School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Two

Three day week last week, five day week this week. My body feels the difference.

Lessons: We worked on our test prep lesson again this week. Four down, two to go, and then for third graders: the actual test. Reflecting on it, I realize that, yes, so much of what had to be done was to help kids with time management; composing paragraphs on a computer; typing; and so on. But there were emotional skills at work too, I realized. The task required a certain kind of endurance that we’ve had to build up over time. And it was a little hard to see the difference month by month, but easy to see the difference when you compared the first time with the fourth time. Students are just more able to work on a task for a long period of time. There are fewer complaints and requests for the restroom or water fountain. They just… got more used to it with practice. (And do not think for a second this is the computer lab alone. So much of the credit goes to third grade teachers, who have kids writing each and every day.)

I think about it like basketball practice. You start by practicing things that are not in and of themselves basketball, like running up and down the court, like passing and shooting and dribbling the ball, like pivoting in certain ways. Then you start putting those things together when they start to feel more automatic to you. You practice dribbling and running. You practice passing and shooting. Then, you actually start playing basketball. You scrimmage, you keep score. Finally, you’re ready for the game. And yes, it is nice to win the game. But I was never good enough at basketball to make a difference in the score. For me, the victory was that I was able to do something that I wasn’t able to do before – play basketball. It didn’t really matter how I did compared to my teammates or other teams, because I was able to do it, so I got to wear a uniform and be on the court for a few minutes.

Anyway, that’s also how I’ve been explaining it to students who ask, “Why are we doing this?” when we practice with prompts. So I’ve put a lot of thought into my metaphor.

Support: First, I appreciate when my colleagues come up with work-arounds for the problems that just continue to dog them. But, those often feel like an inconvenience or annoyance, especially over time. So it is extremely satisfying to find a better fix for that kind of issue. That happened on Wednesday. A first grade teacher had developed a work-around for the fact that a very specific program did not interact well with her Smart Board. Every other thing she did on the Smart Board worked as expected, but this one program with our reading curriculum would not respond to touch. It would still respond on the laptop, though. The issue was, the laptop and Smart Board are so far away from each other in her room, she had to have a student sit at her desk and click the right thing on cue. And it was workable, but she started to feel like the clicking student was missing lesson content, or at least wasn’t experiencing the lesson content the way the other students were. So in I came. We tried a couple different things like updating firmware before I actually read into the particular program’s running requirements. It mentioned which versions of Safari and Firefox you needed… we had been using Google Chrome. And, Google Chrome continues to be the most-often-used browser (we use G Suite for Education, after all). But, we tried everything all over again with Safari and it worked without a hitch.

Things I Did Well:
I had a couple of days where my schedule just… fell in together nicely. One task or commitment wrapped up just in time for another to begin. It happened so conveniently that I should probably not take credit for it. Unless I did something to curry the favor of the schedule gods. Please keep loving me, schedule gods.

Things I Will Do Better: I do not understand why I love my bed so much, and yet I procrastinate so much before going to it. More sleep please.

Cold Prickly: I have a chronic illness. It is one that is extremely manageable, to the point of being almost forgotten about. But, my body will remind me when I start to stretch myself a little thin. Outside of school, I made a lot of commitments over the past ten or so days. I traveled out of state, marched in D.C., slept on a floor during my stay; I also hosted extra trivia nights to cover for other local hosts who couldn’t. So I was dragging a little bit this week. I still haven’t had to take more than one-half day of unplanned absences this year. (Yes, I’ve taken some time for appointments, and a personal day, but those were all planned ahead of time so I could make sure I rolled out the red carpet for my sub.) So I’m going to recharge my batteries this weekend and hopefully keep anything creeping up at bay.

Warm FuzzyA kid farted in class the other day, and her classmates laughed, but more importantly, she laughed to. “It happens a lot,” she explained. “She does this all the time!” one classmate said. I felt such a kinship with all of them in that moment, because deep down, we were celebrating one of the fundamental truths of life:

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School Week Round-Up: Week Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold Prickly: 

We have gnats.

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

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

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

Teacher Time Machine (April Fool’s)

I am an elementary school teacher… who happens to have a twin sister. So I built a “time machine” in my classroom. (Mostly after school! A little during a prep period when I was waiting to use a printer. But mostly after school!) All week students asked me about it. Most of my explanations sounded a bit like this:

But what I really enjoyed was when students gave me suggestions. First graders debated amongst themselves whether a time machine could be battery powered, and third graders thought metal might make a better base material than cardboard. Some students did not think it would ever work, but phrased their misgivings to me in a way clearly meant to be gentle and mindful of my feelings. And not a single kid touched it during class time! I never even said, “Don’t touch the time machine.” I was very impressed and appreciative!

Then on Friday I moved the time machine to the cafeteria. I told students it was interfering with the technology in the computer lab and that I was going to take it home after school.

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Then, during lunch duty, I pretended that students were getting too noisy and I announced that I was going to cancel recess as a result. (Actually one group was too well-behaved for that threat to be reasonable, so I pretended like they had to spend more time learning other table manners…) As I ranted, I slyly played a sound effect over a speaker — a robotic voice counted down as air swooshed, and the time machine shook. Finally, there was a crash, and a time traveler stumbled out! It was… me?! From a dystopian future where recess was cancelled! She (or… I?) warned me against canceling recess, then ran towards the teacher’s lounge to call the president and warn him, too.

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My future and present versions, side by side. Time travel: not even once!

Of course, the time traveler was my twin sister. We wore the same clothes, but her versions were torn and dirtied as though she’d survived a disaster. (Canceling recess is clearly catastrophic!) We played up the difference in our hairstyles — she even purpled up her mohawk! Hey, that could be a side effect of time travel. But, after our little skit, she came out and introduced herself. She even helped students with ketchup and salad dressing, because it was important to me that students felt like they were let in on the joke, rather than the butt of the joke. But each grade level agreed to leave the cafeteria as clean as possible so we could prank the next set of kids who came in!

At the end of the day, the prank took a lot more time setting up than to actually play out, but it was very fun. I don’t think any kids actually believed my time machine (which was made of literal garbage) really worked. But I think many kids wanted it to be

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Bitmoji gets it.

true — several of them went back to class and told them a time traveler had come to visit! And I plan to ask the older students next week to tell me what they would do if they had a time machine as a writing prompt in class. (Students are currently really enjoying using Google Classroom to answer prompts, and comment on other students’ work. And it gets them using their keyboarding and word processing skills, so that keeps me happy as the technology teacher!)

Here is a video I made of the prank with all grade levels incorporated, because they will want to see how other students reacted.