Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Remote Learning - Organization is Key!

Week 2 of Remote Learning has started and my new co-workers are some of the laziest colleagues I've ever had!  Either they are laying down on the job, napping, or trying to steal my office supplies.  Actually, it's the office supplies that are most annoying - those are MY pens! :)

This has been a HUGE adjustment for me.  Not being able to see my students to see if they get it, to watch them work on whiteboards, to check in with them about their lives, to give High Fives... this is hard.

I don't mean that it's hard in the sense of being at home - that part doesn't bother me.  I'm a huge introvert by nature and can do just fine with just a good book, a blanket, and my patio. My office is a comfortable place to work and I have a very walk-able neighborhood to get out for fresh air.

No - the hardest part is just the paperwork.  I've actually really enjoyed having the time to learn more about Desmos, provide individual feedback on our activities, and exploring some tech tools that I can use moving forward.  But the hardest part has been just the daily organization of teaching this way... keeping track of the daily communication with students and parents, monitoring who has done the assignments, contacting students and parents you haven't heard from.  It's a full time job just to keep up with the emails!

Keeping my Sanity through Organization

Organization Tip #1 - Color Code Everything!
I am always up for colored pens, but earlier this year, I got a set of erasable pens from Amazon and I love them.  I have had the Frixion pens before as well, but I kind of prefer the off brand ones :)  I keep track of when I've contacted a student, parent, counselor, when a student has contacted me, who has done what assignment, etc.  The best part of the eraseable set is when I'm doing my lesson plans, I can erase and fix errors! :)  Yay!

Organization Tip #2 - Tracking Student Work
I keep a paper attendance book that shows a whole 9 week period in my classroom normally, so I just printed those out and checkmark each day.  I also keep track by colored dots when I have contacted students / parents, sent out whole class emails, etc.  Mainly, I need to be able to see at a glance when I haven't heard from a student in several days so a "welfare check" can be done, either via email or phone call. 

I also struggled with keeping track of what I actually assigned each day, comments of changes that I wanted to make for future use, and how many students had done each assignment, so I made a mini-calendar at the left to help me keep track.  Right now, each day tends to just melt into the next one, so having a way to keep track of day-to-day lessons, which ones I had given feedback on, and a place to make myself notes was a must.

Organization Tip #3 - Tracking Parent Communication
While I'm trying my best to have engaging lesson plans, I know that I will not have 100% engagement.  However, I was quickly getting overwhelmed by the emails I was sending and tracking who had contacted me.  We are supposed to contact parents (or send names to the counselor) when we have not heard from a student in several days.  Plus, there are some students who are starting to trickle in with "Yeah, I'm good with my grade.. stop nagging me already." and in those cases, I really need to make sure I have the documentation from their parents that the parent is okay with the student's decision.  In general, I'm just drowning in emails and I needed a way to keep track of it all :)

Organization Tip #4 - Lesson Plan Binder
In my AP class, we are still working toward our AP Exam, now scheduled for late May, plus I still have one more chapter to teach.  Because I want my students to continue with their AP Stat notebook, I created a Digital Learning Notebook for them that has the daily lesson plan, notes sheets, problem sets, and AP Free Response problems.  I also try to give them feedback daily so they know how they are doing and what they can do to improve.  I was quickly gathering a stack of answer keys, AP Rubrics, etc, so I grabbed a spare binder to make my own Digital Learning notebook / Lesson Plan Binder.  Each week, I have a general guide of what we are doing, then the weekly file that I share with the students with my answer keys to keep them all in the same place.  This has proven invaluable to me as we are asyncronous, so the responses may trickle in over the course of a few days.

Organization Tip #5 - Rocketbook still Rocks!
I've shared before about my love of Rocketbook in my classroom, but with the shift to Digital Learning, the structure of my lessons have changed a bit.  In my regular classroom, I use a composition book and half-sheets of paper, so it fits perfectly into an 8.5x11 Rocketbook Frame. Then I just snap a photo and it goes straight to Google Drive for students to check their work.

But with my Digital Learning, my notes / problem sets are on normal sized paper, so my Rocketbook Frame was too small!  EEKK!  I talked hubby into helping as I was busy working on other stuff and he was able to enlarge it to an 11x17 page.  Then I just laminated the frame and now it works perfectly with 8.5x11 notes.  Yay! :)

Organization Tip #6 - The Bookmarks Bar is your Friend!
One of the best organization tips that I have, that I use MULTIPLE times a day is a folder on my Bookmarks Bar.  This allows me quick access to the tools that I use every day.  For example, you'll notice links to resources that I've found useful, including links to the amazing webinars that have been going on right now to support teachers.  But the bottom set of bookmarks are the true workhorses of this tip.  I have easy access to my Google Meet, my Desmos lesson collections, and my Google Folders that organize other lesson plans and the district files.  I don't even want to think about how many times a day I click this link on my screen :)

My Biggest Take-Away:
There is no "right" way to do this Distance Learning thing.  Even as an organized person, I'm still struggling with keeping track of everything, but the tips above have definitely helped me keep my sanity and helped to tame the paper monster a bit.

What things have helped you keep organized during your shift to Distance Learning?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Shift to Remote Learning

Whew - what a week - what a MONTH!

The last time I saw my students in person was on March 13 as we left for Spring Break.  If I had know then what I know now, I would have done so many things differently.  None of us knew at that point that it would be our last day of traditional school.  We thought that maybe we might have an extended Spring Break, but we would be back together soon.

Yeah... that didn't happen. 

On social media, one of the hashtags has been #bookspinepoem and here's mine - an Ode to Remote Learning.  For many years, I have focused on Best Practices, on successful group work, on formative assessment, then during break, we had to "Switch" and "Flip the Classroom", learning to "Teach Outside the Box" as we "Rethink" everything!

Last week, we received our Remote Learning guidelines and it took me some time to think through how I wanted to shift my clasroom.  Each of my preps is designed slightly differently and to be honest, as of Saturday night, I still hadn't figured out my AP Stat classes, but thankfully it came together on Sunday!  Whew! 

Lessons Learned from Week Day 1

Lesson #1 - Organization is a must
I'm a paper planner person but my normal lesson plan book is designed for the traditional system and that just wasn't working for me.

I needed a way to keep track of meetings, of Office Hours, of to-do lists, to jot down notes, document student activity, so I had to do something new.  It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but so far it's functional and it's helpful to see my day at a glance as well as tracking my to-do list.

Lesson #2 - Learn to Improvise
When we left for Spring Break, I didn't take much other than my grading and my flash drive.  Of course, I also didn't know that would be the last time I would be in my classroom for months!  So as I sat down yesterday to start my first day back to school, I quickly realized that one thing that missed from my classroom is my phone holder, so Legos to the rescue!  :)

Later on in the day, I was in the middle of my Office Hours via Google Meet when I needed to step away from my desk.  I ended up creating an "away" screen in Google Slides that I could run on a separate browser window in the background and then present screen via Google Meet.  I currently have 5 "away" screens - the one pictured, one that says I went for a walk, one that says it's lunchtime, one that says "I'm here but working - please say Hi to get my attention", and one that is a virtual high five for Friday :)

Lesson #3 - Find a way to see / hear / talk to your students
As an introvert, I can spend all summer and never really leave the house, so having an extended Spring Break was kind of like that.  However, when the message came down that we would not be going back to our physical classrooms, I'll admit that I cried.  While life in general can be way too people-y for me, I really do love my students and my classroom.  My students bring me so much joy on a daily basis and emotionally I struggled with the idea of teaching mostly seniors, which means I may never see some of them again. 

Thankfully we live in an era of technology, so yesterday I hosted a Google Meet and Greet to see my kids and hear their voices.  I had about 65% participation in my AP classes and it really did my heart good to interact with them.  Hubby later on commented that from his office, he could hear the smile in my voice. :) 

Lesson #4 - Build in ways to give / receive feedback on your lessons
More than likely, if you are reading this blog, I am preaching to the choir when I talk about my love of Desmos.  In many of our math classes, we are using Desmos activities every day with a quiz on Friday. 

One of the biggest benefits I see to Desmos is the ability to give and receive feedback from my students.  For example, I can read student responses to questions and give them individual feedback (brand new feature!), give a formative assessment question like the one on the right and overlay responses as a temperature gauge of the entire class, do self / auto checking questions, allow for the sketch tool, etc.  It truly is an amazing piece of software and I'm so very grateful for all that Eli and his team do for the math ed community!

Lesson #5 - Make Connections - both with people and content
I've already mentioned above about seeing your students via video-conferencing, but it's also good to do some text-based connections.  Over the weekend, I had sent out a Google Form just to connect with my students and ask them about their Spring Break.  I wanted them to know how much I miss them and how much I hate that this is how our year is going to end.  I have been going through and sending individualized emails to my students to respond to their questions and concerns and mainly just to touch base.

This connection is also a great feature with the Desmos activities.  I used the new Desmos Starter Screens collection to copy and paste some checking in screens for students to tell me a story or draw me a picture.  One student on her Google Form asked if we could continue to have "fun exit tickets" so I need to gather some 'Would you Rather' etc just to break up the math and make those personal connections.

One lesson I learned today (on Day 2) is that I need to do a better job of making connections with the content.  I need to figure out a way to better link yesterday's lesson to today's lesson to tomorrow's lesson in an asyncronous world. So next week on the Desmos lessons, there will be some starter screens that ask them to look at the previous day's Desmos feedback and respond to it as well as screens for retrival practice (aka Powerful Teaching - Thanks to @pamjwilson for the idea!)

Lesson #6 - Planning a week at a time is HARD!
Each Monday morning, we have to have our lessons online and ready for the entire week.  Now, don't get me wrong, I've always been a planner and knew what my lessons looked like for the week, but not to this level of detail.  In my "normal" world, I have written topics in my lesson plan book for the whole week (or even month, etc), sent off for copies, etc, but I didn't have the nitty-gritty details planned because I need to see student faces and get a gauge on student understanding to know where we are as a class.  For example, I might know that Wednesday is going to be about the Pythagorean Theorem, but until Tuesday evening, I might not know the detail of whether that would be using whiteboards or a question stack or a Desmos activity.  In this scenerio, I have to think through the pacing and the details of the entire week without having those visual cues from my students.  Not really having the option to revise my lessons throughout the week is already driving me nuts, but one student has commented that he really likes being able to move at his own pace and the flexibility to do all of the lessons at once if he wants, so I guess that part is a positive?

Lesson #7 - Get up and MOVE!!I am NOT used to sitting down this much! In my classroom, I am on my feet all the time and rarely at my desk.  Now, I'm at my desk all the time, so I have to leave my office and go for a walk around the block a few times a day.  Grab your phone to call a friend, listen to some music or a podcast, but find a way to not be stuck behind a computer all day! 

My Big Takeaway
I'm sure more lessons will be learned in the coming days, but my biggest take-away is how vital those people-to-people connections are, even to an introvert like myself.  I have long used chatrooms and Twitter and other social media to make those connections, but I'm quickly learning how to harness the power of technology for instructional purposes.  I'm really excited to see how this pandemic shifts the educational technology sector to be adaptive to the human side of learning.