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DIFFERENTIATION – STANDARDIZATION – ARTIFACTS

Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.” — Claude Levi-Strauss

I was checking my “News Feed” on Facebook today. Someone had posted an interesting item, one of those pictures with pithy a pithy saying written across the top. This one showed a teacher at his desk with the wordscake bite, “Why do they want you to differentiate in your teaching when they standardize your testing?” I usually smile at these types of “railing against the wind” entries, but this one triggered a thought, “What if you could differentiate AND standardize at the same time?” Sort of like “Eating your cake and having it, too,” with better benefits………..

Artifacts naturally and immediately differentiate. This occurs because we are human. When a person is confronted with an object with which he/she is unfamiliar, the first thing that happens is to try and relate the object to something in one’s past. The mind immediately begins an analysis starting with, “What does this look like (that I have seen/used before)?” The natural response to an unfamiliar artifact is to reach out and touch it. This is also an attempt to relate to the object through examination. The mind attempts to resolve the problem of hand-drill“What is this?” through the senses: seeing, touching, smelling…. What this means for us as teachers is that, each student, when presented with an object he/she has not seen before, connects with it personally through his/her natural senses. Not only is this engagement at its best, but it is also differentiation at its finest. When we ask the questions, “What is this and why is it important to us right here, right now?”, we do not add the caveat(s), “Think about this only in English.”, or “Where is this found in a 5 bedroom house?”, or “Read the essay about this before you look at it.” Instead, we ask the open-ended question, and allow each student to begin his/her road to the answer through his/her level of experience. This first step, accession of prior knowledge, occurs at the level of “higher-order thinking.” It occurs in all languages and across all ethnicities. It contains no gender boundary, nor any reading or writing skill level. Yet, it reaches every student at a personal level. Artifacts naturally and immediately differentiate.

Artifacts lead directly to standardization. Every set of State Educational Standards contains the following goal, “the preparation of students for the 21st century through teaching them 21st century skills.” That set of skills most often is defined as, “analysis, synthesis, cooperative effort, decision-making and communication.” If our goal is truly the incorporation and refinement of these skills, then artifacts are the best, and easiest method to reach that goal successfully. Divide any class into groups (size of the group does not differentiationreally matter), and ask them our open-ended question, then step back and watch what happens. Students will examine the artifact. Each student will relate it to his/her own experience and communicate with the group his/her ideas. Discussion naturally occurs as differences of interpretation naturally arise from each individual’s personal experiences. Students create an argument (“I think it is….”) based on hands-on evidence (clues they have derived from their analysis). They begin to synthesize the evidence from all in the group (cooperative effort) and then make a decision based on a group consensus. The final step is to communicate their answer (decision) to the group, “We think this is “x”, because of “a, b, c.” The artifact-centered lesson has, in the simplest fashion, just practiced each student individually and collectively in the use of the very 21st century skills we all are required to teach. We have addressed our state standards and their goals. We have taught the standards without “teaching to the test.” We have prepared our students, regardless of grade level, reading, writing, or language ability, to think critically, make decisions based on evidence, and communicate those decisions effectively. Artifacts lead directly to improved performance in a “standardized environment.”

Artifact-centered lessons provide the opportunity to differentiate naturally and teach to standards effectively 21st depicteach and every time they are utilized. Artifacts are easily inserted into your current lesson plans in math, Language Arts, science, art, theatre, and Social Studies. You can quickly and easily create an artifact-centered lesson/exercise to introduce a unit/lesson, enhance an existing unit/lesson, or assess the information in a unit/lesson.The question, then, is, “Why are you not using artifacts in your classroom?” They are readily available at www.artifactsteach.com. Artifacts differentiate and standardize simultaneously because

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LET’S GET ENGAGED IV: CLEAR THE AIR

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
                                                                                                                      Albert Einstein

Every teacher wants his/her students to be successful. In nearly thirty years of teaching and mentoring, I have yet to encounter a teacher who wants his/her students to fail. I believe it is the principal reason we all became teachers in the first place. We know the joy of learning and want others to experience the same excitement and pleasure we feel as we learn. Learning occurs best in a positive, supportive environment. The definition of that setting has changed radically over the last 20 years.

When I began my career, we were taught the basics of lesson planning, classroom management, and assessment. Our pedagogy instructors concentrated on teaching us to create interesting and informative lectures combined with assigned textbook readings, and summative assessments that tested retention of the material presented. Basically, we were taught to disseminate information and then test to find out how much sage on stageour students had retained. For its time, the late ’60s and early ’70s, this worked pretty well. High school diplomas and Bachelor’s degrees indicated that the holder possessed a standard level of knowledge and competency. Extensive research was reserved for those who would go on to graduate school. Then, along came Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the creators of the Internet, and everything changed….. except for classroom practices.

Students today enter our classrooms with the capability of finding information instantaneously. Using phones, tablets and/or laptops, they can access not only basic information, but also critiques, reviews, extensive research and opposing ideas concerning just about any topic. In addition, today’s employers want employees who can ttcskillswork effectively in the 21st century workplace. Thinking critically, working collaboratively, synthesizing large amounts of information into understandable conclusions, and communicating those decisions effectively are the skills necessary in be successful today and tomorrow. Our job as teachers necessitates that we create the classroom conditions and the instructional pedagogy that teaches and supports those 21st century skills.

Let’s clear the air about classroom instruction. Textbooks are on the way out. They are either too generic, too biased, or too outdated to be of much use. Students don’t read them, preferring to find out the “facts” from sources on the Internet. Knowing “2 times 2 equals 4” is less important than understanding how many different ways we can get “4.” Memorizing the Table of Elements is less important than understanding atomic theory and how it affects matter and energy. It is the substance of learning – how, why, to what affect, and in what way – that our students need to understand, and that our classrooms need to foster. So, what can we do? Here are two very important elements for your success and that of your students:

1. Create a classroom environment that allows for extensive risk taking.

2. Maintain the highest levels of expectation for every student

Regarding risk taking, make sure from the first day of class that you create an accepting and open atmosphere that treats mistakes as steps to learning.This does not mean that every answer is correct, or even acceptable. It does mean that every answer should be supported with evidence. “I believe the answer is  _____, BECAUSE ______” works for Kindergarteners as well as college seniors. This approach allows for the greatest risk-taking. If the answer misses the mark, it is the process of risk-takingcoming to the conclusion that is in error, not the student. As the teacher, you can point out the missing link in the cause and effect, and allow the student to revisit the question, the evidence and the answer. This works for science, math and Social Studies equally well. It works in PE and Choir and chemistry and English composition. But, it only works if you establish the openness in your classroom that allows for mistakes. You must establish an atmosphere of support for students’ ideas, efforts and conclusions. Point out the steps in the process that resulted in a “wrong answer” rather than pointing out that the student was wrong. You are not rewarding incorrect answers as the student still needs to return to the process until the expected result is achieved.

Regarding high levels of expectation, the literature concerning expectations and achievement convincingly demonstrates that students rise to meet the levels of expectation that are established and consistently applied. This means that the burden is on you, the teacher, not only to establish and maintain the expectations, but also thigh expectationso demonstrate how those expectations can be achieved. Base your instruction on evidence supported conclusions. Show students how to assemble arguments and communicate ideas. Ask them for opinions and conclusions drawn from materials they have just read or studied. Will every student perform at the same level? The answer to that question is “no.” If they did, we wouldn’t need teachers, would we? You are the professional. You have been trained to identify the skills and the needs of each student. Use what you know to set the bar high for each student based on his/her potential. You already “differentiate,” make sure that your adjustments are maintaining your expectations, not diluting them. At the end of the year, look back on your instruction and know that you maximized the potential of every individual in your classroom. Nothing beats that…. nothing.

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LET’S GET ENGAGED II: GETTING REAL

“23 Exabytes of information was recorded and replicated in 2002. We now record and transfer that much information every 7 days.”    Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

In today’s world, more new information comes online in a week than had been previously produced in a year. This information – data, facts, opinions, ideas and images, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr posts – has shaped every student’s perception of his/her world and changed the 21st century classroom.

Today’s students have different expectations when they enter a classroom. First, they already possess access to more information than you can give them. They don’t seek your sage insights from behind the podium. They can go online and get all the sage advice that they need from “experts.”

They expect a learning experience that is “relevant” to them. “Relevance” means something very different to relevance_imagethem than it did/does to older generations. For those in school during the final decades of the 20th century, “relevance” was a negative term. it connoted “sameness,” “blandness,” and “lacking specific defining characteristics.” Relevancy was equated with absurdity, as in “making everything equally important.” Ironically, “relevance” relegated a person or an idea irrelevant for consideration. Today, the word carries much more weight.

For students today, ideas, information, problems, or studies are relevant if they affect the students’ lives. Today, relevance equates with “real,” as opposed to theoretical. For instance, a person in math class would consider an algebra problem that pertains to the production and transportation of grain to 3rd World countries to the more standard, “A train left the station traveling at 30 mph. Four hours later another train left the station traveling 20% faster than the first. How long….” While most 7th and 8th grade algebra students are not directly involved in ending world hunger, they recognize the problem as important to them individually and to their generation environmentalscias a whole. In history class, studying ancient empires as attempts to organize solutions to problems created in the competition for resources carries more relevance than studying leaders, memorizing dates, and listing their cultural characteristics and contributions to society. In Language Arts, an argumentative piece about “fracking” would engage students more readily than one about the effectiveness of UN policies. Third and Fourth grade students are more engaged when addressing problems of community in their school than they are with state politics. Topics that touch students’ lives engage students immediately because they meet students’ definition of “relevance.”

Artifacts are probably the easiest method of establishing relevance in the classroom. If you want to talk about community, have your students analyze a sign restricting access to a park, or a neighborhood. If you want to are-you-ready-1talk about the environment, bring in lawn fertilizer and determine where all of the contents go after they are dispersed over thousands of lawns on the weekend. If you would like to engage students in math class, have them work on the population rates in their city and state. Might that engage them more than the odd percentages problem from the math book? A couple of words of advice, however, BE READY for their answers and allow them to engage in solutions you might never have thought about. If you are going to open your classroom to artifacts, you must be open to the discussions they generate, because, above all

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PRACTICING CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imagination and marks the real advances in science.    – Albert Einstein

Einstein’s words apply not only to science, but also to math, Language Arts, Social Studies, avoiding traffic jams, and plumbing. He is talking about thinking creatively. We are not born with this skill. It must be learned. Administrators at both state and national levels have recognized the importance of critical thinking for the 21st century and have set “creating thinking” as a goal in all adopted classroom standards.  How better to learn a skill than from a professional teacher who can model creative thinking AND set up the conditions in which students can practice until proficient?

Teachers are trained to teach skills. Too often, we think those skills only include our “times tables,” how to Teacherscalculate the area of a triangle, or that “i” comes before “e” except after “c” (unless it really doesn’t). These skills are necessary. We cannot possibly function effectively in the world without knowing basic math, reading and writing skills. To grow, advance, and experience the world fully, we need to be able to think in new ways about our problems, the problems of society and those that plague the world. After all, it was “old thinking” that created the problems. Why would “old thinking” provide a solution? New thoughts, approaches, and actions are required. Creative thinking develops those thoughts, approaches and actions.

Creative thinking is a process. Betty Edwards, in her outstanding book Drawing from the Artist Within, outlines that process as including five steps. Those steps are:

1. First insight: seeking or discovering problems that need solving.

2. Saturation: gathering, sorting and categorizing information that might help in finding a solutionprocess

3. Incubation: searching for a solution (trial and error, brainstorming, group collaboration, etc.)

4. The “A-Ha Moment”: when the solution suddenly appears – often called “insight”

5. Verification:  testing the insight/solution.

As with every process, practice makes us more proficient. One of the best ways to practice critical thinking is to use an artifact. Let’s demonstrate how using an artifact matches the process:

1. Place an artifact in front of the class and ask, “What is this and why is it important to us, right here, right now?”  You have presented the class with a problem that needs to be solved. You have asked an open-ended question that allows for the process to proceed unimpeded. There is no “right answer” to this question.

2. Have students analyze the artifact. Have them record all the details: size, color, shape, nicks, cracks, wear and tear, and so on. No speculation about what the artifact is or how it might be used is permitted. This is the “Saturation” step. Students, alone or in groups, gather as much information as is available. Students should write a sentence here that fully describes the object and that includes all the details.

3. In groups, students should share all of their information and begin to speculate what the object might be, based upon the evidence they have gathered. This is the incubation step. Wild speculation, i.e. “The aliens did inkwellit,” is automatically excluded as all ideas must be based on the information they have gathered in Step 2. Teachers should pay close attention here, but should only intervene when suppositions are totally illogical, as in, “This crack was created when Captain America dropped it from a spaceship.” Interventions should only appear as questions that cause the students to think further into their evidence or re-evaluate their statements. At the end of this step, students should complete this statement, “I/We think the objects is a ____________.”

4. Communication among group participants will become more and more logical as the students proceed in Step 3. Some groups will discern what the object is and why it is important before others. It is best not to share between groups until the next step. Intervention is allowed, however, it must appear only as questions that cause the students to think more deeply about their statements.

5. Have each group share its decision about what the object is and why it is important with the rest of the class. Decisions must be accompanied by  the evidence used to draw the conclusion. (We think that the object is an axe because it has a long handle and the head has a very sharp end and a blunt end opposite the blade.) This is Step 5: Verification. Other groups should be free to ask questions about the conclusions and/or the evidence. The class can vote on what they feel the best answers are based on the evidence at hand.

Artifacts quickly and easily take students through the critical thinking process. Artifacts are engaging. Artifacts are challenging. Artifacts add rigor and depth to your classroom. Regardless of your discipline,

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ARTIFACTS, APPLICATIONS AND ADAPTATIONS

“The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it. ”                      — Trevor Bayliss, British Inventor

In our previous blog entry, we mentioned that we often get questions about the number or type of artifacts in the Teacher’s Closet on the Artifacts Teach website. These questions come in the form of, “What Civil War artifacts do you have?” or “What Revolutionary War artifacts do you have?”, or “What do you have that is 20th Century?” These questions, while well-meaning, miss the mark. To pigeon-hole an artifact is to limit its applicability. Let me give you some examples.

Let us begin with a drop spindle. This item (pictured at the right)  is used to spin thread from cotton, wool or flax. The drop spindle has been around for over 6,000 years. So, this one artifact can be used to teach both the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in Western Civilization. It can be used to teach World History as it appears in all of the Ancient Civilizations at approximately the same time. National Geographic Magazine recently featured a story about finding the hidden tomb of a Mayan princess. Wrapped in a leather bag drop spindlealong with jewelry and precious stones was a drop spindle. It can be used to teach the Revolutionary War. American Colonial women began the “Homespun Movement” in an attempt to cripple the British Imperial economy in the 1770s. It can be used to discuss Native American culture. Men in the pueblos of the Southwest spun clothing and rugs while women worked in the fields. After the Spanish conquest, the advent of European ideas and religion changed pueblo society completely and women became the spinners, while men worked the fields. During the Great Depression, the WPA taught home spinning to unemployed men and women as a means of making ends meet. A drop spindle can be used to teach post-World War II anti-colonialism as well.  Ghandi used home spinning as a tool to break the back of the British economy in India and achieve independence.

The drop spindle also teaches math, science and Language Arts. The construction of a drop spindle contains circles, cones, and cylinders. Math principles involved include circumference, radius, and diameter. (math) The amount of weight added to the spindle determines the tightness of the thread that is spun.(physics) The elements that are used to construct the spindle and the attached the weight reflect the environmental and geographical conditions at the time. (science) The design of the drop spindle reveals status and cultural development. ( Sociology, Anthropology) Words associated with spinning have defined women’s roles throughout history. (Language Arts) So, how would you classify a drop spindle? What “kind” of artifact is it? To what era does it belong?

Another example is the simple American Woodsman’s Axe. It is designed specifically to remove bark and fell trees. The design of the head of the axe contains both basic math lessons (size, shape) and geometry and physics lessons (shape of the wedge, angles, relationship of head to handle, curvature of the handle and its impact on efficiency). The axe is also a Language Arts lesson. Think about the story of Paul Bunyan. If I am not mistaken,  he used an axeAmerican Woodsman’s axe. The original Anglo colonists brought axes with them. They quickly discovered that the large, flat blades of a board axe did not work well to clear trees for the planting of crops. They modified it to meet their needs. Those modifications continued as Anglo-Europeans moved westward in the 18th and 19th centuries. That is surely history, but it is also science and math. Is it Colonial history, or Westward Movement, or Environmental history? How would you classify the American Woodsman’s axe?

We can go on and on here. The Teacher’s Closet at www.artifactsteach.com contains candle molds (math, science, history, Language Arts), Minie Balls (Civil War, Economics, Globalization, science and math), a beaver hat (economics, history, art, globalization, Language Arts, environmental science and math) a toy bank (Industrialization, cultural history, math, science), a miner’s candlestick (math, science, economics, An Apple composed by several fruitshistory, Language Arts) and so on, for some forty-odd artifacts. Each of these has multiple applications over a wide range of space, time, and disciplines. Artifacts Teach has the artifacts that can help you engage your students and teach them critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, decision-making, problem-solving and communications skills? Artifacts Teach has assembled a series of artifacts on-line that students can manipulate as if they were holding them in class. We continually add to that cache, provide hints and help for students, and context support for teachers. We suggest ways in which teachers can use them in existing lesson plans. Why? Because thirty years of teaching has proven to us that

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CYBER LEARNING, ENGAGEMENT, ARTIFACTS TEACH

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Research has shown that two factors not only improve student attention and retention, but also increase student performance. Those two items are use of appropriate technology and positive student engagement. Let’s define “technology” as “cyber learning.” That is the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning. This could be employing the Internet as a research tool, or using a SMART board to deliver information, or delivering feedback to students via social media. Regardless of the form, the application of technology in today’s classrooms appeals to the current school-age generation. This group has been called online_learning“digital natives” because they have been “connected” to computers, notepad readers and cell phones since they were born. What we older folks see as a “tool” they see as a natural part of their daily lives. Appealing to today’s students through technologies with which they are familiar, engages them more quickly and more completely than using PowerPoints, overhead projectors and/or classroom materials on CD’s. Cyber learning opens your classroom to a myriad of topics, teachers and resources around the world. Learning is no longer centered in your local classroom. Via cyber learning, education now extends across the globe. Scholars do warn, however, that the technology must be used in the right place at the right time. Like most pedagogical approaches, cyber learning is not a “one size fits all” approach.

Engagement is the second key factor in improving student attendance, attention, and performance. Veteran educators already know that engagement is a key to learning. Research over the last 20 years has demonstrated that establishing connections with students at the level of THEIR LIVES engages students in the lesson at hand. Students today want to see some connection with their PCY-2-5-2014experience, their community or their dreams in just about everything  they study. In order to make that happen, educators must think differently about HOW they teach. As Sir Kenneth Robinson has been preaching for over two decades, we no longer need to deliver information to our students. They already have more access to more information via their cellphones than they can absorb. Our focus should be teaching our students how to sort through, validate and utilize the information they have readily at their fingertips. In other words, we need to teach them how to think critically, how to evaluate (read) a variety of sources, how to solve problems, work collectively, make sound decisions, and communicate their thoughts, ideas and results effectively. None of this is news to any professional educator. What is new is how we can achieve these goals.

Using artifacts – objects made by humans – in the classroom offers the simplest and most effective approach to teaching our students these 21st century skills. Students immediately identify with artifacts at a higher-level of thinking. Placing an artifact in front of a class and asking, “What is this?” immediately forces the students to access prior knowledge in an attempt to answer the question (solve the problem presented). Further it requires analysis in order to gain the evidence necessary, synthesis to evaluate the evidenceinkwell at hand, decision-making to determine which of the evidence applies, and communication skills to relay the evidence-based answer to the teacher and the rest of the class. Using artifacts in the classroom automatically teaches the skill sets that administrators, Boards of Education, colleges and industry demand in our times. Combining artifacts and technology in one approach captures the imagination and intellectual curiosity of students. It also eliminates the problems of expense, wear and tear, breakage, and storage that artifacts have presented in the past.

There is only one place on the Internet where technology and artifacts combine in a teaching format that has been tested and proven effective in the classroom: http://www.artifactsteach.com. When you go to this website you will find a teacher’s closet full of teachable artifacts combined with supporting background essays, and primary sources that can be used across the K-12 curriculum. In addition, the website provides the technology to build, save, assign, modify and reuse every lesson. Why not employ the one pedagogy that combines the two most important factors in improving student performance? Why not use Artifacts Teach?

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THE THREE “I’s” IN ARTIFACTS: PART THREE

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“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”   – Benjamin Franklin

Since the Sixth Century BCE, people have been learning about their world through the physical examination of objects. Museums of artifacts began as the private collections of wealthy individuals and families. Rare artifacts or curious natural objects were often displayed in “wonder rooms” or “cabinets of curiosities.”  Access to these items was restricted to collectors’ friends and family, but wonder roomhands-on inspection and analysis of the artifacts was encouraged. In the United States, portrait artist Charles Wilson Peale opened his collection of curiosities to the public and established the first museum in Philadelphia just after the American Revolution. Personal involvement with his collection was the norm until later in the 19th century when the increased traffic in museums required that items be protected behind glass.

At the same time that Peale was popularizing the modern idea of a museum, Louis Agassiz, a renowned Swiss scientist, arrived in the United States.  A prominent  naturalist  when he arrived (he was and accomplished ichthyologist and also the first to describe and explain the theory of repeating Ice Ages), Dr. Agassiz established the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard and chose his graduate students through a rigorous system of analysis. He presented each prospective student with a preserved fish, instructed the student to “look at the fish,” and then he left the room, sometimes not to return until the next day. When he did return, he asked the student, “What have you learned?” Regardless of the answer he received, Agassiz always responded with, “Look at your fish again!” This process continued until Agassiz felt that the student had conducted an exhaustive analysis and understood that graduate school at Harvard would be hands-on, through analysis of objects and artifacts. Louis Agassiz established that artifacts are “Instructionally Sound”:  the third “I” in artifacts.

Employing artifacts in the classroom introduces depth, rigor and critical thinking. Asking the simple question, “How is this item important to us right here, right now?”, demands that students draw on their personal experience, their background knowledge and their critical thinking skills. The application of prior knowledge in the acquisition of new knowledge is a valid definition of  adding depth to classroom lessons. Using old knowledge in new ways allows students to explore alternatives, nuances and complexities. At the same time, using artifacts adds rigor to your lessons. If we define rigor as the continuous engagement in increasingly i_heart_rigorchallenging tasks with decreasing instructional support, then introducing artifacts introduces rigor automatically. Asking the question, ,”How is this important to us right here, right now?” and requiring students to determine the answer themselves…. just like Louis Agassiz required of his students.. provides the kind of rigor that promotes problem-solving and decision-making skills in your students. Finally, artifact study  demands critical thinking. Analysis, synthesis, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication of results are the critical thinking skills that we are all challenged to teach. As we have demonstrated in Parts I and II of this series, artifacts naturally provide that opportunity.

Teaching with artifacts is an instructionally sound pedagogy. It introduces depth, rigor and critical thinking into your classroom practice.  Artifacts are interdisciplinary in their approach, intellectually engaging in their application, and instructionally sound in their presentation. Regardless of where you teach, what you teach, or at what level you teach……

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