Thursday, November 26, 2009

Noah's Ark Class Poster

On Sunday mornings, I teach the kindergarten class at our synagogue religious school. I don't know how many PhDs in molecular biology teach kindergarten students, but I definitely believe that more of us should. Perhaps kindergarten education should be a requisite for medical and legal continuing education as well. Of course, we would call it something else, such as Advanced Studies in Humanistic Perspective.

You simply can not think too much of yourself when you teach 5 year olds. You can not take yourself too seriously when you are dancing around the classroom, flapping your arms. You can not worry about your professional image when you are reading a book that requires silly sound effects. Your students will see right through any conceit and call you on it.

That's why I have my students call me Mr. Winicur or Mr. Zev or sometimes just Zev if they can't remember the "Mr." part, but definitely not "Dr. Winicur." Protocols for honorifics are not worth their time and not worth my time. I figure that I can teach them respect for adults without confusing them about what to call whom when. Life is tough enough.

Part of my challenge is to come up with new and exciting ways to engage the students, particularly since I have such a mix of kids. Some of my kids are learning about Judaism for the VERY first time and some of them have been going to Jewish day school every day for the past three years. Some already know how to read, and some are just learning their A-B-Cs. It's a challenge.

So, whenever I come up with a new and exciting activity, I feel compelled to share it and, of course, brag about it. Just because I can't show off to them doesn't mean that I can't show off to YOU.

I call my activity the Noah's Ark Class Poster. Feel free to use it, but please reference me by name whenever you do. My name is Dr. Zev Winicur.


Noah's Ark is one of the best stories for kindergarteners because it bypassess all the boring theology, dogma, and philosophy, and cuts right to the fun stuff: animals and boats. Kindergarteners understand animals and boats.

1 piece of poster board
1 permanent marker
coloring pictures of animals (two of each animal)
coloring supplies (crayons, markers, pencils, etc.)
glue sticks

  1. Draw an ark on the poster board. It should take up most of the posterboard. It doesn't need to look pristine, but it helps if it is vaguely boat shaped. See the picture above.

  2. Find pictures of animals that can be colored in, and make two copies of each animal. Make sure that you have enough DIFFERENT animals so that there is one animal per student. I found (stole) many of my animals from various sites throughout the Web. I don't guarantee that I was not using copyrighted pictures, but I figured the chance of litigation by kindergartener was relatively low.

  3. Put one stack of the animal pictures on the tables in front of the students.

  4. Fold the rest of the animal pictures (the counterparts), and "hide" them around the room. You can decide how well to hide them based on whether you want this to be a remedial exercise, an afikomen hunt, or Indiana Jones's search for the Ark of the Covenant.

  1. Have each student select a picture from the pile on the table. This is their starting animal.

  2. Tell the kids that they must help Noah round up all the animals to put in the ark. To do this, they must find the other animal somewhere in the room.

  3. Tell the kids (AND THIS IS IMPORTANT) that the task is not complete until EVERYONE finds their animal. Therefore, if they come across an animal not their own, they should help their friends by saying, "Does anyone need a giraffe," etc.

  4. Once the kids all have found two of each animal, let them color their animal and cut it out.

  5. As each student finishes with their colored animals, have them glue the animals to the ark.

  6. Proudly display the class poster for at least three weeks until the students get bored with it.
This was a wildly successful activity. First of all, I was able to illustrate and personalize the story of Noah hunting for two of every animal. Second, the kids learned to work together. Many of them really got into helping their friends find their animals. Third, this is a class project, not an individual project, so the kids get to see the fruits of their labor in class every day. More importantly, the parents finally get a day free of tzotchkes that must be displayed on the refrigerator until it crumbles into dust.

No wonder the parents love me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The True Lesson of Sesame Street

With all due respect to Robert Fulghum's heartwarming book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (some might go as far as to call it "literature of ipecac"), I think we need a companion book, All I Need to Know I Learned on Sesame Street.

For example:

  • The world is a diversity of races, ethnicities, colors, and felt patterns.

  • Impulse control, particularly with respect to cookies, is overrated.

  • Math is fun, particularly if it is punctuated with lightning.

  • Corporate sponsorship is ubiquitous ("This episode was brought to you by the letter 'R', and the number '12.'")

However, I think two of the most important lessons are:
  • Know the people in your neighborhood.

  • Surround your personal experience with people from many ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, and ESPECIALLY professions.
This second point is most crucial. Too often, we are constrained by our own professions and social groups. We are afraid to make friends outside our comfort zones. It is vitally important that we extend ourselves. Our social networks should include business people, medical professionals, lawyers, taxi drivers, police, firefighters, teachers, computer programmers, and artists. How else can we gain a balanced perspective of the world? How else can we teach our children about infinite diversity?

How else can we barter favors or seek free advice?

Let me put it this way...if I know that if I have a legal problem, medical problem, security problem, or computer problem, I have people I can contact who will point me in the right direction, even if they can't directly help me.

That is the true lesson of Sesame Street.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Repo! The Genetic Opera - WTF?

Yes, kids...WTF means "What the fooey?" Just ask your parents.

My wife and I found the perfect Halloween that left us scratching our heads and asking each other, "Did we just share the same hallucination?" The movie is called "Repo! The Genetic Opera". It is a goth sci-fi horror rock opera. And you know that you just don't run into many of those at the family theatre these days

The movie has an impressive cast: Alexa Vega (definitely moving past her Spy Kids years), Anthony Stewart Head (very reminiscent of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer work), Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, and a cast of others I had never heard of before. It also stars Paris Hilton perfectly cast as a character who needs to look alternately trampy and vapid. Not so much "vampy" as "trampid."

The backdrop of the movie, a goth sci-fi horror rock opera, is definitely original. In the future, an epidemic of organ failures devasted the planet and GeneCo, a multi-billion dollar biotech company, emerged. GeneCo supplies organ transplantation for a profit, and the company offers financing for those who can not afford new organs. Of course, if you can not make your payments, an organ repo man comes to collect your organs. Due to a bill passed by Congress, organ repossesion (carried out by skilled assassin surgeons) is now legal.

Onto this rather gruesome cinematic canvas comes a bizarre story of Nathan Wallace, an organ repo man (Anthony Stewart Head) who's daughter (Alexa Vega) has a rare blood disease that she's been told she inherited from her mother. She doesn't know that her dad is a legal assassin and not a doctor as he claims, but as she escapes from her room, which has become her prison both methaphorically and practically, she starts to discover just how dangerous the world is around her.

The president of GeneCo, Rotti Largo, is dying and must find an heir. Too bad his children are all murderous, psychotic nincompoops (this is my description, not can't use "nincompoop" in a goth sci-fi horror rock opera). And, as you will find out, Rotti is not only Nathan's boss but responsible for the death of his wife 17 years ago...even though Nathan blames himself for her death.

Oh, and there's a graverobber who steals dead bodies to steal their fluids to make Zydrate, a cheap, highly addictive pain killer used by people who are addicted to multiple surgeries.

At this point, you are either a) curious about the idea, b) totally sold on the concept, or c) already losing your lunch in the toilet just at my description. If you are c), you should probably skip this one, particularly since it was made by the producers of the "Saw" movies. It is definitely not a movie that I could in good conscious call "good" or even "above average," but it is definitely engaging, enthralling, and very, very different.

It has Anthony Stewart Head who is a fine actor who can alternately do bookish everyman, hardened psychotic killer, and rock singer...and have you believe all three. It has Sarah Brightman, who lends some gravitas to the opera part of the rock opera. It has Alexa Vega, who is a rising pop star and effective actress in her own right. It has Paul Sorvino playing the bad guy and singing (who knew?). And it has Paris Hilton. But frankly she doesn't get in the way of the experience as much as you would think.

It is an experience. Whether you find it a good experience, bad experience, or overly medicated experience depends a lot on you. But no matter who you are, you will definitely come out of the movie asking, "What the fooey?"