Thursday, December 31, 2020

How I Am Surviving Teaching in Covid Times

 This is my second post in the blogging initiative #MTBoSYuleBlog.

How I Surviving Teaching in Covid Times...

We teachers are in teaching every day, hybrid, remote, and live streaming (both at the same time).  The students come every other day.  Our day is repeated, which is a good thing because if I am ready for Monday's lessons, then I am ready for Tuesday's.

I spent a lot of my summer attending zooms on how to get back to school - school committee zooms, union zooms, high school zooms.  Hours and hours of my summer on Zooms in which I could not participate.  The chat was turned off or it was webinar style.  I was talked at and told what was going to happen.  

So, then, it was up to me and Thank God, my Twitter tweeps to figure out how I would teach this year.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was going to make my videos.  I knew what I wanted, but there was a huge learning curve.  Hours spent figuring out how to best make my videos (that will be another post.)

I was thinking/doing/planning/figuring out - oh, hey - problem solving - how to best help my students this year.  It took a lot out of me and the beginning of the school year was tough trying to get it all done - convert lessons to hybrid because I was seeing them less, I had some kids at home on zoom, and I had to be ready to pivot to remote at an instant, which we have done twice now.  I had to be portable and minimal. That is why I have focused on streamlining my courses - watch the lesson video on your asynchronous day and take notes, then come to class and be ready to do a couple opener problems as a class and then independent work, at your own pace, on Desmos and Deltamath, while I walk around and help - workshop style. 

If I was feeling overwhelmed, I knew my students must be.  I wanted them to have math not be an extra worry or concern, so I have made it more like a checklist.  You do this, work at your own pace, ask for help, and when you are done, you are done.  You don't have to think about math anymore.  It does pain me a little, but right now, there is more to life than math class and that is okay.  I keep reminding myself that I am teaching with Grace this year.

If someone asks me how I am doing, I say, " I am doing.  We are doing it.  Day by day, we are making this happen. We are building the raft while on it."  Normally, I would be planned a week ahead in all my classes.  Now, I am just prepared for the next day.  That's all I can do.  I am building three new, different classes, making videos for each, finding activities for the lessons. That is all I can do and it is enough.

How Am I Surviving Teaching in Covid Times:

1.) Staying organized.

2.) Setting limits.

I am an organized person, but from the beginning of this year, I knew I would have to be super organized so that absent kids could find/get/do the work.  So that I could easily share it with them.  In the olden days, I would use 3 ring binders, one for each unit for each class.  I had my lessons, worksheet activities, answer keys, powerpoints. This year, I decided to record my lessons in a small composition notebook - one per class with a matching color folder for each.  I went to Staples and bought 3 notebooks and 3 folders. That is it.  Again, I needed to stay portable and streamlined.  I am loving it.  I have my little notebook that I start a new lesson on each page with the Lesson number, the date I will see them.  I have a little check list in the top right of each page for what needs to be done for the lesson. I live by that checklist.  

One of the pieces to staying organized is my Placemat.  This is my own thing.  We are brand new to Schoology this year, so figuring it out and building it as we go day to day.  Notice a trend?  I wanted to make a visual for my students on what they needed to do for math class.  I made a google slide.  It has a corkboard background and I change the title and the activities each day, but otherwise, it always looks the same.  It looked like a placemat to me, so that is what I am calling it with the kids.  Don't know what to do, absent? Check the placemat.  I have 1 google slide show for each class, made up of one slide per day for each lesson.  It has links right on it.  Then, I take that one slide and copy it and create a new google slideshow with just that slide.  Next, I embed it into Schoology.  That means, if I need to change something, I just go and change my 1 slide google slide and it will automatically change in all the places I put it in Schoology.  I am liking this. The kids are liking this. It is working for us.

Here is one placemat:

Videos and staying organized.  I knew I wanted to flip my class over the summer. I researched it and read up about it. A colleague asked if I wanted to split up making the videos but I told them no because I wanted to have a full set.  I wanted them to all be in my voice and all have the same feel to them.  So, maybe I can use them in the future.  When I make them, they all follow the same idea - a title screen with a joke or a meme, an agenda of what we will do, a page that says "Let's Get will need notes, calculator, and pencil" and then into the lesson. I put a little box at the top mostly to remind me if I want them to pause and try and do the problem.  I keep a google doc list of my videos for each class. I make a google slideshow first of the lesson, then I record it in Explain Everything, then I upload it to Youtube, then I load it to Edpuzzle. My google doc has all these links as I make them, all organized in one place where I can find them.  This is just a snapshot, so no live links:

Setting Limits - This has been huge in helping me not get more stressed out or more depressed. I have a daily routine. I wake up each morning at 5 am to do a Beachbody workout.  I have a group of friends on a text that we all do this and send pictures each morning to keep us motivated.  Then, I am into school by 6:30 each morning.  I am a morning person, so this works for me.  I get about an hour of work done in the morning, without interruptions.  I rather work an hour before school than an hour at the end of the day.  School goes until 2 pm and then I have Monday teacher meetings on Zoom, Tuesday Extra Help time on Zoom, and Wednesday math team on Zoom.  I also tutor 6 kids on Zoom, for 5 hours because I tutor two friends together. I try to keep tutoring to Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  So, even though I am teaching hybrid, there is still a lot of zoom in my life.  After my meetings, I go for a walk.  Usually 2- 4 miles depending on my time.  I listen to an audiobook as I walk.  It helps clear my mind and get school out of my head.  When I come home from the walk, I do one or two school things if needed, mostly recording my videos.  Then, I am DONE with schoolwork by dinner time.  I make family dinner every night, while listening to music on Alexa (not the news).  And, my final limit is NOT checking school email after 8 pm.  I go to bed at 9pm, so it is reasonable, that I can go one more hour without dealing with school stuff.  If I read email, there will be something I have to deal with, but it can wait to morning and I can get a decent night's sleep.

I realize it sounds a lot like I am escaping and I know that because that is what I am doing.  I am two people - work Jennifer and home Jennifer.  It has to be that way this year in order to keep me going.  And, I am okay with that because my students are doing the work and they are learning.  Day by Day.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Why I Haven't Blogged in a While...

 I had grand plans for this year - 2020.  I started off the year by creating and taking part in the #MTBoS2020 blogging initiative asking people to blog on the 20th of each month.  I did pretty good up to May 20th.  I did a few posts in July and a couple in August as I was thinking about returning to school.  I have done nothing since.  I think there are 2 reasons why:

1.) I have a big mouth and I was afraid I would get in trouble. (Nothing has changed here, so I will just be careful with what I say. Yes, I will be censoring myself.)

2.) Time.  It takes so much time to get each hybrid lesson ready and I have 3 different preps.  I don't have any extra time to blog.  However, it is an important part of my teaching.  It is the reflection piece.  And, with so much different this year, I should be reflecting.  I have written a lot of blog posts in my head, but not typed anything.

Therefore, this will be my first post in the #MTBoSYuleBlog blogging challenge - 12 posts over December break.  I don't think I will get to 12 posts seeing as today is Tuesday and I go back in on Monday.  But, hopefully, I can share some posts.  

I am thinking about blogging about how I get through each day, Desmos (of course), Deltamath (life saver), how I am making my lessons, and flipping my classroom.

Just a little about our school because this year every school is so different.  Our school started late this year - mid September. We have been in hybrid all year with an exception of 2 days remote due to our first cases and then a week of remote after Thanksgiving - which coincided with my quarantine week.  Yes, I was contact traced to one of my students so I tested and quarantined.  Our students are in 2 cohorts - green and orange. They come to school every other day.  Normally we have a weird rotating schedule that I like on a normal year.  A day is periods 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  B day is periods 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, etc for seven days and seven period rotation.  We are still doing this and repeating days, so A day green, A day orange.  The kids are in hybrid one day with us and doing asynchronous work the next day at home.  I don't think this is the ideal schedule, but it, like much else, is beyond my control, so I just teach whoever walks through the door.

I have three preps.  I have college prep geometry, college prep Algebra 2, and Accelerated Algebra 2/Precalculus.  I taught CP Alg 2 years ago but I didn't even bother to pull out those binders.  It is nice to start fresh.  I have taught Acc Alg 2 since the beginning - 16 years, so I am glad I have that knowledge to build on - what do they need to know, what can I remove, how can I order it and chunk it, what mistakes will they make, what new notations do they need to know.  And, I have taught college prep geo before.  This is the class that I really need to see more often.  Geometry benefits from more practice because it is like learning a new language with all the drawings, namings, and notations, but we are making our way through.

I decided early this summer to flip my classroom.  I did it years ago when it was first a thing. I did it for 4 lessons in a row.  The students watched premade videos on systems of equations and then when they came into class, we worked on those bigger word problem type of problems.  This year, I am all in.  I am making my own videos for each of my three classes.  I will save the numbers for another post.  When the students are live in front of me, it is a math workshop.  They are doing an activity on Desmos that is usually about discovery and leads to discussion and then practicing with Deltamath and assessing on Deltamath.  I knew I wanted to streamline things this year, so that is what I have.  Our brand new learning management system - thrown at us this September (biting tongue here), making my own videos (took me all summer how to best to that), and using Desmos and Deltamath.  

The reasons I have made it teaching this far this year:

1.) The kids. They are awesome. They are doing the work and finding success.

2.) Desmos and Deltamath.  I couldn't do it without them.  So, thank you.

More later.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Another Way to Use Desmos

 I stumbled across another way to use in the classroom as I was tutoring two boys yesterday and another today.  As I was getting ready for yesterday's session which was for graphing lines using the three forms of a line in Algebra 1, I was using the Desmos calculator.  I was typing in equations to see what I wanted to do with them.  And, then it dawned on me that I was getting to do all the work playing in Desmos, so I thought, hey, I can have my students screen share and pull up and I will tell them what to type.  I will ask them what they notice.  They can get used to the nuances of the math equations.  So, that is what I did and it went really well.  There were two boys in a session yesterday so I had them each share for half the session and I called on each of them to answer my questions.  I thought it was more powerful than just sharing or reading notes to them.

Then, in today's lesson which was introducing Inverses in Algebra 2, I took my regular classroom lesson that starts with plotting points and plotting their inverses (they don't know that yet) and then asking what they notice.  But, last night in bed, as I was trying to fall asleep, I thought, why don't I videotape my session with Charlie and share it as another way to use Desmos.

So, you could use this remotely - synchronous or asynchronous or with kids live in front of you, or to tutor over zoom.  

Or, you could ask students to volunteer to be a guest on your video and meet on Zoom outside of class for the student to play student and screenshare what they are doing as you talk them through it.

If you are live in class, but social distancing, you could have your class on zoom, ask a student to share their screen and project from your teacher computer to the front of the room and ask the class questions as the student works.

I really enjoyed both my sessions.  I did videotape Charlie's Algebra 2 live and I reenacted Mitch and Luke's Algebra 1 session to give you an idea of how this might work.

Algebra 1 - Graphing 3 forms of a line


Algebra 2 - Inverses

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Yesterday was Monday, August 10th, 2020.  My mind is swirling with all the uncertainties this fall holds.  I was fishing on a lake in Maine and it allows my brain to empty and then get creative.  

I was thinking about #VNPS - Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces - working at whiteboards in collaborative groups in the classroom - 3 kids staying in a close spacing - passing/sharing/taking turns with 1 marker.  Well, that won't be allowed this school year.  I was trying to think about how I could turn these lessons into a virtual whiteboard lesson.  I miss the math conversations.  I worked some hard on getting them the past 3 years and then when we went to zoom remote teaching in the Spring, most kids had their microphones off and lost their voice.

 Now, I need to find a way to hear students' discussion/debates/strategies and watch them work it out.  I thought I need some practice students to try some tech tools on to see if it will meet our needs.  I put a tweet out at 11am EST for people to sign up to help me on Tuesday at 11 am EST - 24 hour turnaround.  I didn't want to think about it much more.  

And, people signed up.  Over 50 teachers came to join in our investigation.  I was estimating we might go for an hour, but we went for almost 2 hours.  I appreciate everyone who came to play today.  I think in the business world, this might have been considered a Focus Group and people might actually get paid to test the tools like we did.  But, you's different in the teacher world.  I am on vacation and did this.  But, enough of that.  

I had high hopes.  I thought I was going to try 4 and come away with at least 1 maybe 2 tools that might do the job.  

Synopsis of our work:

  • Google Slides with a Visual Pattern type problem. Ask students to investigate what changes as the step changes.  We did this at #TMC17 and I have used it on the first day of school in Geometry every since.  I made a google slide and made slides for groups of 4 to work on together.  I gave them a topic to investigate after we did a brainstorming session.  I wanted them to be able to work in breakout groups and discuss as well as use a pencil tool with different colors to show their thinking. We learned:
    • There isn't really a pencil tool in Google Slides.  It is the line segment and you choose squiggly.  Some people added text, so people tables, but not so great to draw.
    • I should lock my backgrounds so students don't accidentally move them - make them, take a snapshot, and then add back in as a picture.
    • It was suggested if I have 8 groups, to make those 8 pages hyperlinks so the kids can just click on their page.
    • Teacher can see if live.  Teacher could write on if needed.  
  • Desmos New Whiteboard in Activity Builder with Geometry Oral instructions.  In my old class, I would have groups of kids at the board and I would say 1st person, draw and label Point P, draw and label line AB, etc.  I envisioned the Whiteboards in Desmos as if it was a group one and they would all be able to write on it in the same group.  I made 15 whiteboards in one Activity Builder.  I made breakout groups but didn't put them into the groups - instead had them write down their room number and student number as they were listed.  I said, all my #1s, draw and label Point P.  I thought there would be 1 WB for Group 1 with a point on it and one for group 2, etc.  Instead, there were 5 WB in Group 1 because - my brain wasn't working correctly - and each student is working in their own Desmos AS, they aren't working on each others, so not really the collaborating I wanted.  We learned:
    • I could use the overlay function to see all of Group1's together, but that is not what I was intending.
    • Also, pointed out, oral over zoom may be too difficult for hearing impaired students so would need another way for directions - in chat?
  • Next up, we tried  Students don't need to sign in.  I gave them a code.  I had not used this one.  I did know they would be individual whiteboards.  I combined this with an Open Middle problem where students had to use #1-9 to fill in blanks.  I had the picture on My WB for them and they had their to look at.  We learned: 
    • I can push my image onto the student's board under the bottom of the teacher WB (little tough to find)
    • Ethan wrote on his WB before I pushed my image so it covered his work.  He then could remove my image too.  So, that is a little weird that it isn't locked.
    • I can see everyone's work, but I am not sure there is really a way to collaborate.  
    • Oh, yes and Sam moved in on Ethan's WB by signing out and signing back in using Ethan's name and then he could write on Ethan's WB.  That could be trouble.
  • And, my fourth and final was  I used this a lot in the spring.  Both my kids and I liked it.  I used it more for live practice.  I made like 4 slides each with a problem on it.  Not so easy in math with having to add equations.  I still have to type it in Google doc and screenshot it and input as a picture.  I can see all their WB and write on them.  I used these in Zoom so I could call someone back to a certain slide and work with them on it, or they could call me to a slide if they were stuck.  Kids can raise a hand using the tech and if it is teacher enabled, then you can let other students help someone who is raising their hand.  We learned:
    • If someone helps someone and then leaves, you can't tell who helped out (or maybe wrote something inappropriate).

Here is my Google Slide LINK to what I used. (Hint; There are Schitt's Creek GIFs in it)

 Here is our long Zoom conversation.  Password is: V2JRq+3N. ( I hope that works)

Overall, it was so good to have this conversation in a safe place where we could trial and error and discuss and learn and make mistakes.  I did not walk away with 1 tool I will use.  As usual, I will have to figure out what it is I hope to accomplish with the task and then find the best tool to handle it remotely.

HINT: Someone should make something where kids can work on whiteboards collaboratively with a decent tool for drawing and writing out math and a good teacher dashboard.