Review & Recommendation: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

The seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out in July of 2007. Remember how sad you were when you read it all quickly and got to the end, and realized there was no more of that universe to immerse yourself in? That wasn’t just me, right?

I loved reading the Harry Potter stories, just as I loved reading The Chronicles of Narnia, Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series and Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a kid. Something about fantasy novels would tickle my imagination like nothing else. But I always felt a twinge of sadness at reaching the end of a book (okay, let’s face it – I still feel this way when I finish a good one). When a book sets the stage for a possible sequel or series, that sadness is ameliorated a bit!

That’s just one reason I really enjoyed reading Nnedi Okorafor’s YA fantasy novel Akata Witch.

The premise is familiar; a young girl comes of age in challenging circumstances. That young girl, Sunny, is a social pariah for a number of reasons. Born in America to Nigerian parents, her family only relocated to their homeland just prior to the narrative. Not only that, but Sunny is an albino. She can’t even play outside with other kids, because she’ll burn too badly in the sunshine. Sunny manages to make a ragtag group of friends, and Even an inexperienced reader can probably recognize where this is going, but knowing the way doesn’t make the journey any less fun, engaging, and imaginative.

The coolest thing about this particular work is that it takes readers to a completely atypical setting with a relatable protagonist. Africa is often exoticised in the U.S., even in history and social studies classes, but Okorafor’s writing helps make it a real place in the minds of young readers, and one that’s not so different from where many American kids live. But whether readers focus on the similarities or differences between their experiences and Sunny’s, they’ll find a totally new kind of magical world built up on a mythology that hasn’t been overdone yet in media.

Sunny and her friends do face off against a truly terrifying villain – a serial killer motivated by black magic, or “bad juju,” which might make it inappropriate for readers younger than 4th or 5th grade, but older readers – even early high school students – should find a lot to enjoy about this novel. And my favorite part – the sequel, tentatively titled Breaking Kola, should coming out soon.

Akata Witch was also a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, An Best Book of the Year, a YALSA Best Book of the Year, and a Junior Library Guild selection, so you don’t have to rely on my word. But if you or your students do read it, drop me a line and tell me what you think!

School Week Round-Up: Week Ten

Ohhh, week ten, week ten, week ten.

Lessons: Because report cards are always a hassle, I tend to plan light during the week they need formatted and printed. Although, this year I’ve been working hard to foster an attitude of “figure it out.” Students directed themselves through steps of routines, and troubleshooted when they got stuck; they helped others troubleshoot when they got stuck. I only helped when kids got really stuck, and even then sometimes my “help” amounted to saying, “This isn’t a bad problem. I bet you can figure it out.” So, because students directed themselves as much as possible, I was able to field some phone calls and answer emails during class. Groovy!

Support: So report cards got done! And that’s all I’ll say about that.

There was an iPad blip. We got some of our older, larger iPads reimaged so that they would be able to run Zearn. I haven’t used it much myself, but we have some teachers so excited about it, that I have to believe it’s a fabulous resource. Anyway, one day this week was the first day a first grade teacher tried having the kids log into Zearn on iPads. The teacher did well with modeling the login process, and then letting the kids try, and make mistakes, and fix mistakes, and try again, sometimes with all new mistakes! It’s a process that takes longer, for sure, but will pay off in the long run when students realize that spaces screw up usernames and caps lock can mess up your password. So they almost all were able to log in by themselves. The bigger issue was when they finally logged in, videos and sound weren’t working. Now, ultimately it turned out that the iPads are just slower than the Chromebooks the kids are more used to. But we didn’t realize that until half a dozen children were sent to the lab to ask for help. So now “be patient” is on the list of tech teacher refrains, along with “figure it out” and “get those cords out of your mouth.”

Things I Did Well: This week I rediscovered how loud I can scream. No, not at the kids — I zombie-mdwent to a zombie-themed escape room with friends. I was actually the weakest link on the team, and we totally lost the challenge. Was still fun. (Though the next escape room I do shalt not be scary!)

Things I Will Do Better: Train students to do tasks that they can do and like to do. Many of them like to pass out cards to each other and collect magnets and straighten out keyboards. I need to let go of the control and let them do the tasks, accepting that they will get done more slowly and maybe less neatly for a while.

Cold Prickly: Literally, it got cold. And I did not enjoy it. Why always the week of Halloween? Ohio!

Warm Fuzzy: Halloween is genuinely exhausting, but it’s not hard to feel good when you’re surrounded by small people who are exuberantly joyful. Still, though, I felt even better when I finally hit the bricks!

Reflecting on Social Media & Politics Twitter Chat

Today, because of school Halloween celebrations, I rearranged my usual class schedule and ended up having my prep period during the last hour of the school day.

And then I checked Twitter.


I did not know until this afternoon that PBS News Hour hosts a regular chat, #NewsHourChats – looks like they’re every other Friday, on a current events topic. Today the topic was “How political squabbles on social media stressed us out this year.

Goodness gracious, I was hooked from the get-go.

The topic is engaging for obvious reasons, but I was particularly enamored of Jon Keegan, who was serving as a panelist. He created a tool called Blue Feed, Red Feed that helps you visualize how “the other side” sees social media. The tool helped me understand an encounter I had earlier this month with a stranger at a Washington, D.C. hostel. Some of my family members were discussing current events over pancakes at the dining table, and the stranger joined in the conversation from a nearby computer desk, where she was checking news on Facebook. It was an uncomfortable encounter at the time, but looking back, I don’t feel as awkward about it. Though we parted still in disagreement, I found value in the interaction. (Though, my biggest take-away was the fact that my fourteen-year-old sister fact-checked headlines on her phone. Sibling pride!)

Anyway, the Blue Feed, Red Feed tool made me realize that this person was seeing very different items coming up in their news feed than I was. Not only that, but they were coming from sources she trusted completely — sources I had never heard of, because I am on the other end of the political spectrum. I realized that I had created a Facebook echo chamber, so I made a point starting then not to block or unfollow people for not sharing my politics. I even made a point of friending people with different perspectives: I had a disagreement with a friend of a friend when our mutual acquaintance posted about Colin Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem. But I felt we disagreed with mutual respect, so I sent a friend request, stating outright that I needed to see more diverse opinions on my feed. They accepted my request for much the same reason.

Twitter is different for me, because I use Twitter very differently than I use Facebook. I use Facebook to interact with people I already know I like. On Twitter, I usually interact with strangers who happen to have things in common with me — an interest in education, an interest in technology, an interest in technology education. I have experienced harassment on both Twitter and Facebook. The difference was, on Twitter it came from an egg I found easy to ignore; on Facebook it was a relative who posted partisan memes on my wall until I changed my settings. Therefore, I found the experience on Facebook much more jarring, but I acknowledge that my experience is not universal.

Since the chat this afternoon, I’ve had some time to collect and condense my thoughts, and strangely I keep going back to our school district’s “Aviator Profile,” a list of characteristics we hope to foster in our students:

  1. Communicators: Ask thoughtful questions, listen well and are able to clearly and concisely express their thoughts and ideas.
  2. Collaborators: Are able to compromise and work with people of all personality types and backgrounds to reach a common goal.
  3. Critical Thinkers: Have the ability to analyze and assess complex problems or situations and produce logical conclusions or solutions.
  4. Creative Innovators: Use imaginative and unique ideas to develop more efficient and effective methods of problem solving.
  5. Caring Citizens: Have selfless attitudes and strive to build stronger communities through civic pride, volunteerism and community involvement.
  6. Courageous Risk Takers: Are not afraid to take chances in order to accomplish something greater or facilitate change, whether it involves their career, finances, personal life or society.

I like how the first thing listed under “Communicator” is “ask thoughtful questions,” because questioning is an important part of communicating. And “listen well” is also listed before expressing one’s own ideas. We also often bring up in meetings that we, as the adults, need to model being “courageous risk takers;” whoever leads the meeting reminds us that confronting harsh realities and feeling discomfort is often part of the process. Of course, overcoming that discomfort to work as collaborators and think critically is part of the process, too!

And it applies so well to politics and policy. Regardless of who wins and who loses on November 8, we all are going to have to figure out a way to keep working together for our country’s present and future. We’re going to have different points of view and we’re going to have disagreements. We can’t shy away from that. We have to work together in spite of it. We have to work together because of it.

Pedagogy and Power of the Pen, Part I

I was very fortunate during the past Power of the Pen season to judge every single possible round at the district, local, and state level. I was even tapped to judge the seventh-grade state finals (the prompt was a tough one; I don’t remember specifically what it was but they had to write in the style of Dr. Seuss). That’s a lot of reading, and there were definitely challenges with assigning scores and sussing out favorites, but it’s something I enjoy so much that it’s worth sacrificing a few Saturdays during the school year.

But, actually, let’s back up a little bit here. What is Power of the Pen in the first place? The Power of the Pen website describes it as “Ohio’s award-winning educational enhancement program devoted to excellence in creative writing at the middle school level.” I normally call it an alla prima creative writing competition for seventh and eighth graders.

However, neither of these definitions accurately describe what happens at a tournament, which can be chaotic and stressful and tons of fun.

Middle schools assemble teams of interested writers, and those writers come to the tournament bright and early and ready to write. The format is like a high school speech and debate competition, for those that are familiar – students are split into different classrooms in groups of five or six. One judge facilitates the tournament for that classroom during that round. This includes passing out the papers to write on (gotta get those carbon copies!), writing the prompt on the board, and keeping time. When time is up, the judge collects the stories and reads them all. The judge has to rank and score them and turn them into the tournament’s tab room, where they calculate students’ running scores throughout the day, and also the teams’ scores. Rinse and repeat for at least two more rounds, have lunch, and stay for awards, and there is your basic Power of the Pen tournament recipe!

I never competed when I was a kid (my middle school only developed a team in the past few years) but whenever I judge it is fascinating seeing how many different kids are involved, and how they operate during a round. Some seem laser-focused, jumping into the prompt immediately, sometimes generating pages and pages of material. Others take their time; they’re allowed some resources, like dictionaries and scrap paper, and they work more slowly and deliberately. Some clearly come in prepared with a story idea that they then have to adjust to fit to the prompt; others wait for new inspiration to strike each time. It’s obvious as a judge that many students change up their strategies from one tournament or even one round to the next, which I find fascinating. It’s getting to watch their writing process develop in real time! How cool is that?

That brings me back to the whole point of this post – what is the point of Power of the Pen? Sure, it’s fun, and yes, it’s always nice to get recognition as a kid, but does this sort of lightning-fast creative writing serve a pedagogical purpose?

I think it does. Having to write a lot in a short amount of time is certainly a skill that comes up a lot, especially in high school and college. There are definitely benefits to practicing creativity. But what, specifically, does Power of the Pen accomplish? Let me know what you think – I’ll be chewing on this question a bit for another post!


School Week Round-Up: Week Nine

Week Nine! You know what that means, right? End of the first nine weeks, or — end of the first quarter! Report cards!

LessonsI think my feedback issue is improving. I used Alice Keeler’s Epic Rubric script to deliver our rubrics to all third graders’ email addresses so they could see for themselves how they did. The first two classes, I tried to have them leave comments on Google Classroom with new, focused goals. For reasons relating to time management and scaffolding, that wasn’t working; so I made a Google Forms exit slip  for the last three classes that worked a little better for me.

I also had my first “substitute” of the year. It was actually only for one whole class, plus two half classes, so that I could attend meetings. And, my class was covered by a colleague, so not a true sub experience. (I have missed half a day so far this school year for a dentist appointment, but it managed to get done during my lunch and prep period so I didn’t actually miss any classes.) Anyway, I am sometimes a little skittish about subs; I have had a gamut of experience with them. But I told my colleague, “They all know how to get to Google Classroom, and if they don’t know, they all have directions by their seat. The directions for their activity is on Google Classroom. They should get their on their own, they should read and follow directions on their own, basically you’re just there to facilitate.” It went really well for second grade! It was a slightly bumpier experience for third grade, because there were more steps and expectations (that’s actually why I changed the lesson mid-week). But things got done, so I call it a success!

Support: My spreadsheet went over really well with my colleagues. So that was a plus. But, I felt like this week, I used up all my brain cells and energy during the first few days. By the time Friday arrived, I was running on empty. And that stunk, because that was the half-day set aside for us to work on report cards. There were some elements that weren’t showing up as they should have, and I couldn’t wrap my tired mind around troubleshooting. At least once, it was a simple drop-down box messing with me that I just wasn’t seeing.

Things I Did Well: I’m going with the spreadsheet on this one.

Things I Will Do Better: Self-care. Part of the reason I burned out midweek is that I over-scheduled myself outside of school hours. I need to be protective of my “me” time, sometimes. I am the kind of person who needs seven or eight hours of decent sleep a night and good food in my belly, and the way I stretched myself this past week, I didn’t always get everything I needed to keep my energy up.

Cold Prickly: 

We have gnats.

I think due to unseasonably warm weather. I guess our custodians were hunting for food being left in places it shouldn’t be, but I was noticing gnats everywhere. In fact, my mom recommended this gnat trap when I went to her house and realized she was struggling with gnats too. It’s apple cider vinegar with a dash of dish soap, and you create a paper funnel from the mouth of the jar or cup down to the liquid. Tempted by the apple smell, gnats venture down. But, wet, they can’t fly back up. They can’t crawl back up either because the dish soap on them makes them slippery. Not all gnats were trapped this way; others were flying around the top of the jar but their escape route was still blocked by paper. The above photos were “before” and “after” just one eight hour period. After a couple of days I had dozens and dozens of dead gnats in my jar. And now, luckily, the weather has taken a turn, so hopefully the gnats will go away for a while.

Warm Fuzzy: We had our Spirit Week this week, where we dressed up according to different themes each day, culminating in some high school athletes visiting us Friday morning for a pep rally. Though I loved Superhero Day (because, really, any excuse to wear my Captain America outfit), I think my favorite was actually Sports Day. If you know how non-athletic I am, you would be shocked, but my sister Rose — err, I mean Youngstown Tune-Up — started playing for Burning River Roller Derby this past summer, and I became a super-fan. I figured most folks would be representing football, baseball, soccer… so I decided to represent roller derby! I didn’t wear skates (that seemed distracting and dangerous) but I did borrow padding from my sister’s teammate Sophonda Drama. (I also borrowed a rainbow tutu my sister wore for a pride parade, because really, who can resist a rainbow tutu?). Kids asked about my sport all day, and I got to teach them about jammers and blockers and pivots. At one point a student asked me, “What’s roller derby?” just as our custodian Mr. Barber walked by. “IT’S AWESOME!” he cheered without breaking his stride. He misses the banked track, though.

So my thanks to Youngstown Tune-Up and Sophonda Drama for helping me become my roller derby alter-ego, Drisco Inferno. (A joke that most kids don’t get, but they still think it sounds cool.)

Organizing Blitz

I had a meeting this afternoon but it got cancelled, which freed up an hour or so for me. So I set out to start something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: clean out some of the junk in my closet.

Being the technology resource teacher in the computer lab meant that I inherited a lot of old tech from whoever came before. Not only that, but people will “return” outdated or broken items to me all the time, even if I have nowhere to store them and never distributed them to begin with. Now, I think that’s a vestigial habit from previous school culture, where the technology resource teacher really would inventory tech items, store them over the summer, and then redistribute them once school started up in the fall. But it hasn’t been that way for many years.

What has really happened is that people don’t know what to do with broken or outdated tech that they don’t use anymore, and it winds up in my room because, well, the space it takes up in their classrooms is better used another way. I don’t blame them at all for that! But the end result is that I have to make room for half a dozen digital cameras that no one has used in years since we started using smartphones; clickers that are used for maybe two weeks out of the entire year; things of that nature. Frankly, I wanted to excavate partially out of curiosity: what would be the oldest, most random thing I would find?

Plus, I wanted to make room in the closet to hang my winter coat when the time comes. (If it ever comes. Weird warm October!)

Those are some of the befores. The left photo is the closet/cabinet, and the right is some of the shelves built into the wall.

I actually tackled the shelves first. I had that purple curtain up, and I used it to hide the mess behind. But see those little plastic shelves upon the shelves? The space inside was not being used particularly well. My first order of business was to reorganize those to contain items. One for remote controls, another for the adapters that let us project from our old Macs. Many of these items were redundant. I threw away obviously broken things and unnecessary packaging, to get items to fit in. But I held on to most items; that’s a sorting job for another time. My primary goal today was to make space.

After I condensed a bit, I straightened up the rest of those shelves. I devoted one entire shelf exclusively to my personal items: the plastic unit is now filled with K-cups and snack bars, my coffee cup and water cup sharing space next door. This was mostly to prevent my personal items from creeping into other areas. If it doesn’t fit on the one shelf, it should probably stay in my pockets or my bag!


This is more like it!

My shelves look so much better now that I left the curtain pinned back; I no longer need to hide my shame. Bonus, I had room now for items from a whole other shelf that I didn’t mean to clear out. But things fit, and I wanted them there, so I put them there! This shelf is close to my desk, so anything here is within easy reach of me during the rare moments I actually sit. So yeah, I want all the clipboards within arm’s reach!

Then, I attacked the closet. Well, the left side of it, at least. I pulled all these large items out of the space where I hope to hang my coat, including those gosh darn clickers.
2016-10-20-12-08-15I found new homes for items such as the clickers. Since they’re used, but used infrequently, I didn’t mind putting the clickers somewhere reachable but out of the way. I’m short so it’s not like I effectively use high spaces anyway. Bye clickers! Out of eye level, out of mind!

Check out how I re-homed my laminator on this shelf now too, since I freed up room. I no longer use it with the same frequency as I did at the beginning of the year, so it no longer needs to live within easy reach on my desk. Also not on my desk? My phone. Let’s just say I prefer email. This is still a work in progress, though. I need to find a charging solution for those iPad minis at the bottom. And the My Little Ponies will probably move soon; I need those card tubs on the daily, so Twilight Sparkle better stay out of my way!

Anyway, I think the oldest piece of tech is actually an accessory: a tripod meant for supporting a camcorder, labeled new as of the ’05/’06 school year. I wonder if I could repurpose it to work with a Swivl.

So, did I at least make some space in the closet?


Though not much. But still, hopefully enough to hang up a winter coat, which will be considerably bigger than that cardigan. But also red.

I will continue to work on the right side of the closet later, probably eliminating packaging without tossing the actual items inside. But we don’t need boxes labeled with names of teachers who now teach in other buildings, right? Probably not. Probably.

But hey, if anyone ever needs a document camera, I’ve still got it.

I’m Spreadsheeting My Heart Out, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about using a spreadsheet to help me track student progress and identify reasonable goals over the course of monthly cycles. Today I’m going to write about how I am delivering feedback to third grade students.

First, I used Alice Keeler’s Epic Rubric. I tested it out a few times with my own email address instead of using student addresses. I’m glad I did; my first few tries would send the wrong rubric to a student. Chris would be opening his email and clicking on Trisha’s rubric. I couldn’t let that happen! It turns out, the spreadsheet could not handle as many students as I was entering. When I chunked them into smaller groups, it worked way better.

I also adapted the rubric itself. I didn’t particularly need the percentages or to display weights. Plus, if I wanted to easily copy and paste details from my central spreadsheet into the rubrics, I needed them to be horizontal and not vertical. I also tweaked some other things.


I color-coded the pants off it. If spreadsheets wore pants.

So I color-coded the criteria into three groups; yellow is for organization criteria, blue is for using evidence from the passage, and pink is for conventions such as grammar and spelling. To show whether or not they had met a criteria, I did the same thing as I had on my central spreadsheet: if I entered any text at all, the cell turned green, and empty cells turned red. And I actually just copied and pasted the “invisible ones” into it. In fact, once I had worked out how I wanted the rubric to look, I just had to copy and paste from my central spreadsheet.

The “comments” section is even a conditionally formatted custom IF formula. If the student got a score of five or less, the comment that appears is “Your goal is to get two more points next time.” If they got between six and twelve, the comment that appears is “Your goal is to get one more point next time.” If they got a perfect score, then the comment that appears is, “Your goal is to keep up the good work!” Those comments are all actually written in there, it’s just the text turns black when the conditions of the IF formula are met. The text is orange otherwise, and therefore blends into the color of the cell.

Then I used the awesome function of Alice Keeler’s spreadsheet to email the rubric out to all my students. And since we use Gmail and Google Classroom on a regular basis, it’s a cinch to get kids to dig these up and take a peek.

I think this will help my big student-feedback challenge. I’m weirdly excited for the next time we do a prompt!

I’m Spreadsheeting My Heart Out, Part 1


Last school year, my principal explained to me that she wanted to do practice prompts in the computer lab to help students prepare for the AIR test. This school year is the first where students have to take the test on a computer. In previous years, this has always been an option, and we’ve always gone with pencil and paper. So now we have to make sure students can transfer their writing skills from paper and pencil to keyboard and screen.

On the AIR test, students will have to read a passage; read a question about the passage, and answer the question with a typed response.

Not gonna lie, I was super duper dreading it at first. It sounded like the opposite of fun. But when you don’t have a choice about what you have to do, you still have a choice of how to do it, so I went with cheerfully. And if I was going to do that, I was going to take ownership of this whole thing as well.

We collaborated with other teachers on a rubric to use, and settled on one with thirteen points, spread across different areas: Organization, Evidence & Elaboration, and Conventions. We looked at the calendar and selected multiple dates to cycle this activity; that way we can make sure students continue to improve, instead of treating it like a one-and-done. I figured out the resources that worked best to suit my needs, my students’ needs, and my admin’s need: a combination of Google Classroom and My principal picked some passages and I wrote questions for them. And then, over the course of a week, my students came in and took their “pretend” test. Despite knowing it was “pretend,” they took it quite seriously overall. We gave them a paper copy of the rubric, so they could do pre-writing on the blank side and use the rubric checklist on the other.

Then I assessed all their responses against the rubric.

Then I printed all their graded responses out, and stapled them to the rubric sheets they used during the activity. My principal wants to share these with homebase teachers during TBTs.

That was all I needed to do. But it wasn’t all I wanted to do.

I wanted to see where students succeeded and where they failed in the task so I could plan future instruction around it. And since I was keeping a spreadsheet of their scores anyway, I just took it a little further.


One thing you should know about me is that I love conditional formatting. (Also I hid or blacked out columns with identifying information before taking this screenshot.)

So I made a horizontal representation of all the rubric criteria. Then I set some conditional formatting into the field: pink for an empty cell, blue for a not-empty cell. The not-empty cells also turn any contents into the same shade of blue. I just thought that was easier to understand, visually. Anyway, if a student got that point on the rubric, I typed in a “1,” turning the cell all blue. If they didn’t, then I left it blank – pink. I went across the student’s whole row like that. Column T was a double-check, a sum formula adding up all those invisible number one’s. If the number was different than the number in coumn F (copied and pasted from Edcite reports) then I knew I needed to double check something.

Then I took it another step further. The remaining columns towards the right are goalposts for students to reach in the next prompt activities. For example, a student that got 5 points of 13 in the first prompt needs to get 7 points in the next one to stay on track to be considered proficient overall. (We’re aiming for 10/13 for everybody.) I didn’t just pick those numbers out, either. I used a formula that helps with reasonable growth expectations. That kid who got 5 points this time? It’s not reasonable to expect them to get 13 on the next try. But 7? That’s do-able. But if they remain at 5, or worse, dip down lower, then I know that kid might need further intervention to succeed. And I can start that intervention in November instead of February.

Kids who got 2 or fewer on the first task, though – they won’t reach 10/13 points by the end by my formula. They need intervention nowEdited to add: My principal points out that, even if they don’t reach the goal of 10/13, a student who goes from a 0 or 1 or 2 to a 7 an 8 or a 9 has still made incredible growth that merits celebration.

Then, when I changed the view a few times, I realized that many kids were missing the same criteria. Not all, but many. So I wondered, which criteria are the most commonly missed?


I scrolled to the bottom of the data and, under each of the columns, I input a sum formula that added up all the invisible one’s in each column. So I was really glad I used 1’s instead of x’s in that moment! Once added, I looked at which criteria had the lowest numbers. So that highlighted 13 down there? That means only 13 out of over 100 third graders wrote a closing sentence in their response. (The pointer was in a different cell when I took the screenshot. 72 students used evidence from the passage and/or other sources.) So, closing sentences are a weakness for most of our grade, but using evidence from the passage is a strength. I can use this information to help plan my instruction, and I can share it out with other teachers so they can plan their own instruction and provide guidance and support.

So that’s the teacher side of my current spreadsheet mania. Tune in tomorrow to find out how I’m delivering feedback to students!

School Week Round-Up: Week 8

I had one of those busy weeks where I had thoughts and experiences I wanted to blog about, but whenever I had the time in front of a keyboard, I just sat there slack-jawed thinking about cake. Mmm, cake…

Lessons: This was our first week doing the AIR Test practice prompt activity that my principal conceived of and helped plan. It was not as bad as I had feared it might be. In my mind, I was remembering how we used to do student reading inventory testing about once a quarter in the computer lab. It helped us place students in reading classes. But back then, we also had fourth and fifth grades in the building. And when they were done, they were done, as in “over it.” There were a lot more behavior challenges for me back then. But this past week? Totally fine. I think it was because we did it with only two grade levels, so it didn’t take up the whole entire week, and I think it worked because in the past few years we have a different culture in the school. I was honestly surprised how no one whined and no one used body language to indicate they were giving up or quitting. I don’t think everyone did their best, but I think I can use the results of this activity to nurture kids where they need nurtured; challenge kids where they need challenged; and over time make them realize the value of this activity.

I spent huge chunks of time assessing their results, and then organizing data to help me see their strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to use this data to help me plan lessons for this upcoming week, and with the help of my spreadsheet (which may need a catchier title) I’m going to personalize each student’s learning path.

Support: So, two things. First, at least four times, I solved an issue by unplugging something and plugging it back in again, despite protestations that that had already been tried. Either my colleagues don’t unplug for sufficient time, or technology behaves better for me. I suspect the former but I prefer the latter because it makes me feel like magic.

Another thing I realized about myself: I want so badly to solve people’s problems, and be a hero by solving them as quickly as possible. But I had a big miscommunication this week: when teachers asked for certain things (devices, scheduling, etc.) I assumed they meant like right now. So I dropped my own business and ended up overdoing it. I told someone I would help them with a lesson, forgetting that I had a meeting at the very same time on my schedule already! So that was a doofus move on my part. It turned out that the teachers were hoping to use the resources as soon as reasonable, not necessarily possible. So I asked them straightforwardly what their timeline was, and we figured out one that is much more do-able for me and for the tech department as a whole.

Things I Did Well: I’m still grooving on our morning announcements. Really proud of my kids! The next move is to put all the clips and music we use onto a lab desktop so that kids more and more can do it independently. My students did get to that point last year. However, we had to change the way we did morning announcements this year, for a couple of reasons. First, Youtube changed the way they did Hangouts and I still haven’t figured out how to do them now. (That is not because it is complicated, it’s because I haven’t taken time to really do the necessary research and exploration.)  Secondly, we wanted to include a student whose name, image, and work we are not allowed to publish. Working with the parents, we did come up with an accommodation that I think works really well and still allows this child to spotlight their talent fabulously!

I won’t be at school this upcoming Monday morning due to a meeting I have to go to, so I had my morning announcements team eat lunch with me in the computer lab so we could pre-prepare the announcements for Monday morning together. So that was a time management win. Hopefully we can do this more and more! My goal is to eventually get it so students can do this without me if I ever have a substitute.

12161811631884858250jean_victor_balin_icon_planning-svg-medThings I Will Do Better: I will not schedule myself to be in two places at once! I have at times been forgetful to the point of it being a character flaw, rather than just a quirk. It’s one of the reasons I have to get organized and stay organized. Last week I neglected to fill out my “This Week” organizer on my desk. It’s the most immediate way to organize and visualize my week, since my Google Calendar has so many things for other people on it. Plus, I do tend to remember things better once I’ve written them down. I’ve already filled it in for next week, I need to get back in that routine every Friday!

Cold Prickly & Warm Fuzzy: My cold prickly and warm fuzzy are intertwined this week. That meeting I forgot about was in another building, and I had forgotten about it so hard that I had walked to school that day. Oops. Luckily, a colleague came through with a ride for me! Thank you colleague!


School Week Round-Up: Week 7

Ugh, seven weeks, and some things are still a struggle.

LessonsThe “What Should You Be Working On” spreadsheet really smoothed things over in third grade lessons. That was good, because all next week we’re going to be working on an AIR Test practice prompt that my principal and I planned together. We’re hoping that it provides teachers (including me) with a sense of how to help students succeed on the AIR test. We’re trying to get a sense of things like how kids manage their time, if they type quickly enough on the keyboards, and whether or not they plan their writing. I’m weirdly both looking forward to it and dreading it. I’m looking forward to it because I think it will be interesting to see how kids do, and I think we’ve done a good job preparing for this activity. I’m dreading it because I’m afraid the results will indicate we have a lot — a lot — of work to do. Maybe they won’t, though. That remains to be seen.

Support: At one point, a coworker asked me to fix the printers or call the company for help. I, er, never did that. I couldn’t get away from the lab — I had a student pre-testing. Ultimately, the principal fixed one of the machines herself (yay!), and the other started working on its own, mysteriously. By “mysteriously,” I mean someone else probably troubleshooted it. Whoever did, good job! I know that’s a big part of my job, but unfortunately it’s not a part I can drop everything else to do.

Things I Did Well: I think I’ve made some positive improvements to our method of doing the morning announcements.

Things I Will Do Better: I made those positive improvements to our method of doing the morning announcements because there were things not working about how we do the morning announcements. Ultimately, it comes down to (a) time management and (b) attention to detail, which I will focus on especially in the coming days and weeks. And in more areas than just morning announcements, too!

Cold Prickly: Last year, a parent posted something uncharitable about me on Facebook. It was also not specific, so when I saw it, I had no idea what I had done wrong or what I could do better. I told my principal about it, and she called the parent to discuss it but I’m not sure they ever got past the voicemail stage of communication. I am not actually connected to this parent on social media; someone else took a screenshot and sent it to me. So I’m not sure this parent even knows that I know what she said about me on social media.

Anyway, I haven’t actually had much to do with that family for several months now; I no longer have that student in class. But I saw them today at the school carnival. The parent took a video of me and her child dancing together. I feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable because I don’t know now how that parent feels about me — maybe the uncharitable post was just coming from a need to vent. I don’t know whether she actually had negative feelings about me and changed them. I don’t know how her child feels about me, not for sure. But I didn’t want to bring up these negative feelings and bad memories at a fun carnival event. But I also don’t want to go back and revisit the event any more. I spent more time than I should have thinking about it in the days and weeks immediately following, like when your tongue just can’t leave that sore spot in your gums alone. I don’t want to repeat that cycle. But I feel discomfited, and I really wish I didn’t.

Warm Fuzzy: I was tickled by the name for this basket at the carnival’s basket raffle. Why not reference Shakespeare’s Hamlet at a carnival for first, second, and third graders?