School Week Round-Up: Week Three

LessonsOne of the advantages of being a “specials” teacher is repeat performances. My schedule is such that I see every class in the school once per week for approximately fifty minutes. I teach one class of each grade per day. Usually (but not always) I teach the same or similar lesson to an entire grade level. So by the fourth or fifth time through, I really have it down pat. Makes me feel sorry for the kids who get that lesson first, though, because my fear is they’re not getting my best version, and that’s not fair. I need to figure out how to do better.

Support: There was one day this week where I was on the brink of turning into a puddle like Larisa Oleynik in The Secret World of Alex Mack if another person said to me, “Can I just ask you a favor…?” But that was only because I heard that phrase quite a lot in a surprisingly short span of time. It was just one of those days, when the printers jam so hard you think they ought to play roller derby, but your schedule is already booked with diagnostic testing.
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But it made me really appreciate that I have coworkers who schedule things in advance when they can, and take initiative in asking for help, and are very descriptive when describing tech issues. I am also very grateful for the gentleman we call in to fix our multi-function printers when their issues are outside of my ability to fix!

Things I Did Well: I’m trying to foster some growth mindset in the computer lab. I reflected on how I’ve previously said that computer lab is a lot of training before we can get to the learning, and I wondered how to make the training part more transferable. So when I give a set of directions, I am trying to leave room for what the kids know or figure out along the way. For example, there are multiple ways to get to a particular website: you can type the address into the URL bar; you can use a search engine. You can type on the keyboard, you can use the microphone and dictate.You can use auto-complete, even, if you’re careful about it. And when kids make mistakes and end up in the wrong place, it’s not the end of the world. We can learn what to do so when we make a mistake again, we know how to fix it. One student in a class accidentally directed Chrome to ciassroom.googie.com (typing i’s instead of l’s) and a classmate made the same mistake fewer than five minutes later. So I sent her to advise him, since she had just learned what to do!

Things I Will Do Better: I will try a little better on the home front, actually. I am rocking it so hard at work (or at least trying to) that when I come home I turn into Himouto! Umaru-chan. I think maaaaybe that’s getting to be a bit much for my partner. I cannot remember the last time I cooked, did the dishes, or cleaned the bathroom. I can remember the last time I vacuumed, but only because it was before we got married, almost three and a half years ago.

Cold Prickly: We had a meeting about retaking the RESA (because I failed the Second Lesson Cycle task). Counts a cold prickly because, as a human, I psychologically recoil from being reminded of my shortcomings. I have to pass the RESA this year or else I have to retake coursework. Or, I could just become a yam farmer. First order of business would be learning the difference between a yam and a sweet potato, once and for all!

Warm Fuzzy: A new student gave me a big hug on his way to the bus yesterday and said, “I love school!” The feeling that gives you? That’s the high every teacher is constantly chasing.

School Week Round-Up: Week One

We made it through our first week of school! Five whole days, even. Yeowch Francis pants! (That’s a bowdlerized cuss I actually said this week when I hit my arm against a heavy cart handle. It was in my classroom, but it was five p.m. and there was nary a soul within earshot.)

I thought I might do a little round-up of my week. I might try to make a habit of it, so I can go back and re-read later on and maybe get some bigger picture ideas of where my strengths and weaknesses are.

Lessons: Most of the lessons in the computer lab this week was setup and troubleshooting. Basically, I made sure students knew how to log in to their accounts, and when they couldn’t, I troubleshooted. Sometimes it was due to user error (darn the 1’s that look like l’s and the o’s that look like 0’s). Sometimes it was just their machine being uncooperative. Other times, I needed to actually fix something in the system.

Getting the students to log in meant guiding them towards their school email and, if we had time, getting them onto Google Classroom. I did have a simple assignment waiting in Google Classroom if they got in, but for a lot of us, that’s just where we’ll have to pick up next week.

SupportA big part of my job is supporting other teachers using technology in their classrooms. Much of it this week was dealing with updates in software; missing pieces of hardware; remembering the little things we had forgotten, like adjusting displays and finding printers on the network; and so on.

Our second grade teachers also started using the online product that we use as a growth measure to begin preassessing students. It was a rocky start — our Chromebooks didn’t work exactly like we had remembered, and we had plenty of issues with individual accounts to contend with. The first day of this, my head was spinning, but by day two I had it back on straight. We figured out how to work with the quirks and we finished out the week much better than we had started in this regard. Next week will be better with the first and third graders, because the second graders’ experiences showed us what we need to anticipate.

Things I Did Well: I think I am doing a good job of improving on the resources I made last year. I’ve updated some spreadsheets to improve the login cards from last year. I’m excited about a new piece I’ve incorporated that I’m sure I’ll write about once I start using it.

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MVP of the Week: My laminator! Our school laminator is great for big things like posters, but for little things that little hands will hold all year long, my thermal laminator is the way to go.

Things I Will Do Better: Time management is always something I could stand to improve, both in my professional and personal life. Not only did I allow discussions in lessons to go on a little too long, I found myself staying late in the building most nights this week, doing things that most of my colleagues probably would have done last week before school actually started. I’m paying for procrastination now by playing constant catch-up.

Cold Prickly of the Week: I overheard an adult say the hot lunch being served in the cafeteria looked “gross.” I didn’t enjoy hearing this. Firstly, I didn’t agree that the lunch looked gross. Secondly, I know how hard our cafeteria staff work to make and distribute nutritional lunches that are as appealing as possible. Students also have much more choice in their lunches at our cafeteria than I had seen in previous schools where I worked or where I went. Students must take a certain amount of fruit and vegetable servings, and they must take an entrée, and they must take a milk. And while there is only one choice of entrée each day, there are three choices of milk, at least two choices of vegetable, and two choices of fruit. And that’s just usually. Three out of five days this week, there were three or four choices of fruit and veg. Also, a student has to take at least two servings of fruit and vegetable — but can take up to four if they like. So if a child isn’t excited about the entree, they can take more fruit and vegetables. And if green beans don’t tempt you, there’s tossed salad or broccoli you can get instead.

So, I asked if I could start getting the same lunch as the students. It turns out I can, for the low price of three dollars per meal. It’s actually a really attractive option to me — packing a lunch is something I struggle to do consistently anyway, so it’s nice to just not have that concern. It’s probably healthier than eating fast food, more pocketbook-friendly than ordering delivery, and more appetizing than frozen meals each day. Also, I’ve been trying to walk to school as much as I can instead of driving, so it’s convenient to have one fewer thing to physically carry.

Warm Fuzzy of the Week: So, I started having the same hot lunch as the kids.  The portions are filling. I have eaten most of the things I have taken. The first day I had eyes bigger than my stomach and took the maximum helpings. But, I had neither time to finish eating them all, nor room in my belly. Luckily, the food is packaged in a way that means it could be taken back if it wasn’t open. Extras from one day are often put out the next day if they are stored properly and still good, which is one reason there are additional options. (This goes for entrées as well.) I sat with students, too, and it was really great to talk to them outside of instructional settings. It’s something I hope to continue doing at least a few times a week throughout the school year.

Unsurprisingly, my roundup for the first week revolved largely around food. But, I promise you, this week was nourishing in a lot of other ways. I feel great about how excited other teachers are about integrating technology and using the SAMR model. I think my principal did a great job setting the tone and improving school culture. (And I had that opinion before she brought donuts in on Friday!)

Happy first week to everyone else who had their first week of school, and good luck to everyone whose first week is still in the future!

Teachers, Challenge Your Misconceptions in 2016

That’s my younger brother there, bound for an Ivy League university this fall. He’s a smart guy, but even smart people fall into the trap of believing something that’s not quite true because someone with authority told you.

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I don’t blame my father. I think the whole “sky blue because it reflects the ocean” is a pretty common scientific misconception. And when kids “learn” things at a very young age, they may spend years taking them for granted without even examining their ideas closely until they face a direct challenge. This is well-documented in science, but I remember having some false beliefs about Catholic teaching that I got from my mother giving me short, simple answers — and me filling in the blanks for myself. Kids might do this on their own, too, by observing simple cause and effect in everyday life. A child might notice that water freezes when cold and becomes hard ice, whereas cheese melts and becomes gooey when exposed to heat. This child might become very confused when gooey cookie batter becomes hard, blackened discs when left in a hot oven for too long. Maybe the right idea enters their head, but sometimes they come up with their own private explanation that’s actually far off the mark.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve become more familiar with as an adult. I’ve said things to students that seemed, to me, like passing remarks — but a student took them to be carved in stone. I try to be careful and admit when I don’t know something, maybe even model how to find it out. But I also try to guide students through evaluating sources such as those on the Internet, since I don’t want them to accept everything they hear and read unquestioningly for the rest of their lives.

So, I forgive children this mindset. And I forgive the adults who tell them things. Kids in certain stages of development have to have very concrete ideas that we can hopefully move towards more abstract ones. But this happens at different speeds for different children. Some kids can wrap their minds around theoretical ideas with relative ease; others, like my brother, graduate high school without fully understanding how sunlight gets scattered by molecules in Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s also not entirely children who fall into this trap, either. Adults might have misconceptions about any number of things, and if you don’t pause to examine them, you might never recognize that they’re misconceptions at all. And this is not something that has to do with intelligence. Sherlock Holmes famously had no idea how the solar system worked, which most sixth graders could probably reasonably explain. Smart people fall into wrong ideas all the time. The fact that we can filter the sources that reach us through online news and social media doesn’t help this; humans tend to choose to listen to things we already agree with. We have to continuously question the authorities we trust and examine our beliefs.

I personally strive to confront my ideas when I encounter information that provokes deeper thought, and sometimes I have to seek out a larger variety of perspectives in order to do so. I hope that doing so makes me a better model for my students, and helps me better understand them as they struggle to reconcile difficult concepts.

Evaluation Scores

I saw and retweeted this last week:

It was just the right time for me to see it, because I had just wrapped up my current observation/evaluation cycle with my principal.

In Ohio, we use an evaluation system statewide, where teachers (and principals) are scored on a rubric in various areas, such as instructional planning and professionalism. The rubric includes ratings of ineffective, developing, skilled, and accomplished.

A couple of years ago, at the beginning of my teaching career, I would have been crestfallen to get anything less than “skilled.” When I was a student, I was so very, very good at school — good grades, good at taking tests, well-behaved; all those things came easily to me. I understood the game of school and how to play it, while occasionally getting a high score.

Then I went to college. Wow, college. In a lot of ways, it was still the same old “school” system: get good grades, keep up my scholarship, etc. But there were suddenly so many other things I also wanted to succeed at. And success in those areas did not come to me as easily as academic success did. I tried and I failed a lot. I tried and succeeded sometimes! At the time, I definitely had a mindset that believed if I followed all the rules and did everything like I was supposed to, success would come to me. Nay, success would be owed to me! I was deserving of success! I was very much prone to the overconfidence effect.

So if I had been identified as a “developing” teacher at the start of my career, I would have been crushed. Dejected. Inconsolable. And in desperate need of a major attitude adjustment.

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Because there is no one straight and narrow path to success. And “success” is not defined the same way for every endeavor, either. And success is a process, one that requires upkeep and forward motion. For example, a successful president is not just one who gets elected. A successful president is one who does right by his or her country throughout their term, by facing challenges and communicating, etc. (Not to mention that my definition of a “successful president” may be completely different than another person’s definition!)

So I was identified as a developing teacher. I am at peace with this. Excited about it, even! “Developing” is not just an adjective, it’s also a verb. I am developing and growing as an educator. I am developing and building my career. I am developing and receiving support from my administrators, fellow teachers, and other staff members in my building. I know there are things I do well, and I know there are things I could be doing better. It’s an opportunity for me to model a different road to success for my students.

How Am I Doing? Sew-Sew

Another thing I decided to catch up on this weekend now that my RESA tasks are done is some sewing. I learned to sew as a preteen, and spent my teenage summers making clothing. I made both my homecoming dress and my prom dress my senior year of high school.

However, garment construction is a straight up pain in the butt. It takes a long time, is not as cost effective as one might think, and the ability to understand a pattern ought to be considered an entirely separate skill set. Mostly these days I use my sewing skills for repair and adjustment, like the ReFashionista I so admire.

Several of my “to be repaired” items have been sitting in my sewing basket for months. A seersucker shirt that belongs to my husband. A linen dress I really like but tore at work. A fabric bag whose strap came off. A pair of hand-me-down shorts from my sister. It’s February in Ohio, clearly the shorts have been there for quite a long time.

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The impetus to pull out my sewing machine this week was that a second grader at school ripped the seat of his jeans. Luckily, the school nurse keeps sweatpants on hand for just such occasions. But he really liked his jeans. I asked him if it would be okay for me to take them home and try to fix them, and he said yes.

Part of my thinking was, “If I make these jeans too small or tight for him, at least he has a brother in first grade who would probably wear them.” The next day, the brother in first grade asked me if I repaired the jeans yet. Nope, not before my RESA task was done, little one. But the thought of two kids asking every day if I’d fixed the jeans yet is too much for me. I can’t bear the thought of telling them “no, not yet” more than once. I don’t want to be an adult who promises things and then fails to deliver. So I pulled out the machine this morning and got to work.

The first thing I fixed was my husband’s shirt. It was a straight rip near a side seam so it went fast. Also, it’s seersucker, so I don’t mind the slight pucker. (It’s not my favorite of my husband’s shirts anyway, so maybe my standards weren’t so high to begin with…)

Then I fixed the strap on a fabric bag. I did play around with the stitch settings. So we’ll see whether or not this holds up, ultimately.

Thirdly, I got to those jeans. This is the epitome of a “good enough” repair. On the one hand, this is the only repair I was doing for someone other than myself or my husband, which means I started out with higher standards. But, look at that rip. It’s not quite a straight line, and it starts out close to a seam. Plus, denim is a tricky fabric to work with because it is so thick. That helps it be sturdy and durable, but it means you have to be very aware of your machine while sewing it. It can also fray a lot. Plus (and this is probably why they ripped in the first place) this pair wasn’t evenly thick — some parts of the denim were worn and thinner. But that worn denim is so comfortable! So I did want to at least do a decent job. (Then again, this is a repair for a seven-year-old boy, so it could be literally two seconds on the playground before all my work is undone.)

I had briefly considered using a patch, but I decided the seat of a little boy’s pair of jeans was not the best place for one. I’d use one for a knee rip, though.

On to my dress! I love this dress. It’s just from Target, but I have had it for years. I put a tear in the skirt part earlier this school year when I was getting up from being seated at a desk, and some metal under-part snagged the cloth.

It’s not perfect (the rip was sort of X-shaped, both with and against the grain of the fabric) but I figure I would always cover it with a little decoration if I want to. I’m going to iron it and wear it to work tomorrow and see how I feel about it.

I actually almost forgot to fix the shorts. I only wore them once before I ripped them right below the zipper. (Good thing I always keep safety pins at work!)

The crotch area of pants is a tricky place, because of all the pulling of the seams, in different directions. So whether this repair holds up remains to be seen. I’ll be slipping safety pins in the pocket next time I wear these, just in case.

All in all, it took more time finding my sewing machine’s foot pedal than it took to do any single one of these repairs. Hopefully they all work out in the end!

 

Oh, RESA

Where have I been for over a month, you might ask? Oh ho ho, I’ve been right here this whole time! Just, you know, less chatty.

The thing is, I had to redo some RESA Year 3 tasks. What is RESA, you may ask? “RESA” stands for Resident Educator Summative Assessment. It’s a performance assessment that, in Ohio, a beginning teacher (“resident educator”) must pass in order to obtain a five year professional license.

I am actually on Year 4 of RESA, but I needed to redo some of the tasks from Year 3 because I failed them. I failed both tasks that required video of a lesson. Because I had procrastinated a fair amount, I found myself panicking over uploads last year as the deadline barreled ever nearer. I did something that was against the rules — I edited the videos before I uploaded them. I was thinking smaller file sizes would upload faster, but that was against the rules. So my submissions were automatically failed for me to redo this year, in addition to Year 4 tasks.

If you find yourself required to video lessons, I have some tips:

  • If you can, practice recording before you need to record. That will help you work out any audio or angle issues in advance. Plus, video recording myself teaching over and over has been a very beneficial reflection tool for me this year — I’ll talk about it in a later post.
  • Try out different devices and settings, considering what you truly need. Originally I was recording using high definition, which was contributing to long upload times and processing errors. The uploading part of the process went much more smoothly when I switched to recording in standard definition.
  • Ask for help. Other teachers may have had to record lessons before, and may have really good tips for you. I even had a colleague hold the camera for me during part of their prep period once! (Thank you again!) One of my other colleagues this year has been on the phone with the RESA support folks trying to upload her video. It is better to ask for help than to move forward wrongheadedly and fail the task, like I did.

1197119420758017922nicubunu_Film.svg.medUltimately I used an iPad and a device called a Swivl that I really enjoyed using (but that I had to practice a lot beforehand — I will probably write a review of my experience sooner or later). It worked really well, except for the times I messed up while using it!

Anyway, the point is, I finished and submitted my last make-up RESA tasks last night. (Not only did I need to submit video, I also had to answer several extended response questions along with it.) Nine days before the deadline instead of bumping up against the deadline, because I learned my lesson last year! Therefore I hope to be using this blog again to reflect more starting this month. Thanks for hanging in there!

 

My Little Pony: Mindset is Magic

Carol Dweck is a researcher particularly into the areas of motivation, personality, and development. She’s done numerous studies and wrote a book, but her ideas about fixed mindset versus growth mindset really, really caught on since her TED talk last year.

So (and I am taking great liberties in paraphrasing), one’s mindset dictates how they think, feel, and act in every aspect of their lives. One might have a fixed mindset and believe their traits and talents are permanently set. Or, one might have a growth mindset and believe traits and talents can change with effort.

And naturally that makes me think of My Little Pony.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is the current iteration of a popular toy and cartoon franchise that I think motivated me to get potty-trained back in the eighties, so maybe that’s why research on motivation brings it to mind. Just kidding. Actually, I think it’s the cutie marks. Cutie marks (a play on the phrase “beauty marks”) are images that appear on a My Little Pony’s flank. These are often pictorial representations of the pony’s name. My favorite one as a kid was Moondancer; I remember she had a crescent moon and three stars as her cutie mark.

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I spotted this pony cosplaying as Moondancer at the county fair a couple years ago.

But cutie marks can also indicate something that the pony is particularly good at, or associated with. Applejack, who works on an apple farm, has apples for her mark. Fluttershy, who works with animals, has three butterflies. There are even characters called the Cutie Mark Crusaders who do not yet have cutie marks (I guess it’s a coming of age thing), but continuously try new hobbies and explore new interests in case that is where there cutie marks will come from.

So what does this have to do with a fixed or growth mindset?

Well, first there’s the idea that a pony’s cutie mark is somehow pre-destined. This would fit into the fixed mindset mentality, that talents are something you’re born with, something innate, and something that cannot be changed.

However, once you actually watch the show (because you have an eight-year-old niece), this is not an entirely comprehensive understanding of it. Yes, many of the ponies have cutie marks that relate to their talents and interests. But for even many of the ponies there for set dressing, the cutie mark is not the be-all and end-all to who that pony really is.

There is more to a fixed mindset than believing in natural abilities. Someone with a fixed mindset might give up quickly on something they’re not good at when they first try. They stick with what they know because they believe their potential is static.

Main character Twilight Sparkle seems to have that mindset in the beginning of the show. The first episode shows that she’s very bright and academically inclined. She is referred to as a gifted student who is very talented at using magic. She is even mentored by Princess Celestia, the ruler of the land — who tells her that “there is more to life… than studying” and assigns her some homework most unusual: to make friends. The point of the show is that Twilight Sparkle learns how to make friends and then nurture and maintain those relationships, while her friends also learn valuable life lessons. So while Twilight Sparkle does have a natural inclination towards book learning rather than social interaction, she does learn to be a good friend (and learn to love it, too). This is an example of a growth mindset — recognizing that some people are born with talents, but that you can sculpt your talent through experience and effort. Attitude affects aptitude.

I also appreciate the fact that ponies who have special talents and interests do not necessarily make their living off these special talents and interests. Rarity the unicorn is a fashion designer and seamstress who runs her own business. Her special talent is finding gemstones. She uses this talent in service of her passion, rather than building her business on this ability. Pinkie Pie is another example — her ability to throw awesome parties can come in handy, but she still has a day job at the bakery.

Supposedly it is preferable for people to have a growth mindset — it helps us be persistent, to be open to new experiences, to learn better from failure, and have better self-esteem. Knowing that, though, it is difficult to nurture a growth mindset in young learners, often because adults model a fixed mindset themselves. In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the pony peers do a good job of praising one another’s efforts while also acknowledging their innate strengths. Ponies often struggle with a concept before they master it, and these concepts frequently have to do with social and emotional learning. They cooperate more often than they compete; they make room for making mistakes in their relationships, because they know perfection is an untenable expectation to have of themselves and of each other.

 

So, overall, I feel like this is a good cartoon to watch with your kids (and nieces, they also matter!). The characters do a good job of challenging our expectations of them, and modeling different ways to learn positive character traits. Two hooves up!

The War on Clutter

A week or so ago I wrote about invisible work, particularly about valuing the people who do it. Sometimes that person is me.

Clutter happens. In our domestic environs we call it “Caitlin creep.” I let my things start to take over all sorts of flat surfaces, like a kudzu of crapola. But, de-cluttering is a hard task for me to motivate myself to do. Why do if I’m just going to need to do it again later? Like making the bed… why make the bed if I’m just going to end up sleeping in it? I’ll be making it again in twenty-four hours.

Then I realized that having the bed made has a positive effect on my psyche. When I come home after work to a bedroom with an unmade bed, it feels like AAUAUAUAUUUAAUUUAAGH. But when I come home after work to a bedroom with a made bed, it feels like *satisfied sigh*. The bed is the centerpiece of the room where I sleep and also keep my clothing, so when the bed is made, the room feels more put together, even if I’m rocking a floordrobe in front of the closet. When the inner sanctuary of my home feels more put together, it helps my brain feel more put together, even if I’ve still got a to-do list a mile long.

The surfaces in other parts of the apartment feel similarly. The bathroom feels more clean when the counter is clear of hair products. The kitchen feels more clean when the counter is clear of utensils and food containers. And we do generally keep those surfaces pretty clear, because we primp and cook almost every day; we keep them clear so they’re ready to use.

The less frequently used surfaces, however, tend to be clutter magnets. And I really wanted to get surfaces done because we need space for gift-wrapping, plus we have someone coming in tomorrow to look at a malfunctioning appliance.

So, I decided to use two strategies:

  1. Before and after photos. Taking pictures before cleaning and after cleaning help you see the progress you have made, so that even if you don’t get a surface entirely clear, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. Also, blogging bonus: taking photos and posting them online force me to look at my living space more objectively. For example, looking at the photos, the same book appeared in two different before photos. So I did the thing where I tried to reduce mess in one area, by increasing mess in another. (Don’t worry, it made it home to the bookshelf.) Also, I really need to empty the bottles recycling bin.
  2. Timer. Giving myself a definite start time and a definite end time for a task forces me to do that task in the time allotted. Otherwise, I could tell myself to do something, you know, when I get to it… as long as it gets done… like, by the end of the day maybe? No, that doesn’t work. I am too good at procrastinating. So I took my before photos, turned on an episode of Doctor Who, and then took my after photos during the doo doo doo as the credits rolled.

Did I make every surface one hundred percent clear? No, but I definitely made progress, even with the table in the bottom photos. And now, looking at that photos, I am seeing things that are there temporarily (gift receipts on the arm of the loveseat will be packaged with presents soon) and things that need new permanent homes (what am I going to do with those Halloween cups the week before Christmas?). So while I know I’m not done, I know the steps I am going to take next.

The basic way I worked was a lite version of UfYH, which is a link you should only click if you are okay with obscenity. There’s an app version you can get for iOS called Unfilth Your Habitat, but the Google Play/Android version has the real, mature-rated name. (“Unfilth” is a euphemism for the app title only; the app itself contains 100% of the profanity). If you don’t mind the vocabulary, though, it’s got loads of great advice about housekeeping for people with less-than-positive attitudes towards housekeeping, for whatever reason. I find I also apply a lot of the fundamentals in my classroom, or with school-related work. And when my classroom is mostly organized, I feel more in control of it, and more self-possessed.