Aya Academy of Excellence


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.  


Netflix: Black History Month Through Film

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I milk every ounce of the $7 I pay Netflix each month.  I scraped cable nearly four years ago and have not looked back.  A family member was lamenting last week that there was nothing on television, although she forks over a cool $70+ per month on satellite services.  I had to to fight from giving a Kanye shrug. WINNING!

Aside from Binge watching television programming like Law and Order and Frasier, Netflix provides me access to quite a few independent films and theatrical releases that didn’t last too long in the theater.

This month, there are quite a few interesting films to watch during Black History Month.  So if you have considered adding Netflix to your entertainment cadre, this would be an advantageous time to do so. When watching films with children, you can use the Story Chips tool to assist in establishing thoughtful dialogue.  Also, consider incorporating a hands-on project after viewing, such as creating a movie poster for the film highlighting one o the pivotal scenes or important themes.

 

Here’s a list of sixteen films presently available for viewing for each of the remaining days of Black History Month.

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  1. Winnie Mandela – a biopic starring Jennifer Hudson as the South African leader who triumphed over incarceration and her husband’s twenty-seven year imprisonment. The last decade shown in the film is some of the most gripping as it shows her relationship with Mandela and the ANC fractured due to her embracing militant ideals and practices.
  2. The Black Panther Mixtape – I’m watching the tail-end of this Swedish documentary now.  It’s intriguing to observe the words of Stokely Carmichael (I did not know he was Trinidadian) and Bobby Seale laced with John Forte and Talib Kewli.  The timeline format aids in understanding how events unfolded and attitudes shifted.
  3. Surviving Katrina – a documentary on the hurricane which raged through New Orleans and exposed the socio-political issues we have in our nation.
  4. Hard Lessons – Starring Denzel Washington, this drama based on real-life events tells the story of George McKenna, the tough, determined new principal of a notorious Los Angeles high school. 
  5. The Long Walk Home – A film, starring Whoopi Goldberg, about the Montgomery bus boycott from the perspective of a white woman and her black housekeeper.
  6. The Journey of August King – a film about a runaway slave during the 1815.
  7. Savannah – A film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as a freed slave during Reconstruction and his friendship with an aristocratic white man.
  8. Night Catches Us – Starring Kerri Washington, a film depicting a former Panther and his re-connection with the daughter of a former Panther leader.
  9. Salute – a short documentary on the 1968 Olympic historic moment when two champions raised the black fist salute at the medal podium.
  10. Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin – A documentary about one of the major architects of the Civil Rights Movement. 
  11. Shaft – Starring Samuel L. Jackson in the John Singleton remake based on the story created by illustrious photographer Gordon Parks.
  12. Luv, Starring Common as a man returning home after eight years in prison.
  13. A Band Called Death – a documentary about three Detroit brothers who formed the first African American punk  band.
  14. Akeelah and the Bee – A middle school girl capitalizes on her love of words to participate in the National Spelling Bee Competition. 
  15. Gifted Hands – Cuba Gooding, Jr portrays neurosurgeon Ben Carson in a biopic showing his development from a struggling student into an expert physician. 
  16. All Things Fall Apart – Under the direction of Mario Van Peeples, 50 Cents stars as a gifted college running back whose world turns upside down when a crisis jeopardizes his professional ambitions — and teaches him some life lessons.

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.


When Angela Speaks…

When Angela Speaks...

Someone needs to do a study on why there are so many males, often jocks, who comprise the social studies departments in this country. And within that study, it would be intriguing to read how their world view impresses upon the learner the historical record of our nation and world. While I was growing up, all of my social studies teachers were male. I loved to hear their accounts of the movers and shakers of the past…all interspersed with recollections of last Sunday’s big game. But to the ‘victors go the spoils.’ Those who hold the position of telling the history of society have the ability to shape that history based on their personal perspective.

While at the craft store Michael’s after church this afternoon, my daughter showed me a magazine and asked, “Who are they?’ The front cover was an image of the Beatles from the 1960s. Quite a bit of pop culture and history dissipates from one generation to the next. If we are not careful, significant people and events will fade from memory as well.

None of my social studies teachers taught lessons or provided activities based on the contributions of black Americans…or Latino Americans…or Asian Americans. That learning came later, independently. For families who want to instill a sense of legacy within their children, relying solely on the school’s curriculum may not be the most effective recourse. So how can families impart culturally relevant teaching at home and within their community? Here are a few ideas:

1. There are some cultures which invest in half day academic and cultural studies learning. Muslim families, Asian families and those following the Catholic and Jewish faiths, send their children to classes to learn the language and practices of their culture. Find or form classes with like-minded families.

2. Living literature. Some home-school families approach the learning of history and culture through reading novels and biographies. Create a reading list with the help of your local librarian that is thematic or chronological.

3. Multimedia. This approach is similar to living literature, except that it uses music, theatrical films and documentaries in lieu of books.

4. Dialogue. Engage people in conversation who have accounts of historical experiences.

Building historical memory aids in bridging understanding between generations and cultures, sexes. It assists with helping society in getting a pulse check to ascertain how we got were we are today based on the circumstances and people of the past. There are times when I get dismayed that the younger generation carries themselves in a fashion that does not honor the struggle of the past. However, it is difficult to hold them accountable to a history they are unaware of and therefore cannot appreciate.


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.


Teaching with Picture Books: Part 1

When I began teaching in the 1990’s I had the great fortune of experiencing baptism by fire. Although my alma mater, the illustrious Hoftsra University boasts one of the most laudable teaching preparation programs in the nation, very little can prepare you for becoming a middle school teacher in a community grappling with severe issues of poverty, drug use and crime. Every issue a community faces is reflected in the lives of its children and as a classroom teacher, these issues become ones that must be recognized and faced.

Understandably, while students are juggling immense socio-economic family and community issues, academic advancement becomes challenged. Author Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, discusses how parental academic achievement, and specifically the areas of vocabulary acquisition and executive function, impact the learning of students. In a nutshell, parents are the springboard to their children’s learning. What parents know and the academic norms they possess, can affect how well a child will learn.

So in 1996, when three eleven year old boys ‘would not’ pay attention or participate in our guided reading activities, I had to learn through experience that their inability was attributed to the text being inaccessible. Although they were in the sixth grade, they were each reading several grade levels behind. One student could not sound out the word ‘great’ in a social studies passage on Alexander the Great. At that moment, I realized that the text was a hindrance and headed to the local library where I scoured the shelves for picture books on the ancient civilizations we were studying. By using fiction and non-fiction picture books, the content was accessible and my students were able to cull historical information about ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Rome.

Picture books, as mentor texts, are bridges parents at home and teachers at school, can use to provide context for science or history content. When I home-schooled my daughters, we read a few picture books each week on historic figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Mandela and Wilma Rudolph. The vivid imagery helped build engagement and the shorter passages meant that we could dive into another person’s life at least every other day.

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum Reading Selection for The Trailblazers' Lesson Plan

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum Reading Selection for The Trailblazers’ Lesson Plan

For our 20/20 Tapestry Curriculum, we have a list of picture books suited for the study of African American history. Our curriculum is divided into twenty lessons, each uncovering a specific archetype – moguls, inventors, champions, etc. During our journey of discovery of The Trailblazer, we investigate the American cowboy through the adventures of Bass Reeves, Stage Coach Mary Fields and Nate Love. Check out our video to learn how Jerdine Nolen’s Thunder Rose can be used to teach language development and history, all while engaging young listeners through an interactive approach.


It’s All Greek to Me

When deciding how my daughters and I would approach homeschooling, we had to chisel through heaps of different approaches and materials.  Pinterest has become our best friend as we have found a slew of activities and techniques.  Honestly, I was impressed by the creativity and commitment of families who have elected to educate their children at home.  Their pins and blogs illustrate that they have found the secret  to children’s academic success: focus on learning and keep teaching engaging.

Without the fetters of excessive paperwork and other common constraints of public school, children flourish.  So with all this said, the first month has been a whirlwind and a joyous success as the girls and I delved into our first unit study- ancient Greece.

Here is some of what we do did…and why we chose to go in that direction.

1. We have opted for a unit study approach.  The girls and I, through unit studies, have a chance to explore a topic, especially world cultures.  Although our days are spent at home, or at the library, we can connect to people and concepts far away from us.  We started with Ancient Greece and have scoured our local library for books connected with the topic.  A favorite mentor text was The Librarian Who Measure the Earth. It blended science, math and culture seamlessly. The girls were able to connect to the concept of cultures, in this case Greece and Egypt, co-existing at the same time.

2. Lap books – the marriage between foldables and a manilla folder – helps chronicle, in a structured way, our learning.  We used a free resource on-line.  It was OK but I know that my creativity is leading me to create customized lap books for future units.  The one we used was a great start but I’m excited about mixing up elements to extend their learning in a more interactive format.

Ava’s Lapbook with Cover of the Parthenon

3. Co-op – one week before beginning our homeschool journey my eldest said she was concerned about it being ‘just us.’ That threw me for a loop since she’s often felt isolated at school.  Her concern caused me to join a local co-op so the girls had weekly contact  with other kids on a consistent basis.  Thus far, the girls have met up with the co-op at local parks, participated in river explorations and joined in a storytelling event.

4. YMCA – thank goodness for this Godsend!  The pool is our PE place of choice.  The girls found it more fun when the outdoor pool was open, but I’m grateful we have a facility close by to change up our PE routine.  Aside from the Y, local parks and YouTube have been great.  Ava is our Yoga guru, and with the help of YouTube, we are perfecting our ‘downward dog’ on at home.

Growing Avid Readers – Courtesy of Riordan’s Percy Jackson and The Olympians

5. Literature studies – I love reading…and so does my eldest, Eden…but my youngest finds it boring.  To spice up reading, we are careful to select books that are interesting due to relevance and to the author’s ability to create a vibrant picture with words.  Within the past few weeks, we’ve read biographies Wilma Unlimited about the Olympian Wilma Rudolph! Eleanor: Quiet No More about First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Ray about the music great Ray Charles.  These stories tie into our studies and our character development creed.  The first few weeks we studied the principle of endurance and the challenges  each biographical figure had to overcome served as inspiration.  Our core book, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, has been PHENOMENAL.   It’s great for  vocabulary acquisition – love Riordan’s word choices; vocab such as cackled, sauntered and glumly are presented.  And of course, it ties in with our unit studies on Ancient Greece.

6. Expeditionary Learning- we are out and about almost every day.  We take trips to utilize our local community resources including the library and park but have also made a commitment to take ‘big trips’ on Fridays every few weeks.  Our first was to Nashville to visit the Parthenon replica at Centennial Park.  The girls were blown away at the enormity of the Athena statue on the upper  level.  When we returned home, they had a heightened (no pun intended) interest in Greek mythology.  I whipped out a copy of  DK’s Illustrated Book of Myths that I’ve had for about fifteen years. Our quick trip to Nashville lead to their interest in hearing about Persephone, Orpheus and Icarus.

7. Pop Culture – the girls have watched Disney’s Hercules a million times.  Full disclosure, Meg’s signature song, is my favorite Disney tune.  So watching Hercules for a millionth and one time seemed appropriate.  And since we watched it after making paper mâché bowls, not the best rendition of Greek art, we had a nice frame of reference to talk about city-states,  muses and trade.  Once we finish reading The Lightening Thief  – we read one to two chapters a day – then we will also watch that movie too.  The girls are intrigued that various scenes and characters are not in the film.

8. I love art.  Its messy.  It’s colorful.  It’s expressive.  Several times a week, we create water-color canvases, shadow puppet theaters and paper mâché objects.  Again, Pinterest is amazing.  I’ve curated a ton of projects the girls and I will create throughout the next year.

9. Math – I’m certified in three core subjects…but math is not one of them.  While the girls were in public school, their school provided each student a subscription to IXL.  It’s been perfect for reinforcement.  I love that it is organized to follow the state standards and that the girls can go at their own pace.

10. Morning Ministry – We open each morning with prayer.  This establishes a warm tone to our day.  We follow with either a scripture study, prayer bucket activity or hands-on craft.  It’s also an opportune time for us to discuss how to work out our issues using the Word of God as our touchstone.

Overall, homeschooling has been an amazing experience for us and I am looking forward to watching the growth of our family as a result of this connection.


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