We did not have school this week – the whole week off! Spring break! Woo hoo! Therefore there will not be a school week round-up again til next week. Breathe easy!
This week felt like everything, both good and bad.
Lessons: I took it easy with lessons this week – allowing students to have choices between school-appropriate educational games and activities. Part of this was for third graders in particular; with AIR testing this week I didn’t want to hit them hard with new material and content. Part of it was for myself; AIR testing changed some normal scheduling, plus I had a long list of other tasks that needed to get done this week. So the plan was to go a little easy on myself and the students. Luckily students were familiar enough with routines and expectations that they could handle the additional freedom with ease and grace.
Support: Of all the weeks for report cards to also have to go home! They went relatively smoothly, except for a weird issue with some first grade cards where they weren’t entered into a class roster. We fixed it but it didn’t change in the system until after Friday at dismissal, so I’ll have to reprint some of them after break. The teacher sent the misprints home with a note to expect corrected versions in April.
Things I Did Well: Did not lose my mind, even though I think that would have been warranted.
Things I Will Do Better: I need to organize my to-do list a little better; it felt like I had a lot of “hurry up and wait” going on.
Cold Prickly & Warm Fuzzy: Spring break next week! I both very much look forward to it and also kind of dread it. It will be nice to sleep in for several days in a row! But I hope I don’t suffer more for it for the last quarter of school.
We had a snow day this week, on Wednesday. It wouldn’t have been my first pick for a snow day in terms of scheduling, but it wasn’t the worst day to have one, really.
Lessons: We did our final AIR test practice prompts in the computer lab before third graders take the AIR test for real next week. I know third graders were doing them in language arts too, so I hope they’re not getting too burned out. Hopefully they recharge their batteries over the weekend, and we get them feeling good on Monday and Tuesday next week, because Wednesday and Thursday is when the tests are happening.
Support: Still frustrated with several of the desktops in my lab; I don’t know if some update went through or what, but several of them only had the Finder and Recycle Bin icons in their docks. It doesn’t render them unusable but it it inconvenient.
Things I Did Well: I don’t feel like this was a particularly standout week for me.
Things I Will Do Better: I am losing momentum, definitely. I’m looking forward to spring break after next week; I hope I feel revitalized.
Cold Prickly: I don’t like how testing season takes over school. I feel bad about testing in general. I know it’s not how many kids demonstrate their learning best. It’s frustrating to watch them try to fit their square peg selves into the round holes of standardized testing.
Warm Fuzzy: Despite my negative feelings about testing, our school tries to create an upbeat atmosphere. We provide little care packages for kids; we regroup them so they are in smaller groups with teachers they have good rapport with. We’re doing a rally, and other ways to show support.
I was really surprised to answer the phone at 6:15 this morning and hear the announcement that today would be a snow day for our district. I was surprised because we had school yesterday when just about every other school in the county had off. And today, very few other local districts have off (some have two hour delays).
I am going to try to grade some assessments (something I struggle to force myself to do, more than doing dishes even). But, I am also going to play more video games than I probably should. Specifically, I will play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the new Nintendo Switch.
We got this game the day it came out (my spouse and I are both big fans of the franchise; in fact I proposed to him with a Zelda-patterned cross-stich with a ring sewn on). My husband had to go out of town that weekend, so I got quality time on the system first.
Firstly, the Switch. It’s much smaller than the Wii U, and you can switch it from being hooked up to the TV, to being more like a handheld console. I prefer playing on the big screen, but it’s cool to be able to have it smaller, so that my husband can catch up on Hulu shows. I even took it to a family dinner to show my twin sister (also a big Zelda fan). It’s still just as lovely to behold on the smaller screen, it’s just smaller. And even using the smaller screen, you can set it up to multiple different controller configurations so that you can do however you prefer. (I like to hold the Joy-Cons by themselves in each hand; my husband likes to use them in the Joy-Con grip.)
Next, the game itself. It really seems very compatible with my gaming style, which is reckless. I tend to rush headlong into circumstances without planning much in advance; then, if I utterly fail, I observe how I fail so that I can base future planning on that. (My twin sister, by contrast, is cautious: she made it through Ocarina of Time without ever dying.) This game does not overly punish rashness; it autosaves frequently and does not force you to save at particular points. There are many situations where, instead of killing you outright, puts you back to your last safe moment with reduced health.
There are many challenges in the game that you can choose to face in different ways. Often there are items lying around, or characteristics of the environment you can use to your advantage if you think things through. You also get some abilities early in the game that you can creatively apply in many settings.
My husband and I are benefiting from watching each other play. For example, I solved a puzzle using the stasis ability and arrows; when he came on the same one, he happened to be out of arrows. Rather than retreat to gather supplies, he managed to find another way to solve the puzzle. I remembered his method the next time I faced a puzzle, and made sure to try other angles than I normally would at first. I don’t think I’d be doing half as well if I wasn’t playing in tandem with a different person who doesn’t do the same things I do.
I also like that there’s not a strictness to the storyline. In previous Zelda games, you had to accomplish goals in a particular order. This is not the case in this game. Yes, there are certain plot points that only get triggered after certain other things occur. Yes, there are enemies you can’t actually beat until you get the right weapons, armor, or power-ups. But the game doesn’t actually stop you from trying to do things that you’re not equipped to handle. I think an abrupt “game over” screen is how the game designers chose to teach the player that it’s okay to run away from some battles.
As for the content of the storyline, I think I’ll save that for another post, one with spoiler tags.
This week is a normal week, all things considered, with the exception of an early dismissal on Friday. Next week is normal-ish. The next next week is AIR testing for third grade, and the week after is spring break.
I state that outright because I think, for a couple of weeks, I forgot why I started writing weekly round-ups. I want to be more reflective about my work. It benefits me in the present, because I can tinker and improve my practice and methods each week. But I hope it will benefit me in the future, if and when I get “stuck” on a particular skill or topic or just at a certain time in the school year. I want to be able to look back on my blog and compare next year with this year. “What did my students learn? Are my expectations of them this year reasonable? Are there things we glossed over, or things we need to more deeply dive into?” And so on.
Lessons: I had students continue to use Khan Academy for part of the lesson time, then transition to their choice of math game website, like Sumdog or Prodigy. Before transitioning, I discussed with individual students what they were working on with Khan Academy, how much time they had spent engaged, and what exactly they were doing – practices? Mastery challenges? Vidoes? Etc. I did this less because they needed support in the moment and more to show them that the coach’s dashboard allows me to see that information, in case I need to support them (or hold them accountable).
Support: Some of the desktops in the computer lab hop on to alternate wireless networks instead of our default one. I log in as admin and I change the preferred networks but they keep reverting. It’s frustrating.
Things I Did Well: I think I had a good attitude this week. There were a few times we had to play “substitute shuffle,” everyone’s favorite challenge of making sure we have sufficient staffing. There was a professional development day for one whole grade level of teachers this week, plus an IEP release day, plus some illnesses are still going around (at the very least, they’re tracking cases of flu and strep in the school district). At least once I was pulled to teach a different subject than I usually do. Another time I was warned in advance that my flexibility might be needed, but it turned out I wasn’t. Still, I was ready for it. I made sure my tasks got done in a timely manner without waiting til the last minute. (For example, I’m working on getting the yearbook together now instead of waiting til almost the deadline, like last year.) I also want to have a good attitude about this kind of thing because my principal tries her best to let people know with as much of a heads-up as possible, and I want to demonstrate my appreciate for that.
Things I Will Do Better: Nothing! I’m perfect! Mwahahaha!
Nope, that’s not quite right. It was really noticeable to me this week how I tend to peter out on Fridays, especially Friday afternoons. What can I do to support myself being equally present for my students at 2:30pm on a Friday as I am at any other time of the week?
Cold Prickly: The sicks are still going around.
Warm Fuzzy: This thing that happened.
Almost nothing invigorates me more than when grown-ups outside our school take our kids seriously.
Our school district uses a vendor assessment system called i-Ready to track our students’ growth throughout the school year. Generally students spend about an hour on math lessons and an hour on reading lessons on i-Ready per week. We do a lot of incentives, like teachers giving raffle tickets for each lesson passed and then doing a drawing for a special lunch with the principal.
Even with incentives, many students hit a wall with i-Ready, motivationally speaking, in January and February. They just got burned out, and I can’t really blame them – it’s just how it feels. Teachers ramped up encouragement and incentives, but even they were getting frustrated with repeated issues running i-Ready in Google Chrome browsers.
So when students logged in this morning, they were thrilled to see new games had been added. It was a very different atmosphere in the computer lab! One student in particular named Zakhary was so excited, he said “thank you” to every adult in the room. I said to him, “Actually, we didn’t turn those games on. The people at the i-Ready company did. Want to say thank you to them?”
Of course he did! He was so excited!
He dictated the message and I wrote it down. He held his message and I took a picture. Then, I tweeted it.
— ☕C Driscoll🍩 (@teacherofftopic) March 9, 2017
Now, even just this much was invigorating for Zakhary. But then, at the very very end of our school day (we were lined up for dismissal), I got a Twitter notification.
— CurriculumAssociates (@CurriculumAssoc) March 9, 2017
Luckily, Zakhary’s homeroom is just across the hall, so right before buses were called I went to their doorway, laptop in hand. His entire class gathered around to see the photo and listen closely as I read out the message. (Having a class quietly listening at dismissal is nothing short of a small miracle, by the way.)
So now not only is Zakhary excited about new i-Ready games, his whole class is excited for him that he was acknowledged by professional adults who created the games. And as a teacher, I’m exhilarated that someone outside our community took my student seriously. I too have a renewed investment in this product.
It’s a little like the zoo project we did last year – it makes a huge difference to student engagement when others are also engaged with them as partners in their learning.
Lessons: This week went more smoothly than last week. I got students using Khan Academy again. I used Khan Academy quite a bit last year, actually because I was asked to present about it at a professional development. But this year it seemed like a lot of work, especially compared to websites and resources that were easier to sync with Google Classroom. Then… Khan Academy enabled teachers to import their Google Classrooms. Sweet! It was so much faster to set kids back up this way. The kids even like it a little better than last year, because we’re starting so late in the year, they’re breezing through the things they’ve already learned. I like Khan Academy for a lot of reasons. I like that it allows me to see how much time students are actually engaged on the site, so I can verify who’s likely goofing off. I like that it allows students to state, “I haven’t learned this” or see a hint. I like that it doesn’t let kids exit and start a mastery challenge all over again – it saves their work. (That last one is because some students have perfectionist tendencies and want to get every answer right on the first try – but that’s not a reasonable expectation to have of oneself at all times.)
Support: We use an online instructional system that has lately caused struggle with Google Chrome. It’s especially a frustration for teachers whose students use older Mac laptops that were reimaged to run like Chromebooks. The system is aware of how the browser issues play out and are trying to support school districts who use it. It’s the kind of thing where you have the first thing to try; if that doesn’t work I have a second, or even third thing to try; and if those don’t work, then I reach out for help. I actually taught a third grader how to do the first thing, and he showed his homeroom teacher. So now I’m thinking I could find a couple of students in every class and train them up in some troubleshooting steps, to help out their teachers and classmates.
Things I Did Well: I actually had another genuine sick day (slight fever), and the Google Classroom lessons apparently went slightly askew. But, the students are now familiar enough with it that they were able to tell the sub, “If the lesson doesn’t work, this is the backup plan.” (It’s in a Google Doc in the “About” section of Google Classroom.) And the sub trusted enough to go along with it. So I will have to make up a couple lessons for next week, but I’m really proud of my students!
Things I Will Do Better: In reference to the above paragraph, I need to triple check my Google Classroom lessons are posted, er, correctly when I’m sick. Foggy head led to unclear directions. This is why we hate making sub plans!
Cold Prickly: My spouse is going out of town this weekend to see our niece and nephew in a play. I couldn’t go because I made a commitment on my side of the family. I’m sad I’ll be missing this.
Warm Fuzzy: A video game I’ve been looking forward to just game out on a new system. So, even though I’m on my own for most of the weekend, at least I get to spend that time with a guy named Link in a land called Hyrule.