Saturday, September 26, 2020

Figuring out the New Normal

I really had high hopes for blogging this year...It was my goal to blog at least weekly - to reflect on what works and what doesn't.  And yeah, that hasn't happened.  

We started our year with Distance Learning - the kids were at home, we were in our classrooms and meeting synchronously via Google Meet 1-2 times a week, with the rest of the lessons in an asynchronous format.  Then, on Day 7 of Distance Learning, our district announced that we would be going back to in person learning the following week.  We've now been in-person for 2 weeks and honestly, I'm exhausted.

But I still want to address my original goal of reflection, of celebrating what's working, of figuring out how to make the things that aren't working more sustainable.  I do want to put a disclaimer that this is only my personal experience and does not in any way, shape, or form represent anyone other than myself.

What's Working...

I can't even imagine trying to tackle this year without Desmos.  I know some of my students are probably getting tired of my love for Desmos, but I'm so appreciative of the ability to upload videos, do self-checking activities, provide feedback, have the equivalent of "chats" with my students, monitor their work in real time, and really see their thinking.  I love that my students working from home are still able to get an equitable experience and that when I do a short recap at the end of the hour, I actually can use student work (Love the snapshot tool) to share quality thinking.

While I miss regular teaching, I do see the benefit of the video lessons, especially for students to pause and rewind.  I don't have to worry about them asking to go back or really monitoring where they are in writing their notes.  I also like the opportunity for the one-on-one written feedback since so many of my formative assessment techniques are non-verbal or discussion related.  While it takes a lot of time, students can have a really personalized experience if they choose to take advantage of it.

I'm also really proud of my students overall.  Even though in-person learning doesn't look the same as it did pre-March 13, they've done a pretty good job with keeping a positive attitude and wearing their masks correctly.  I've had to talk to a few of them about keeping it over their nose, but in general, it's been okay.

Yesterday we had a pre-planned Distance Learning day and it was so nice to have that time to check with in colleagues about pacing, to check in students about how they are doing, and to feel like I could stop to catch my breath for a minute.  It's the little pleasures in life, but to be able to feel comfortable taking a drink of water during the day really brought me more joy than it should have!  A few weeks ago, I sent a suggestion to my principal about a weekly Distance Learning day for secondary students, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that might happen!

Moving Forward...

One major concern I have is just about the sustainability of this model.  I'm exhausted from the constant juggle and the mental toll of just trying to think through all of the outcomes.  I currently have over 10% of my roster learning from home, plus the normal absences, and I am struggling to keep up.  Monitoring the daily work, giving feedback, grading, planning lessons that are equitable whether you are in person or not, trying to keep track of students, cleaning multiple times a day, juggling the emails from students learning from home, trying to vocally project through a mask... it's just a lot to deal with on top of our normal job responsibilities

The stress and anxiety of teaching is a lot in a normal year, but add in a pandemic and it's overwhelming.  I'm not one to visit the doctor often, but since school has started, I've had to visit the doctor multiple times due to major muscle spasms and for anxiety.  I've never been on to be on daily medication until this year.  I've never cried coming to work.  I've never had to come home and strip in the laundry room in case I have something on my clothes that could literally kill my spouse if I were to bring it home.  I've never worried that I can't see my family for the holidays because I don't know what I might have been exposed to and could be spreading.  

What I miss...

A few days ago, this tweet found its way to my Facebook timeline and it really spoke to me.

One of the things that drives me crazy about teaching in a pandemic is that my normal routines, the best parts of teaching... they are just gone.  

Gone (for now) are the days of students working in groups... of hands on manipulatives... of moving around the room in stations... of being up and at the whiteboards... of me moving around the classroom listening in the conversations.

Instead, my classroom looks like a classroom from 50 years ago with the addition of computers.  Students are facing the front.  The little bit of face-to-face teaching I do is from the front of the room, trying to stay at least 6 feet from the kids in the front row, while huffing and puffing through a mask.  The kids are pretty much silent because they also don't really like talking in the masks and I just HATE that.  I miss the chaos of the classroom.  I miss the fun and the laughter and the joy that comes from learning.  I hate that our days are focused on screens.  I miss being focused on best practices for instruction and that I'm more focused on best practices for cleaning and staying safe.  

I miss being the teacher I've worked hard to be.

Don't get me wrong.  I know I'm doing the best I can.  I know I'm working my tail off to try to make engaging lessons.  I know I'm trying to give individual feedback and really connecting with every student.  I know that we are in the middle of a pandemic.  I know that we will get through this, that it's a temporary blip in the road, that I will learn new and (sometimes) better ways to teach, that I will be pushed (and push myself) to try new things.  But that doesn't stop me from missing the "pre-March 13" me.  

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Finding Contentment

It's been a rough week. 

But in the midst of chaos, joy comes from the little things... 

Source:  Google Images
And this is definitely going to be a year where we need to celebrate those little joys and those little moments of contentment.

Being content, whatever the circumstances, is a struggle for me.  I love teaching.  I am very passionate about figuring out the best way to reach my students.  And it's so very hard for me to do that while teaching in a pandemic.  The traditional definition of Best Practices isn't as important as just getting by each and every day.  I see this struggle in my students as they try to navigate the technology challenges.  I see it in my colleagues as they learn new methods of teaching and learning, of trying to be flexible and pivot on a dime.  I see it in my admin team as they try to balance the decision making for 15,000 people and knowing that any decision they make will be met with resistance.  I see the struggle in myself as I try to make meaningful connections with my students, as I try to grapple with decisions made without my input but affect my daily life, as I try to create a safe and healthy work environment, as I try to hold myself together each day and not let the anxiety win.

But it's hard.  I worry.  I analyze the data and it's not saying good things. 

So I struggle to find that contentment and peace.  And maybe you are there too.  Maybe you are struggling along with me.  That's okay - we can struggle together.

But what is important is not to get stuck there. 

I don't often bring my personal faith into my blog, but the verse above really speaks to me right now.  Paul was imprisoned when he wrote those words.  I can't imagine jail at that time was a very cushy place to be and yet Paul writes of finding contentment, no matter the circumstances.  Whether in need or in plenty, whether hungry or well-fed, he was able to be at peace. 

This year is going to have a very unique set of challenges for teachers, for students, for families, but we need to find ways to be at peace, to be content in our circumstances.

Maybe that contentment comes from the little sparks of joy - finding a good pen to write with, going out for some fresh air, making connections with people in non-traditional ways.

Every day, seek out that "One Good Thing" - that thing that sparks joy in your soul and brings you a hint of peace and hold on to it with every fiber of your being.  Collect those little moments in a journal or a tweet.  Celebrate those little victories.  Because if we focus on all the challenges and the chaos, we'll never find the joy and contentment that can happen in this "new normal"

Friday, September 4, 2020

I ♥️ Desmos

Years ago, I did a this thing called My Favorite Friday.  I haven't done it for years, but my favorite thing right now is Desmos.

Since March, Desmos has been my #1 go-to for Distance Learning lessons and still connecting with my students.

We've been in Distance Learning this year for 2 weeks (we are pivoting back to in-person next week, but that's a whole 'nother story), and I could not have made it through these two weeks without Desmos at my side. 

This year is a year like no other and I had already committed to blogging more regularly about my learnings, but then today, even more amazing Desmos things started happening!

My Current Favorite Desmos Hack:
So I had this brilliant Desmos Hack that has really saved me a ton of time overall... 

The first screen of the Desmos AB asks students to select their class hour, then I can use the summary screen to mark attendance sorted by hour.  Last year, I had them enter their name as "4 Name" so I could sort by name on the Dashboard, but I really like this MC question better overall.

One reason why I love it is that I can give feedback to all 3 classes during the same activity without switching between dashboards.  I was so excited to share this hack with you, but then I got home tonight, ready to blog and went to my Desmos to take some screen shots when I noticed it didn't look right...

New Desmos Feature:
Do you spy what I spy??? 

OMG - Desmos now has classes!!!  Of course, now I have my kids trained after 2 weeks, so I'm going to have to figure out how to best use this, but I am excited to explore it!

One feature that I'm hopeful this has when I explore it is a better co-teacher management system as I do team-teach and depending on which one of us created the activity, the dashboard access is clunky.  I'm hopeful that this will allow us both access to the files for our shared class without a ton of emails back and forth sharing links to activities

More New Features?!?!?
What?!?!?  Now when you add a "note", you can use italics, bold, or add a link??  I can't tell you how many times this week alone, I had wished for a way to easily add emphasis to a Desmos Activity - I swear Eli and his team are reading our minds!  You can read more about this new feature on the Desmos website.

One thing about new features in Desmos is that they are often not advertised, so when you find them, it's like this fun hidden treasure!

Earlier this week, I was giving feedback to a Desmos activity (which I absolutely LOVE the Desmos Feedback feature), and I just happened to notice that little arrow... hmm, what does this do??

OMG - I can edit / delete now?!?!? 

Game changer!!!  I can't tell you how often I would make a typo or hit enter too soon - this is a HUGE thing for me! :)

My Favorite Question this week:
One of the things I had planned to share today before finding all of the fun new features was this question that I had added to a Desmos Activity earlier this week.

My students were supposed to try this AP Free Response problem, then I asked them to check themselves against the sample student responses on AP Central and to reflect on their answers.  The number of students who mentioned things about being specific, using good vocabulary, etc was just an absolute highlight of my week.

So major thanks to Eli, the Desmos team, all Desmos fellows, and the absolute love and care that each of you put into making Desmos better every day. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

#MTBoSBlaugust - Reflecting on Week 1

Y'all, I'm tired...

We started back to school on Monday in a Distance Learning format, so here's our schedule:

Monday - Odd hours are synchronous / Even hours are asynchronous
Tuesday - Even hours are synchronous / Odd hours are asynchronous
Wednesday - All classes are asych ; teachers have "office hours"
Thursday - same as Monday
Friday - same as Tuesday

However, you are only required to be synchronous once a week, but since I teach AP, I'm requiring both days, although it may be for a short check-in instead of a lesson.

Speaking of lessons... here are some of the lessons I've learned so far:

Lesson #1:  Distance Learning lessons take 5 times as long to create and much less time for the students to complete than a traditional lesson
Y'all, I know that I often personally identify with "perfection is the enemy of good" because I am a perfectionist and I'm really particular about how things look and how my lessons flow.  As a result, I struggle to #pushsend and commit to the actual lesson.  On the up-side, I've had some great feedback from students about how much they appreciate the organization and structure.  One other side-effect I've noticed is that without the classroom discussion, my lessons take way less time for students to complete...

Lesson #2:  Invest in a larger monitor
Our main computer is a Surface Pro and y'all, I'm just way too old for a 12" monitor!  LoL!  Thankfully, we had a spare 24" monitor at home, which makes a HUGE difference for these old eyes.  I'm now able to split my screen while presenting in a Google Meet and able to see my students AND my presentation!  Woot!  I know a lot of people do dual monitors, but I've never been able to adjust to them :(

Lesson #3:  "Wait Time" is way different in Distance Learning
I'll admit that I've never been great at wait time, but it is a whole new ball game with Distance Learning.  I've actually had the best success by asking students for thumbs up / down, but when I ask a question, I want to be respectful for anyone that might be typing an answer into the chat (which takes longer), OR that kids are really nervous about unmuting to talk and accidently talking over someone else.

Lesson #4:  The kids are great and I'm super glad to be on this journey with them
Granted, I've not had a ton of interaction with them yet, but the kids have been so very respectful of each other and of online classroom norms.  They almost always keep themselves muted yet still willing to engage using thumbs up / down or the chat feature.  Their responses on their lessons have been fabulous and I can't keep up with them to be honest! :)  I've heard so many times about this group of kids being behind, but I really think there will be very positive side-effects with regard to giving grace and extending patience and understanding to those around them.  They recognize the extreme effort that their teachers are making to create engaging content and seem very appreciative.

Lesson #5:  Desmos is a lifesaver
OMG, can I sing the praises of Desmos from the rooftops?  I simply cannot imagine life with Desmos.  Desmos allows me to create an async (or even sync) lesson that flows similar to what I would do in class, so I think it will provide a wonderful transition back to the classroom.  

My big take-away from Distance Learning so far...

There is a part of me that really appreciates being back in my classroom and the structure / routine of my workplace being different from my home.  I am so very appreciative of how much I've learned already and how this is pushing me to be a better teacher.  But I will admit that I really miss the energy of having 30 teenagers in my classroom, chatting with me about the things they love and asking questions as we learn new content.  I miss the hustle and bustle of the hallways, of game days, of rushing to get to class on-time due to the size of our campus.  It's really awkward to talk to a screen of postage stamp size photos and they are all silent because they are muted out of respect for their classrooms.  I'm really hopeful our numbers go down soon so we can get back to that "new normal".  I already love this group of kiddos and I can't wait to get to know them in person!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

#MTBoSBlaugust - Lesson Planning in a Pandemic

School starts tomorrow, y'all!!

But it's going to be so weird.  I don't have a pretty new outfit, I won't be helping lost kiddos find their classroom, I won't have tired feet at the end of the day.

But I'm really excited to finally get the first day over!

That sounds weird, I know...  But this whole year has been weird.

For weeks (months?), I've fretted about the first day.  I've changed my lesson plans so many times.  For the first time in probably 10 years, I'm not doing my standard killer nurse lesson for day 1.  My lesson plans have been written on scrap pieces of paper and sticky notes.  I've copied and pasted more Desmos screens than I can keep up with.  I've fought and wrestled with "analysis paralysis" more than I care to admit.

But it's done.

Tomorrow, ready or not, those kiddos will show up in my Google Meet and we'll tackle this thing together!

Our schedule is a mix of synchronous (live) sessions via G-Meet and asynchronous (on your own) lessons.  It really took me quite a while to wrap my head around what this would look like and I'm still not sure I have it completely figured out, but either way, we're going live tomorrow and praying the wi-fi holds up 😁

In the midst of all of today's chaos with figuring out my lessons, I decided I didn't like how the previous lesson planner was working out, so I created a new one.  I already like it much better than the first version!

Here's the revised version of the Junior Planner:
  • The lesson plans are all on the right side and not split over the middle "spine"
  • Plenty of room for my current scribbles / sticky-notes on the left side.
  • Still allows me to do an appointment scheduler for an "at a glance" look at my week.
  • I currently don't have room for an Advisory area, but the Sat/Sun could be subbed in for Advisory if needed.
  • Overall cleaner feel.

My planner is already filled out for this week and based on what I've written down, it's going to be super busy!!  I still need to finish the actual lessons for Thursday/Friday, but I'm ready for at least the first 3 days (I think) 

Wish me luck! LOL

Saturday, August 22, 2020

#MTBoSBlaugust - Useful Chrome Extensions


Wow - what a week!  We've never had 7 days of pre-planning, but then again, we've never been in the middle of a global pandemic. 🙂

Several times throughout the week, I felt like I was working my tail off but had nothing to show for it at the end of the day, then by the time evening came, I was brain dead and ready for a break, which might explain the lack of blogging 🙂

One of my biggest tasks over the past week has been trying to replicate my home set-up on my school computer, which has its own set of technology challenges....

But one thing I've learned is the usefulness of various Chrome Extensions! :)

With Distance Learning, one thing I learned early one was the usefulness of splitting my screen.  A lot of people like to have dual monitors, but I don't like hunting down my mouse, nor do I like the physical footprint of having two monitors on my desk. 

But Dualless to the rescue!

We use Google Meet for our classes, which has a really annoying issue of not being able to see what you are presenting plus being able to see your students.  So if I'm doing a live Desmos or presenting a slideshow, I have to flip back and forth on the tabs.  By using Dualless, I can pull those into two separate Chrome windows, click on the Dualless link on my browser toolbar and choose the split ratio I want to use.  

Another great extension I found this summer was the Video Speed Controller.  This allows me to speed up or slow down any video on YouTube, EdPuzzle, etc.  I've found it so useful, especially right now during our busy season and the 1.5 speed is about perfect for me!
Inserting emojis into my messages, Desmos activities, and blog posts are so much easier now that I've installed the Emoji keyboard!

This little extension pops down a menu that I can search, then when I click on an emoji, it automatically copies the emoji so I can paste it into my activity or email.  I'm really excited to use this extension in my Desmos activities as I plan to use emoji cues for note-taking, etc!
Last spring, I found myself needing to annotate a website or a Desmos activity for a screencast, so Page Marker came in handy multiple times.  This extension isn't very fancy, but it gets the job done!  I can choose the color, the pen size and write as much as I want before clearing the screen or closing the extension.  When using it over a Desmos activity or slide show, you do have to switch to the arrow to navigate to the next slide, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty user friendly.
In this season of making a lot of videos, I certainly can't leave off the Loom extension!  With a school email account, teachers are eligible for the free version of Loom Pro.  In the past, I've used Screencastify and Loom is very similar in terms of its ease of use.  I also like that Loom has some good editing features, plus a way for students to provide feedback via comments and/or emojis, and embeds easily into Canvas! :)

It's going to be a super busy weekend of lesson planning and finalizing my plan for Monday.  If you have any great ideas for the first day of distance learning, please let me know!  I'm also on the lookout for more useful extensions, so send those my way too!

Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

#MTBoSBlaugust - Everything Takes So Long!


Whew... another day is done!  I felt really scattered today and even though I got a few things done, I realized that everything takes 3-4 times as long!  Sigh...

Today was another full day of learning!  Some lessons were great, some not so great :)

First up is my bright idea that wasn't... LOL 

When I got to work, I thought, ya know, I probably should have a place to put my mask that is not just thrown on my desk.  I mean, right now, it's not as big of a deal as it really is just me in the room, but it still seems less than sanitary.

But wait!  I have some command hooks in the cabinet, I think!  And I did... but not the right kind :)  Oh well, I'll try it out anyway...  Yeah, that didn't work so well.  It went on there really well, but getting it OFF the hook, not so much LOL.  

I sent this photo to hubs and after he laughed at me, told me he had some in his office, so maybe tomorrow's attempt will be better! LOL

On a more positive note, I learned a bunch about Desmos today!

First thing I learned was how to aggregate data!

With distance learning and asynch lessons, I wanted a way for students to be able to still "put graphs on the board".  I knew it was possible, but I hadn't actually learned how to do it yet!  So the Twitters to the rescue!  Thankfully I got some very helpful replies right away.  

However, I forgot to take a picture of the wonderful dotplot we made and then I deleted the activity... whoops!

I also played some with the new Collaborate feature with the wonderful Julie K - who is often my partner in crime when it comes to Desmos and AP Stat.  Her help and willingness to talk through things is just invaluable to me.

As we were working, I found a hidden nugget.. check it out!  In the image component, you can now mark for an image to go full-screen (aka zoom in!)  YAY!!

If you are an experienced AP Stat teacher, you might be thinking that the images in that Desmos screen look a bit familiar...

For years, I've used The Jelly Blubber Colony by Rex Boggs to introduce the sampling methods.  

It's certainly not done yet, nor do I know if it will ever be fully done, but Julie and I are working on getting the JB colony into a Desmos activity.  It took us a good chunk of the day to get it partially done and that's just for one lesson for one class!  UGH 

I need to remember to give myself grace and that it's OKAY to just straight up lecture and go old-school for this year :)  Y'all may need to remind me of that several times though...

I did walk away remembering how much I love and adore Desmos, so that's a huge win! :)