School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Four

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?

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Three

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.

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.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Two

Yikes. This was not a banner week to be me.

Lessons: I had to print interims this week, which in the past has been something a little more time-consuming and stressful than it has any business being. Plus, someone gave me a huge box of dot matrix printing paper. So, I linked students to Art Hub for Kids and let them choose what they wanted to draw and color. I swear, the computer lab has never been quieter. The kids grab paper and pencils, pop on their headphones, and follow along to whatever they want to draw. I also provided crayons so that students could color their drawings if they wanted to. I like the site because it has a lot of tutorial subjects that they probably don’t cover in art class, like Pokémon and Shopkins. They can’t simply trace from a desktop, either (which is how I created Lion King artwork I was so proud of when I was their age). They can pause and rewatch videos. Some students used the search engine to find what they wanted; others browsed the site until something caught their eye. Quite a few first graders clicked on ads, especially one that declared they could play Minecraft for free. Better they learn now, in a safe environment, that such claims can’t be trusted!

So yeah, it was a very self-directed week in the lab. So… of course my principal dropped in for an unannounced observation. Yikes. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.

Support: I spilled coffee on my own work laptop on Friday, despite being the person who should probably know better. Coffee also got on the interims I had already printed, a stack of pictures students had drawn during class, and my pants and chair. I guess it was good I was wearing black pants.

I was putting the lid on my coffee cup at the time.

Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Spilling my coffee wasn’t my only bad moment this week. I’ve also spent the entire week with a nasty sunburn. I spent most of Saturday outside on a sunny day; I had purchased sunscreen specifically but left it behind when I actually went out. I got it on my face, neck, and chest (when I realized I had forgotten my sunscreen I made a point of keeping my jacket on, despite becoming very warm). My forehead and nose were particularly bad, especially in contrast to my eyes which had been covered with sunglasses. I call the look “reverse racoon.” Anyway, I couldn’t do much for my nose (especially when it started peeling – makeup would have made it look worse, not better), but I wore hats and headbands creatively this week to cover my forehead. It was a good plan, especially when I lifted my school logo ball cap on Tuesday to scratch my head, and a second grader cried out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!”

I also forgot my purse at a restaurant for almost 24 hours. Again, not a banner week for me.

Cold Prickly: So I had a weird week emotionally, I think, and it was affecting my performance in the classroom. Particularly, there were a few times when students’ behavior would have merited a stronger response from me. Instead of handling the issues myself, I got in touch with my principal or other teachers and sort of passed on the problems. It was like, I couldn’t escalate my own emotions, particularly anger, even when it was an appropriate response to a given situation. In fact, I felt like I couldn’t intensity of multiple emotions at work this week, even positive ones.

Then on Thursday I realized I had left my purse at a restaurant after spending significant time searching for it at both work and home. And I was so angry with myself. So angry. I berated myself in the car, and I came home and just laid in bed for thirty minutes, clenching my teeth, near tears. All the mistakes I was making were affecting me harshly, and they were no one’s fault but my own. So I think I was having a hard time being angry with other people because I was spending to much emotional energy being angry at myself.

And then on Friday I spilled coffee on my laptop.

11949860301279678518coffee_ganson-svg-med

YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, BITTER WAKEY DRINK

I really needed a weekend by that point.

Warm Fuzzy: I am looking forward to the March for Science this weekend. I see it as less of a political protest, more of a show of support for a spectrum of scientific issues. As an educator, I feel like it’s important to support scientific inquiry early in life; therefore it’s logical to support science across the board. Otherwise, what is the point? Understanding the scientific method can help us think critically about many things. Some people might believe it needs to remain politically neutral, and in a perfect world, it probably could. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world where scientific research needs funding, and policies that ignore its findings could have repercussions that affect our planet in ways we can’t even fully comprehend until we’re facing them.

So while I’m not super pleased that people felt strongly enough about this that a march had to happen, I’m happy it is, because I think it will feel nice to be around like-minded individuals en masse. My prediction, too, is that signs of cheesy STEM jokes will outnumber signs of politically vehement slogans, so yay.

And then on Sunday I have no plans whatsoever, and I intend to keep it that way.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-One

I wish I felt as refreshed after spring break as I was hoping to.

Lessons: Mixed it up this week with students using a menu between websites where students can practice skills such as typing, math problem solving, and so on. It’s the last quarter and I think choice is important to keep students engaged and prevent burnout, while also staving off the feeling that nothing we do now matters as much so we might as well goof off.

Support: So I had to call the company we lease the printers from for support for one of the copiers; a plastic bit had broken off, preventing something from closing properly, blah blah. The tech arrived during bus dismissal so when I returned to the lab after, I saw a note from him on my desk that said, “See me before you leave.” I thought it must have been something I needed to know about the printer… turned out he wanted to show me a woman on the cover of a Christian music album from the 1970s who he thought looked like me.

119498645176821905smiley003-svg-med

Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Time management with the after-school program is something I need to work on. I think it’s largely because we’re still just starting out; I haven’t gotten used to the rhythm of it yet, is all.

Cold Prickly: Thursday in particular was one of those days where I question whether I can stay in this career in the long-term. I don’t feel comfortable going into too much detail, but I was witness to something that didn’t even affect me as directly as it affects other people. I found it really stressful even though it, again, doesn’t affect me directly. It was the kind of thing that made me realize how stressful it can be to be a special educator; they deserve the world for what they do.

Warm Fuzzy: I had a dentist appointment this week and I have no cavities. On the one hand, that’s kind of like the bare minimum of adulthood, but I spent a huge portion of my childhood 1) eating candy and 2) terrified of dentists. Neither of those things helped the other out.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty

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.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Nine

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.

Snow Day (Let’s Talk About Zelda)

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.

And

I

love it.

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.

C6B_xu4U8AAff6w

As for the content of the storyline, I think I’ll save that for another post, one with spoiler tags.

 

 

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Eight

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.

1209672515466464431johnny_automatic_boys_academy-svg-medI 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.

A Little Wind Beneath My Wings

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.

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.

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.