School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Five

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Four

Huh. So I came over to WordPress to write this post, and realized that my post from last week never published. So I’ve backdated it appropriately and published it.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not writing more frequently about other topics. Lately it’s just been weekly roundups. That’s better than nothing, I should hope, but it doesn’t really give me the opportunity to reflect more deeply on a broader spectrum of topics. Part of it is time; I have less free time this quarter. Writing on the blog ranks below sleeping and eating on my to-do list. Part of it is that, while I do reflect every day on my teaching, it’s another thing to organize my thoughts in a way that can be communicated to others. I think I’m going to try to work on that for the next couple weeks.

Lessons: What a roller coaster week! We had a teacher PD day on Tuesday (due to local elections), then mathematics AIR testing on Thursday and Friday for third grade. I also threw my own twists into things, so lessons were not super consistent this week. It made me glad that students are so used to routines that classroom management was almost never an issue.

For the most part, we wrapped up the assignment from last week and went on to do math and literacy activities online.

Support: When it comes to standardized testing, I much prefer the ability to use devices connected to the internet than the old paper-pencil method. It is so much less stressful to distribute materials, and then not the urgent need to collect and send away after. But when something goes wrong, it can be heart-stopping. Luckily, we didn’t have any huge issues this week. Most small issues were solved with reboots. One student in my group had an issue with ChromeVox being on (which was, of course, very distracting for him) but we got that fixed before we officially started.

Things I Did Well: I started to become concerned with the “countdown” we’ve been using on our morning announcements. Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve included how many school days have gone by, and how many were left. It was really useful when approaching breaks, and when we neared 100 days of school. I kept it in because many teachers enjoyed hearing it (maybe more than the students, even!). But as that number of days left became smaller and smaller, I became concerned that it would lead to some sense that they also mattered less and less.

So what to do?

Well, I have also been in touch with our local 4-H office. They provided me with rocket launcher materials so that my after-school group could do this:

Now they have provided us with… an incubator! And 20 fertile chicken eggs.


Now our school day countdown has become a countdown to hatch day (May 23rd, if you were wondering).

Things I Will Do Better: I wanted to better incorporate the concept of the incubator into our tech lab lessons next week. I want students to explore the idea that technology is not just computers and phones and tablets and Internet; it can help animals too. So maybe we’ll use the incubator as a jump-off point and it can inspire research and design through the end of the year.

Cold Prickly: I did not walk to work even once this week. There was always something, either during the school day or right after it, that necessitated me having a car. For example, it was Monday when I drove out to the farm to pick up the fertile eggs — could not have walked there! It was nice to have an extra fifteen minutes to get ready at home (or, on one morning, pick up some coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts). But, this morning in particular, I realized how a twenty-minute walk (fresh air, listening to a podcast instead of music) really helps me get in the right mindset to begin the work day. I really look forward to walking again next week.

Warm Fuzzy: The cafeteria lady has fed me twice today. She runs our school cafeteria by day (today serving cheese quesadillas) and her family restaurant by night (Chinese-American cuisine; she is from Singapore originally). My husband picked up the takeout but he said he saw her working. So she’s fed me twice today!

Maybe I’m just happy not to cook?

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Three

This week has been much better than the previous two, I think.

Lessons: This week I decided to give students an assignment that requires them to take snapshots to insert in their Google Slides. They already know how to Google search for images, and how to manipulate images, so I thought snapshots might be useful to them in the future.

I used another Christine Pinto template/lesson as the starting off point, but I didn’t follow her idea exactly. For example, I didn’t make the slides collaborative; I have done that before and it becomes hard to manage for certain amounts of students. (I would absolutely do it for students working in small groups.) I also upped my expectations of students since mine are older than hers.

Interestingly, students also challenged themselves. It was really obvious to me how different classes have different personalities. One class wanted to share their slideshows with their friends; no other class asked about that. Some students asked if they could use some of the items I have in the lab as props. One student asked if he could take a snapshot with his entire class in it. I said he had my permission, but I wasn’t going to arrange it for him. So towards the end of class, he had to wrangle and direct his own classmates (almost all of whom were willing to participate) in order to take the snapshot he wanted.

Some students asked things like, “Can I draw on the snapshot after I take it?”

I responded with, “Are you asking for my permission, or my instruction?”

The student would say, “Am I allowed?”

I would say, “Yes.”

Then the student would ask, “Can you show me how?”

And I would say, “I don’t know how.”

There are a lot of things you can do with GSuite apps where I’m pretty sure they’re possible, I just don’t know how to do it off the top of their head. And I don’t mind if students explore in a safe setting in order to answer their own questions.

Support: The person who needed the most tech support this week happened to be myself. Snapshots didn’t work in Google Chrome until we changed some of the pop-up and Adobe Flash settings in the browser. Luckily, once I figured it out, it was a pretty quick (if repetitive) fix. When the activity wouldn’t work in Chrome at all, I had the student reopen it in Safari and it always worked just fine there, too.

Things I Did Well: I liked how I handled classroom management this week. But, students were out of seat taking creative snapshots, or taking snapshots with friends, or asking classmates for help because I was already helping someone else. At one point the principal looked in the open door and scolded a particular child for being out of his seat, because from the outside looking in I guess it might have appeared that he was off-task. (Also he has had some issues being on-task in my class in the past, it just wasn’t this particular week.) So I just shut the door for the future.

Things I Will Do Better: I think I am having some weird time management issues. Some of it is outside my control, but some of it is within my control. Especially since we only have like twenty days of school left; I think it’s really important to maintain order as we go into the summer. And that has to start with self-discipline.

Cold Prickly: Because of commitments outside the school day, I did not walk to school as much as I usually do. I drove so I could make it to after school meetings in different locations. Having my car at work led me to, er, have fast food for lunch way way way more often than is typical for me. Man, I am not impressed with my willpower (or lack thereof).

But at least now I have a Yoshi toy from McDonald’s.

Warm Fuzzy: My spouse’s semester is wrapping up (he is a college professor) so his schedule is different, with a lot more grading. But he has used some of his flexibility this week to make some things much, much easier for me. And I am very grateful to him for that.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Two

Yikes. This was not a banner week to be me.

Lessons: I had to print interims this week, which in the past has been something a little more time-consuming and stressful than it has any business being. Plus, someone gave me a huge box of dot matrix printing paper. So, I linked students to Art Hub for Kids and let them choose what they wanted to draw and color. I swear, the computer lab has never been quieter. The kids grab paper and pencils, pop on their headphones, and follow along to whatever they want to draw. I also provided crayons so that students could color their drawings if they wanted to. I like the site because it has a lot of tutorial subjects that they probably don’t cover in art class, like Pokémon and Shopkins. They can’t simply trace from a desktop, either (which is how I created Lion King artwork I was so proud of when I was their age). They can pause and rewatch videos. Some students used the search engine to find what they wanted; others browsed the site until something caught their eye. Quite a few first graders clicked on ads, especially one that declared they could play Minecraft for free. Better they learn now, in a safe environment, that such claims can’t be trusted!

So yeah, it was a very self-directed week in the lab. So… of course my principal dropped in for an unannounced observation. Yikes. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.

Support: I spilled coffee on my own work laptop on Friday, despite being the person who should probably know better. Coffee also got on the interims I had already printed, a stack of pictures students had drawn during class, and my pants and chair. I guess it was good I was wearing black pants.

I was putting the lid on my coffee cup at the time.

Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Spilling my coffee wasn’t my only bad moment this week. I’ve also spent the entire week with a nasty sunburn. I spent most of Saturday outside on a sunny day; I had purchased sunscreen specifically but left it behind when I actually went out. I got it on my face, neck, and chest (when I realized I had forgotten my sunscreen I made a point of keeping my jacket on, despite becoming very warm). My forehead and nose were particularly bad, especially in contrast to my eyes which had been covered with sunglasses. I call the look “reverse racoon.” Anyway, I couldn’t do much for my nose (especially when it started peeling – makeup would have made it look worse, not better), but I wore hats and headbands creatively this week to cover my forehead. It was a good plan, especially when I lifted my school logo ball cap on Tuesday to scratch my head, and a second grader cried out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!”

I also forgot my purse at a restaurant for almost 24 hours. Again, not a banner week for me.

Cold Prickly: So I had a weird week emotionally, I think, and it was affecting my performance in the classroom. Particularly, there were a few times when students’ behavior would have merited a stronger response from me. Instead of handling the issues myself, I got in touch with my principal or other teachers and sort of passed on the problems. It was like, I couldn’t escalate my own emotions, particularly anger, even when it was an appropriate response to a given situation. In fact, I felt like I couldn’t intensity of multiple emotions at work this week, even positive ones.

Then on Thursday I realized I had left my purse at a restaurant after spending significant time searching for it at both work and home. And I was so angry with myself. So angry. I berated myself in the car, and I came home and just laid in bed for thirty minutes, clenching my teeth, near tears. All the mistakes I was making were affecting me harshly, and they were no one’s fault but my own. So I think I was having a hard time being angry with other people because I was spending to much emotional energy being angry at myself.

And then on Friday I spilled coffee on my laptop.

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YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, BITTER WAKEY DRINK

I really needed a weekend by that point.

Warm Fuzzy: I am looking forward to the March for Science this weekend. I see it as less of a political protest, more of a show of support for a spectrum of scientific issues. As an educator, I feel like it’s important to support scientific inquiry early in life; therefore it’s logical to support science across the board. Otherwise, what is the point? Understanding the scientific method can help us think critically about many things. Some people might believe it needs to remain politically neutral, and in a perfect world, it probably could. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world where scientific research needs funding, and policies that ignore its findings could have repercussions that affect our planet in ways we can’t even fully comprehend until we’re facing them.

So while I’m not super pleased that people felt strongly enough about this that a march had to happen, I’m happy it is, because I think it will feel nice to be around like-minded individuals en masse. My prediction, too, is that signs of cheesy STEM jokes will outnumber signs of politically vehement slogans, so yay.

And then on Sunday I have no plans whatsoever, and I intend to keep it that way.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-One

I wish I felt as refreshed after spring break as I was hoping to.

Lessons: Mixed it up this week with students using a menu between websites where students can practice skills such as typing, math problem solving, and so on. It’s the last quarter and I think choice is important to keep students engaged and prevent burnout, while also staving off the feeling that nothing we do now matters as much so we might as well goof off.

Support: So I had to call the company we lease the printers from for support for one of the copiers; a plastic bit had broken off, preventing something from closing properly, blah blah. The tech arrived during bus dismissal so when I returned to the lab after, I saw a note from him on my desk that said, “See me before you leave.” I thought it must have been something I needed to know about the printer… turned out he wanted to show me a woman on the cover of a Christian music album from the 1970s who he thought looked like me.

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Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Time management with the after-school program is something I need to work on. I think it’s largely because we’re still just starting out; I haven’t gotten used to the rhythm of it yet, is all.

Cold Prickly: Thursday in particular was one of those days where I question whether I can stay in this career in the long-term. I don’t feel comfortable going into too much detail, but I was witness to something that didn’t even affect me as directly as it affects other people. I found it really stressful even though it, again, doesn’t affect me directly. It was the kind of thing that made me realize how stressful it can be to be a special educator; they deserve the world for what they do.

Warm Fuzzy: I had a dentist appointment this week and I have no cavities. On the one hand, that’s kind of like the bare minimum of adulthood, but I spent a huge portion of my childhood 1) eating candy and 2) terrified of dentists. Neither of those things helped the other out.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty

This week felt like everything, both good and bad.

Lessons: I took it easy with lessons this week – allowing students to have choices between school-appropriate educational games and activities. Part of this was for third graders in particular; with AIR testing this week I didn’t want to hit them hard with new material and content. Part of it was for myself; AIR testing changed some normal scheduling, plus I had a long list of other tasks that needed to get done this week. So the plan was to go a little easy on myself and the students. Luckily students were familiar enough with routines and expectations that they could handle the additional freedom with ease and grace.

Support: Of all the weeks for report cards to also have to go home! They went relatively smoothly, except for a weird issue with some first grade cards where they weren’t entered into a class roster. We fixed it but it didn’t change in the system until after Friday at dismissal, so I’ll have to reprint some of them after break. The teacher sent the misprints home with a note to expect corrected versions in April.

Things I Did Well: Did not lose my mind, even though I think that would have been warranted.

Things I Will Do Better: I need to organize my to-do list a little better; it felt like I had a lot of “hurry up and wait” going on.

Cold Prickly & Warm Fuzzy: Spring break next week! I both very much look forward to it and also kind of dread it. It will be nice to sleep in for several days in a row! But I hope I don’t suffer more for it for the last quarter of school.

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.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirteen

A coworker pointed out that at the end of October, we had report cards coinciding with Halloween. Then it was the week of the election which coincided with a conference-style district PD day and our first evening of parent-teacher conferences. Then it was Veteran’s Day week, when we spent much of our time preparing for an incredible and moving assembly, you know, around our other evening of parent-teacher conferences. Then this past week we had our Thanksgiving feast, and standardized testing all on computers for the first time. This upcoming week we only have two days, thank goodness, because stop the ride, I would like to get off. I just need a breather, then I’ll be good to go again. I promise.

Lessons: On the one hand, this was the week we were scheduled to do our AIR test practice prompt in the computer lab. But, it was also the week of the AIR test, for real. So I went easy on the third graders, but second graders still did their prompts. Unfortunately, because I was one of the people giving the test, I was not able to keep up with the grading with the same turn-around I had the first time. And then… well, you know what happens with a stack of ungraded papers. It… it gets bigger. And then you do the thing where you carry that stack home, because you promise to yourself you’ll get it done while wearing sweats on the couch. Then that doesn’t actually happen, either, because surprise surprise, when you wear sweats on the couch, your brain starts operating on lizard levels only, caring only about food, warmth, bathroom, and binge-watching The Librarians on Hulu. Then you end up carrying that stack of papers, untouched, back to school, and the cycle repeats itself, possibly extending into the weekend. We’ve all been here, right? Yeah. Yeah…

Support: Oh my gosh, I know I can’t speak for everyone in my building, but I vastly preferred using computers for standardized testing. Maybe it’s because I knew exactly what to expect, but I found it so much less stressful then bubble sheets and booklets. I know some of my colleagues felt differently, but I hope this sticks around as our new normal. So easy and convenient, and I think the kids handled it pretty well too. Problems we had were mostly solved by shutting down and restarting a machine. I did see some error messages, though nothing that I couldn’t solve, and nothing that would have made a difference between a pass or a fail to the affected student. Plus, unlike test booklets and bubble sheets, we can reuse Chromebooks and computers for, you know, other things that are actually instructive.

There was also an issue that arose with one of our carts of older MacBook laptops reimaged to run as Chromebooks. Many kept blinking off for just a second, then coming back on, having lost whatever tabs were open in Chrome. Very frustrating for students and teachers. I asked the tech department what to do, and the response was basically, “It’s going to be super annoying, and take about a half an hour, but you can do it yourself, here are the steps…” I really, really, really appreciated the fact that they told me up front how annoying it would be! Because, well, it was annoying, but more importantly, I knew to anticipate it. That way I kept persisting instead of giving up and quitting too soon. If they had not told me how annoying it would be, I might have followed the steps and then assumed it was even worse than I thought when the issue persisted. It probably contributed to my feeling inordinately proud of myself when I got through a dozen Chromebooks having that issue.

Things I Did Well: I felt pretty proud of myself for fixing all those MacBooks in a semi-reasonable amount of time.

Things I Will Do Better: I’m going with the stack-of-papers-to-grade thing. I am lacking motivation to just focus on it and get it done. I need to get on that. I don’t want it hanging over my head over Thanksgiving break, that’s for sure.

Cold Prickly: We had a lice problem in one of our classrooms this week. I feel bad for kids and grown-ups who have to deal with that. We had a lice problem exactly once when I was a kid; one of my younger sisters had lice when I was already in high school. It is an inconvenient problem, for sure.

Warm Fuzzy: Our principal canceled our staff meeting this week. When she mentioned this to me in passing in the hall, I went, “Woo!” She responded, with good humor, “I won’t take that personally.” (Sometimes… sometimes you just have other things to do. That I still didn’t do. But you know.)

Friday Fun Time

When I was a kid, I was an ace daydreamer. I liked to imagine what would happen if my own personal gravity was turned off, and I could float around a room like an astronaut on the space station. I liked to think about how I would navigate my way around my school and my home. I imagined that a friend or sibling would have to hold onto my ankle when going outside so I wouldn’t drift off like a balloon.

Daydreams serve one well during standardized testing week, at least if you’re the administrator. AS the administrator, you’re meant to be “actively monitoring,” which basically means you walk around the room and watch students take a test. You can sit for “short periods” but you cannot grade papers, plan lessons, or do anything on an electronic device (for a non-test reason). So however you may feel about standardized testing politically or philosophically, I think most of us will agree that it is very, very, very boring.

Which is why I’m glad I honed my daydream skills as a child. I can retreat to my no-gravity wonderland in the garden of my mind for little bits at a time as I roam around the room and try not to examine students’ tests too closely (because according to the manual, that’s not okay either). I can wonder which historical figures, living or dead, would make the most entertaining contestants on Dancing with the Stars (I have a suspicion Albert Einstein would have been surprisingly spry.) I quiz myself on poems I’ve been trying to memorize. (I say poems, but we all know what I really mean is cheesy rap songs from the nineties.)

This year I found myself giving the test to a very small group in a very small room — so small, in fact, that I couldn’t pretend to be a slow motion Olympic speed skater, as one blogger suggests. (It was a carpeted room, though, so I did map out the route a Roomba might take in my head.) But I guess I needed something active without being overly energetic. So, I started tiny dancing.

I just want Elton John to hold me closer.

Of course, the video is a reenactment. Even that much vigor would have been too much distraction for the testing room. (Plus, no non-test related tasks on electronic devices, rememeber?) But I did enjoy challenging myself to try and perform the litany of dance moves in Silentó‘s “Watch Me” using only my fingers.