Special Lessons for Odd Times

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break are a challenging time to keep-up student interest and maintain an orderly classroom. I like to take the time to do longer-term in-class projects. It makes these trying weeks special and gives kids an incentive to stay emotionally present in school.

It’s a great time of year to use Tuva regularly. These few weeks are ideal for  mini-research projects or statistics based units. You have three weeks for students to dive deeply into various topics, write papers and create presentations. When students are driving their own learning the struggle to keep them engaged dissipates.

Tuva’s new tools allow you to do this with minimal work on your part.  We’ve found the data for you. Now you just have to write the questions and get computers into the hands of your kiddies.

If you don’t see a topic you want your students to explore please fill out a dataset request and we will put it together for you as soon as possible.

Beyond the Paper-Hand Turkey

I love the time honored tradition of the Paper-Hand Turkey as much as the next guy (though I’m not sure how much that actually is) but making paper turkeys in and of themselves doesn’t add much value to the lives of students.

Holidays have real histories and real economic ramifications. When planning lessons about Thanksgiving, especially in the age of Backward Design, Purposeful Play and Common Core, we should make sure the goals of our lessons matter.

To help you plan, we’ve composed three ways to teach about Thanksgiving using real world data and that cover meaningful topics.

1. The History

The real story of Thanksgiving is significantly more interesting than the myths and should be part of the American narrative. The Mayflower actually had two types of travelers. Pilgrims moving to the New World to have space to practice their religion in peace and entrepreneurs coming to the New World hoping to make a living.

Use Tuva Labs datasets to explore who was on the Mayflower. Examine the numbers of Pilgrims in relation to everyone else. Look at the numbers of men and women. And discuss the social ramifications behind this combination of travelers. Examine who lived and who died.  Ask students to find the correlation between social status and survival.  Explore who signed the Mayflower Compact and what that tells us about our roots as a democracy.

Check out the legacy. Examine how many people in the U.S. today can trace their roots back to the Mayflower. 

Students can examine the numbers of Native Americans living in New England and their swift and sad decline compared to 1620.  This activity can be a cornerstone of your curriculum because it’s a truth you must return to when teaching American History.

2. The Economics of the Thanksgiving Table

Let your students explore the Tuva Labs data set about how much people spend on the holiday and examine if it is worth the expense and why. Explore if dinner has become cheaper or more expensive as the holiday evolves.

3. The Economics of Black Friday

Black Friday is a phenomenon that fascinates my students. Thier conversations vacillate between disbelief coupled with disgust and how much they really do want the new X-Box. A great exercise is to examine how good the savings actually are.  Add the savings to it the opportunity cost of waiting in line, giving up Thanksgiving, being cold and uncomfortable and you know, possibly getting trampled by other crazed shoppers.  Decide if and when braving the black Friday sales are worth it.

Our Black Friday dataset allows you to examine how many people participate, how much they spend and how those numbers have changed over time. Pose the questions, what direction are we going as a society based on that data? Can we make conclusions based on this?

The history and economics of holidays are always great ways to provide important lessons on played out topics. Not that I don’t love the art of the Paper-Hand Turkey, but there is more to Thanksgiving than that.


6 Ways to Talk about Ebola in the Classroom

1.  Acknowledge your students

Acknowledge what your students know and identify the common misconceptions. This may seem obvious but activating prior knowledge it’s an important step in creating new understanding that is often skipped because of time constraints. Ask the kids what they know, where they learned it, and what they want to know. Acknowledge that Ebola sounds scary. Then, make room for questions. You can do this via a simple Do Now, a KWL or a Think Pair Share.

2.  Examine the credibility of experts

Chose two experts who have been vocal about combating Ebola in the U.S. Look at their credentials and determine if they are qualified to make public policy around medicine.  Are these people doctors? Nurses? Army Generals? Congresspeople? Televangelists? Chatty old ladies? Engage in a discussion about whose expertise is most applicable to a medical event and why those professionals should have the public trust.

3. Get down to the facts

The best way to stop fear is by empowering students with the knowledge they need to make safe decisions. Ebola is not new; we know how it is transmitted. The CDC and others go into detail about when people become contagious and how they transmit the virus. Students should not fear riding the subway and taking the bus. Plus, if de Blasio can do it, we can do it!

4. Teach Compassion

Most civilians in Africa who contract Ebola do so when caring for a loved one. Ebola is transmitted when we do the most human of things – care for each other. We need to show compassion for those who travel overseas to help and for those Africans who contracted Ebola while caring for others.

Show the photo of President Obama hugging Nurse Nina Pham and pose the question: what is the message behind the president’s action? What should we learn from this?

Send thank you letters to the medical volunteers. If you can find an address, electronic or real life, please let me know. I can’t find anything.

5.  Stage a Debate

As congress, the military and the American public battle it out over border closures and mandatory quarantines, one up congress by staging your own debate.  Make sure your students have credible sources to start with.

6.  Be a data scientist

Let your students become scientists by allowing them to explore Ebola data in Africa using the drag and drop data visualization tools on Tuva Labs. You can create your own questions or use one of the ready-made activities.

Join the discussion!

Please join the discussion about addressing Ebola in the classroom and share your ideas and critiques.