Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ideas for prepping for fall

Last time I talked about my thoughts on what needs to happen for a successful start post COVID-19. Today I want to get more into the nitty gritty of the classroom. What things can teachers be doing over the summer to get their classrooms, curriculum, management systems, etc. ready for whatever the fall may bring us. As with most of you out there I am waiting with baited breath to see what guidance our state is going to give districts on opening up schools next fall. However being the planner that I am, it is hard for me to sit and wait so I have already started planning what things will look like in my classroom post COVID. A lot of the ideas I talk about below are based on years of teaching in a tech classroom as well as from what I have learned worked and didn't work this year. I hope you find some these ideas/thoughts useful and would love to hear your ideas on how you are preparing to a post COVID classroom.

To start off with I am going to rework my classroom procedures so that kids know how to do things digitally in my classroom. I am going to spend a lot of time showing students how to use email, Google classroom, and hangouts as a communications tool. This was a big hurdle in my online teaching this spring is that kids were not familiar with:
  • How to communicate with me digitally and I with them
    • My goals/plan
      • Teach them how to use email
      • Teach them to how use Google classroom comments
      • Show them how and when to use hangouts
      • I also plan on opening up a class Instagram
      • Shorten instructional videos to 5 to 6 minute clips
  • How to submit work digitally in classroom
    • My goals/plan
      • Teach how to read an assignment description
      • Show how to attach various type of work to google classroom
      • Use private comments as a feedback tool
  • Put together a cheat sheet/webpage for families
    • My goals/plan
      • Put together instructions for families on communication
      • Show them the connection between our google classroom and Skyward (IMS)
      • Question to ask their child to check for work/understanding of assignment
      • Key things to look for when students say they are finished with work
      • Create a flowchart
        • How assignments or done in my class from when I assign to turn in
        • How communication works in my class with students
The hope/goal is for kids and families to be ready if/when we have switch to digital/distance learning next year. 

Along those lines I am going to have more digital options of assignments in my back pocket ready to go. This spring I went with one curriculum for my each of my classes. However I heard loud and clear that students were either really excited about the work or not very interested in the work I chose. I know that some of you may not be able or want to run multiple curriculums/projects in your class. So my suggestion to you is to have digital versions of your curriculum ready to go. This may be a bit of extra work but it is good to have them in your back pocket ready to go. Also you may find that digitizing your work may make it more engaging for students. Especially your presentations. I have found that recording my presentations (what some may call lectures) opens me up for working more with kids 1:1 or in small groups. Also by recording your presentations if we do go to more digital/distance learning you can throw a lifeline to parents and families. One thing I have heard consistently is that parents are frustrated with not knowing how to do some or all of the work kids were assigned. I know I can speak personally about that. However when I chatted with some folks in my neighborhood almost all agreed that it would a little easier to help their child watch a video and take notes. This makes sense as most people have experience watching video, tv, etc. and recalling the key or important concepts.  

As for classroom management a lot of that is going to be centered on the classroom procedures I mentioned earlier. Teaching and reinforcing the process getting and submitting work. However I also want to teach my students what it means to be present in a digital world. I know that I went into digital/distance learning thinking this is going to be simple for kids. They have their chromebooks and other digital devices and they already knew a lot about apps, websites, etc. No I wasn't naive in thinking there wouldn't be challenges like lack of connection, distractions at home (games, siblings, toys, etc.), lack of familiar support, social emotional challenges, and others. What I wasn't prepared for was how kids didn't know how to be present in an online world. Watching my kids doing digital learning gave me great insight. To them being present online means 2 different things on is social and one is academic. The two are very different from what I expected. Academically they would get online look at the work and try to figure it out then wait for someone to check on them it was one of passive engagement. They were expecting either the teacher or me to prompt them or check in with them before moving on. There was no active engagement unless we pushed them to engage with their teacher. However watching them engage online in a social context was more what I was expecting. They was active listening with questions about things they didn't understand, synthesizing information shared to accomplish a task and giving feedback and support to encourage others, and even calling out others when behavior is not appropriate. My goal is to help my students transfer their social online skills to a more academic setting.  To do this they need to know what office hours are and how to use them. They also need to know how to get into an online classroom whether that be a zoom or google hangouts, or other platform.

These are just some of the thoughts and ideas I have and hope you find them helpful. If you need help applying them your classroom and/or situation please reach out out to me in the comments or via email listed below. I would love to hear from you and help out if I can.

As always Go Forth and Do Great Things!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fall will be here sooner than we think, Then what.

I hope you all are enjoying or making the best of whatever situation you may be in during these unprecedented times. I know I am enjoying some warm sunny weather as I give feedback on student work, plan out my next lessons, and meet with colleagues. I hope you all are getting out and enjoying the ever increasing summer like weather where you are at. I and my wife try to get out as much as we can to enjoy a walk or leisurely drive either with our kids or by ourselves. Often times when we are out we run into neighbors, friends, strangers, etc. During these encounters it comes up that I am a teacher which usually shifts the conversation towards my thoughts on distance/online learning and then to what I think school may look like in the fall. It might be a bit early to think about going back to school in the fall and what that might look like, but then again maybe not. I know that a lot of my colleagues are curious about what school might look like and I am seeing news story after news story contemplating what it will look like once we reopen in the fall. The CDC has issued guidelines/recommendations for schools. I also know that my state is starting to look at what the fall may look like with a 100 member task force looking at roughly 7 different models and hope to be able to give guidance. I have no clue as to what it might look like going forward I have my thoughts and preferences which I do share with the people we encounter. However that is not what I want to do here with this post. My goal with this post is to give some guidance on how we can prep kids and ourselves over the summer to better reach out and support kids for the next school year.

I don't have a crystal ball so I don't know what next fall will look like other than we will need to be teaching kids in somewhat shape or from. The suggestions I talk about today are my own based on my work reviewing online learning programs as well as experiences starting up schools and classrooms over the past 20+ years. The suggestions I mention here can be adapted no mater what opening up situation we encounter in the fall. With all that said I do welcome your comments and ideas as well as to call me out on why I suggest something that doesn't make sense. So lets get started. 

So as we move into the fall we need to look at things from 3 different aspects:
  1. Teaching content
  2. Platform
  3. Communication
  4. Fun
Starting with the first one content. One thing that goes without question and that is we are all masters of the content we teach. We can all agree that face to face learning is best but in absence of that there are some things we can do to make content delivery better. One suggestion is to work with the curriculum you have as in most cases it can be adapted to an online format. After all that is what we as teachers do we adapt and overcome as we encounter obstacles. Don't think that just because it is online that you need some crazy new fanged curriculum or delivery system. As an example I am using the same curriculum as I do in the classroom with some slight modifications. A second suggestion is to look at moving to a flipped model. Hopefully most of us are familiar with some sort of a flipped model classroom. With the flipped model you are having kids watch your instruction at home which is easier for not only students but also families. Most students can watch a video and take notes with some instruction to relate it to how you do with in class. Along with that most families can help their kids with watching a video and taking notes. The biggest complaint I have heard about is that families are struggling with helping their kids with things like math or science or other subjects. Which brings me to my third suggestion for content which is to assume nothing. This is something we as teachers have good experience with already but it is something to keep in mind. It is hard to deliver content without a platform.

To get the content out to students we need a platform. This is probably the one that may be out of our control but I hope to give some suggestions you can pass along to your districts and/or encourage you to look at the platform you have in a different way.  What ever platform is used it should be easy to access and navigate for both students and families. If the platform is not easy to access students will resist doing and turning in work. Also families will struggle to support you in your efforts of helping students get work in. As I mentioned in the last paragraph don't assume your platform is easy to use. One thing I have learned during this time is that a platform I use, Google classroom, is not as easy to use as I thought. Yes it is simple but there is a learning curve for all that use it. For example I had to learn what the parent side of google classroom looks like. It is simply an email (either a daily or weekly) summary of what is "going on" in the google classroom. I also learned that in that email are working links to sites you include in posts and/or assignments which is helpful. One thing to keep in mind is that summary can get overwhelming as it is one long email for each class that a student may have (if the families have linked to your class). Whatever platform you use it should be as close to one stop shopping as possible.  Students and Families should be able to get all the info they need from as few places (clicks/links) as possible. They should be able to get grades, assignment info, materials, and hand in all in the same place. The more links/places they have to go to complete an assignment the better the chance they will loose engagement in your class. To help with this we need to talk about the 3rd area which is communication.

This is probably the most important of the 3 areas that of communication. There are as many ways to communicate via distance as there are lessons we need to teach (if not more). There is no one tool that is better than others if anything we should be tailoring what tool we use to the audience we are trying to communicate with. For most students email probably is not the best. Students these days are used to a more instant form of communication such as Snap chat or Instagram. What I have found is communicating with them via comments on assignments or email (although they will do that reluctantly). If you are brave enough you can try google hangouts or say Instagram (make sure to have a personal and professional account). Teacher that have done this have had more success in communicating with students. However I know that may not be allowed in your district. Make sure to check with your district regarding communication policy with students. As for families email or phone may be a better way to communicate. Lastly as we all know whatever method you choose or are allowed to use make sure it is consistent. The more consistent you can make it the better results you will get. Along with being consistent within in your class if you can make it consistent school wide that is even better. Although then again as teachers we know that. Lastly with communication it is important that expectations are communicated once established. One thing that I learned over the last 3 months is that I need to do a better job of teaching my kids my expectations regarding:
  • Communication
    • email
    • Google Classroom
    • Hangouts
  • Work habits
    • Note taking
    • Watching videos
  • Assignments
    • Structure
    • Turning in
    • Asking for help
The more we can teach students what the expectations are and how to meet them (just good teaching) the more successful any program (online and face to face) will be. 

Lastly whatever we do we have to remember the fun aspect of school. We may not think it but kids expect to have fun at school. They expect fun work to do and also expect to get some of their social needs met. When I say focus on fun I am not saying that all the work/assignments we give kids has to be fun (although that would be a bonus). What I do suggest is that you do things like my music teacher does and host class contests. He is currently hosting an idol like contest with his choir class. Kids are loving this and totally engaged. Also our ASB is hosting weekly activities like trivia night. Things that I have done is to host a typing contest using nitrotype. Also when I host a zoom meeting I make sure to let kids know they are welcome to ask questions, request a demo, or just check in. I find more often that not they want to simply check in which is ok. Along with the fun part is to check in with them and ask them how they are doing and what they are doing. Just as in our face to face classroom students want to get to know us and see us as a whole person and not just a teacher. 

There is a lot here to think about and I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions about best practices of starting up next year. 

As always: "Go Forth and Do Great Things!"

Video link mentioned in podcast: Quick video on how to make better instructional videos by Edutopia
Link to article on need for uniform LMS (Learning Management System).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Zoom Fatigue: What is it and how to combat it.

As we move into our 3rd to 4th month of online/distance teaching we are all feeling tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. We have had to make a 180 degree shift in teaching style; it is almost like we have all been required to do flipped learning with no training. Hang in there it will get better as we go along and figure this out and as we always do as teachers "Master this new form learning". One thing we need to wrap our brains around is the whole online meeting thing especially this new thing called Zoom Fatigue.

For some of us the stress of online meetings set in quickly. The stress of being on camera online figuring out how to reverse thoughts of not wanting to use the webcam. Not wanting to allow "Students" into our homes and/or the new boundaries that needed to be figure out. Then you throw in trying to figure out how to set up our remote classroom so we can get online and all the troubleshooting that goes along with that. All of that on top of trying to plan lessons, contact students and families, as well as maintain our own home front. Yet as we teachers do we did and continue to do it week in and week out. That is what makes us so unique is that we as Teachers are adaptable to most any situation. That being said we now have a new issue regarding online learning that we could use some help understanding what it is, why it is and how to prevent it, that of the fatigue that comes with meeting online aptly named: Zoom Fatigue. 

Simply put Zoom Fatigue is the feeling of tiredness we experience after being a part of an online meeting. Part of it is being stuck in an unnatural/uncomfortable position for long periods of time. Being forced to sit in furniture that wasn't meant to be sat in that long. We are as humans and teachers meant to be mobile. It is also looking at a digital screen no matter what size for extend periods of time with all that blue light coming back at us to which I recommend a pair of computer glasses with blue light blocking lens. However it is more than that even it is also a social fatigue that we as humans are not designed for mentally. As humans we are social creatures and are brains are structured in a way take advantage of that to be able to survive. We learn early on how to get the attention of care givers before language skills develop. We learn how to read non-verbal ques to be able to read a situation and react appropriately. We crave human interaction in some form (yes even those introverts like me). That being said our brains have adapted to surviving in a live up close, 3d social world but now we are thrust into an online world that is distant, 2d, limited to multiple  2"x 3" boxes, and throw in tons of distractions and our brains become overwhelmed and taxed to the point of our exhaustion. It can be similar to how we watch TV, YouTube, or other online videos. We watch but are often times doing other things because we are not fully invested in what is going on. Our brains look for other ways to stimulate because we are not getting the same stimuli as we would in a face to face conversation. Also with video we have distractions that are easier to buy into versus a face to face conversation. In an online conversation we can fidget with things on our desk, read email or other online activities. Now don't get me wrong I am not making a case for abandoning online learning or justifying why face to face instruction is better. What I am saying is that we need to be aware of this new type of fatigue in ourselves and our students and work to prevent it or at least counter it.

So what can we as teachers do for ourselves to help prevent or at least assuage zoom fatigue? To start with cut back on the number of meetings both in length and number of days we have meetings. Also try standing up when you have a meeting as opposed to sitting. To help with standing if you have the ability try calling in on the phone. This gives you the ability to walk and talk also we don't need to focus  
on a screen thus making it easier to take notes. Other suggestions are to avoid a grid view of participants. I suggest using a single person view or one that displays who is speaking; this will give you only one person to focus on which is easier on the brain. For online meeting with students those suggestions certainly apply but also give these a try:
  • Use zoom for check ins only
    • Question and answer
    • How is it going
  • Do simple demos 
    • Try to avoid teaching a whole lesson or class session 
  • Schedule them out so you only get small numbers of students at a time
  • Be ok with kids not using video 
These are by no means the only things that one can do but hopefuly they are a start. One last thought is a positive aspect of zoom meetings for some of our Autistic students. Online meeting are being seen as helpful for those kids who have trouble processing social cues in conversation. The pauses of people not talking or trying to figure out who's turn it is are actually helpful to allow them to engage in a conversation. Something to think about going forward.

Below are a few resources I found to be helpful. I also encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas and suggestions around this or any other topic I talk about on this blog.

As always: Go Forth and Do Great Things!

Resources and podcast link

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Starting back up

For many of us we have been immersed in online learning for the past couple of months. Hopefully you are handling the transition from face to face to online learning at least somewhat comfortable if not something that really isn't too hard. If you are struggling I recommend checking out the Virtual Ed Tech conference at I have attended a few of their sessions and found them to be helpful both for online teaching and for when we get back to face to face. Regardless of how you feel about online/distance learning it is time to start thinking about starting back up. If you are like me you may have been thinking about how do we deal with the issue the loss in learning that may (say I said may) be facing us if/when we get back into the classroom. I used the word "may" very purposefully which I want to talk about today.

It is not lost on me that students are missing out on some learning or that there will be skill gaps between peers as we move forward next school year. If you are like me you are embracing this as an opportunity to dig deeper into topics/skills that you would normally go an inch deep and move on so you can get through what you need in the curriculum before the end of the year. I know I have read and hear a lot of professionals approach panic about next year about how we are going to "Get kids caught up" or " Make up for what they lost" or some even saying they worry about the future due to the loss of learning. I thought that way for a few moments then as I was discussing this topic with my "How Do I Learn" (HDIL) group, that studies application of brain science in education, I was reminded learning is sequential and can't be compressed. It needs to happen over time and can't/shouldn't be forced. That has been tried in the past and currently and it just doesn't work. So I am going to postulate something wild; that we should start up next year as a new starting point and move forward.

I have learned over the years of working with HDIL that kids are resilient and will bounce back as we move towards normal. However that being said it is not lost on me that there will be inequities between peers due to trauma. We will have a wealth of kids who fit into several categories ranging from little traumatic affect to those who had severe trauma. Yet don't we have those issues in class normally and we adapt our teaching to meet their needs. What I am saying though is we should look at starting next year as if kids are coming to us fresh from last year, meet them where they are at and move forward form there and not try to forcibly try and catch them to where "standards" say they should be (dare we even think about adjusting the standards). Yes I know I can imagine the in rush of air and possibly panic attacks going on as you read this blog.

I can hear it now "But what about the standards?" "If we don't get them caught up then they won't be ready for the state tests" "They won't be prepared for (insert post school choice here) if we don't catch them up". Yes you might be right but what happens if we do try and forcibly try to catch them up? We risk kids hitting and going past frustration level where learning stops due to shut down, kids not being emotionally ready to learn, not enough time for kids to absorb all that needs to be in order to be "caught up". Most importantly we risk turning kids off to learning which will be more detrimental than not being caught up by the end of next year. Maybe it is time to look at the standards or state tests for what they are; simply mile markers and way posts along the journey of learning.

I am not saying we need to abandon standards in education. What I am proposing is that maybe it is time to reassess them in the post pandemic educational world to make them work for our kids rather than against them. I have always seen standards as way makers in the journey of learning. They help me guide what I should be teaching but I never look at them for where kids should be by a specific time. Yes it would be nice if by the end of say 7th grade all kids new how to type at 25 to 30+ words a minute and be able to consistently use unique file names on digital work they create. Yet I know that there are some kids who are not ready to meet that standard until later on for a variety of  reasons.

Bringing it back to starting up next school year we will have a lot more kids who will need us to be able to meet them where they are and help guide them along the journey of life long learning. Dare I say we continue to adopt what our State Superintendent of Public Instruction has tasked us with when this all started approach learning from the stand point of being Communicative, Compassionate, and Do No Harm. That challenge has resonated with me both as a struggle to fit into how I teach and engage kids but also as a guiding light. I truly believe that we should start next year from where the kids are at and move forward rather than trying to get them caught up.

I can't wait to hear your thoughts and ideas about this topic. I encourage you to subscribe and/or leave comments. As always "Go Forth & Do Great Things!"

 Podcast link

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Silver lining

I chose the image above because it represents the ray of hope and silver lining I see in a hopeful pedagogical shift in education as we move forward with 'online-learning', 'distance education', or whatever your district is calling it. That shift is a move to providing instruction in more than just face to face venues. For years doing face to face has been the go to expectation for instruction and online/distance learning has been pushed to fringes of alternative learning for those that needed something other than traditional face to face. Now don't get me wrong I still think the traditional face to face model is the best for most kids when it comes to instruction. Nothing can replace having a student in your class and being able to see them working and to be able to give real time feedback. However that being said I believe there is an opportunity to address an issue with the face to face model that a lot of teacher struggle with, what to do when kids are absent.

It is ironic that it takes a pandemic and stay at home orders to get students and teachers to stay home both when they are not and they are feeling well. How many of us have uttered this phrase or something like it "I would rather go to work sick than write sub-plans". Yes the bane of most teachers existence the all mighty sub-plans. Yes I am guilty of it myself of going to work on days I should have stayed home rather than write sub-plans or because I know the kids won't do what is needed because there is a sub. On the flip side, as a parent, I have also committed the sin of sending my kids to school so I and my wife could go to work when they are sick. Another off shoot of this dilemma is those families who take their kids out of school at odd times to "take a trip of a lifetime" or to take advantage of off season travel deals. Even as a teacher who knows better I have done this at least once. That all being said I believe the pedagogical shift we are all having to face now is the answer to some of those problems.

Instead of seeing online teaching as a necessary evil in these rough times. I believe it is something we should embrace as a new normal. When planning lessons It is important to look at it form the face to face perspective and from the online perspective. How cool would it be to be able to stay home and teach your class remotely when you are feeling just be little under the weather or if your kids could stay home when sick and still do the activities/lessons for the day. Yes it might be a little more work but I have found through the flipped model of teaching, once you get into and used to the in's and out's it is quite easy. Yes it takes some more tools and possibly equipment but often times you can get what you need as a free or freeium extension on a chormebook or plugin. I am not foolish to think that there are not other challenges to this over planning. Yes I understand that the biggest one is that of access to the internet and/or equipment. However as most if not all of the county is being forced to do online learning they are also having to face those challenges as well. I have heard talk at least in Washington State the broadband access should be considered a utility like phone service, sewer & water, etc. Also more and more districts are starting to explore and adopt some form of 1:1 model to provide instructional technology access to students. The time is ripe for all of us to start to adapt our current lessons and instruction to one that can be done both online and face to face.

For those that are ready to start to explore this shift here is how I go about making my learning accessible both fact to face and online.  I start out by building a relationship with my students and letting them know a little bit about me and my story, just like any good teacher. I also talk about and model the importance of taking notes during a presentation (I try not to call it a lecture due to the negative connotation & because outside of school no one lectures). I then start shifting my presentations to both an in-person and online format by recording them and posting them on youtube. The format I use for taking notes while watching a video is broken into 3 parts:

1. Watch video/presentation all the way through to get the big picture. I like my students to know where they are going before they get there. They have to 2 guiding questions: What is the final product and What are the expectations (although I use the term specs). I also have them write down questions they may have.
2. Watch the video/presentation again taking notes on the procedure, details, instructions, hints, etc.
3. Watch the video a final time looking for answers to questions they wrote down in previous viewings and writing down questions that are not answered or that you may have regarding how to complete the activity.

During each viewing I encourage them to pause and play the presentation. I also encourage students to use CC (closed captioning) to be able to see what I am saying. This is also a helpful tool for our English Language Learners to be able have CC in their native language (if they can read it). I also encourage them to write down questions during each phase to encourage active listening. Once they are finished watching the presentation they are able to either start the activity/project/lesson and send me questions. Students are able to send me questions in several different ways. They can ask in person or via email or via google form I created (to mimic the use of trouble tickets). From there the work is in the students hands and I wait for them to turn it and/or ask questions or for feedback.

The tools one will need to do this do come at some cost to you and/or your district (a webcam & mic, and laptop or computer). Although that being said there are some free to low cost options out there depending on how detailed you want to go. Most computers/laptops come with a built in webcam and mic. I chose to go with an external webcam and mic so I can record on my desktop at home and have better quality but they are certainly not needed. You can also find screencasting extensions, plugins, apps for free that will do the trick some I have used and recomend are Screencastify and Nimbus both do a good job on the free version but also offer freeium options. I chose to go with a video editing suite Movavi as it allows me to both record and edit video a little more professionally with effects and the like. Another option is to use the record meeting feature on your video conferencing app. You can do this by setting up a meeting with yourself and record it then save it and post it with your lesson.

After I have a recording of my presentation I post it along with the lesson in my google classroom page for the class to view along with all the the other digital materials needed for the lesson. This does pose a challenge of what if there are physical materials needed and I have students who don't have access. I am certainly in this boat with my robotics class. I have looked for virtual options such as CoderZ to provide a virtual option. This is where I defer to my experience with online learning and am looking into ways to provide those materials to kids via traditional mail. I don't have an answer as of yet but hope to soon.

So to close out this post I hope you are able to see the silver lining as I have described it and hope you at least start to think about how you can modify your lessons so they can be done both online and in the classroom. For those of you that have already done this or are doing this I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

As always "Go Forth and Do Great Things!"

Link to podcast

Music license podcast:

Fearless First by Kevin MacLeod

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Gift of Time

I was inspired this Sunday by a quote from one of my favorite Educational Leaders, Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy on twitter). I first encountered him at an ed tech conference where he talked about what it means to be a leader in today's world. I was inspired by his book "Start Right. Now" where he talks about leadership and what it means to be a leader. He has gone on to write more books on culture and being your best self. The quote he posted on twitter was:
     One of the most precious gifts we can give to others is the gift of time. Our influence is even greater when we invest in our students & colleagues in a kind & caring way that supports their success. When they do better we will feel better.
I think this encapsulates how we should be thinking as we venture into teaching online for the first time. Instead of worrying about test scores and how far we can go into the curriculum we should think about giving students an opportunity to explore and use what they have learned to make the world around them a better place. So to hopefully live up to Mr. Casas's quote I want to lay out my journey and hopefully give you some suggestions to use as we give our students the gift of time.

To start I plan on keeping it simple by just checking in with my kids and asking some basic questions like:

  • How are you doing?
  • What have you been doing?
  • What were you working on before we left?
  • What would you like to work on? 
The hope is to give them an opportunity to record a message (however they choose video via flipgrid, email, google doc, voice recording, google hangout, etc.) to reconnect with them. I also will be sharing how I am doing and what I have been doing. That will take us into spring break where I plan on encouraging them to get outside and get some fresh air, play a game, run around, basically be a kid. For a lot of my kids I imagine some of them have been taking care of siblings or helping out around the home. I want to try and give them permission to be a kid and play. I say this because as I have learned play is one of the best ways young kids can learn social skills. 

After spring break we will be working on 2 things review of the engineering/design process and figuring out what we want to do next. For our review I plan on having them focus on telling me about the parts of the engineering process and then have them apply that to a simple problem in their lives. Things like making a schedule, food delivery, making a meal, connecting with another person online, helping a teacher connect with/use online tools like zoom, google hangout, etc. My goal is to show them that they do have some control over what is going on and they also have something to offer. 

Once we have reviewed to Engineering/design process we will go into talking about what they want to work on which is where the gift of time comes in. I am going to treat it sort of like my 20% time project where they get to focus on a problem that is of importance to them. For some it may be focusing on school work, for others it may be actually tackling the problem to talked about in their review, for some it may be something else. My goal is to help them work on something that allows them to apply what they have learned and us that to dig deeper into their understanding. I imagine the 2 big thing will be to work on finding a cure and figuring out a way for life to return to normal. The other big topic I expect to come up is that of not wanting to take advantage of the time given and just be. I know some of my colleagues this is a concern and if life was normal and this was normal online learning I would be too, however this isn't normal. For some having time to not do work or just be is more important. That in and of itself is solving a problem as well, taking care of themselves and their family. Anyways that is my plan which may change at some point as I see how thing go and get more direction for the state and my district as to what I need to be doing.   

Some thoughts on what you could do based on the subjects that are out there:
  • PE
    • Have kids develop an personalized exercise routine
    • Explore ways to do team games with virtual fans
    • Invent new backyard sports/activities (Thank you KING5 sports for the idea)
    • Have them teach and/or organize outdoor games/sports/activities with family
  • Math
    • Look for how products are design using geometric shapes and explain why they are that shape
    • Develop a daily schedule using date and time
    • Measure out their home and figure out the square footage of the home and rooms
    • Design and outfit their dream home (thank you to my Math department for that idea) with a budget
  • ELA
    • Write a letter to nursing homes describing things they see around them and questions they may have
    • Write up shopping lists for groceries and help plan out meals
    • Develop a comic strip to hare with others 
    • Record children's stories to post online
  • Social Studies
    • Use maps and research to plan a post quarantine trip
    • Keep a historical journal of their daily activities for future civilizations
    • Create a Google Lit trip of places they have heard about or studied in class
    • Create a map of their home as if it was an ancient ruin
  • Science
    • Have them explore how the world is changing with the lack of human travel
    • Track chemical reactions when mixing common household items
    • Do a sleep study to see how different sleep habits affect mood, productivity
    • Track data of activities around the home and see what patterns they notice
  • Foreign Language
    • Learn a new language
    • Practice writing letters to people/pen pals in other countries
    • Offer to do translations of important documents/materials/news casts
  • Art
    • Design a paint scheme for their room
    • Explore different artistic styles
    • Delve deeper into the relationship between colors, color and mood, etc.
    • Create original works 
    • Explore what Creative commons and copyright are
  • Music/band
    • Explore music theory
    • Explore what IP is and how it relates to music
    • Perform an online concert
    • Produce a digital concert
    • Improve soloist skills
This list doesn't hit every subject and certainly is not exhaustive but hopefully it is a start or at least inspires some ideas of your own. I would love to hear about what you think and any ideas you come up with to give your students the gift of time.

As always "Go Forth and Do Great Things!"

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Unprecedented Times call for Unprecedented Teaching

I am sure I am in the same boat as most if not all of you. I am at home doing all the things I told myself I would do when I got time. I am doing Kyte learning classes, I am reading coding books to learn new languages, I am doing yardwark, reading for pleasure (yes that does exist), working on CTE (Career and Technical Education) class frameworks, & thinking about my students. This last one just got real for me as I saw a message from our state education agency (OSPI) & article saying that education must go on. I know for me I got butterflies in my stomach about this. At first (I will be honest) I was a little frustrated and hurt but then I got excited about the possibilities of teaching remotely.

Last year our building had some extenuating circumstances with a small fire and lots of snow that had the possibility of sending us into the summer. In a planning meeting I half seriously suggested online learning. We were a 1:1 chromebook district and being a reviewer of online providers for our state was very familiar with the tools and programs out there; I could see how easily this could be done. My comment was met with a lot of skepticism from many of my colleagues, yet our Assistant Superintendent and leader of our TLI (Teaching Learning & Innovation) department expressed it wasn't a bad thought. He shared that it was being done back east to help with snow days. It turned out that online learning was not a good fit a the time but fast forward about a year and here we are trying to figure out how to do online learning equitably. There are a lot of hurdles that need to overcome and I don't have all the answers but I do want to address some of the ones that came up that are easy to deal with.

My colleagues had a lot of issues with online learning and I agree with some of them but that doesn't mean it can't work. One of the biggest is not all families have access at home; Yes this is a big issue but not so hard to overcome. Some districts have been issuing out hotspots to families that need them, providers are offering low cost internet for low income families, I am seeing more and more free hotspots pop up like comcast asking people with their modems to provide a hotspot, free internet at starbucks, etc. Cell companies like Verizon are now enabling phones to be used as hotspots on unlimited plans. So yes not everyone is connected there are ways to overcome this issue with a little creativity and resourcefulness. The second issue is what do we do about kids not showing up to "class online". What do we do with kids who don't show up to class in person? We mark them absent and a phone call goes home (at least in my state). Yes kids will not show up or will skip out in middle of class, etc. there just has to be consequences for when it happens. Trust me kids will show up if for nothing else to be able to be online (more on this later). The third issue was my subject can't be taught online for I teach music, art, science, PE, etc. and kids won't have the supplies. Well yes that is tough but again resources and creativity are the name of the game. There are tools like smart music, and flipgrid that students can record themselves playing and/or singing. While not perfect I believe no I know they will get better over time. As for science and virtual labs yes it is not the same as the real thing but then again medicine is not the real thing. More and more surgeries are becoming robotic in nature and even remote. I bet a scan you have had done recently was not read at the hospital/clinic it was done. I may have even been done in another country. I have read where doctors are not performing surgeries remotely. As for PE well that is easy. Look at companies like Peloton and Mirrorfit. You have virtual workouts. How could would it be to be able to customize a workout plan for your students. I could go on but the point is that with any new educational endeavor there will be obstacles and challenges. We need to see them as just that obstacles and challenges that can be over come not barriers to success.

To help overcome these obstacles and meet these challenges I want to talk about some tools I have used as I stepped into the world of virtual/digital instruction. The biggest one that jumps out at me is the concept of flipped classroom. This is where students watch the "lecture" at home and do the "homework" in class. Biggest difference is they might be doing both at home. How I use this in my classroom is not so much in a flipped way but to differentiated instructional way. I record my presentations so kids can go back and watch them, watching them if they were gone, watch them with a different language in the close caption. What I like is that it frees up my time to help students and get work done around the classroom. There are any number of tools out there to do screencasting of lectures. The 2 that I am most familiar with are screencastify (an ap/extension for your browser) and Movavi (a video editing suite). I prefer Movavi as it is a little more robust and give me more tools to work with but it does come with a cost as does screencastify. If you want to meet live with students you have google hangouts or the various web meeting programs/apps (Zoom, microsft teams, webex, etc.) I have used any number of these and they work great. The hardest part is getting people to overcome being scene on a webcam. This one I don't get as you are seen daily live by your students as well as public in all your glory. But having to use a webcam makes one shy and self-conscious? Get over it people. The keys I have found is make sure you are dressed (as well as others in your house) at least from the waist up. Do your morning routine of shaving, makeup, hair etc. and then get online. Make sure to have a neutral backdrop that won't wash you out and have fun. Don't worry if someone jumps in while you are recording or presenting. Remember it happens all the time with announcements, people walking into your class, and background noise. Just do what you naturally do but asking others to quite down, not disturb you, etc. As for online tools to help with remote learning there are any number of them like Google apps for edu, Microsoft 365, Peardeck, padlet, etc. that I could go one about but won't as you need to work with what your district gives you. What I will say from my experience from a reviewer of online providers is the most helpful and important is to have a quality Learning Management System (LMS) that is user friendly for students, teachers, and parents. Without this your program will fail. I have seen and worked with many LMS's both as a teacher, students, and reviewer and have can say that they are the tent pole that holds the whole thing up. There are many out there ranging from the simple Google Classroom to more complex/robust ones like Schoology, Blackboard, Canvas, etc. to ones that are integrated into actual online schools whose names escape me at the moment.  I have my favorites among these but again I would encourage you to go with what your district offers or has in place for you to use.

Lastly are activities that can be done for online learning. This really excites me as a teacher not only because it is what I do as a CTE teacher but as a teacher who wants to help teachers be better teachers. This is where meeting your kids where they live (figuratively as well as literally), digitally, is both fun and important. I have written before about the power of projects and the many digital projects I do ranging from google lit trips/stories, coding, 3d and 2d design, 20% time, etc. (I actually find it harder to get physical projects up and running now) and I have found that the more I do digital project with kids the more they want to jump in and try it out. Not all work but that is the same with any project/assignment you do. This is a great opportunity for you to jump in and let your students be both learners and educators. You would be surprised at how resourceful they can be when they want to do something and need to figure out how to do it. Yes you will have those that sit and wait for you to help them but more often than not you will find students will find the help they need to get the work done. The key is to make projects engaging and something they want to do. Here is a list of suggestions of projects that can be done digitally in most any classroom:

  • Do a digital version of getting to know you:
    • I do one where I have students create a 1 slide presentation about
      • Their likes, dislikes, motivation, heritage, etc. 
    • Then I have them use a voki ( read what is on their slide
  • for computer science
    • CS discoveries for Upper elementary & Middle School ages
      • Detailed lesson plans with differentiation built in 
    • CS principles for High school
      • Detailed lesson plans with differentiation built in
    • Free curriculum by those who create hour of code
  • Creating online kids books with original art work and/or animations
  • Doing a google lit trip instead of a report or essay
    • Map out the journey of General Washington's battles
    • Create a "field trip" of key land forms or historical places
    • Map out how students get to school and back 
    • map out the story they are reading highlighting key landmarks
  • Lead students through the games of interland to discuss digital citizenship
  • Using phones or other devices create a virtual art gallery of things around their home
The possibilities are virtually endless as long as you are open minded and willing to be patient. That is the key being patient. Things are not going to work out as you plan, there will be snags, kids will need help, on and on. Just like in a normal classroom. Some suggestions when you hit these snags:
  1. Do things before hand 
    1. But don't put too much effort into trying to know it all
  2. Let the kids explore on their own (model what you would do given the same situation)
    1. Show them how to use the help menu
    2. Show them how to find help online
  3. Encourage them to ask others
  4. See what they come up with and fit it into what you planned
  5. Don't be afraid to modify mid lesson
These are just some of what I do when working online/virtually/digitally with kids. Also don't be afraid to share with other colleagues lessons you learned and experiences you had so we can all grow. 

I know this was a long read but hopefully you found it helpful. I would love to hear your experiences and suggestions as we move forward with online learning en mass. As always:

Go Forth & Do Great Things!

Podcast pt1
Podcast pt2