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.