Reflecting on Our School Mock Election Results

This past Tuesday, our school took part in a mock election run by Studies Weekly. We threw it together a little last minute, so instead of shoehorning it into classrooms where other instruction was already planned, we turned the computer lab into a polling place for students to vote after breakfast, during lunch, and during recess. I had classes vote while they were in the room for other reasons, like class (since it took only a minute or so, if I had computers at the ready). And, there were times when I visited classrooms juggling a couple Chromebooks and pulled kids to poll in pairs. (Alliteration proves it was fun.)

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On the enthusiasm gap

I’ve been paying enough attention to this election to have heard about the enthusiasm gap. According to this September article from The Hill:

People who intend to vote for [Trump] are more enthusiastic about doing so than those planning to back Clinton, according to three major recent polls…

…a CNN/ORC poll indicated that more than 1 in 5 five would-be Clinton voters were “not at all enthusiastic” about backing her, almost twice as many as said the same about Trump. The poll found 58 percent of Trump supporters saying they felt either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about their choice, and only 46 percent in the Clinton camp feeling the same.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Trump backers were “very enthusiastic,” compared with only 33 percent of Clinton supporters. And a New York Times/CBS News poll saw Trump outperforming Clinton by the same metric, 45 percent to 36 percent.

I bring up the enthusiasm gap because, anecdotally, it seems to have reached the elementary set. At one point mid-day, I turned to Mr. Bob and said, “My prediction is that Trump will win.” I was not checking the mock election progress throughout the day (although I could have been). I was trying not to watch students as they cast their votes (except when they actually needed help). My prediction was made based on how many students proudly declared before, during, or after voting that they had chosen Donald Trump. However, more students actually voted for Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 48% of the vote; Trump got 34%. So, while students supporting Trump were perhaps more vocal about it, that did not mean there were more of them.

On look-alikes

I did have several students tell me that they had voted for “the girl,” but since Jill Stein was also offered as a choice, I wasn’t sure which “girl” they meant. In fact, I was concerned that some of them may have voted for the wrong “girl” – for Stein when they meant to vote for Clinton, or for Clinton when they meant to vote for Stein. Then I realized, if they didn’t know what the male candidates looked like, then they might have confused Johnson and Trump too. (The vote included photographs and names of candidates and their running mates, but a struggling reader may still have made a mistake.) The last time two times schools held mock presidential elections, it was probably much easier for students to tell the difference between the major party candidates, so long as photos were provided! I reflected back on voting in mock presidential elections as a student in the nineties. It doesn’t matter what year I refer to: our choices were always white men. I wonder whether any of my classmates at the time had trouble telling them apart.

On abstaining

One student abstained because: “My mom says no matter who you vote for, they’re gonna mess us up.”

Another hesitated to vote because he didn’t feel well-informed enough. “I wish I could listen to their speeches,” he told me. We did look up all the candidates on vote411.org and read through their statements and platforms together. Still, he did not feel like he could cast a vote, so I told him he didn’t have to.

Our other abstention came from a student who was upset that Obama couldn’t run for a third term. He was genuinely distraught. And then I realized — the oldest of my students were born in late 2007. Most of them are even younger. Obama has been president for their entire memory, if not their entire lives. Whoa.

On civility

I have not heard many students discuss political candidates at school directly. Part of this is because I am a specials teacher. Were I with the same kids all day, every day, I’m sure I would hear it more. I didn’t hear nothing, I just didn’t hear a lot.

Until Tuesday.

And even then, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, except another teacher invited the students specifically to share their insights. And by “insights,” I mean they parroted things they saw in political ads played on TV. The same student told me that Trump says mean things about women, and Hillary wants to take away everyone’s guns. No wonder over fifty students voted for third party candidates.

I did have to speak to some students about school-appropriate language. But very few.

The results

If you would like to see the results of the nationwide mock election, those results are here.  As I mentioned before, our school turned blue for Clinton, but our state turned red for Trump. Still, Clinton won the mock election over all.

What does it mean?

I don’t know. I imagine that, to some extent, the votes of children reflect the votes their parents plan to cast. I do remember bugging my parents about who they planned to vote for when I was a kid, especially when they were around other adults, that was totally my favorite. I think that was a huge factor in who I chose to vote for in mock elections. But, as this USA Today article on the Scholastic mock election states, students may misidentify their parents’ political leanings. Based on anecdotal evidence, too, I think many students have parents who are split themselves: one parent may support the Republican nominee, the other the Democratic candidate.

Other big influences on children include the media (TV and Internet, primarily) and, well, each other.

Overall, in the mock election we participated in, Ohio the bellwether state votes for the candidate who loses. Perhaps that’s something we can expect next Tuesday? I hesitate to make a solid prediction, having already been wrong about this! (Also, if you look at the Scholastic results linked above, Ohio turned blue for them.)

Ultimately

On November 9th, we will all still be Americans, diverse and divided we may be. And whoever gets elected president will have to lead us, diverse and divided, starting in January. It will be a tough job, harder than herding cats. But I hope it’s a job done well, regardless of who’s in that position.

Reflecting on Social Media & Politics Twitter Chat

Today, because of school Halloween celebrations, I rearranged my usual class schedule and ended up having my prep period during the last hour of the school day.

And then I checked Twitter.

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I did not know until this afternoon that PBS News Hour hosts a regular chat, #NewsHourChats – looks like they’re every other Friday, on a current events topic. Today the topic was “How political squabbles on social media stressed us out this year.

Goodness gracious, I was hooked from the get-go.

The topic is engaging for obvious reasons, but I was particularly enamored of Jon Keegan, who was serving as a panelist. He created a tool called Blue Feed, Red Feed that helps you visualize how “the other side” sees social media. The tool helped me understand an encounter I had earlier this month with a stranger at a Washington, D.C. hostel. Some of my family members were discussing current events over pancakes at the dining table, and the stranger joined in the conversation from a nearby computer desk, where she was checking news on Facebook. It was an uncomfortable encounter at the time, but looking back, I don’t feel as awkward about it. Though we parted still in disagreement, I found value in the interaction. (Though, my biggest take-away was the fact that my fourteen-year-old sister fact-checked headlines on her phone. Sibling pride!)

Anyway, the Blue Feed, Red Feed tool made me realize that this person was seeing very different items coming up in their news feed than I was. Not only that, but they were coming from sources she trusted completely — sources I had never heard of, because I am on the other end of the political spectrum. I realized that I had created a Facebook echo chamber, so I made a point starting then not to block or unfollow people for not sharing my politics. I even made a point of friending people with different perspectives: I had a disagreement with a friend of a friend when our mutual acquaintance posted about Colin Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem. But I felt we disagreed with mutual respect, so I sent a friend request, stating outright that I needed to see more diverse opinions on my feed. They accepted my request for much the same reason.

Twitter is different for me, because I use Twitter very differently than I use Facebook. I use Facebook to interact with people I already know I like. On Twitter, I usually interact with strangers who happen to have things in common with me — an interest in education, an interest in technology, an interest in technology education. I have experienced harassment on both Twitter and Facebook. The difference was, on Twitter it came from an egg I found easy to ignore; on Facebook it was a relative who posted partisan memes on my wall until I changed my settings. Therefore, I found the experience on Facebook much more jarring, but I acknowledge that my experience is not universal.

Since the chat this afternoon, I’ve had some time to collect and condense my thoughts, and strangely I keep going back to our school district’s “Aviator Profile,” a list of characteristics we hope to foster in our students:

  1. Communicators: Ask thoughtful questions, listen well and are able to clearly and concisely express their thoughts and ideas.
  2. Collaborators: Are able to compromise and work with people of all personality types and backgrounds to reach a common goal.
  3. Critical Thinkers: Have the ability to analyze and assess complex problems or situations and produce logical conclusions or solutions.
  4. Creative Innovators: Use imaginative and unique ideas to develop more efficient and effective methods of problem solving.
  5. Caring Citizens: Have selfless attitudes and strive to build stronger communities through civic pride, volunteerism and community involvement.
  6. Courageous Risk Takers: Are not afraid to take chances in order to accomplish something greater or facilitate change, whether it involves their career, finances, personal life or society.

I like how the first thing listed under “Communicator” is “ask thoughtful questions,” because questioning is an important part of communicating. And “listen well” is also listed before expressing one’s own ideas. We also often bring up in meetings that we, as the adults, need to model being “courageous risk takers;” whoever leads the meeting reminds us that confronting harsh realities and feeling discomfort is often part of the process. Of course, overcoming that discomfort to work as collaborators and think critically is part of the process, too!

And it applies so well to politics and policy. Regardless of who wins and who loses on November 8, we all are going to have to figure out a way to keep working together for our country’s present and future. We’re going to have different points of view and we’re going to have disagreements. We can’t shy away from that. We have to work together in spite of it. We have to work together because of it.

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.)

School Week Round-Up: Week 8

I had one of those busy weeks where I had thoughts and experiences I wanted to blog about, but whenever I had the time in front of a keyboard, I just sat there slack-jawed thinking about cake. Mmm, cake…

Lessons: This was our first week doing the AIR Test practice prompt activity that my principal conceived of and helped plan. It was not as bad as I had feared it might be. In my mind, I was remembering how we used to do student reading inventory testing about once a quarter in the computer lab. It helped us place students in reading classes. But back then, we also had fourth and fifth grades in the building. And when they were done, they were done, as in “over it.” There were a lot more behavior challenges for me back then. But this past week? Totally fine. I think it was because we did it with only two grade levels, so it didn’t take up the whole entire week, and I think it worked because in the past few years we have a different culture in the school. I was honestly surprised how no one whined and no one used body language to indicate they were giving up or quitting. I don’t think everyone did their best, but I think I can use the results of this activity to nurture kids where they need nurtured; challenge kids where they need challenged; and over time make them realize the value of this activity.

I spent huge chunks of time assessing their results, and then organizing data to help me see their strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to use this data to help me plan lessons for this upcoming week, and with the help of my spreadsheet (which may need a catchier title) I’m going to personalize each student’s learning path.

Support: So, two things. First, at least four times, I solved an issue by unplugging something and plugging it back in again, despite protestations that that had already been tried. Either my colleagues don’t unplug for sufficient time, or technology behaves better for me. I suspect the former but I prefer the latter because it makes me feel like magic.

Another thing I realized about myself: I want so badly to solve people’s problems, and be a hero by solving them as quickly as possible. But I had a big miscommunication this week: when teachers asked for certain things (devices, scheduling, etc.) I assumed they meant like right now. So I dropped my own business and ended up overdoing it. I told someone I would help them with a lesson, forgetting that I had a meeting at the very same time on my schedule already! So that was a doofus move on my part. It turned out that the teachers were hoping to use the resources as soon as reasonable, not necessarily possible. So I asked them straightforwardly what their timeline was, and we figured out one that is much more do-able for me and for the tech department as a whole.

Things I Did Well: I’m still grooving on our morning announcements. Really proud of my kids! The next move is to put all the clips and music we use onto a lab desktop so that kids more and more can do it independently. My students did get to that point last year. However, we had to change the way we did morning announcements this year, for a couple of reasons. First, Youtube changed the way they did Hangouts and I still haven’t figured out how to do them now. (That is not because it is complicated, it’s because I haven’t taken time to really do the necessary research and exploration.)  Secondly, we wanted to include a student whose name, image, and work we are not allowed to publish. Working with the parents, we did come up with an accommodation that I think works really well and still allows this child to spotlight their talent fabulously!

I won’t be at school this upcoming Monday morning due to a meeting I have to go to, so I had my morning announcements team eat lunch with me in the computer lab so we could pre-prepare the announcements for Monday morning together. So that was a time management win. Hopefully we can do this more and more! My goal is to eventually get it so students can do this without me if I ever have a substitute.

12161811631884858250jean_victor_balin_icon_planning-svg-medThings I Will Do Better: I will not schedule myself to be in two places at once! I have at times been forgetful to the point of it being a character flaw, rather than just a quirk. It’s one of the reasons I have to get organized and stay organized. Last week I neglected to fill out my “This Week” organizer on my desk. It’s the most immediate way to organize and visualize my week, since my Google Calendar has so many things for other people on it. Plus, I do tend to remember things better once I’ve written them down. I’ve already filled it in for next week, I need to get back in that routine every Friday!

Cold Prickly & Warm Fuzzy: My cold prickly and warm fuzzy are intertwined this week. That meeting I forgot about was in another building, and I had forgotten about it so hard that I had walked to school that day. Oops. Luckily, a colleague came through with a ride for me! Thank you colleague!

 

“What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet (3rd Grade)

So I was trying to think of how to explain Alice Keeler’s Participate In a Twitter Chat template to a colleague planning to moderate a district Twitter chat next week. I used the template to participate in a #gafe4littles chat last week and I thought it might make good training wheels for coworkers just getting started with Twitter chats.

And it occurred to me. Why am I not using this for my kids?

I have been struggling with delivering feedback effectively to third graders in particular, given that I only see them once a week in the computer lab. It stinks that some kids fall behind in some activities (due to absences and other things), while others are ready and rarin’ to go for more. It’s not fair to hold either in holding patterns while I struggle to meet all their needs.

So today I made a “What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet and posted it into their Google Classroom.

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The spreadsheet was easy to put together once I figured out which kid fell behind in which activity. I copied and pasted my list of students from Google Classroom into the leftmost column. Then, in Column B, I put their “first priority” activity – which was both a title, and a link to where I had posted it before in Google Classroom. In Column C, I put their “second priority” activity, and I even had a Column D “third priority” list, though it didn’t go that far across for most students. The doc linked to in “Choice of Sponge Activities” is a simple list of educational fun or game sites I know the kids enjoy (that is also contained in the “About” section of Google Classroom). For the first time in five years, I was able to tell students they had “choice time” without several of them asking which activities were “allowed.” The doc itself also contained names and links, and no child who used it needed it explained to them after they had used the spreadsheet.

What was amazing to me was how little I had to explain. I feel like I showed it in detail to just a couple of kids, and they helped transfer knowledge to each other. They are already accustomed to navigating tabs, clicking links, and using their Google accounts to log into other sites. It was really convenient, because this class had a new student in it, and I needed to take some time to set up his accounts and guide him. I think the kids really liked it too, because it simplified for them what exactly they should be working on! They could tie loose ends on one thing, and they knew what they needed to or could do next without checking in with me first. It was very freeing for them, too! I am so excited to try this with the other third grade classes this week.

In terms of delivering feedback, I am betting I can adapt a spreadsheet even further to indicate to a student how successful they were at a task, or provide a link to feedback they can follow. I am not all the way there yet with that challenge, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

I feel I am definitely getting better at seeing something that works for someone else, and adapting it to work for me, my students, and my environment.

Overthinking a Single Word

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The word is “some.”

So I put together the morning announcements for our school. I have the students read out different bits of information that I cobble together with some graphics and upload to Youtube. Some of the things, like the lunch menu, are pretty easy — just reading off a calendar. Other things are based on some limited student input; for example, one student reads a whole list of “on this day in history” type events, and selects the one she thinks is most relevant or interesting to include in the announcements. Yet other things will be, I hope, more controlled by students, but at this stage in the school year it is still largely my doing. The kids are only in third grade, and it is still only September.

One thing we have started including is current events. I don’t get to do a lot of social studies activities in the technology lab, so including current events in the morning announcements scratches an itch for me. I think it’s just also good literacy practice for a third grader to read an article and summarize it for first and second graders to hear. We go to sites like Dogo News, Time for Kids, and Scholastic News, find a recent article, and pick out what we think are the most important details.

So on Tuesday morning we acknowledged the presidential debate, because even if people are uncomfortable talking about the candidates themselves at school, I figured we should acknowledge that it happened. I mean, it was the most-watched presidential debate in history, or so my recent Google search has informed me. So I was congratulating myself for getting it out there, so that teachers and students who watched the morning announcements would have an opening to start a conversation about it.

Then came Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning I saw this Newela article about the NBA response to protests relating to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It did not say “Black Lives Matter” anywhere in the article, but it’s not hard to figure out they’re referring to it.

MIAMI, Fla. — For more than a year, there have been protests across the United States. People are angry because police officers have shot and killed African-American men. The protestors think the men should not have been shot. They think they were shot because of their skin color. They are protesting for fair treatment by the police.

I thought this was important to include in the news, but I hesitated. Firstly, it’s a heavy topic for kids. Many second graders are still reacting to their September 11th lessons in unexpected ways, like searching for photos of “the Twin Towers burning” when making an “About Me” slide in computer lab. Secondly, it’s a sensitive topic. I’m friends with colleagues and school parents on social media, and I can tell you that their opinions run the gamut from totally on-board to totally opposed, and many things in between. Many make no remark, and I cannot assume their reasons for that, either. On the other hand, the article takes a positive angle in pulling in the perspective of an NBA coach, using sports as a more comfortable lens through which to view the topic.

But I wanted to include it. But, to play it somewhat safe, I wanted to stick with facts.

So where the text originally stated, “People are angry because police officers have shot and killed African-American men,” I altered it slightly. Just an adjective. A simple four-letter word to the beginning of the sentence.

Some.

I have been thinking about it all day.

I regret adding it.

My thought, when adding it, was this. “People are angry” sounds like everybody is angry. But not everybody is angry. Therefore, only some people are angry. I didn’t want students to become confused over hearing something like “everybody is angry” when adults they know might not be angry. They might be indifferent. Or, adults they know might not be angry about police brutality, but rather angry or uncomfortable that the topic is part of a national conversation.

But “some” is a word that makes things smaller. “Some people” sounds a lot smaller than just “people.” And I realize now that “people” might sound like everybody, but it is not a synonym.

I realize now that I should not have changed it. That if students experienced and expressed confusion, those would be teachable moments. I didn’t want to defend myself against dissent. I feel now I was not brave enough.

I was only some brave.

And I need to do better.

Steven Universe and Mindfulness

Another post about cartoons. I swear, kids get all the good cartoons these days!

Mindfulness is a hot topic in education right now. I see it come up on Twitter a lot, and many of my teacher and principal friends share links about it on Facebook.

So I think it’s interesting to see this reflected in children’s entertainment as well. In a recent episode of Steven Universe, one character mentors another in the art of staying focused despite distracting thoughts, particularly ones that elicit negative emotional responses like regret, anger, and fear.

And now that I think about it, I doubt this is the only such example I can find in children’s entertainment. If I dug a little deeper, I’m sure I could find examples from PBS’s Sesame Street and Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender.

It’s actually a pretty common thread for cartoons and kids’ shows to teach social and emotional lessons through narrative. But I don’t remember shows from my childhood doing quite as good a job with lessons that are otherwise difficult to put into words and on the screen.

My Little Pony and the Value of Feedback

We had another RESA meeting this week where our mentor led us in discussion of the difference between summarizing and reflecting. Ups to my colleague who nailed it, very succinctly.

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We got a little off track but had a good conversation on how our previous mentors (and some current administrators) are really good at giving feedback. Having a quality mentor teacher, we agreed, was crucial in the beginning of our career.

I even had an experience just in the past couple of weeks where a current admin dropped in at a time I was struggling with a particular child; she gave me a piece of advice and I tried it out. It worked then, and I mentioned that I would try it again when I next had that student. A few days after that, the admin followed up with me to see whether her advice continued to work — she was seeking feedback on her feedback.

Our current mentor had concern, because we were particularly praising mentors who knew what it was like in the classroom, our fellow teachers. She has been out of the classroom and in school administration for long enough that she was concerned her feedback wouldn’t be meaningful to us. “It’s not about time and distance,” I assured her, “It’s about perspective.

And then I further elucidated my point by citing an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Yes, in a professional meeting. Nerd alert on high.

6561441147In the tenth episode of the sixth season (I had to Google that), Applejack and Rarity try to enjoy some time at the spa, but service is backed up. Applejack investigates and discovers a small problem that the spa employees hadn’t noticed. Not only that, but in trying to resolve the issue, the spa employees were actually exacerbating it.

Rarity: Honestly, how in Equestria did it never occur to you to check for leaks?
Aloe: There’s just so many other things to worry about! I suppose ve get used to the vay things are, and we don’t realize there vas problem.
Rarity: You obviously need an outside eye to evaluate the situation.

Applejack insists on fixing the small problem (because she is a pony who has a toolbelt and she can operate tools despite having no fingers don’t question cartoons) despite using up the only bit of time she had to enjoy the spa.

Then they return to Applejack’s farm, where she left Twilight Sparkle in charge of feeding the pigs. (Why do herbivorous ponies raise pigs? Because it’s a cartoon). Despite having an hour, the job is not done. It turns out, the instructions Applejack left were long and overly complicated. She had gotten used to doing things a certain way without realizing her routine now contained inefficient, unnecessary steps.

Not only is this a helpful reminder to me for the next time I leave lesson plans for a substitute, it’s a helpful reminder in general. You can be someone who finds problems and comes up with solutions for others, while being unable to see your own problems and find your own solutions. Being open to feedback is one way I continue to grow as a teacher.

School Week Round-Up: Week Four

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LessonsStudents are getting into the routines! And it’s really helping! Most of the confusion has been where our routines differ from last year’s routines, but the more we practice new routines, the better we get at them. Also, on Wednesday morning a second grader asked me a really good question — I forget what the question was, exactly, but it inspired me to use more specific language. We use our usernames to log into the computer. Then we use our email addresses to log into Google Chrome. The first part of our email address is our username. The second part of our username is our domain name. I’m not expecting kids to absorb this right away (though some kids definitely are). But I think it helps to use accurate language in the computer lab when it really is aspecific topic. An email address is a username and a domain name. On the other hand, there are several ways to successfully navigate to Google Classroom. It’s like — it doesn’t matter if a kid walked to school, got dropped off by a parent, or rode the bus. We all got to school, it doesn’t matter how we got there. So in the tech lab, sometimes things are very precise. And sometimes we can be flexible and do things different ways. I think my goal is to emphasize precision in vocabulary, but flexibility in methods.Helped, of course, by ideas I’ve found via Twitter, such as color coding keyboard rows and login cards.

Support: The kids are getting better at new routines in the lab, and kids and teachers are all improving at routines outside the lab, as well! I don’t think I was called on for support so frequently this week. However, I did call for support with computers in the lab that were working so slowly that they were not good choices to use during a fifty-minute class period. Two of our tech folks came out and not only fixed all but one computer, but they showed me a few tricks I can try next time desktops operate crankily. (And the one they didn’t fix? They took it with them to see if it needed new hardware. So progress is still being made.)

Things I Did Well: I think I am doing pretty well with keeping consistent with my language choices between grade levels. In the past I was tempted to simplify things for first grade students — maybe to the point of oversimplifying. But over time I see that doesn’t help the kids as they move up to the next grade, and it certainly doesn’t help me that I need to reteach more than I would have needed to otherwise. So I’m trying to do a better job of it this year, because Future Me will appreciate it next year.

Things I Will Do Better: More than once this week I was late to something because I lost track of the time, or almost late to something for a similar reason. I wasn’t blindsided, because I had been told accurate information in advance. I just didn’t do a good job keeping on top of my own calendar this week. I will regroup and make an effort to do better on this next week.

Cold Prickly: I had another meeting about the RESA again (this time with my principal and superintendent). It was a cold prickly because, if I fail the Second Lesson Cycle again, it will affect my employment status. But it also was a warm fuzzy because the administrators really want to support me doing this, they do not want me to fail. We came up with some ideas about how they could support me without violating RESA submission guidelines. I feel really good about this, really. I just wish I weren’t in this situation to begin with.

Warm Fuzzy: Speaking of the RESA, I had to call their customer support. I had forgotten that I signed up with a personal email account, not my work one, so when I tried logging in with my work account, I got confused. I was further confused when I wasn’t receiving password reset emails. So I called their support number, and the patient person who answered the phone reminded me that I had used a personal email account. Oof! I was embarrassed and at the close of the call, I said, “I hope I’m the worst call you get all day!” And, no joke, this person responded, “It’s okay, I love you.” He said “I love you.” It’s a silly thing, and I think it was just a temporary lapse in professional etiquette you could blame on autopilot, but I’m taking it as a sign. RESA also really wants me to pass the RESA this year!

Birthday Calendar for Over 300 Students

I’m in the middle of a project right now. I’m creating a birthday calendar in my classroom… that includes every student in my school. There are over three hundred students in my school, so this is a bit, uh, time-consuming.

I decided I wanted to do this on the first day of school. Not before the first day of school, which would have been convenient. I would have been able to spend hours on it before kids ever showed up. But I didn’t have the idea until I actually saw bodies in the seats.

So that’s one thing.

Another thing is that time always seems to be at a premium. We only have so much time in school to accomplish so much. Only nine months to meet all the standards. Only nine weeks in a quarter. Only five days in a week. Only seven and a half hours each day. Only fifty or ninety minutes for this lesson. And only fifty or so minutes to plan and prepare and grade and record and meet with your team in each day.

To summarize:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Ahem.

There’s a certain pressure to work quickly, get things done. Often, the tasks a teacher does are time-sensitive. Grades aren’t meaningful feedback unless they make it back to the student quickly. We need to meet to plan our lessons for the whole week. I need these copies for next period. I know this pressure isn’t exclusive to the teaching profession, either. There are many industries where working quickly is the norm. There are industries where working as fast as possible is the basis for that industry.

But me? Given a choice, I like to do things slowly.

can do things quickly. I just don’t like to. I get up early so I can wake up by lingering over a cup of coffee. When I don’t have other plans, I stay late and work at school, because then I don’t have to worry about when the next bell rings. I’ve taken to walking to school instead of driving as often as possible, because even though it takes five times longer, there’s something I just like about moving slow.

I would not do well in a rat race.

So I’m working on this birthday calendar. I wanted to display it for several reasons:

  • Once it was up, I could mostly leave it up, updating bits every so often. But not changing it entirely through seasons. This is valuable to me because I am not into seasonal decorations. Also, putting up decorations on walls in my lab is tricky business that usually involves being on top of the same tables as the computers. I usually wait until after school to do this because I don’t want kids to see me do something that they would get into so much trouble for doing themselves.
  • It would make it pretty easy for students and teachers to double-check birthdays pretty quickly, which is important in the lab because student birthdays are part of their usernames. (It’s a little shocking how many of our students don’t know their birthdays.)
  • It would make it pretty easy for students who help do morning announcements to check for birthdays, even if I’m not there.

I had started a version the first week of school. This is the version I originally had up:

This was the “good enough… for now” version. I wanted to get something up but I knew my idea was not perfect. But, knowing the way my creativity works, my idea would not be perfect unless I tried a version out first. I rarely have a great idea that works perfectly off the bat. I try something, I reflect on it, and I revise it. I frequently need to test drive an idea to see what works and what doesn’t. This is not something I like about the “fast as possible” pace I sometimes fall into. When you’re trying to work as fast as possible all the time, reflection gets skipped and revision suffers for it.

Anyway.

My original birthday calendar had all 12 months, birthdays represented vertically underneath. I didn’t want to do calendar-style posters because I did not want to buy 12 posters, nor did I want to make them. I instead hand-wrote student names (first name and last initial), birthdays, and homeroom teachers on little index card-sized slips I had printed out, then cut.

You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of uniformity in how I arranged them. That was admittedly a rush job. I put the birthdays in chronological order, with the ones early in the month at the top and the ones late in the month at the bottom. I intentionally left spaces and gaps based on days skipped. I also wanted there to be room to add more students in when kids inevitably transfer in during the school year. (Similarly, I wanted them to be easy to remove, if students moved away. We have a fair bit of this in our district.)

But the arrangement wasn’t very informative, graphically, though I did try to arrange them with some sort of… artiness. So quickly after that version went up, I decided to start working on a new version. First, I created a birthday spreadsheet. This was actually pretty easy, since I already had access to student usernames… and since birthdays are part of student usernames, I also had access to student birthdays. And a spreadsheet is something I could work on in short bursts over several days without losing momentum.

Working on a tedious, repetitive spreadsheet is a little like taking a shower. It’s a monotonous task during which your conscious brain can coast on autopilot, freeing your unconscious mind up for some creative flashes. While working on that spreadsheet, my brain stormed, trying to decide the best way to display birthday information in a way that was meaningful to students.

For some reason the phrase “frequency table” popped into my head. I didn’t quite remember what that was, so I looked it up. It was not a good fit for my graph. But it did lead me to dot plots, which then led me to line plots. A line plot! This is something I know comes up in our math curriculum!

So I decided to make a sort of line plot for each month. It wouldn’t be exactly like a classic line plot should look, but it would convey the information in a way that was easily understood. I went to Teachers Pay Teachers and found some label templates I didn’t hate. (Perhaps I hate decorative talent because I do not possess any decorative talent. The green-eyed monster mocks the meat it feeds on.)

I printed, I laminated, and I used the paper cutter. I used only one prep period to do this, but only because I stayed several hours late last Thursday and Friday working on this as well. Even then, I actually only have finished up through June. I intend to get July through December up this week, hopefully Monday and Tuesday.

But I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far.

I printed out color-coded month name labels. I printed out black and white numbers for dates (there were many more of those, I didn’t think they needed to be in color). I used a yardstick to help me measure and align these directly onto the wall. The yardstick was light enough that I even stuck it to the wall as I worked. Once I got all the dates in the month up, I filled in all the birthdays.

20160909_163951

January

So check out January. There are several dates in January with no birthdays at all. But some dates, such as the 28th, have multiple birthdays. You can’t quite see it in this photo, but the slips all give the same information my handwritten versions did: stu20160909_180815dents’ first names and last initials, birthdays, and homeroom teachers. The only thing I would change about them at this point is, I would have made the font bold so it was easier to read from further away.

The template I used was one with ten labels per page, so the birthday slips were about one inch tall. So I left about five inches of space between rows of dates. This is because, when I consulted my spreadsheet, the date with the most birthdays (out of all 366 possible days) had five student birthdays on it. So congratulations to you, April 22nd! Visualizing data is fun.

So, I think this is much more interesting, and useful. It doesn’t look like a line plot, but students could use this calendar to create their own line plots. This, in addition to being able to quickly find their own birthday (for their username) or current birthdays (for morning announcements). It leaves room for adding new students (as long as they weren’t born on April 22nd!). I can also pretty easily remove students who leave without needing to shift other days on the calendar.