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.

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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.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Seven

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!

master-sword-2002961_1280Cold 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.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Five

Lessons: I left school early one day this week to go to immediate care. A colleague took over one of my classes. I thought it would be fine, since it was one of the routine AIR test preps we do. But, I guess there are things that are normal in the computer lab that I take for granted, that really throw off other people. My colleague thought things went terribly! She told me she felt like a failure! Sure, she didn’t do things the way I do them, but she isn’t me. But wow. Really reminds me of how much I take for granted, that comes easily to me, but not to others.

Support: I’m going to start at the end: the people who are designated Google admin for our district can shut down the ability to install extensions on Chrome for student accounts. Okay, now the beginning. I have several students who had repeated issues on Chromebooks: they were slow as molasses. Turned out, they had installed several untrustworthy Chrome extensions. Some were intentionally, for changing the theme on Chrome. Others were pop-up ad extensions that probably gave themselves permission to install when students unwisely searched for Five Nights at Freddy’s or something like that.

Things I Did Well:
 Better time management.

Things I Will Do Better: Even better time management!

Uncomfortable Emotions: Instead of Cold Prickly/Warm Fuzzy this week, I am just… having emotions I wish I wasn’t. First, there’s a paragraph on page 1056 in HB 49 that is getting shared a lot between educators on social media. I called my Ohio state senator’s office, and chatted with someone named Anna about it. Thanks, Anna! She told me that it probably won’t make it to the Senate until April, and that it will likely change a lot before then, but their office will keep an eye on it. Then I called my house representative’s office. Well, actually I accidentally re-dialed my senator’s office – sorry Erica! Then I actually did call my house rep, and left a voicemail. They didn’t get back to me. I called again today… and left another voicemail. I have questions and I would like to hear what my rep has to say to them. I am grateful for Anna and Erica in my senator’s office, though.

Also, this week (especially as it was an AIR test-style prompt week in the computer lab) the topic of assessing writing on standardized tests was much talked about this week. There are so many things to consider and to balance – did the student answer a question correctly? Did they cite evidence? Did they write a decent answer, but it doesn’t answer the question? And then, while in the waiting room for immediate care… I happened to catch a particular press conference. I am so disappointed that we seem to be holding eight-year-olds to higher standards of clarity and communications than we do our highest elected official. I hate this.

Our district had a chat earlier this week (optional); the topic was “love of teaching” (get it? because Valentine’s Day?). The second or third question was, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I stopped participating because I’m really struggling with that question right now. Gosh, I can’t even see five years into the future. I love the parts of teaching that I love, and I hate the parts of teaching that I hate (the parts that don’t feel as much like teaching). And I know this is a problem I would face in any other career, really. I think it’s a pretty normal struggle to have, actually, in a lot of aspects of life. In the short term, it’s time to re-listen to an episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast. In the medium term, I will be making time for reflection and productive reaction. And in the long term? Time will tell.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/507930318/507930414

Old Dog Teaches Self New Tricks

My mother-in-law (Momil) recently turned seventy years old. She’s a retired teacher, ace grandma, community volunteer, and lifelong learner. She and my father-in-law (Dadil) have very different tastes in television programming, so she often watches shows after they’ve aired on network websites on her computer. My spouse and I thought it might be nice for her to be able to watch those on the TV screen, so we got her a Chromecast for a gift.

11971592541756651845theresaknott_gift-svg-medFirstly, I’ll state that we have a Chromecast at home and I love it. That’s why I thought Momil would enjoy having one. Additionally, I was confident I could set it up for her. After her birthday dinner, I tried to do just that, but it turned out that their wireless router was not strong enough to get its signal to their living room. So it did not get set up that night. The next time my husband went over there, he brought a signal booster that worked very well. (And now Dadil is excited that his laptop gets the signal where it couldn’t before.) He set up the Chromecast device for her using his phone (my in-laws have one flip phone that they share). But, she couldn’t get it working on her computer.

I had planned to go over shortly to help, but before I could, Momil figured it out on her own! By “on her own,” I mean using the tools available to her. She looked up tutorials on setting up Chromecasts and read through step by step until she realized her issue. She did not have Google Chrome, the browser, installed on her computer. She installed it, found the icon she was looking for, and blammo, she was able to play it on the television. She was so excited, and now can’t wait to share it with out-of-town relatives when they come to visit. She’s thinking that it will be so easy to share online content with everybody this way.

The moral of the story is, learning is not about the content, it’s about the process. You can always keep learning as long as you remember, and practice, how to learn.

Why Elementary Teachers Need to Be Intersectional Feminists

I am not the best at this kind of thing, that I will state off the bat. I am trying to be better. Please do not be afraid to confront me.

Feminism is simply the idea that people of different sexes are equal. Intersectionality is an overlapping, or intersecting, of social identities, creating a whole person (or community) different from its components. Someone’s experience is shaped by many things, such as:

  • race
  • gender
  • social class
  • nationality
  • sexual orientation
  • religion
  • age
  • mental disability
  • physical disability
  • mental illness
  • physical illness
  • incarceration
  • immigrant status

And probably more that I am not aware of yet.

So, my experience as a white woman has definitely shaped me. There have been times in my life where my gender has made me feel like a target, where I felt vulnerable or even scared. But, there have been other times when I have consciously used my white femininity as a shield in ways that I don’t think a black, Latina, or Asian female could have. So on one hand, I am part of a historically oppressed group, but on the other, I am also a member of a historically privileged group. This is completely by accident of birth, and not something I can change about myself; the least I can do is acknowledge it.


Having privilege has allowed me to “not see” some of the things that other people go through. It’s not that I’m completely blind, it’s just that I take for granted how different others experiences are. For example, I am a white person who was raised in a large Christian family. People demonstrated curiosity or confusion towards us sometimes, but I wouldn’t characterize that as negative. It didn’t occur to me until high school or college that my family would probably be perceived and treated very differently if you changed just one variable about us. What if we’d been a large black family? Or a large Muslim family? I can only imagine some of the things people might say, only because I have heard some of the things people say about black people and Muslims. What I can’t imagine is how it must feel to live through that every single day of my life.

My career — specifically, where I work now — has challenged me to be more observant of others’ lived experiences, especially in regards to children.

Children occupy a strange place in our society and culture. They are disenfranchised: they have no right to vote, and minimal other rights compared to adults. They are often ignored, forgotten, even dehumanized by many of the moving parts in our various systems. When they come up in discussions, we always want to do what’s best for them, but seldom consult them ourselves. There are reasons for that, sure, but I think it’s wrong for us to talk about them and over them with little talking with them (with genuine, actual listening).

My students are living a different experience than I am, day in and day out. Part of that is generational context; just thinking about the differences in technology makes my head spin. But it comes from other areas, as well. I have students who speak a different language at home than they do at school. I have students who live with a disability, or have family members with disabilities. I have students who are different races and nationalities. The teachers in my district used to be among some of the lowest paid teachers in the county, and yet our salaries as teachers were above the median income for families in our city. I have students who are affected by the incarceration of a parent, which is sometimes an extended or repeated experience. Some of my students challenge ideas about gender. I have had former students come out outside of the classroom, identifying as LGBTQ.

I am no good to my students if I cannot see past myself and empathize with their lives, however different from mine they might be. Children do not choose the circumstances of their birth, the color of their skin, the language they first learn, how much money their parents make, and on and on and on. There is so much out of their control. It is unfair for me to force them to pivot to me. And I have to accept that, while I am an authority in the context of my classroom, I am not the authority. There are things I do not know and will get wrong, and it is my responsibility to educate myself and do better. I have the maturity and the experience and the duty and obligation to pivot myself to students.

In the bridge of the song “Cold War,” Janelle Monáe sings, “Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strong.” As a teacher, I am a strong person in the educational setting; I have authority, and I have responsibility. I need the grace to supporrt my students through their challenges, wherever those challenges come from. I also need grace to accept and act on the criticism I need to be a better person. More importantly, I need to bring wings to my students, children. I need to empower them by sharing knowledge, developing their skills, and building them up. Once they have their wings, they will be able to fly on their own.

Electric Ladies, Will You Sleep?

I went to the Women’s March on Washington yesterday. I have every intention of reflecting more on the experience, but at the moment, I’m a bit tired, and I have to prioritize work-related tasks, and sleep.

But if you were wondering why I marched? The shortest possible answer: because Janelle Monáe challenged me to.

I asked a question like this
Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.

Mixing masterminds like your name Bernie Grundman.
Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman
You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly
And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie
Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs
I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”
March to the streets ’cause I’m willing and I’m able
Categorize me, I defy every label
And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope
We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
Will you be electric sheep?
Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?

Teacher FOMO, or Why Taking Days Off Kind of Stinks

Yesterday was the first day, other than a snow day, when I missed a whole day of school.

When it’s a snow day, everyone is out. You aren’t missing anything by boppin’ around at home. But when you take a sick day or a personal day, the school goes on without you.

FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” It’s when you become anxious that you’re missing something cool or interesting, exacerbated by seeing posts about it on social media. And, let’s be clear, I am experiencing some FOMO: I scheduled this personal day long before I knew our school had booked COSI on Wheels.So I definitely am missing something cool.

But, I think for teachers like me, it’s more of a fear of… not having control. Don’t get me wrong, I want everything to go smoothly for my sub, my students, and my coworkers. But I’ve got my classroom running just how I like it, normally. Will my sub know what to do if the computers don’t cooperate? Will the students behave for the sub? Will my colleagues be able to print the one set of reports I apparently forgot to print? (That last one is still a little fresh.)

So the desire is there for everything to run smoothly. And yet, I still have… an issue. What if everything goes too smoothly without me? What if they realize that they don’t need me to do all the things I do? What if they realize they don’t need anyone doing my job at all? (Why doesn’t impostor syndrome leave me alone already?)

There are countless memes about why it stinks to take a sick day when you’re a teacher: more work to make lesson plans, or more paperwork when you come back. Personal days feel more selfish, but at least you’re not trying to explain your blended classroom to a possible stranger through a pounding headache, or other symptoms.

So yeah, does anyone else get a bad case of Teacher FOMO?

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty

So, this was a choppy week. Today was a teacher work day, so no students; earlier this week we had a snow day. So it was a three day week for kids, and those three days were not consecutive. Always a treat.

20170112_183237Lessons: Because of the choppiness of the week, lessons went a little funky monkey. I think I did different things with every second and third grade class. But, I did hit on a first grade lesson that went so well, I’m pretty sure it’s what I would leave for a sub in the future. I picked three videos from Art For Kids Hub on Youtube, and posted them in Google Classroom. I provided students with pencils and papers, and they chose a video to watch and draw along. After they were done, they could color their picture (I provided crayons). Then they could add more detail, or try another picture, or move onto a menu of sponge activities to soak up the rest of class time. I wanted to make sure students knew how to pause a video, replay a video, move forward or backward in a video, and so on. I also wanted to use the crayons that never seem to get used in a computer lab. Kids “got” it with minimal fuss or directions, and it wasn’t so tech-heavy that a sub would be totally lost. I used the cartoon butterfly, cartoon octopus, and cartoon pegasus videos. Butterfly was easy to do, octopus was medium (more detailed), and pegasus was most challenging (no symmetry). I also chose those three because they could be any color kids wanted; I expected there’d be fights over yellow crayons if I’d posted the cartoon banana. I’m curious about their easy origami videos too.

Support: I got a Donors Choose project funded (my first!) so this week I was able to distribute 6-port desktop chargers plus lightning cables to teachers who got hand-me-down iPads to use in their classrooms, but not enough chargers to go with them. Plus, the multi-port chargers are going to be so much more convenient for teachers and students, since they don’t have to choose between which devices to charge.

Things I Did Well: 
I have been fine-tuning my last RESA task that I need to pass. It’s not due anytime soon, but I don’t want to leave it til later and stress about it. I feel like I’ve worked really hard on it. If I manage to fail at it this last time, then perhaps this just isn’t where I should be right now in my life.

Things I Will Do Better: I feel like this week was a little experimental, lessons wise. I kind of put out some ideas and strategies to kids without being fully invested in all of them. I wanted to pay attention to how things played out. I know some elements need to be tweaked, and one of them is my own engagement with the students and the content.

Cold Prickly: I’m glad it’s a three day weekend, because I think I’ve got a cold coming on.

Warm FuzzyIs it wrong to admit how excited I am about the Nintendo Switch?