This was the last week of school.
Lessons: This was the week I gave students the closest thing to “free time” they ever get when using technology: a menu of choices with the ability to ask for more choices that I might have been unaware of or forgotten.
Except there was an element that we had never had before.
Okay, so if you follow me on Twitter, you certainly knew about the chickens already. I think I’ll write about them in more detail in their own post. But to summarize, I had my afterschool science group set up and study an incubator. The program ended the week before the chickens were due to hatch. I kept the incubator in the computer lab so when chicks hatched, we livestreamed it using Periscope so everyone in the building could see without issues. The chicks hung out in my room until the last day of school (today). Another teacher took them to her father, a farmer, who will try to provide us with fertile eggs in the future so we can repeat the activity.
And it did sort of work out, class management-wise.
It’s 2:30pm, they have free time on computers, they just came back from a field trip, how are these first graders so quiet? Barely a peep… pic.twitter.com/4eNhjWTR3g
— ☕C Driscoll🍩 (@teacherofftopic) May 24, 2017
Support: One of the more techie things I did this week was DJ the end of year carnival. I’m really glad I solicited requests in advance, firstly because it’s clear I am not very aware of what music the kids are into lately. Secondly, because I was able to find clean versions of some songs that were requested.
Things I Did Well: Everyone I was responsible for made it to the end of the week healthy. Even fourteen chicks.
Things I Will Do Better: Friday Caitlin left Tuesday Caitlin a heck of a lot to do. Friday Caitlin feels some guilt. But not enough to have actually done more.
Cold Prickly: Lots of physical damage this week. I’m talking about folks in the building, not the technology. The person who wore the “I Survived Field Day” shirt on Field Day ended up in the emergency room before noon. This is not a joke, but she did turn out okay so it’s still kind of funny.
Warm Fuzzy: Doesn’t get much warmer or fuzzier than this. Happy summertime!
One of the biggest bones of contention in interactions between students in our school is apologizing, especially if someone does something by accident. Just Thursday at dismissal, a third grader was venting to me about a fight she had with a friend. Apparently it started when something got knocked off a desk, or something like that. “She said, ‘Are you going to apologize?’ and I said, ‘No, because it was an accident,'” the child told me.
“You can still apologize for an accident,” I told her. “In fact, a lot of the times you should. An apology just means you regret something, on purpose or not.”
Elementary students, at least at our school, have an idea that an apology is an admission of guilt. (And in some cultures, it is. But that’s congruent with the school culture we work towards.)
So I was actually impressed with this video that came up in my RSS feed reader. The little boy gets bopped, accidentally, in the face by Vice President Mike Pence. He politely persists in getting Mr. Pence to acknowledge the unintentional harm. And, when Mr. Pence does, he apologizes, adding an explanation (“I didn’t mean to bop you”) without minimizing the child’s concern.
This might be a good moment to share with students to demonstrate that:
- asking for an apology is not the same as an accusation
- giving an apology is not an admission of guilt
- anyone might deserve an apology, or owe the apology to somebody else, regardless of other circumstances like status
Last night I painted my nails, something I rarely ever did as a teen or young adult. But I have a special occasion to attend today, and I wanted to look extra nice. I’m a bit clumsy, so a couple of months ago I got liquid latex. What you do is, you put the liquid latex around your nail and let dry before you paint. Then, when I inevitably color outside the lines, I peel the latex off and voilà! My nail polish is only exactly where it should be. It’s like bowling bumpers, but for beauty.
This is one way I differentiate some skill or ability I use as an adult. It’s far from the only one. I also talk myself through difficult tasks when possible, especially when I’m nervous. (This was how I passed my driver’s test on the third try; it was the suggestion of my tester who had just used the strategy herself on her motorcycle test.)
I also differentiate for other adults in ways that are easily incorporated into my routines. I write messages on the dry erase board to help my husband remember things, because a text or verbal reminder usually isn’t enough. I bring extra devices to the trivia night I host for people who either don’t have devices that get online, or for people who do have such devices but struggle to use them effectively during the time limit.
Differentiation doesn’t have to be a big deal; over time it might even become a habit. And better, for the teacher, is that over time it could become the student’s responsibility more than any adult’s. I mean, if the point is that students do what they need for themselves to succeed, it makes sense that they take it on so they can carry it with them through life, adapting where and when it’s called for.
This was the second-to-last week of school. Next week, we lose a lot of structure; we have field day at both our elementary and the other one in our city, so that will disrupt both building’s typical schedules. Each grade level will have at least one field trip; third grade will have at least two. And the last day of school is our End of Year Carnival. So there will be more flying by the seat of one’s pants this upcoming week.
Lessons: So I usually let students have free time* during their last computer lab class of the year; invariably I seem to promise it in a weak moment of classroom management earlier for some reason or another. So, some classes already got that this week, because I will not have them next week (because of field day or field trips). Most classes did not, though.
*Free time is not actually free in my classroom, because when you tell students sitting in front of internet-connected devices, you don’t actually want them to do whatever enters their head. Like doing a Google search for “play Five Nights at Freddy’s” which is a game you have to pay for and that they cannot install on the computers without admin privileges, which means that they click on an ad that says they can play it for free, except it’s not free, and the cost is that some janky website adds an extension onto Chrome without prompting, and then the kid gets pop-ups about hysterectomies that they don’t understand on multiple levels.
Yeah, that really happened once. I was so mad. I specifically told that sub not to tell the students they could do anything they wanted, and he basically told the students they could do anything they wanted. It was over a year ago and it still irks me.
Anyway, instead of truly free time, students get a menu of choices that they can explore independently. Most of those choices are websites that they find engaging anyway because there are games, but a couple are actually programs on the computers themselves.
Support: Lots of physical damage this week. I think some kids or teachers are stacking things on top of Chromebooks.
Things I Did Well: There was one weird day this week where I had a sub so I could attend a training at our school admin building. But then, the training only lasted through the morning. But when I went back to school, it turned out they were short a sub anyway, so I was going to let my sub remain in my room and I was going to cover this other person’s class. But then our receptionist went home sick (something really atypical for her). So then we combined the class I was supposed to cover (very small class) with another very small class, and I ended up covering the office for the afternoon! Whoa. On one hand, I can see why they don’t just put any sub there – too much risk of a negative interaction. Then again, it didn’t get nearly as hectic as it sometimes does. I was actually able to use some of my natural abilities (knowing where all 320+ kids in the building should be at all times) combined with the training I was just at (it was for an add-on to our gradebook I used to access rosters). I actually got a lot done. Not just covering phones and giving out ice packs either, there was also stapling, so you know I’m hardcore.
Things I Will Do Better: We had a Right to Read themed week going on, and I missed the memo on things like Epic Hair Day and Pajama Poetry Day. Fam, you know I’m all about this stuff. I really gotta engage better with building-wide initiatives.
Cold Prickly: At least four of our chicken eggs are total duds, meaning no chickens inside. They looked the same when candled at Day 15 as they did at Day 5 – clearly all white and yolk inside. A couple more eggs look to me like they developed somewhat, but not as far as others. Whether that means they are developing slowly or late, or that they started and stopped, I don’t know. But we are definitely not expecting all twenty eggs to hatch.
Warm Fuzzy: We are expecting more than half the eggs to hatch still. And, I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to find homes for chicks, but I think I’ve got it covered! One local farmer even offered to take chicks and, in exchange, provide us with fertile eggs in the future! Then take chicks, and in exchange, provide fertile eggs again later on. Eggs and chicks in perpetuity! Who cares which comes first!
I swear I should have at least two or three more recent ones up, so this one is kind of a test.
It’s definitely feeling like May up in here. A lot of teachers are using their personal days before they lose them, and so our building gets a little more subby than usual at times, particularly Mondays and Fridays. And indoor recess in May is a goshdarn travesty. (This is me, shaking my fist at Mother Nature.)
Lessons: So I wanted to do something with my classes that tied in with the curriculum from 4-H my afterschool group is using. So I plotted out an open-ended project where students identify a problem or challenge for animals, then come up with a high or low tech solution for them. It involves brainstorming, research, creativity, design, and communication. The only actual requirement is that they create an image of their idea, then write a paragraph explaining it. Some students are writing about endangered animals, others about pets. One student is writing about his own pet, describing the steps his family is taking to identify what they suspect is a food allergy causing their bulldog discomfort. A pair of students started working together on deer; one found the PETA Kids website on hunting, one found an online hobby magazine that lists positives of hunting. Their ongoing disagreement is surprisingly polite as they bounce ideas off each other.
Unfortunately, I took two afternoons off this week (instead of taking one whole personal day). So I didn’t have my Tuesday or Thursday third grade classes. Tuesday was already a week behind everyone else due to the PD day we had the week before. Then, I found out that I also have to do day-long trainings outside my building next Tuesday and Thursday too. So, I will not have them again this week either. (Not something I knew when I planned my personal time off, I assure you.) And that means I won’t have my Tuesday or Thursday afternoons again until… the last week of school.
These classes are also sometimes challenging in the classroom management department; I don’t think a sub could lead them through an open-ended assignment, not without additional support. It’s too much. Or rather, I bet a sub could lead them through, but I want my sub to keep coming back so I won’t ask her to. So I am planning alternate lessons that my sub can do with these kids.
Support: Actually I got really excited when I came back after time off Wednesday, because a sub left a note describing a computer issue a student had. “He figured out to do X,Y, and Z, and I let him, and it worked – I hope it was the right thing to do?” Yessss. A sub who is comfortable enough to let kids try troubleshooting and trust their results. Hearts and stars forever!
Things I Did Well: I got my sub to pick up all this week, and at least one day for me next week. (I am really not super thrilled about missing so many school days in the last month of the year. I think it’s possibly the worst time for subs and sub lesson plans!) I had never met her in person before Tuesday, but I know she picked up for me before. In fact, she remembered that I left her a paper mug and a K-cup of hot chocolate. I joke that I like to roll out the red carpet for subs, because their job is like mine but also harder in some ways. (Maybe easier in some ways too, but it’s not important for me to focus on that.)
Things I Will Do Better: I did not budget my time particularly well on Tuesday, so when my sub came, I didn’t have lesson plans written out. So I scribbled out the schedule and told her about Google Classroom, but I didn’t actually leave the detailed document I would have liked her to have as a safety net. I did better for Thursday. But, I need to do even better next Tuesday because I’ll be gone all day. Yipes!
Cold Prickly: I was the person in charge of giving all the make-up standardized tests. I thought the last one was Wednesday, for a child who had been sick for a week and then came back. He wrapped a day later than most because he had two parts to make up, plus the day he came back there was a class field trip. And who wants to miss a field trip to take a standardized test? If that were me, I would definitely be wondering what my classmates were up to instead of concentrating on math. So we postponed his makeup so he could go on the field trip, which is a reasonable thing to do when you have the time.
But then another student had to make up both parts, and showed up on Thursday to take tests, and it was a bit of a schedule blip that I hadn’t anticipated (no one could have, really).
Warm Fuzzy: So many warm fuzzies this week. First, when I took off Tuesday, that meant I wouldn’t be there for the afterschool program. I got another teacher to sub for me, but the leader of the activity was actually a third grade student. He had pitched some ideas for the afterschool group over the past couple weeks. I shot a couple down because they were too expensive, too time-consuming, or too dangerous, but he didn’t give up. Finally he found a video of a science demo on getepic.com that seemed doable. (In fact, it is something I did years ago at a different school.) He put together a shopping list of materials, I got them for him, and he led the activity in my absence (with adult supervision). He also got rave reviews! I’m so proud of him!
Also, when I was on my way to school on Wednesday, I decided to go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get a treat. (Wednesday is the one day I consistently drive my car.) The line was long (what do you expect at 7:30am?) so I was rocking out to some tunes. When I got to the window, the person said, “You can go on forward, the person behind you is going to pay for your order.” WHAT? Usually it’s the person ahead but okay! Every time my day got a little rough after that, I reminded myself about the kind thing someone did for me, and adjusted my attitude accordingly.
Huh. So I came over to WordPress to write this post, and realized that my post from last week never published. So I’ve backdated it appropriately and published it.
To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not writing more frequently about other topics. Lately it’s just been weekly roundups. That’s better than nothing, I should hope, but it doesn’t really give me the opportunity to reflect more deeply on a broader spectrum of topics. Part of it is time; I have less free time this quarter. Writing on the blog ranks below sleeping and eating on my to-do list. Part of it is that, while I do reflect every day on my teaching, it’s another thing to organize my thoughts in a way that can be communicated to others. I think I’m going to try to work on that for the next couple weeks.
Lessons: What a roller coaster week! We had a teacher PD day on Tuesday (due to local elections), then mathematics AIR testing on Thursday and Friday for third grade. I also threw my own twists into things, so lessons were not super consistent this week. It made me glad that students are so used to routines that classroom management was almost never an issue.
For the most part, we wrapped up the assignment from last week and went on to do math and literacy activities online.
Support: When it comes to standardized testing, I much prefer the ability to use devices connected to the internet than the old paper-pencil method. It is so much less stressful to distribute materials, and then not the urgent need to collect and send away after. But when something goes wrong, it can be heart-stopping. Luckily, we didn’t have any huge issues this week. Most small issues were solved with reboots. One student in my group had an issue with ChromeVox being on (which was, of course, very distracting for him) but we got that fixed before we officially started.
Things I Did Well: I started to become concerned with the “countdown” we’ve been using on our morning announcements. Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve included how many school days have gone by, and how many were left. It was really useful when approaching breaks, and when we neared 100 days of school. I kept it in because many teachers enjoyed hearing it (maybe more than the students, even!). But as that number of days left became smaller and smaller, I became concerned that it would lead to some sense that they also mattered less and less.
So what to do?
Well, I have also been in touch with our local 4-H office. They provided me with rocket launcher materials so that my after-school group could do this:
Now they have provided us with… an incubator! And 20 fertile chicken eggs.
Now our school day countdown has become a countdown to hatch day (May 23rd, if you were wondering).
Things I Will Do Better: I wanted to better incorporate the concept of the incubator into our tech lab lessons next week. I want students to explore the idea that technology is not just computers and phones and tablets and Internet; it can help animals too. So maybe we’ll use the incubator as a jump-off point and it can inspire research and design through the end of the year.
Cold Prickly: I did not walk to work even once this week. There was always something, either during the school day or right after it, that necessitated me having a car. For example, it was Monday when I drove out to the farm to pick up the fertile eggs — could not have walked there! It was nice to have an extra fifteen minutes to get ready at home (or, on one morning, pick up some coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts). But, this morning in particular, I realized how a twenty-minute walk (fresh air, listening to a podcast instead of music) really helps me get in the right mindset to begin the work day. I really look forward to walking again next week.
Warm Fuzzy: The cafeteria lady has fed me twice today. She runs our school cafeteria by day (today serving cheese quesadillas) and her family restaurant by night (Chinese-American cuisine; she is from Singapore originally). My husband picked up the takeout but he said he saw her working. So she’s fed me twice today!
Maybe I’m just happy not to cook?
This week has been much better than the previous two, I think.
Lessons: This week I decided to give students an assignment that requires them to take snapshots to insert in their Google Slides. They already know how to Google search for images, and how to manipulate images, so I thought snapshots might be useful to them in the future.
— ☕C Driscoll🍩 (@teacherofftopic) April 25, 2017
I used another Christine Pinto template/lesson as the starting off point, but I didn’t follow her idea exactly. For example, I didn’t make the slides collaborative; I have done that before and it becomes hard to manage for certain amounts of students. (I would absolutely do it for students working in small groups.) I also upped my expectations of students since mine are older than hers.
Interestingly, students also challenged themselves. It was really obvious to me how different classes have different personalities. One class wanted to share their slideshows with their friends; no other class asked about that. Some students asked if they could use some of the items I have in the lab as props. One student asked if he could take a snapshot with his entire class in it. I said he had my permission, but I wasn’t going to arrange it for him. So towards the end of class, he had to wrangle and direct his own classmates (almost all of whom were willing to participate) in order to take the snapshot he wanted.
Some students asked things like, “Can I draw on the snapshot after I take it?”
I responded with, “Are you asking for my permission, or my instruction?”
The student would say, “Am I allowed?”
I would say, “Yes.”
Then the student would ask, “Can you show me how?”
And I would say, “I don’t know how.”
There are a lot of things you can do with GSuite apps where I’m pretty sure they’re possible, I just don’t know how to do it off the top of their head. And I don’t mind if students explore in a safe setting in order to answer their own questions.
Support: The person who needed the most tech support this week happened to be myself. Snapshots didn’t work in Google Chrome until we changed some of the pop-up and Adobe Flash settings in the browser. Luckily, once I figured it out, it was a pretty quick (if repetitive) fix. When the activity wouldn’t work in Chrome at all, I had the student reopen it in Safari and it always worked just fine there, too.
Things I Did Well: I liked how I handled classroom management this week. But, students were out of seat taking creative snapshots, or taking snapshots with friends, or asking classmates for help because I was already helping someone else. At one point the principal looked in the open door and scolded a particular child for being out of his seat, because from the outside looking in I guess it might have appeared that he was off-task. (Also he has had some issues being on-task in my class in the past, it just wasn’t this particular week.) So I just shut the door for the future.
Things I Will Do Better: I think I am having some weird time management issues. Some of it is outside my control, but some of it is within my control. Especially since we only have like twenty days of school left; I think it’s really important to maintain order as we go into the summer. And that has to start with self-discipline.
Cold Prickly: Because of commitments outside the school day, I did not walk to school as much as I usually do. I drove so I could make it to after school meetings in different locations. Having my car at work led me to, er, have fast food for lunch way way way more often than is typical for me. Man, I am not impressed with my willpower (or lack thereof).
But at least now I have a Yoshi toy from McDonald’s.
Warm Fuzzy: My spouse’s semester is wrapping up (he is a college professor) so his schedule is different, with a lot more grading. But he has used some of his flexibility this week to make some things much, much easier for me. And I am very grateful to him for that.