Tuesday, January 5, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Whiteboarding in 2021


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

Whiteboarding in 2021

Technically, the Yule Blog Challenge is over for this year, but I had planned this one during Winter Break but just didn't have it together, so I'm counting it! :)

One of the things I missed so much during 2020 was whiteboarding.  For years, I have had groups with table buckets and personal whiteboards on every table.  But then with COVID, we couldn't have shared supplies, we couldn't be in table groupings, and I honestly missed the whiteboarding SO much!

So during the break, I went hunting on Amazon for some cheap whiteboard markers and erasers, thinking that if I could get them cheap enough for my 80+ stat students, that I would splurge for individual goody bags.  

This week, we are on Distance Learning and one of my students came up to assemble the goody bags for me...

In each goody bag is a:

With the note, I had looked on Pinterest and saw several gifts TO teachers with markers, etc, but none that were gifts FROM teachers.  Then I was thinking about all of the life lessons I've learned from whiteboarding / dry erase in general as just a encouraging note for the back.  I wanted the life lessons to be a bit more applicable to life in general versus classroom applications.

The desks in my classroom are dry-erase surfaces, so I didn't have to do anything there, BUT, I wish I had gone ahead and done white card stock in a glossy sheet protector, but I have until Monday before I see my students, so it could still happen :)

Friday, January 1, 2021

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Planning Away


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

My 2020-2021 Planner

Several social media posts this morning have been about buying new planners.  For me, I don't keep a separate personal vs school planner, so I tend to think of new planner ideas in the summer, not during January.  But a few days ago, I tweeted this:

For several years, I have kept my lesson / personal planner and gradebook together.  However, with the craziness of this year, I honestly didn't know what to expect, so I decided to separate them and make my planner into a junior planner and keep my gradebook separate.

While I'm not sure if I love the gradebook separate, I do love the junior planner!  When Hedge asked me to tell her more, I shared a photo, then decided I should share some more here...

A Junior Planner is the size of a half-sheet of paper, so 8.5 x 5.5.  The post-it pad is there for size reference - it's a typical 3x3 note size.  I designed my planner in PPT and then printed double sided.  Typically I take my planner to Staples to print on heavier paper, but again, when the year started, we didn't know what to expect and I didn't want to put a ton of money into a planner I didn't use, so I just printed on a normal laser printer.  The cover is a heavier plastic that I had found in the Staples clearance bin YEARS ago, but you could easily make your own using laminated card stock or by cutting down a folder (plastic or cardboard).  I am a huge fan of disc-bound notebooks and these are standard 1" discs.

The dividers are just printed on card stock and I've shared them before (see this post)

You'll notice the tabs say Calendar, Lesson Plans, AP Statistics, FSDA, Blog / Tech, and Other.  Let's start with the calendar type pages...

Under the "Calendar" tab is the traditional monthly calendar.  This is more of an "at-a-glance" for the month.  The "Lesson Plans" tab is a bit messier.  I shared this layout earlier this summer and I really like it!  There are a few changes I would maybe make depending on how the year played out, but for now, it's allowed me to keep up with the weekly lesson, schedule for any meetings, reminders for things like #MathTeachCollab, and lots of space for my Notes / To-Do List.  This is definitely a working space, so I shared some of my mess with you :)

The AP Stat / FSDA tabs are based on an idea from my friend Rachel, who blogs over at Purple Pronto Pups.  Click here to see her post about her "Summer Notebook" 

For the most part, those two sections are just notebook pages, with subtitles for "General" and each chapter / section of content.  This is a place where I can jot down ideas when I'm browsing the internet, thoughts that just come to me about various topics, articles, etc.  This is super helpful for lesson planning!

The "Blog / Tech" tab is just a place to keep track of blogging ideas and EdTech ideas

Definite shout-out here to two other good friends - Rebecka and Sarah - I am so very blessed to have these two women in my life and can't wait until we can have lunch together again!  (Sidenote - our last lunch date was scheduled for March 16 during our Spring Break, but we all know what happened with lockdowns in March 2020....)

Sarah (of Math Equals Love) shared this summer the idea of a visual blogging calendar and I LOVED the idea!  She's totally right in the idea of stickers make a difference...  Hopefully it will help me in 2021 to keep up with blogging :)

On the left side is a goal of mine to keep track of "One Good Thing" - Rebecka posts daily over on the OGT blog and she also challenges her students to keep a running list in the back of their notebook.  You'll notice I didn't really start this until the #MTBoSYuleBlog challenge though... LOL

The last tab is just for other notes and it just has blank paper over here.  I've thought about adding my Meeting Notes to this section, but that's a thought for another day... :)

If you want to make your own Junior Planner, click here to download copies of the files I mentioned above

Thursday, December 31, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - 3 Good Things


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

3 Good Things from 2020

It's New Year's Eve 2020 and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say Good Riddance!

But even in one of the weirdest years of my lifetime, good things have still happened!  I've already posted about some success stories and some favorite memories, but 

Good Thing #1 - Hello Josie!!
In November 2019, we lost our eldest cat... we knew it was coming but that didn't make saying good-bye any easier.  We weren't ready to get another and honestly, we didn't know how our now-oldest cat, Kenzie, would take to another cat as Kenzie is very territorial and dominant.  But in January, hubby decided he was ready.  We started looking and he was drawn to a kitten at the animal shelter, so we welcomed Josie into our lives....

Josie is a most-unusual cat.  You might notice the curved tail in the photo and to be honest, her tail is never "straight" - it's always curled up like that and usually over her back, as seen in the second photo.  I started researching it and apparently she's a "ring tail tabby".  Another trait of ringtails is their playful nature and that's definitely true... EVERYTHING is a toy!  We often wake up in the middle of the night where she's brought plastic silverware or a stuffed toy to bed...

Good Thing #2 - The Class of 2020
One of the best things about teaching is that every year we get a new, fresh start.  But I'll admit that every August brings some anxiety as I wonder if I'll be able to build the relationships, if I'll ever remember all the names, if I'll ever have the connections that I had with the previous group of kids.  I hate that my time was cut short with the Class of 2020 because they were just a fun group of kids.  I know I've already posted some about my trip to Portugal and the memories I'll treasure forever, but this deserves its own spotlight.....  

 When we went back to school in January, I had shared with my students that my word of 2020 was "Courage" and I explained that I had never travelled internationally and that I would be travelling alone to Portugal in February.  So my students decided they would help me out and promptly started a "How not to die when out of the country" list on the whiteboard.  When I got back, they had erased the board and changed it to the "Congrats" message.  Little did any of us know that we would only have a few short weeks together in person after I returned.  On a positive note, one of those students came back to see me in December to say "Hi!" and to thank me for all of the hard work during our swift change over to Distance Learning.  That group of kiddos will always have a special place in my heart.

Good Thing #3 - Snoopy and the Red Baron
So, we've not been out shopping this year - I haven't been in a Target or Wal-Mart since March and as a result, Christmas 2020 was a bit spartan.  Typically, hubby and I stash away little trinkets for the stocking but that tends to require stores :)  When Christmas morning came, I was shocked with hubby told me there was something in my stocking (and I felt horrible because nothing was in his....)

No, I'm not a vintage game person, but as a kid in the early 80s, the Atari was all the rage.  I remember sitting in my room staring up at this little 10" black and white TV and Snoopy was my favorite game.  Fast forward about 20 years from that and my parents decided to sell their house, auction off all of their belongings, and hit the road in their RV.  They gave us fair warning so that we could get the things we wanted - I took my dollhouse, my Tupper Toys, and a few other things.  Then came the day of the auction and seeing your life laid out on the yard is an interesting experience.  The toy box my brother made me... a keychain with a photo from when I was a toddler... my grandmother's hideabed sofa that we all took naps on... and my Atari with a half dozen games.  Honestly, when I had gone through my room, I never even thought about the Atari - it was a 20+ year old system!  But listening to the auctioneer share the contents of the Atari storage unit, I remembered Snoopy.  After the sale was finalized, hubby and I went up to the new owner,  I introduced myself as the little girl that grew up in the house, and asked to purchase the Snoopy cartridge, only to be promptly turned down.  Apparently, the new owner had purchased the entire system just for that one game, which unbeknownst to me, was a fairly rare title.  Fast forward another 20 years and I find Snoopy in my stocking.  Hubby had finally found it at a reasonable cost on eBay.  We (obviously) don't have a working Atari system, but I finally have Snoopy back... ♥️♥️♥️

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - One Word Challenge


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

One Word Challenge

Many of us often do New Year's Resolutions, but honestly, I find them difficult as a teacher.  

For us, our "New Year" starts in August and for me, it's easier to think about timing any resolutions to the school year cycle.  Also, the New Year starts on January 1, but I struggle with starting something in the middle of a week or in the middle of a vacation.  I would be much more successful if I aligned it to January 4 (or whatever day we go back to school for the Spring Semester).

As a result, my resolutions rarely work out.  ☹️☹️☹️

But a few years ago, I heard about the One Word Challenge on Twitter

I've now done this for a few years... one word that guides me through the year, that helps me make the big decisions.  A few years ago, the word was Intentional.  Last year, the word was Courage.

This year, my word is...

2020 was a rough year for many of us and while there were definitely good things, I allowed too many things not in my control to steal my joy.  

At #TMC15, Christopher Danielson said in his keynote: "Find what you love. Do more of that." 

In other words - find what brings you joy!  This idea is also found in the Marie Kondo philosophy - does it spark joy?  If not, why have it?   

Years ago, our daily announcements at my school ended with the statement: "Make it a great day or not - the choice is yours!"

In 2021, my goal is to chose JOY and to use that as a guiding principle throughout the year.

This year, I commit to finding joy in the following:

  • New Challenges - I have truly enjoyed learning more about Desmos and EdTech during 2020 and I want to continue challenging myself to learn more
  • My Students - Yesterday, I saw a quote that said something about "The best part of my job is the kids.  The worst part of my job is everything else" - that rings true for me in a lot of ways!
  • Connections and Relationships - I honestly couldn't have made it through 2020 without the relationships I've fostered over the years and I want to focus even more on those connections
  • Me Time - I struggle with this one... I have a tendency to put others (especially my students) ahead of everything else.  I want to release that pressure and be okay with putting myself above others for just a bit of me time each day
  • In Failure - Another toughie... yesterday's post lamented the kids that have slipped between the cracks, but Pam reminded me later in text about the kids that I have connected with, the kids that know they are loved and cared for.  I've not reached every child, but honestly, in the best of years, I don't reach every child.  I can only do so much.  (please keep reminding me and yourself about this one!)
2020 was a year filled with anxiety and new experiences.  There were definitely good things that came from those challenges, but it's time for me to focus on calming my spirit and finding the JOY in all things.

Monday, December 28, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - So Many Struggles


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

So Many Struggles

Last night, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that I couldn't help but respond to...

To be honest, this has been one of the most challenging years of my career in many ways - from recreating lessons, to learning new technology, to figuring out ways of teaching, but the question about is the one that hurts my heart the most.

Because it's more than just about the holiday.  

I have kids this year that are struggling and I don't know how to help them.  It truly bothers me.

I have more than one child that I have worried about during the break.  I have kids that I haven't heard from since early November.  I have reached out - I have tried to contact parents - I am at a total loss on what to do.

In this era of chaos, of back and forth of in-person and distance learning, of contact tracing and exposure, of illness.... what do you do to reach out to those kids that you haven't heard from?  I desperately need new ideas...

Emails go unanswered... phone calls aren't returned... I have in-person students, so I'm struggling with finding the time to support the in-person and the at-home learners.  Some kids that are at-home are thriving... they keep up on their assignments, they email (and respond to emails), they communicate with me.

But there are kids that don't.  And it hurts my heart that I honestly don't know if they are okay.

I don't know how to do it all... I don't know how to track down the kids that aren't working and aren't responding to me.  There aren't enough hours in the day.

I don't have any answers.  So I do my best... I keep sending emails... I keep making phone calls... I keep trying to juggle it all, but there are kids slipping through the cracks and I don't know if my heart can continue to take it.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Consistency in an era of Inconsistency


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

Trying to Stay Consistent in 2020

In my last post, I mentioned the need for consistency for my sanity.  To be honest, I'm a person that craves organization and structure.  I love teaching because it does provide a mix of new and old every day and every year.  In August, we get the chance to start over fresh, which isn't something that happens in other professions.  Throughout the year, we can tweak our processes and in the summer, we can spend time researching changes to be made the following year.  But even through the changes, there's a lot of sameness - from the curriculum, from the tried and true practices, from the resources, from the pure structure of the school day.  Surprises do happen of course - fire drills, tech issues, things that require us to shift on a dime, but in general, we know what to expect...

And then a pandemic hit.

March 13, 2020 - the last day before Spring Break... we were doing a mixed review activity and I was trying to maintain normality.  Had I known then what I know now, I would have thrown that lesson out the window and done something else, but at the time, I thought we might have an extended break and then we would be back - HA!

That Spring Break ended up lasting 3 weeks officially, but when we did "go back to school", we were in lockdown, working from home, and in "distance learning" to finish out the 2019-2020 school year.  For that 3 week break, I spent time in virtual PD sessions from NCTM and Desmos, exploring the "what-if" of using EdTech tools to help us out.  Our state leaders decided on "do no harm" schooling due to equity issues, the College Board shifted quickly to an online 1 hour exam, and I worked with my colleagues to develop some lessons to review and reinforce since we weren't supposed to teach new material during this time.

It's amazing what all you can learn when you need to :)

During that three week extended Spring Break, I spent time researching and looking for a tool that could best mimic my typical classroom, but was that even possible?!?!

Then summer came.  I think a lot of us (myself included) thought that things would get better, but they didn't.

I spent my summer working with teachers from my school to create an EdTech PLC, reading books that were quickly tossed together during the spring on how to do Distance Learning, and reading several things on the Flipped Classroom.  

Throughout the summer, we were expecting to go back in person, but preparing for the possibility that we wouldn't be back for a while.  We watched the numbers climb and my district finally did decide to start the year in distance learning.  To be honest, I was okay with this decision, even though many other districts decided to go back in person.  I was not (and honestly am still not) comfortable being in my classroom with 30+ high schoolers, even with masks.  

However, this decision brought a new wave of anxiety - how would I build relationships?  What about equity?  How would I assess?  Again, the biggest question for me - how can I mimic my typical classroom online?

As I had in the Spring, I turned to Desmos as my primary platform - I knew I could develop a "flipped" classroom by embedding my own videos (made with Loom), adding in a variety of practice problem formats, do formative assessment, provide feedback, etc.  In general, my Desmos lessons consist of a "getting to know you" screen, a feedback screen, the lesson objective, one (or more) short lesson videos, a variety of practice problems (often self-checking), and an exit ticket.

This was working pretty well, then my district decided to go back in-person in early September as the numbers were staying fairly steady.  Again, the questions flooded my mind - what do I do now?  Do I shift back to my typical classroom?  How will I address the kids that get quarantined?  How can I maintain equity for both my in-person and quarantined students?

We also had some guidelines put into place with regard to in-person - all desks needed to face the same direction, no shared supplies, spread out the desks as best we can, and try to keep 6 feet between us and the students.  This was a struggle for me - I've had my students in table groups for years... this meant no more groups, no more activities like card sorts, no more table buckets with shared supplies, no more small whiteboards... what do I do?!?!?

I decided that I would continue with the Desmos lesson format... the equivalent of doing distance learning even in-person.  It would allow me to do things like card sorts and use the sketch feature instead of whiteboards.  But the biggest feature for me was the consistency and equity...  Whether you were at home or at school, you had the same lesson, you had the same access to teacher feedback, and just in case, you would have an easy transition back to distance learning.  It was a way I could provide structure and organization in the midst of chaos.

We've now ended our first semester and I don't think any student of mine has been left untouched by the chaos of this year.  We started with 2 weeks of distance learning (DL) before coming back in person, we had issues of many student quarantines throughout the semester due to contact tracing and various out-of-school activities like vacation travel, Halloween parties, etc before transitioning back to DL for the week before, of, and after Thanksgiving, then coming back in person in early December to wrap up the semester and do final exams.  We'll start back with DL in January to provide time to quarantine after holiday travel and NYE parties.

All in all, it's been a semester of chaos and uncertainty.  I would watch my students eyes turn to me with anxiety when the phone would ring asking for a student to be sent to the nurse's office due to contact tracing.  I would have students share with me about the anxiety of increasing community spread and watch every student nervously look around when they heard someone cough.  

But just like my own concerns from the Spring and Summer, many students have expressed appreciation for the consistency, structure, and organization of their Desmos lessons.  They know what to expect if they are absent, how to communicate with me, and how to find their daily work.  It's been a consistency we've all needed during this era of inconsistency. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Recharging My Batteries


What is the Yule Blog Challenge?  Over Winter Break, I'm going to attempt to blog 12 times, sharing reflections of 2020 and what I'm looking forward to in 2021.  I would love for you to join in the blogging fun - read more about the challenge by clicking here!

Recharging with a Quiet Christmas

I've already missed a day of blogging, but that's okay :)  

It's been one of those days where I want to blog, but even with a list of prompts, I don't really know what to blog about.  One of the prompts is about self-care and I'll admit I'm the world's worst about that!

Part of the issue is that many of my tried and true self-care options aren't options right now...  in pre-COVID times, my personal self-care often consisted of pedicures with a friend or going on day trips with hubby to visit our favorite used book stores, "junk" stores, and clearance hunting.  Sadly, both of these favorites are out the window for the foreseeable future.  Honestly, I miss going to the store and out to eat, but even the thought of those cause anxiety.  As a result, we have no Christmas gifts purchased and our Christmas Eve has been spent with a YouTube video of a crackling fire and instrumental music while I read and hubs played computer games.  It doesn't help that I did something to my foot a few days ago that has landed me on the couch with my leg elevated...

Since we don't have children, Christmas is often a quiet time around our house and this year is no exception.  My in-laws are not in the best of health and my mother has just been cleared after a positive COVID test - thankfully she was mostly asymptomatic!  Last year, we all met at a local truck stop diner for a Christmas buffet, but this year, we will be staying home with the cats, a good book, and a movie or two.  

The beginning of my week was fairly productive, with a lot of lesson planning and collaboration with my friend, Julie, finishing up grades, and clearing the way for a couple of days of quiet time to recharge, take naps, binge some shows, and read to my heart's content.  

2020 was a year where self-care and mental health have been vitally important, even if that help doesn't look like the previous years.  One big hurdle for me was admitting that it was okay to ask for help.  I was struggling daily to go to work without crying and finally asked my doctor for some medication to help me.  I'm not an overly anxious person by nature, but the stress of this year was a tipping point where I needed help.  I'm also so very grateful for my collaborators, both in person and online... I can't imagine teaching this year without my in-person co-teacher, my online collaborations, and my friends that know the daily struggles of the classroom.  

Here are some other self-care tips that have helped keep me (mostly) sane this year:
  • Fresh air - While we aren't allowed to congregate at work for lunch, there's a small group of us that have brought our lawn chairs (and now fuzzy blankets) to sit outside for lunch to get a chance to have fresh air while maskless and social distancing.  While this 30 minutes goes WAY too quickly, it's one of my favorite parts of the day
  • Friends - I can't imagine doing this without my friends, both in-person and online.  While I know it can easily devolve into a gripe session, there's something about having true empathy for what you are going through that others can't understand
  • Calming Activities - Honestly, I'm bad about this... I really love teaching and I'm passionate about it.  So for me, I find calmness in things like podcasts in the car (Forensic Tales is my current favorite), binge reading novels (Kindle Umlimited was a great purchase for me), and things like the YouTube video of the crackling fire and instrumental music.
  • Exercise - This one is one I've fallen down on recently... With the pandemic, I haven't moved as much and it's a struggle.  I was never one to sit at my desk and I was always up and moving, but since March, my movement has been limited.  :(  
  • Consistency - This deserves a post all its own, but one of the stressful things about this year has been the lack of consistency.  We started out in distance learning, came back in-person, had tons of kids in and out on quarantine, then spent most of November back in distance learning, then back in person for December, so from day to day, you really didn't know how many kids might be in person, at home, ill, etc.  I decided early on to do the equivalent of distance learning, even while we were in person for the equity for the students at home.  Having only one lesson method really helped my sanity (other than the assessments, but that's another issue).  
All in all, some of the lessons I've learned in 2020 have been harsh, some have been good for me, some have helped me count my blessings, but through them all, I've been able to grow, to learn, and to really prioritize the important things - my family, my friends, and my health.  I still have struggles with those at times since I want to put others ahead of myself, but I'm trying to learn that it's okay to say no.

So on this Christmas Eve, with a cat on my lap, and a faux fireplace video on the TV playing some quiet instrumental music, I urge you to count your blessings and to find a way to recharge your batteries, whatever method that may be...

And in the words of St Nicholas...
"Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!"