(No) School Week Round-Up

This week was a break, that lovely end of the year confluence of major winter holidays. Hooray, hooray, hooray! It has been incredibly relaxing. Obviously, I can’t write my normal weekly round-up, because we had no school. No lessons, no tech support issues. Wins and losses, perhaps, but of a distinctly more personal nature. For example, I took charge of the matching family pajamas this year. I began conspiring with my mother and sister-in-law in November to order t-shirts and jammie pants from a vendor local to me, printed with our family crest on the shirts and our name down one pant leg.

I have a large immediate family, so rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone else (which would devolve into an expensive, time-consuming hassle), we do a family Secret Santa facilitated by DrawNames.com.  This year, I got my youngest sister, who participated for the first time. I got her a sweatshirt of the university she currently has her sights set on (Tulane, but she’s got three years left of high school so who knows if she actually ends up there); plus some of those pickle-flavored candy canes. (She loves pickles.) My brother’s wife, Brittany, got me. She got me a few years ago, too, and she knocked it out of the ballpark with pencils engraved with my last name that I still have in my classroom. Pencils with the teacher’s name are like boomerangs, because no matter how far away they go, they still end up coming back to you. This year she outdid herself, though: she conspired with my spouse to send and set up a child’s wading pool filled with potato chips. CHAAAAPS!

Another good thing of this season is that my first Donors Choose project got fully funded! The items I asked for will be arriving in January. I’m very excited. I asked for cords and charging stations, since our school received hand-me-down devices from other buildings but didn’t have enough cords and accessories to charge them. The new accessories will make it much easier for teachers to keep devices charged for use in classrooms, rather than remembering to unplug some devices in order to plug in others, and so on.

So not only is today the end of the week, it’s also the end of the year. I intend to go into 2017 with open eyes, clear head, and full heart. Let’s go!

The Value of Stories You Don’t Like

A local police officer, who makes a habit of visiting our school, does not like the Percy Jackson movies. When he goes to the movies, you see, he is seeking escapism. And he can’t enjoy being absorbed in a world where children get hurt.

That’s perfectly valid, I think. He doesn’t have to like the Percy Jackson franchise. But my youngest brother does, and many of my students do. Just because one adult doesn’t like the series, doesn’t mean other people can’t enjoy it. And, even if you don’t like or enjoy something, you can still acknowledge some value in it.

Specifically, with Percy Jackson, I empathize with an adult who doesn’t like to see kids get hurt on the big screen. But refusing to enjoy kids getting hurt through violence doesn’t erase the truth that many children do suffer violence, directly or indirectly. And many children who don’t experience it directly still know someone in their life who does. Fiction may help us be more empathic people, so reading the experiences of a fictional character may better equip a child for dealing with similar circumstances in their lives or the lives of people they know.

Not only that, fiction can force us to confront the uncomfortable realities that other people live in. Books like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck were not books I would have chosen to read as an adolescent, and I failed to realize their full value as I read them. But they helped contextualize a lot of complicated lessons of history, economics, geography, and more. Those stories allowed me to talk about others in college courses. (I felt a lot more sympathy for Achebe’s Okonkwo after reading The Sorrows of Young Werther.) And while I still wouldn’t say I enjoyed these books, I can say I like them because they helped pry open the close-mindedness I had that I wasn’t even aware I had.

School Week Round-Up: Week Eighteen

WE MADE IT TO WINTER BREAK!

Lessons: I used this activity from from Eric Curts for most lessons this week. The kids really enjoyed it, once they got the hang of it! They had done clicking and dragging before, and they had added images to Slides before, but copying and pasting from one slide to another was a new trick for them. Once they got it, though, they really got it.

Here are just a few that got done:

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Support: This past week I came across this piece written from the perspective of an NPR IT specialist. It touches really well on my support struggle from last week.

Almost everyone I’ve ever helped through a computer crisis has been in that frame of mind, and in more than a few cases fixing the computer problem was much less challenging than fixing the user.

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Not everyone can be a technical expert, but if you’re going to trust the important pieces of your life to a computer, you owe it to yourself to know the basics of how it does all the wondrous things you wouldn’t want to live without. To do otherwise invests those magical black boxes with more power than they deserve. And it leaves you open to being prey for people who don’t mind exploiting your ignorance for their own gain.

To me, it’s always better to understand why doing something a particular way is the right way — rather than doing it just because you’ve been told it’s the right way.

Michael Czaplinski’s job is to help people with the problems that they have with their technology, whether that problem originates with the technology or with the user. The way I see it, my job is to teach the “magic” – the how and the why the technology works, and what you need to know to work well with it. I want my students and colleagues to become the wizards, or at least know enough to trust only the wizards wearing pants under their robes. (I like this metaphor. It makes me feel like Professor McGonagall from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry).

Also fun, on the last day of school before break started (the day when many teachers are showing movies while students enjoy hot cocoa and cookies as a reward for cleaning out their desks and lockers) our building’s wi-fi went down. And not just our building’s, a couple other buildings in the district were affected. The IT guys spent hours working on it, to no avail. Our improvisation skills were tested!

As for me, I had to do a test-like task with third grade that we missed last week during our snow day. The assignment was on Edcite and sent out to students on Google Classroom… well, at least it was supposed to be. Without internet, that wasn’t happening. Luckily, I had printed out a blank master copy for some reason. I made copies for students, gave them pencils, and had them go at it old school style. It wasn’t ideal, but neither would be waiting until January to do this task… we already have another similar tasked scheduled for then! To their credit, not a single student complained about having to use pencil and paper instead of the computers. Santa, if you’re reading, Mrs. Dawson’s third graders from Parkway Elementary probably each deserve an extra treat this year!

Things I Did Well: 
Improvising. Always, after, I come up with so many other possible solutions I could have run with. But, in a time crunch, I came up with some solutions that I was able to pull off. So did things go perfectly? No. But sometimes “good enough” has to be good enough.

Things I Will Do Better: I was not able to help everyone to their satisfaction this week.

Cold Prickly: This kept coming up in my brain while the wi-fi is down. (For all I know, it’s still down.)

Warm FuzzyOne of the bus drivers is truly a light. (The other bus drivers are probably also very nice, but I usually take the same kids out to the same bus at the end of the day, so I know for a fact that that particular bus driver is the absolute best.) A school bus driver deals with a lot of difficulties — class management, but on wheels! — in addition to weather and traffic hazards. They are not compensated the way I wish they were. It’s a challenging job. So, for a bus driver to be someone else’s light at the end of the day astounds me! She’s got a smile on her face, always, and I hope we help it stay there.

School Week Round-Up: Week Seventeen

Only four more school days until winter break, only four more school days until winter break…

Lessons: Back to our AIR Test Prep Prompts this week. In many ways, kids are improving. Many third graders are starting to write multi-paragraph responses.

Support: So, there is the way technology works… and then there’s the way we expect it to work. The second one is a bit of an issue. A coworker brought her students to the computer lab at a time when I couldn’t also be there this week. She was frustrated at how long it took for the kids to log into their emails… because she thought our Mac desktops worked like our Chromebooks. I don’t know how to bridge this gap between reality and expectations, especially when expectations are often taken for granted and thus left unspoken. How do other people address this when it comes up in their workplace?

Things I Did Well: 
I was much more engaged in our  district Twitter chat this week and I think I was somewhat helpful to other teachers. The idea was that different folks would take turns share their teaching challenges, and everyone else would come up with ideas and resources to help. I really, really, really enjoy that idea, because so many of my slumps happen at times when I feel “tapped out” and unable to come up with creative solutions. And so often, when you ask for help, you either feel like you’re imposing or giving up or complaining. I hope we do that kind of chat again soon, and that more elementary level teachers participate. I would love to get some ideas for myself when it comes to teaching students about writing responses to passages they’ve read!

Things I Will Do Better: I fell behind with the grading of those AIR Test Prep Prompts again. I caught up with one grade level, one more grade level to go. If procrastination was an Olympic sport, I would medal.

Cold Prickly: “Cold Prickly” is not quite the right term for this, but I spent more time this week reflecting on Sandy Hook than I have since that day four years ago. It is a difficult subject to think about. I remember that actual week. I had a fifth grade reading class, and the students started asking about what to do if an intruder came into our classroom with a gun. I told them of the spaces we would hide, but they all imagined they would be tough and fight an intruder successfully, the way we all imagine we would if we were heroes in an action film.

I don’t know for sure how they would have reacted in that actual scenario. In fact, I’m not sure how I’d react. I know how I’d want to react, and I imagine sometimes the best course of action based on slightly different circumstances — where I am, where kids are, which kids are with me, what weapons an intruder might have, whether or not they were a stranger — it’s a weird rabbit hole I kept mentally revisiting.And that the easiest thing to hope for is also statistically the likeliest (that such a thing never happens) feels like a cop-out.

Warm FuzzyWe had our first snow day! Okay, so technically it was a “cold” day, since it was called more due to wind chill than accumulation. But I’m not complaining!

Also a first grade student gave me a Christmas present, which I don’t get as often as a homeroom teacher does. It should give a little insight into my actual teaching style that I’m not sure comes across in blog form.

I also dressed like a Christmas tree, because my reindeer sweater has electronic components and can’t be washed, so I have to let it air out for a few days between wearings. I’m a sense-maker like that.

The Heroes We Need… to Be

 

The Haines House is a local historical landmark that was, years and years and years ago, a stop on the Underground Railroad. When you take a tour there, they show you the restored parlor, the kitchen, the herb garden, the bedroom, and the attic where escaped slaves would hide before continuing their journey. The last time I was there, I was particularly impacted by a small artifact — a handmade topsy-turvy doll. Though the  topsy-turvy doll’s  original meaning and purpose is uncertain, according to our docent, the  folks who lived at the Haines House used theirs as a signal. When a child played outside with the white side of the doll showing, it wasn’t safe to move. But when it was, the child would play with the black side showing, so that local allies would know their help and care was needed.

My city is not perfect; our current situations are shaped by institutionalized inequality despite our historical high ideals. But still I take inspiration from the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by fugitive slaves in the 19th century to escape to free states and Canada. This network was made up of former slaves, abolitionists, and allies, who all knew on some level that owning other people was wrong and were willing to do something about it. When we look back, and realize someone we otherwise admire espoused hateful beliefs, we often excuse it with a wave of the hand, remarking, “They were a product of their times.” To me, the Underground Railroad disproves that notion. You can live at a time when horrible things are acceptable at a societal and legal level, and still reject them morally, and act on your convictions.

We have our heroes of American history: the presidents, the pioneers, the inventors, the warriors. Many of their names will trip off our tongues readily. But the Underground Railroad reminds us that heroism is not a competitive enterprise: you don’t have to shine the brightest, you don’t have to be the first. You don’t have to change the whole world to change one person’s world for the better. Heroes are often made in the crucible of crises, but just as often heroism is an incremental, daily commitment to do what is right. This is who I aspire to be in my classroom and community day after day after day. Even children can be this type of hero to one another. Anyone could be, so long as your ambition is truly to make life easier or better for others, not to go down in history.

So, even though it’s only December 17th, I’m committing to my 2017 New Year’s Resolution now. I want to commit to doing heroic things in my daily life. Things that are small, and would be easier not to do, but have a measurable and net-positive impact on somebody else. Things like showing compassion to a challenging student. Things like picking up the phone and calling my representative — and, even when the topic is unpleasant, beginning and ending my message with sincere, positive greetings. (“Have a nice week” as opposed to “I hope you step on a Lego while barefoot.”) Things like tweeting a personal, supportive message at someone who deserves to see one.

Doing small, challenging things does not necessarily make me the hero I want to be, because I am the sum of all my actions and more. But maybe by doing heroic things, I may become the hero I need to see in my own reflection.

 

Reading Out Loud With YouTube

Some of my earliest memories from childhood are from junior kindergarten, when Mrs. Fontaine, our teacher, gathered us around her on the carpet for story time. She would read a book to us, sounding out the text while showing us the pictures. While I don’t remember all the texts and titles we read, they were usually available in the classroom for the students to pick up and look through before and after story time as well.

Nowadays there are some pretty grim statistics about kids being read to out loud, even though the benefits of doing so have been well-documented. Some of this is understandable. A lot of parents are in the workforce, and time spent at school focuses on all sorts of curricula, not just reading, so there may be less time for reading in general. There’s also been a shift to using screens – computers, tablets, television, and so on – more so than ever before, especially in an educational way.

When I was a kid, there was reliably an episode of Reading Rainbow or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on TV most days. I don’t know what kinds of shows are on now, and whether they’re as widely accessible as PBS ones, but since the advent of the Internet other people have gotten into creating multimedia reading experiences for children online. I’ve found some examples of stories being read out loud on YouTube, for example.

I don’t think this is a perfect replacement for reading out loud to kids. For one thing, a child can’t see or touch the book the way they can if it’s available to them in real life. I remember examining illustrations in great detail before moving on to the next page if I could help it, and when being read to through a screen, a child doesn’t always have the option, since someone else is dictating the pace at which the story is read. Nothing quite comes close to holding the tangible copy in one’s hand. Still, I like how one can find a variety of readers and reading styles on the Internet – it’s a good way to get children to listen (and pay attention to!) all kinds of voices. It’s also a good way to “try before you buy,” if one’s budget is limited and you want to check out a book or two before committing to a purchase (especially if the book isn’t available from the library… or the library is closed).

I’ve chosen to link this one because it’s new and Christmas-themed. I hope you enjoy Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, read out loud by Whimsical Tales for Children.

 

 

What other books do you want to see shared like this? What other online readers have you encountered?

School Week Round-Up: Week Sixteen

I keep intending to write posts during the week, about a variety of topics. And I’ll start. I just don’t finish. So I have something like thirty half-done drafts. I need to work on my follow-through, or on writing conclusions, or both.

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Lessons: We had our winter holiday concert this week, and we practiced in the gym during several of my regularly scheduled classes. So, lesson planning and lesson teaching were on the light side this week. But, that also meant I felt a little free-er to try some resources out with students without feeling like I needed them to work perfectly well. Also, I did Hour of Code with some classes (specifically Candy Quest, with most students) and it was, well… it was extremely chill. It’s normal in my room for kids to talk and ask one another for help and be out of their seats within reason, but for whatever reason, when they were doing Hour of Code, it was the quietest my lab has ever been outside of i-Ready time. And i-Ready time is quiet because we enforce quiet at those times; not so with Hour of Code. Kids were still out of their seats and talking with one another, just… more quietly than they usually are. Maybe they were really tired from the concert.

Support: So, I really like our new tech guy, John. Maybe it’s because he’s married to a teacher and is therefore not unfamiliar with our trials, but he strikes me as super not-judgey and really willing and able to suss things out in my style, even if it might be more time-consuming and less convenient on his end. Yesterday we had and email back and forth where we were trying to figure out why a particular desktop… well, it was doing this:

Mysterious, no? We went back and forth, trying to remote him in, though in doing so I realized this only happened when a particular student logged in. So the easiest solve? Switch the student’s seat. It doesn’t happen when he logs into other computers, so whatevs! A delightfully non-technological way to solve a technological problem. (Although John did come back and make it so the computer stopped doing the flashing thing, in the end.)

Things I Did Well: 
Pretty proud of the video I made to play during the holiday concert, during a transition time when students were getting on the stage behind a closed curtain.

Things I Will Do Better: I fell asleep halfway through the district’s weekly Twitter chat. I… should make sure I get more sleep.

Cold Prickly: I missed a PLC meeting because the coverage I had arranged fell through at the last minute. Shucks.

Warm FuzzyWe hosted a program called Donuts for Dads yesterday. We had donuts, we had dads, what more could you ask for in life?

School Week Round-Up: Week Fifteen

This was a weird week. Firstly, coming back from Thanksgiving – the first decently long break we’ve had all year – was really nice. People seemed calm and well-rested, and we were away from each other long enough to actually start missing each other.

Lessons: Shortchanged a little, unfortunately, because we’re using specials times to rehearse for our holiday music concern next week. I’ve had time to really fine tune some HyperDocs but not so much time to use them and get student feedback on them.

Support: Interims snuck up on us this week. Luckily, most issues we had with them were easy solves that we’d seen before.

Things I Did Well: Some students became frustrated with technology in class, and I think I handled it well. One student clicked “block” instead of “allow” when Recap asked for permission to use the computer camera and microphone in Google Chrome. Took me a minute to change that setting, and the student was very upset with himself. I just kept telling him it was okay, and thanking him for giving me the chance to learn. I don’t think he quite forgave himself, but he calmed down. Another student was near tears when her computer outright froze up, so instead of recording her reflection on Recap, I had her use Quicktime on my laptop while the rest of her class was leaving.

Things I Will Do Better: I think over Thanksgiving break, I got out of some of my habits and routines that make computer lab time, especially transitions, a lot smoother. I would make a checklist to remind myself, but chances are high that, if I didn’t lose it, I would automatically ignore it. (It’s what I do with clocks…)

Cold Prickly: Some things simply should not appear in a student’s browser history. 🙍

Warm FuzzyWe’re having a holiday-themed door decorating contest at school. Most of the teachers have decorations up that their whole classes helped with; for example, one second grade teacher turned her room entrance into a gingerbread house, and all her students made gingerbread boys and girls to live in it. I don’t have a homebase so I just did mine on my own. It’s not finished — that hearth is definitely in need of a stocking or two — but I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished. I have to be, I stayed til past five on a Friday working on it!

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