School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Seven

This was the last week of school.

Lessons: 
This was the week I gave students the closest thing to “free time” they ever get when using technology: a menu of choices with the ability to ask for more choices that I might have been unaware of or forgotten.

Except there was an element that we had never had before.

Chickens.

Okay, so if you follow me on Twitter, you certainly knew about the chickens already. I think I’ll write about them in more detail in their own post. But to summarize, I had my afterschool science group set up and study an incubator. The program ended the week before the chickens were due to hatch. I kept the incubator in the computer lab so when chicks hatched, we livestreamed it using Periscope so everyone in the building could see without issues. The chicks hung out in my room until the last day of school (today). Another teacher took them to her father, a farmer, who will try to provide us with fertile eggs in the future so we can repeat the activity.

And it did sort of work out, class management-wise.

 


Support:
 One of the more techie things I did this week was DJ the end of year carnival. I’m really glad I solicited requests in advance, firstly because it’s clear I am not very aware of what music the kids are into lately. Secondly, because I was able to find clean versions of some songs that were requested.

Things I Did Well: Everyone I was responsible for made it to the end of the week healthy. Even fourteen chicks.

Things I Will Do Better: Friday Caitlin left Tuesday Caitlin a heck of a lot to do. Friday Caitlin feels some guilt. But not enough to have actually done more.

Cold Prickly: Lots of physical damage this week. I’m talking about folks in the building, not the technology. The person who wore the “I Survived Field Day” shirt on Field Day ended up in the emergency room before noon. This is not a joke, but she did turn out okay so it’s still kind of funny.

 

Warm Fuzzy: Doesn’t get much warmer or fuzzier than this. Happy summertime!
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School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Six

This was the second-to-last week of school. Next week, we lose a lot of structure; we have field day at both our elementary and the other one in our city, so that will disrupt both building’s typical schedules. Each grade level will have at least one field trip; third grade will have at least two. And the last day of school is our End of Year Carnival. So there will be more flying by the seat of one’s pants this upcoming week.

Lessons:
So I usually let students have free time* during their last computer lab class of the year; invariably I seem to promise it in a weak moment of classroom management earlier for some reason or another. So, some classes already got that this week, because I will not have them next week (because of field day or field trips). Most classes did not, though.

*Free time is not actually free in my classroom, because when you tell students sitting in front of internet-connected devices, you don’t actually want them to do whatever enters their head. Like doing a Google search for “play Five Nights at Freddy’s” which is a game you have to pay for and that they cannot install on the computers without admin privileges, which means that they click on an ad that says they can play it for free, except it’s not free, and the cost is that some janky website adds an extension onto Chrome without prompting, and then the kid gets pop-ups about hysterectomies that they don’t understand on multiple levels.

Yeah, that really happened once. I was so mad. I specifically told that sub not to tell the students they could do anything they wanted, and he basically told the students they could do anything they wanted. It was over a year ago and it still irks me.

Anyway, instead of truly free time, students get a menu of choices that they can explore independently. Most of those choices are websites that they find engaging anyway because there are games, but a couple are actually programs on the computers themselves.

Support: Lots of physical damage this week. I think some kids or teachers are stacking things on top of Chromebooks.

Things I Did Well: There was one weird day this week where I had a sub so I could attend a training at our school admin building. But then, the training only lasted through the morning. But when I went back to school, it turned out they were short a sub anyway, so I was going to let my sub remain in my room and I was going to cover this other person’s class. But then our receptionist went home sick (something really atypical for her). So then we combined the class I was supposed to cover (very small class) with another very small class, and I ended up covering the office for the afternoon! Whoa. On one hand, I can see why they don’t just put any sub there – too much risk of a negative interaction. Then again, it didn’t get nearly as hectic as it sometimes does. I was actually able to use some of my natural abilities (knowing where all 320+ kids in the building should be at all times) combined with the training I was just at (it was for an add-on to our gradebook I used to access rosters). I actually got a lot done. Not just covering phones and giving out ice packs either, there was also stapling, so you know I’m hardcore.

Things I Will Do Better: We had a Right to Read themed week going on, and I missed the memo on things like Epic Hair Day and Pajama Poetry Day. Fam, you know I’m all about this stuff. I really gotta engage better with building-wide initiatives.

Cold Prickly: At least four of our chicken eggs are total duds, meaning no chickens inside. They looked the same when candled at Day 15 as they did at Day 5 – clearly all white and yolk inside. A couple more eggs look to me like they developed somewhat, but not as far as others. Whether that means they are developing slowly or late, or that they started and stopped, I don’t know. But we are definitely not expecting all twenty eggs to hatch.

Warm Fuzzy: We are expecting more than half the eggs to hatch still. And, I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to find homes for chicks, but I think I’ve got it covered! One local farmer even offered to take chicks and, in exchange, provide us with fertile eggs in the future! Then take chicks, and in exchange, provide fertile eggs again later on. Eggs and chicks in perpetuity! Who cares which comes first!

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Five

 

It’s definitely feeling like May up in here. A lot of teachers are using their personal days before they lose them, and so our building gets a little more subby than usual at times, particularly Mondays and Fridays. And indoor recess in May is a goshdarn travesty. (This is me, shaking my fist at Mother Nature.)

Lessons:
So I wanted to do something with my classes that tied in with the curriculum from 4-H my afterschool group is using. So I plotted out an open-ended project where students identify a problem or challenge for animals, then come up with a high or low tech solution for them. It involves brainstorming, research, creativity, design, and communication. The only actual requirement is that they create an image of their idea, then write a paragraph explaining it. Some students are writing about endangered animals, others about pets. One student is writing about his own pet, describing the steps his family is taking to identify what they suspect is a food allergy causing their bulldog discomfort. A pair of students started working together on deer; one found the PETA Kids website on hunting, one found an online hobby magazine that lists positives of hunting. Their ongoing disagreement is surprisingly polite as they bounce ideas off each other.

Unfortunately, I took two afternoons off this week (instead of taking one whole personal day). So I didn’t have my Tuesday or Thursday third grade classes. Tuesday was already a week behind everyone else due to the PD day we had the week before. Then, I found out that I also have to do day-long trainings outside my building next Tuesday and Thursday too. So, I will not have them again this week either. (Not something I knew when I planned my personal time off, I assure you.) And that means I won’t have my Tuesday or Thursday afternoons again until… the last week of school.

These classes are also sometimes challenging in the classroom management department; I don’t think a sub could lead them through an open-ended assignment, not without additional support. It’s too much. Or rather, I bet a sub could lead them through, but I want my sub to keep coming back so I won’t ask her to. So I am planning alternate lessons that my sub can do with these kids.

Support: Actually I got really excited when I came back after time off Wednesday, because a sub left a note describing a computer issue a student had. “He figured out to do X,Y, and Z, and I let him, and it worked – I hope it was the right thing to do?” Yessss. A sub who is comfortable enough to let kids try troubleshooting and trust their results. Hearts and stars forever!

Things I Did Well: I got my sub to pick up all this week, and at least one day for me next week. (I am really not super thrilled about missing so many school days in the last month of the year. I think it’s possibly the worst time for subs and sub lesson plans!) I had never met her in person before Tuesday, but I know she picked up for me before. In fact, she remembered that I left her a paper mug and a K-cup of hot chocolate. I joke that I like to roll out the red carpet for subs, because their job is like mine but also harder in some ways. (Maybe easier in some ways too, but it’s not important for me to focus on that.)

Things I Will Do Better: I did not budget my time particularly well on Tuesday, so when my sub came, I didn’t have lesson plans written out. So I scribbled out the schedule and told her about Google Classroom, but I didn’t actually leave the detailed document I would have liked her to have as a safety net. I did better for Thursday. But, I need to do even better next Tuesday because I’ll be gone all day. Yipes!

Cold Prickly: I was the person in charge of giving all the make-up standardized tests. I thought the last one was Wednesday, for a child who had been sick for a week and then came back. He wrapped a day later than most because he had two parts to make up, plus the day he came back there was a class field trip. And who wants to miss a field trip to take a standardized test? If that were me, I would definitely be wondering what my classmates were up to instead of concentrating on math. So we postponed his makeup so he could go on the field trip, which is a reasonable thing to do when you have the time.

But then another student had to make up both parts, and showed up on Thursday to take tests, and it was a bit of a schedule blip that I hadn’t anticipated (no one could have, really).

Warm Fuzzy: So many warm fuzzies this week. First, when I took off Tuesday, that meant I wouldn’t be there for the afterschool program. I got another teacher to sub for me, but the leader of the activity was actually a third grade student. He had pitched some ideas for the afterschool group over the past couple weeks. I shot a couple down because they were too expensive, too time-consuming, or too dangerous, but he didn’t give up. Finally he found a video of a science demo on getepic.com that seemed doable. (In fact, it is something I did years ago at a different school.) He put together a shopping list of materials, I got them for him, and he led the activity in my absence (with adult supervision). He also got rave reviews! I’m so proud of him!

Also, when I was on my way to school on Wednesday, I decided to go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get a treat. (Wednesday is the one day I consistently drive my car.) The line was long (what do you expect at 7:30am?) so I was rocking out to some tunes. When I got to the window, the person said, “You can go on forward, the person behind you is going to pay for your order.” WHAT? Usually it’s the person ahead but okay! Every time my day got a little rough after that, I reminded myself about the kind thing someone did for me, and adjusted my attitude accordingly.

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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?

Nature: Still Weirder Than Pokémon

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What is this?

Yesterday I went walking around our local university campus for a smidgeon of Pokémon Go (I’m an adult, and I get to decide what that means). I bumped into a woman I had bumped into on campus previously, who was also playing Pokémon Go. This woman, in her forties, told me that she had lost a whole lot of weight in the past few months but started to flag and gain it back the past couple of weeks. At the urging of her adult children, she downloaded Pokémon Go and started using it to get herself to walk more out of the house.

Well, this time she had a buddy with her — one of my former students! Now a fifth grader, he started going for walks with his neighbor, her for the exercise, him to play Pokémon Go. I dig that system! I joined them for a bit, my former student and I telling each other our favorite pocket monsters.

We started noticing weird bundles of leaves dangling down from some trees — one, two, three. One dangled down far enough that we were able to get a really good look at it. It was some sort of caterpillar with its head poking out of a cocoon. (Not a chrysalis, I assured my spouse later — it was definitely a structure separate from the caterpillar and not its hardened body.) Not only did it have a cocoon, but it also used leaves from the tree to graft onto its cocoon. How peculiar! My former student wanted to believe it was a monarch, but I suspected otherwise.

I tried taking pictures, but the wind blew it around and I couldn’t get it to focus. I ended up taking video, which was also mostly out of focus, but I was able to screenshot one very clear half of a second.

Then, when I got home, I tried using search engines to figure out what it was. Alas, “caterpillar cocoon dangle tree leaves” is not a specific enough to get the results I wanted. I tried a bunch of other keywords, but the fact is, I do not know enough about creepy crawlies to have a useful and effective vocabulary for online searches. The Internet would not be enough!

So today we went to the local nature center, which is affiliated with the same local university, to hopefully ask someone who knew more than I did. I leafed through some of their materials before I took out my phone and showed the screenshot to someone in the know. Lo and behold, they recognized it — a female bagworm. This one would have been tricky to figure out online even if I had better search terms. Bagworms make their bags covered in the leaves of the tree they live in — in this case, sycamore — so when you look up images of them, they all might look very different from each other and it’s hard to tell whether it’s really the same thing. Additionally, the person I showed the picture to could tell it was a female bagworm because female bagworms never turn into moths, only males do! The females create and then live in their bags, eventually laying their eggs inside them before they die.

However weird those Pokémon get, never forget — nature is weirder.

Virtual Endangered Zoo

I’ve been working with one of our second grade teachers (she of the superior graphic organizers) on a project with her reading/social studies class.

We have now reached the culmination of our project, and the Virtual Endangered Zoo is now open for business! Each child researched an endangered species of their choice, and built a website about them. Their teacher, Mrs. Pancake, created a hub website where you can easily access all their sites.

This was a fun project that also turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. Firstly, students did research projects earlier this school year, so they already knew research methods basics. Secondly, Weebly For Education was very easy to use once we played around with it. We discussed other ideas such as publishing an eBook, but I thought more parents would be able to see a website than would be able to download an eBook. Plus, Weebly uses responsive web design by default. This means that their sites adjust accordingly when viewed on a smartphone or tablet. My guess is that means even more of our families will be able to see our sites, since not every family has a computer hooked up to the Internet at home, but many may still have smartphones.

In addition to research methods we used in the past, we added a social media element for kids who were up for it. When a student got stuck with one particular detail, we sought out a zoo or aquarium we thought might know the answer. Then, we tweeted them. Students wrote their question on a dry erase slate and I took a photo of them and tweeted at the zoo or aquarium. This got us around Twitter’s 140 character limit, and I think it also displayed to others that these were real kids asking questions.

How long does it take to tweet a zoo? Minutes, fellow educators. Mere minutes, even if you include a photo or a video. (I’m trying to convince more of my coworkers to sign up for Twitter, can you tell?)

On Weebly, we could even embed the responses to our tweets thanks to the “embed code” widget!

(Another thing I really liked about Weebly for Education was its image search. It has its own search engine for images, and if you include a free-to-use image, Weebly automatically appends the site with a Creative Commons attribution. Digital citizenship win!)

I would like to thank the following zoos (particular whoever runs their social media accounts) for their help:

The students who did not use my Twitter account still may have used social media in the form of Youtube. We used specific search terms and checked that videos we put on our websites were from sources we trusted, like the Oregon Zoo or National Geographic.

Students who finished early also entered the Akron Zoo’s snow leopard naming contest that we discovered from looking at their website. So if anyone at the Akron Zoo peeps this, sorry for the sudden influx of multiple entries from my and Mrs. Pancake’s email accounts!

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Thank you again to the zoos and aquarium that reached back out to us over social media. I got excited simply because I’m a giant nerd, but our students were excited because they felt like someone out there was listening to their questions and taking the time to answer thoughtfully. It’s hard to put into words how respected that makes a kid feel, to be taken seriously by an adult they don’t already know. So thank you for taking the time to teach us about animals, as is surely your mission, but also thank you for making the effort to reach out to a kid hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

My Computer Lab Pet: Qwerty, the Leopard Gecko

This is the first year I have had a class pet, which is indeed an interesting choice for someone who operates out of a computer lab. (I do not have a homeroom this year.) Some are born with pets, some achieve class pets, and some have class pets thrust upon them. In my case, a friend of mind (not a teacher) needed to find a new home for his pet lizard and, after doing some research, I accepted responsibility.

My little dude is a leopard gecko.
20150918_124745(Isn’t he so pretty?)

He was originally called Leo, but I renamed him Qwerty, as he lives in the computer lab now. The moment when a student first realized where the name comes from was unforgettable. “QWERTY is right across the top of the keyboard!” he cried. “HIS NAME IS AT THE TOP OF THE LETTERS!”

A leopard gecko makes a great class pet. He is super chill and basically all the time quiet. He defecates in only one area of his tank, so it’s so simple to spot clean. (His whole tank does get a thorough cleaning once a week, and his reptile carpet goes through the washing machine the custodians kindly let me use.) Sometimes he sheds his skin and then eats it. Dang, dude!

He does also have the quirk of eating only live insects. Actually, keeping crickets alive long enough to feed to him is probably more labor-intensive than the lizard himself. Luckily, I can get live crickets at the local pet store for a dollar a dozen that don’t chirp. He only needs to eat some every few days. I stash them in what’s called a “cricket keeper” which makes feeding Qwerty super easy, and I don’t actually have to touch any crickets or risk them escaping.

Actually, let’s talk about cost. Crickets and treats like mealworms run pretty cheap, but his little habitat did not. However, I did not purchase his home sweet home — he came with the whole kit and caboodle from my friend’s house. (I did buy him some additional fake plants, because who can resist spoiling their pet?) My understanding is that the whole tank and accessories can run very expensive, especially since, as a nocturnal reptile native to the desert, Qwerty needs both a heat lamp and a light lamp. My friend had also custom-made a totally sweet electronic set-up where the heat lamp and light lamp turn themselves on and off. I just have to make sure the bulbs still work from time to time. I also keep a thermometer in the tank to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cold. (According to my research, leopard geckos like it between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in their environment – fine by me, since the computer lab skews warm normally.) So luckily I saved a lot of money by inheriting this particular pet plus his swanky digs, rather than starting from scratch.

But let’s talk about how he fits into the class. When I first got him, the kids were extremely interested in him. They learned quickly, however, not to crowd around – he didn’t like it so much. They learned to be quiet around him, because he will come out to watch what they’re doing. At first he wouldn’t eat when he knew kids were watching, so I set up a few “Lizard Lunch Live Cams” so kids throughout the building could tune in and watch him hunt. (Especially a big hit when second graders were learning about ecosystems.) He has become more comfortable around them as time goes by, and he certainly isn’t a distraction in class.

Having a class pet can be a classroom management strategy. The kids are very empathetic towards an animal. “Qwerty is a nocturnal animal; he sleeps during the day and is awake at night,” I told the kids. “So if you’re quiet enough for him to fall asleep, then you’re being very kind and very respectful of him.” Sometimes I tell students that Qwerty is cranky (on days when I’m cranky), or he has a headache (on days I have a headache), and they react very compassionately and try to be on their best behavior. This goes both ways — one time a student came in, looking to be on the verge of tears. I pulled him aside and said, “Hey, Qwerty’s upset today because I cleaned his cage. He’s mad at me. Could you talk to him for me and see if you can make him feel better?” I gave them both some privacy, but I could see the student from across the room exhort Qwerty to try and improve his mood and forgive me, because I had good intentions. He gave a full-fledged pep talk and I think sold himself on having a better attitude; when he was done talking to a lizard he was ready to get to work. We project on pets, and when we are aware of that, we can reap some benefits from it.

(Of course, when students are driven to distraction by Qwerty, I shoo them away saying Qwerty has been grounded; mostly I accuse him of playing with his food.)

Overwhelmingly, I have had a positive experience so far with having a class pet. I would definitely recommend a leopard gecko for relative newbies in the class pet department. I think if you raise one from a baby, they can even become accustomed to human handling. (Alas, this is not something Qwerty can do right now — he clearly does not like human touch, though he tolerates very light petting on occasion.) With a reptile, you do need to have hand sanitizer at the ready, because they can have salmonella bacteria on their skin — it’s a precaution you would probably take with any class pet, plus students don’t normally have food in the computer lab, so that’s all fine by me. He’s small, he’s docile, and he is less maintenance than the copy machine we have in the library. (Seriously, who keeps jamming that thing and then walking away!?) Qwerty the leopard gecko earns an A+ for being a fabulous classroom pet!

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Elephants and Honeybees

Sometimes a simple solution can be the best solution, no matter how big the problem is. And we’re talking about elephant-sized.

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The Elephants and Bees Project aims to save elephants by preventing human-elephant conflict. Specifically, they are trying to prevent elephants from raiding agricultural areas and causing great damage to crops. Doing that makes farmers upset, and understandably so. But trying to scare the elephants away with firecrackers and bullets also risks making them more aggressive, making the situation more dangerous for elephants and humans alike. But how do you solve this conflict over resources? Electric fences are not affordable for many an African farmer, nor is it feasible to power them.

That’s where the bees come in! See, elephants don’t like bees — their stings hurt very much on their trunks — but they also don’t see the point in charging them. So researchers have started testing out “beehive fences.” Elephants disturb the hives when they come too close to the crops. The bees come out of the hive to protect it. The elephants hear the bees and decide to make like a banana, and split! As a bonus, farmers can harvest honey and other products like beeswax and royal jelly from the hives. Bees are also good to have around crops for pollination purposes.

Sometimes you don’t have to go super techno or fancy to fix a problem. Sometimes all you need is a good idea and a whole bunch of bees.

 

Are Blue Whales, Like, the Biggest Thing? Show Notes

Resources used to research and write this podcast include:

Music included in this episode:

Post image by Marcin Rybarczyk at FreeImages.com.

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