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!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - Favorite Memories of 2020


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 Favorite Memories of 2020

Yesterday I mentioned that my word of this year was COURAGE...

This was definitely a year where we had to step out of our comfort zones, whether we wanted to or not!  

2020 was a year of many firsts - but for me, the biggest first came in February when I travelled internationally for the first time!  My dear friend, Kelly - a teacher that I originally met on Twitter years ago, then in person at TMC14 and then again at the AP Reading - was involved in putting together a conference on Math Teacher Collaboration in Lisbon, Portugal.

To say this event was a turning point for me professionally is an understatement.  I met so many amazing researchers involved in math teacher training around the world.  I read their papers and talked about their research - I met new friends - I explored this most gorgeous city - and I came back just absolutely pumped about the future of teacher collaboration in my district.  Little did I know that in a few weeks from then, lives would again be drastically altered by COVID and that the 20-21 school year would not look like I had imagined it!  

As a result of the work in Lisbon, I have been able to grow professionally and mathematically.  On the way home from Lisbon, I had a great conversation with two of the researchers there about a program called MIST - Mathematical Immersion for Secondary Teachers - based off the work of PCMI.

This conversation turned into an 18 hour PD program that ran twice a month from August through December where a group of teachers met via Zoom just to do math together.  I really enjoyed the productive struggle and discourse that came from our sessions!

Whatever the future brings, I truly hope that I am able to take the memories of this year, the struggles, the triumphs, the challenges, and the successes, and realize that even in the midst of pandemic, you can grow, you can find new pathways, you can show COURAGE in all things...

Monday, December 21, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - A Challenging Year


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 Top 3 Challenges of 2020

I'm pretty sure that 2020 will go down in the history books as one of the most challenging years of the century.  But while it was a tough year, it was also a year of growth, of meeting and overcoming those challenges, and a year that brings me back to last January and my word of the year...COURAGE

2020 was a year of firsts... my first international travel... my first foray into online teaching... my first time to truly explore being 1:1... my first time to truly be terrified of losing someone I love

But it was also a year where I learned to persevere.  I learned that I could navigate in countries by myself.  I learned that I could still teach a quality curriculum online.  I learned that I could still build relationships with my students.  I learned who I could truly rely on.  I learned that things that were easy in the good times posed unique challenges in the tough times.  I learned that Maslow's hierarchy is really important for both students and teachers - we have to feel safe and cared for before we can do anything else.

Challenge #1 - Keeping myself and others safe
This has (and continues) to be my biggest challenge of 2020.  When this started in March, we were given a 3 week extended Spring Break and none of us could have guessed that March 13 would be our last day in the classroom for the 2019-2020 school year.  I couldn't have guessed that weekend would be the last time I would eat in a restaurant or go to the store.  At that point, my state had just a few cases of COVID and we were all about "flattening the curve".  I have seen my parents only twice since March because I'm terrified of exposing them to the germs that I know I pick up at school.  I can't "socially distance" my classroom when I have 32 adult bodies in a 700 sq foot space.  Thankfully my school does have a mask mandate and I clean my room several times a day, plus I added an air filter near my desk.  When I come home, I go straight into the laundry room to strip out of the clothes I wore to school, trying to keep my spouse safe (he's worked from home since March).  Given the number of students I am exposed to each day, I have faith that masks truly do work as there's no other reason to explain why I haven't gotten sick yet.

Challenge #2 - Quality Curriculum
Once the physical challenges were addressed, thoughts definitely turned to how to teach in a pandemic.  I spent this summer reading about the flipped classroom model and how to best utilize distance learning.  The College Board has said multiple times that the 2021 AP exams will cover the complete course and in a traditional MC/FR exam format.  As a result, I really needed to think through a way to build quality content for my students.  I know I will touch on this in some other posts during the break, but I ended up using Desmos for almost every lesson.  There have been some really surprising results of this structure, especially with regard to my English Language learners.  But my favorite part of developing the curriculum has been my collaboration with Julie K, a friend and fellow stat teacher in Michigan - I can't imagine doing this without her!  

Challenge #3 - Building Relationships
I've worked really hard over the years to build relationships with my students, to show them that I care about them as people.  This year posed unique challenges for that - no more High Five Fridays - no more walking around the classroom - no more fun group games or activities.  Facial expressions bring on a new challenge in a mask, plus the added difficulty of having students both in person and at home in quarantine.  Trying to build relationships with students that I haven't seen in weeks or even months is tough.  But I've tried.  Thankfully with Desmos, I can have one-on-one conversations with the feedback feature and I always build in little "getting to know you" starter screens to help with those little things.
As a result, I know that E. loves to crochet... I know that J. loves to make jewelry... I know that I can rely on S. to give me good binge-worthy Netflix shows.... I know that N. has never felt comfortable asking teachers questions before now... 

Honestly, I didn't know of these starter screens were just annoying my students or not, but one day, right after Thanksgiving, I asked the following question and I've cut out a few responses that truly touched my heart...

There is a commercial that often plays when I'm getting ready in the mornings.  It's for the CBS News and it talks about this 3 letter word that motivates all we do...  Those responses above?  Those are an example of my WHY - these kids make it all the challenges worth it.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

#MTBoSYuleBlog - A 2020 Success Story


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!

A 2020 Success Story

This has been a rough year in so many ways, but in other ways, this has been a great year!  We've learned new technologies, new ways to use existing technology, grown professionally and personally.  We've learned new and more effective ways to do things, we've had so many innovations, and honestly, there are some things that happened because of the pandemic that will be fully embraced going forward.  EdTech companies have tried new things, virtual conferences have become mainstream, and we've learned new ways to build relationships.

So in the midst of all the struggles, there have been a lot of successes. 

But the one that truly stands out to me from this year is #MathTeachCollab

Like so many teachers, Spring Break was a turning point - we went from life as normal prior to March 13, 2020 to the midst of a pandemic.  I was so naïve at that point, thinking that our 3 week extended spring break would be the end of it and we would be back to life as normal - little did I know...

Summer break started - we were still on restrictions and it was starting to set in that this was the new normal.  Twitter conversations revolved around EdTech tools - we had 6 weeks of "Distance Learning" under our belts, but with no planning or preparation, it was a challenge.  Summertime was spent in discussions on how we could improve, how we could design our classes intentionally for this model, book studies were done on Flipped Classroom Learning, and teachers shared their takeaways from the spring and their concerns for the fall.

As part of this conversation, many people mentioned how much they missed the conferences where they would see, interact, and learn with their #MTBoS peers, so Jessica (@algebrainiac1) and I ended up saying "Let's do it!" and organized #MathTeachCollab - well, really Jessica, I was just along for the ride! :)

Our first meet-up was on August 8 - right before many of us headed back to the classroom for this very unique year.  We spent all day learning from and with the #MTBoS family - informal discussions that revolved around what people needed and wanted to talk about.  This was truly a "for teachers, by teachers" event

Since then, we've kept going on the 2nd Saturday of every month for an hour long discussion and share-out and I'll admit, it is one of my favorite days of the month!  In the craziness of this year, it's sometimes difficult to give up some of your downtime, but every time, I leave feeling so refreshed and so ready to tackle whatever life throws at me that week!

Here are the notes from our meet-ups so far this year:

Our next meet-up will be on January 9, 2021 at 10 am Central time and we'd love to have you join in!  Please follow us on Twitter on hashtag #MathTeachCollab

Saturday, December 19, 2020

2020 #MTBoS12days "Yule Blog" Challenge

Winter Break has finally arrived!  I don't know about you, but this year's break couldn't come fast enough!  2020 has been a unique and very challenging year, but I also have learned a ton and grown professionally, so I definitely want to take some time to reflect on those moments and hopefully get back into a blogging habit!

Over the years, @pamjwilson and I have often hosted a "Yule Blog" challenge to help us with blogging over the break, so I was extremely grateful when Pam was willing to do this again!  This year's prompts will be a bit more serious than previous years simply due to how different this year has been for all of us!

Your challenge... if you choose to accept it... is to blog 12 times over your Winter Break.  There are prompts listed below, but don't feel like you have to blog in this order or even use the prompts at all!  You'll also notice that there are more than 12 prompts - that's in case you want to combine some or if you don't like one or more of them!  But again, the prompts are only there as a suggestion when you don't know what else to blog about! :)

Please share your post with us in the comments or via Twitter using the hashtag #MTBoSYuleBlog - we can't wait to read your reflections on 2020!!

  • A success story from 2020...
  • A challenge I faced in 2020...
  • A favorite memory of 2020...
  • Classroom structures and routines in 2020...
  • How to teach in the midst of a pandemic...
  • How to build student relationships during a pandemic...
  • EdTech tools that I can't live without...
  • Something unexpected that I faced / learned...
  • Start / Stop / Continue in 2021...
  • A new tool or strategy from 2020 that I will continue to use in the future...
  • 3 good things from 2020...
  • A look back at my professional growth in 2020...
  • My favorite lesson of 2020.... or one that totally flopped...
  • Intervention strategies for helping the struggling student...
  • How I prioritized my own health and self-care in 2020...
  • What I'm looking forward to in 2021...


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!