after the game, because the learner will explain how four seemingly disparate items are connected to one another.  I first came up with idea when teaching sixth grade social studies as a means of helping students review for an assessment.  All you do is provide a list of four items and the learner provides a connecting fact which links them together.

Connect Four

For example, Bessie Coleman and Josephine Baker traveled to France to further their individual careers because segregation in the United States prohibited their professional advancement.

Josephine Baker and Lena Horne were famed entertainers who refused to play before segregated audiences.

Rustin Bayard played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement and was a co-organizer of the March on Washington of 1963 of which Lena Horne and Josephine Baker both attended.

Connect Four is a conversation starter and enables the participants to consider concepts in a substantive context.


Building Community Through Family Engagement

Building Community Through Family Engagement

I heart Malcolm Gladwell. His latest book, David and Goliath, is perched beneath my bed atop a short stack of other “Can’t Wait to Devour These Too’ selections. Between a full caseload in school, two children and a wayward dog, nightly reading has been pushed far back on he to-do list. So, when I can, I read articles and essays.

A few weeks ago, I read an article on Malcolm’s (we are so on first name basis…;o)…) website. His family, like mine are transplants from another country and he found that their Caribbean roots, at least for the first generation created an economic and professional inroads. Perception and work ethic intertwined to place them at the front lines of hiring and positioned them to acquire financial stability. There is a lot of good nuggets to gnash on within this piece, however, one critical point that was impressed upon me was the impact of community norms on individual success. We used a quote from Malcolm, apart from this essay, for our 20/20 Tapestry curriculum because it is evident that to transform circumstances, attitudes and minds, it is necessary to build environments which continuously affirm that thinking. We included it within the Tapestry of the Scholar featuring W.E.B. Dubois, a former Atlanta University professor who was a founding member of the NAACP.

The larger lesson, a single person can make great change. However, substantive transformation is dependent on providing environments which feed and nurture people’s capacity to grow. So, teachers within the school environment cannot be the only point of contact propelling young minds toward scholarship. Within the community, young people need their families, peers and community members to engage them in academic activities and dialogue as well to assist in their development. An academic community space in which young learners can participate in science, math and language development is a necessity to eradicate the pervasive low achievement experienced amongst students who reside in neighborhoods with low achieving schools.


Send Me Back Saturday: Launching Community Programming

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Redefine Start. These sage words were spoken to me a few years ago in response to how I was approaching serving youth and families. To me, I could not, prior to that conversation, see how to provide academic services without a brick and mortar location. Thereafter, my thinking changed and Aya began to takeoff because we began offering workshops in partnership with local libraries and afterschool programs.

The image above was taken two years ago during our first community-based literacy workshop series. Here are a few insights regarding working with and behalf of communities.

1. Focus. Have a clear and cogent objective. Initially, our organization took a Pinky and the Brain approach – we wanted to take over the world…in a good way. But it is impossible to serve every need. Therefore, go deep and not wide in regard to what you would like to focus on with your services.

2. Teamwork. Get a great team. Create a matrix which defines your strengths and identifies your gaps. Band together with others who can provide support in areas where you have gaps. I’ve been blessed with great collaborators who provide our organization with assets I have yet to develop. There is no shame in not excelling in everything. Just take note of what Tom Collins’ Good to Great proffers: Get the Right People on the Bus.

3. Midgetize. Start small. Work out the kinks. Expand. Last year, we launched our first camp….it was nearly 3 years in the planning…and it was worth the wait. This year we are expanding to serve three times the number of learners. By starting small, we had less constraints, including budget and recruitment of learners and personnel. This provided opportunities to reflect on instructional practices and operational strategies.

4. Dream. Feel free to delve into your creativity. Mentally walk through best case scenarios. When working with marginalized communities it is easy to listen to the apathy and entertain others’ frustrations. Let the ‘its never been done before’ roll off your back and open up to possibilities. This aids in becoming a problem solver and a change agent.

5. Serve. Help others. I sometimes volunteer more during the week then I do ‘work.’ That’s always been my heart. The universe does give back what you put in. Those I’ve assisted have looked out for our organization by including us in their other activities. Through a willingness to serve, others will provide support in unexpected wonderful ways. This process aids in building relationships which assists in the forward movement of your community initiatives.


Tools of the Trade: Story Chips

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A few years ago, I stumbled across a lovely resource to spark discussion during literacy workshops.Story Chips and Discussion chips are an affordable teaching tool to encourage learners to share their thoughts in small and large group settings. Since learners can select their questions, they feel a degree of ownership during the discussion process.

The chips, which retail for less than $5 at teacher resource stores, can be made at home. The questions are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and therefore, they have several levels of thinking ranging from recall to analytical inquiry. In class, I would allow learners a chance to swap questions out from the chips bucket to ensure they selected questions they were comfortable responding to in front of a group. While reading Julia Alvarez’ Before We Were Free, each student was paired with a partner and answered the questions together. The partners were allowed to first discuss with their buddy their individual responses to create a consensus before sharing out to the larger group. As always, getting to the ‘right’ answer took a back seat to developing students’ ability to think critically and dialogue with peers.

To make your own, create questions in Microsoft word to fit into a text box the size of a 20 ounce bottle cap (Vitamin Water). Glue the questions onto the bottle cap and Voila, you’ve saved $5!

What I love most is that these chips can be used with any age learner and within any setting. Families can have these on hand
at their bedside table to use during bedtime reading.


Imagination Stations: Setting Up Science Inquiry Stations

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Clanking of metal. Whirling of water down a drain. The sprouting of thistles through densely packed earth. Rays of light streaming through the panes of an arched window forming ripples of rainbows. The wonders of science are ever-present in our daily life and by closing textbooks and opening our eyes, our children can delve deeply into learning that is meaningful.

I recently crafted an after-school curriculum for a local Atlanta program seeking to raise the science and math thinking of their students. After combing through the Common Core Standards, I assembled a few dozen activities to pique children’s interests while aiding their understanding of life and earth science. Within the next year, our organization is seeking to establish a share space for families to engage in academic learning. This space, The Community Classroom, will have a robotics lab, art studio and a technology lab with supplies to explore, create, build and program. Here are a few of the activities our maker space will carry that families can participate in today with everyday objects they have at home.

General Notes:
Store and collect basic supplies in a closet or bookshelf space.
More unique items can be found in thrift stores, like Goodwill.
Use a file sharing system, like Google Docs, to store activity how-to sheets.

Imagination Station One: DNA Extraction
SUPPLIES

  • Strawberry
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dish detergent
  • Salt
  • Zip-lock bag
  • Water
  • Measuring utensils
  • Beakers (Substitute a Plastic Toothbrush Holder)
  • Tweezers
  • Spoon

Strawberry

What to Do:

  1. Into a beaker, pour 2 drops of dish soap into 1/4 cup of water.
  2. Add 1/4 tsp of salt.
  3. Mix to form the extraction solution.
  4. Place 1 strawberry and the extraction solution into a plastic bag.
  5. Squeeze out the air from the bag and tightly seal it.
  6. Mash the strawberry and extraction solution.
  7. Open the bag and pour the mixture into a beaker.
  8. Add a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol to the solution.
  9. Using tweezers, remove the white, fluffy strings at the op of the mixture.
  10. You’re DONE!

The Science: Our DNA, a series of individualized codes, is the blueprint of body. Like the strawberry, our DNA can be extracted and scientists can study it to see a sequence of codes that are used o determine how our body develops, including how our hear grows and how our eyes are shaped.

Imagination Station Two: Cotton-ball Catapult
SUPPLIES
Craft Sticks
Spoons
Large Markers
Masking Tape
Cotton-Balls
Rubber-Bands
Measuring Tape/Ruler

Cotton Ball

What to Do:

1. Attach a spoon to a craft sticks securely with a rubber band near the top end.

2. Using a rubber band, secure a second craft sticks to the opposite end of the first one to make the edges touch.

3. Slide a marker between both craft sticks.

4. Launch a series of cotton balls with the catapults.  Change the trajectory (height and distance of the path the object travels) by pressing down the spoon with varying degrees of softness or hardness.

5. Alter the location of the rubber bands to test whether this change alters the trajectory of the object.

6. Test your accuracy by propping masking tape upright to attempt launching the projectiles (thrown objects) through the center of the tape.

The Science: The Concept of Variability checks the degree of change for a set of data (in this case, the number of launches).  Learners should track how each change they make impacts the results.

Imagination Station Three: Lego Re-Loaded
SUPPLIES
Bags of Legos, Duplo or Standard Size
Index Cards

Lego Bundle

What To Do: On separate index cards, write the following Lego challenges to design each over time –

1. Tallest Tower – Within the next 60 seconds, create a Lego structure that is as tall as possible.

2. Vessel – Create an object that can hold something within the room you are in during your build.

3. Bridge – Develop a structure which connects to areas in the room you are in during your build.

4. Dream House – Design a futuristic home with at least two rooms and an outdoor space.

5. Go Green – Create a tool which can be used to harness energy.

6. Lego Logo – Re-create a famous logo or symbol.

7. Vehicle – Design a means that can transport people by land, sea or air.

8. Mutation – Design a structure that can transform into a living animal or plant.

9. Ecosystem – Build a habitat for an animal or plant to live.

10. Monument – Re-create a famous structure.

The Science – Building requires the participant to use problem solving skills and imagination. While creating structures, learners will employ engineering principles, including stability. Learners will employ the engineering design process to assist in employing their critical and innovative thinking.

Engineering Design Process

Books For Fun – Graphic Novels (Comic Books) have a fun, storytelling platform which appeals to both boys and girls.  Decoding Genes with Max Axiom by Amber J. Keyser is a good read for kids interested in learning more about DNA and genetics.

Decoding Genes Book

Hands-on learning is a platform to develop thinking skills through involvement.  The maker space movement, often spearheaded by public libraries and schools, is a noteworthy trend that empowers learners, both young and old, to develop new skill sets.  Our Community Classroom seeks to do just that by equipping families to learn collaboratively.  In an upcoming post, we will add  a few more of our proposed Community Classroom imagination stations families can try at home and will discuss how to align inquiry stations with a standards-based curriculum.


What Can We Learn From the Atlanta Snow Storm of 2014? Turning Teachable Moments into A Project Based Lesson

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With metro Atlanta children stranded and schools and motorists stuck on our highways, there has been loads of fingerprinting about who is responsible.  Putting away the well deserved frustrations aside, this confluence of hilly southeastern terrain, torrential arctic blasts and overextended transit to and through the city converged to create what some are calling a perfect storm.  The educator in me sees an AWESOME social studies lesson on how government works, and should work.  

This activity can be tailored for any age group capable of reading online text.  Parents at home and teachers at school can individualize the learning to suit the needs of their children: 

Research the roles and responsibilities of the following political leaders: state governor (Georgia), city mayor (Atlanta) and superintendent of schools (state of Georgia, Atlanta Public Schools, Cobb Public Schools, Fulton Public Schools).  This information is available online on government sites and within the state’s laws.

Identify who these leaders are and what were their responses to the storm and resulting transportation issues.  There are numerous interviews available online of many of these leaders.

Do you believe that the decisions these leaders are empowered to make are sufficient to deal with weather emergencies and transportation/traffic?

Question: 
Do their respective functions require that leaders collaborate with other leaders? 

Locate at least one direct quote from each of the leaders and assess their leadership abilities. (This is subjective)

What recommendations would you make for them in respect to their leadership? 

Presentation: Package this research together into an infographic to include quotes, a breakdown of the leaders’ responsibilities and a timeline of their responses to Atlanta’s Snow Storm of 2014.

Again, this activity can be re-structured to meet the learning styles and needs of your learners. Have fun with the graphic design – snow, snowballs, transportation, buses, schools.


Can Communities Be Fixed?

Strong communities are comprised of strong families.  Whether measured by empirical data or the personal narratives of individual families, there is something that is true no matter how we look at it: Families need support.  There is more than a scintilla of evidence which suggests that there is at least a correlating relationship between parental involvement, student academic performance.  And there is evidence that schools with high achieving students are positioned within stable, thriving communities.  What if these factors were all tied together: student achievement, stable communities and parental involvement?  

At Aya Academy of Excellence, we are in the midst of creating a new model of learning, which will support students’ academic learning in school – or at home, by providing a maker space in neighborhoods which lack out-of-school academic opportunities.  Through our Community Classroom we will provide an open share space to provide families opportunities to participate in interactive workshops related to STEM, literacy and art.  On weekends or after school, families can visit the Community Classroom art studio, robotics lab and literacy lounge.  Together, parents and children can build robots together, learn how to code programming and create art.

To support schools, the Community Classroom will partner with local schools to provide staff training on students engagement, parental involvement and content learning.  There are some awesome maker-spaces developing around the nation in schools and libraries for a variety of reasons. We envision that the Community Classroom will be informed by the existing success stories, and will establish an enriching model communities can emulate to rebuild families and communities.

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Words of Wisdom

While curating images and videos to represent our African-American history tableau, my conscience was constantly pricked, realizing that sometimes the ‘least of these’ is forgotten in our history. Black History month focuses on a handful of notable leaders. But this reality of parsing through history is true across United States and global history too. So when I came across a profound Polish proverb about the farmer’s role in society, I had to include it within the 20/20 Tapestry which highlights the contributions of George Washington Carver. It succinctly addresses the importance of the farmer within society.

To me, quotes and sayings are excellent vehicles to critically think within the classroom or around the dinner table. Aya Academy of Excellence’s 20/20 Tapestry Curriculum includes at least one word of wisdom for each lesson to be used as a warm-up in the school setting or as a prompt for parents to use as a conversation starter with their children. Some of my personal favorites from the curriculum are from Maya Angelou, Cicero, and Malcolm Gladwell.

The imagery used in this quote, and throughout the curriculum, helps to convey the raw emotion connected with the words. What will kids feel when they see and hear this picture and the accompanying words? And, more importantly, what does this proverb tell us about the status of farmers? Is poverty monetary or are riches based something less tangible, like our quality of life and overall well-being? Through quotes, highly complex topics, such as social status, can be introduced to even the youngest of learners. And often, there is no right or wrong response. Quotes allow for increased critical thinking in a highly, accessible fashion because they spark both thought and discourse.

Click on the link to view a sample lesson from our point-and-click African-American history curriculum. Proceeds from the sale of our curriculum will provide support for our programming, including our Community Classroom, which is a share space that enables families to engage in STEM, art and literacy together. Thank you for supporting our youth and families.

2020 Tapestry Analyze It_Farmer


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