Uncharted Waters

I’m expected to report back to school this Friday. I received an email last week indicating a packed full week of professional developing that’s divided into synchronous and asynchronous sessions. One part of me is glad that teachers have six (we usually have less) days to prepare, but there’s another part of me that knows that this year will be unlike any other. As I review the detailed agendas I’m starting to mentally put together how a schedule will look once my school starts to meet face-to-face. As of right now (and this could change), my school will start on 8/24 with elearning for everyone and then transition to a hybrid AM/PM model at some point in September. The hybrid model emphasizes the need for face-to-face instruction for language arts and math instruction. I was given a sample elementary plan and it’s in draft form. The sample plan indicates that there’s approximately 50 minutes designated for math daily and my classes will most likely be split ideally with around half the students in the morning and half in the pm. I feel like the stars will have to be aligned to get exactly half of the kids as I believe the plan for AM/PM depends on bus routes.

I’m trying to make the best of this unusual situation. My classes will be much smaller and it looks as though I’ll be teaching the same lesson to my AM and PM classes. I’ll also be responsible for teaching students that have opted for elearning. I’ll have less time with each class than I usually do. During a usual school year I teach my math students for 60 minutes daily. That time will be reduced so I’m wondering how that’ll impact the structure of my classroom.

Generally, I start all of my math classes with some type of math routine. That usually eats up a good 5-10 minutes of class time. It’s a high-quality math appetizer in my opinion so I’ll probably keep this structure or transform it into a digital activity. After the routine students are introduced to some type of math task where they work in groups or partners. The class then reviews the results and I work through a few guided problems with the document camera. By that time the class is just about finished and we have a closure activity that involves some form of an exit card.

I’m assuming significant changes as my school moves into a September hybrid model. I’ll most likely be using Nearpod for synchronous lessons so the elearning and face-to-face students can all be on the same page. I’ve been an avid Nearpod user for the past few years so I’m familiar and have already tinkered with a few of my lessons for the first couple days. I’ll also be incorporating more Desmos tasks this year. During elearning I was able to leverage Desmos as one of my main tools to help offer students ways to show their thinking and to review past concepts. This year I’d like to introduce concepts through this platform. I’m excited with the steps that Desmos has taken over the summer to help teachers prepare better math lessons with feedback and check-in options. I’m also planning on using Google Quizzes (also known as a Google Form) more this year. Near the end of elearning I was having weekly digital quizzes as a replacement for paper pencil assessments. The auto grade feature was a win and I was able to provide specific feedback to students.

There are also some platforms that I still need to learn more about. Most of my students will be using Canvas this year. This is a shift since my entire school used SeeSaw last year and I had mixed results with that platform. There’s scheduled PD for Canvas next week and I’m hoping to come away with better ideas of how to use it to organize my classes and give students a better picture of what’s expected. I also want to dive into Edpuzzle. The #Mtbos community has had nothing but great things to say about the platform. From what I’ve heard so far you’re able to take a video and place questions in specific parts to help with comprehension. You could even embed sample questions related to the topic being discussed in class. I’m assuming these will be completed asynchronously. I need to also explore Loom a bit more. Similar to last year’s emergency elearning, I’d like to create instructional videos. My students found the videos useful when I introduced a new skill. Loom allows a small circular picture in the corner where students can see my wonderful face as I create the video. I think this is beneficial and adds a bit more of human element into the video.

I have a big picture view of what’s going to happen at the beginning of the school year. I’m sure the details will be fleshed out in the next few days, but I still have questions. My questions are more related to how to safely come back into school to meet students face-to-face and how to engage students simultaneously online and in the classroom. This has caused some anxiety over the last couple weeks. This will be answered in time and may even be decided for us as the county health department directs. I’m looking forward to teaching students math, whether that means seeing them in a Zoom session or face-to-face. This Fall won’t be like emergency elearning in the Spring, but it’s still uncharted waters. Let’s set sail.

Class and Learning Expectations

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Today marks my school’s fourth day of school.  I’m starting to notice that students and teachers are starting to get used to routines again.  Students are getting used to backpacks and teachers are getting back into doubling up on coffee in the morning.  So much energy has been used in getting classrooms ready and activities planned for kids.  Individual classrooms are in the midst of continuing to introduce and reinforce school and class expectations.  Every year classrooms use different activities related to creating classroom expectations.  Generally, individual classrooms take input from students and create a few different norms for a class.

I’ve used similar strategies over the past few years to help co-create expectations for my classroom.  This year I decided to call an audible and try a different strategy.  I tend to loop with many of the same students so they generally feel like the expectations carry over from year to year.  This year I outlined four expectations that I feel like match the classroom.  I actually borrowed a few of these (she has many more) from Jessica’s fantastic post.

  • Lean into the struggle
  • Own your education
  • Own our culture
  • Feed your passion

I believe all four of these expectations are important.  While introducing these expectations I gave a number of examples of how they can be applied in the classroom setting.  I then had the students get into groups and discuss what each statement means to them.  We had a brief classroom discussion about the expectations and the community that we’re in the midst of building.  Students were then asked to think of a hashtag that matched one of the expectations.

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The hashtag is intended to have the students internalize that particular statement. Students signed their first name and then placed the tag underneath it.  This is what it ended up looking like by the time we finished.

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I’ve already referenced the expectations at least a few times a day since last Thursday.  I’m looking forward to seeing how students internalize this moving forward.

Community Building and Content

I think it’s safe to say that I’m slowly transitioning into school mode.  It’s inevitable and happens every year, but the month of August seems to fly by as a new school year approaches.  Over the past few weeks I’ve bought items for my classroom and have started some planning here and there.  Next week I’m planning on dropping by my room and start the unpacking process (I changed classrooms).  That is unless HGTV decides to makeover my classroom over the weekend.  So right now I’m drinking coffee and being a bit reflective.  I’ve opened up my planbook and am starting to ink in the first couple days.  While doing this a few questions have crossed my mind.

Will students be receptive to the beginning of the year tasks/activities? Are the activities related to my content area and does that matter?  Will the activities be remembered one day, five days, or even five months from now?  How will the activities impact the rest of the year and how will students remember them?

Many students get excited about new tasks or activities.  I find this happens quite frequently at the elementary level. The beginning of the year often yields plenty of classroom community building activities.  These may or may not be associated with the content that’s taught.  The emphasis is on building a positive classroom environment and often helps set the stage for the rest of the school year.  During this time students often work in groups and there’s generally a reflective piece near the end where a consensus is made.  Sometimes the classes develop norms and touch on the idea of growth mindset.  Usually these activities end after the first few days of school.  As the community building time ends students know what’s going to happen next.

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Should this be the process?

A shift is approaching and then it comes.  Kids know this and so do the adults.  All of a sudden homework starts being assigned and lesson sequences arrive.  It’s no longer “community building time” and we’re now in (insert your content area) time.  It’s often expected that the norms that were established and community building will last throughout the year.  It’s been established, right?

Not so much.  I find that teachers have to revisit the community building, norms and other themes periodically – not just after a long break. Otherwise those themes become like the posters on classroom walls – ignored after a certain amount of time. Students are used to playing the game of school.  Having novel beginning of the year activities and building a classroom community aren’t mutually exclusive.  Students and teachers are often reminded that the culture of the classroom is always evolving.

There’s often a perception that teachers need to dive into curriculum as fast as possible.  This is often perpetuated with scope-and-sequence guidelines and expectations.  Why not blend the community building activities and your content area?  That’s why I’m a fan of having math as part of the community building process.  Blending in content and community building can happen and I think it helps the sudden transition that sometimes becomes apparent.  I think also revisiting some of these community building activities throughout the year can give perspective and remind everyone of the importance.

Whiteboards and Math

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Over the summer I changed classrooms.  It was a lengthy process, but great, as I was able to reorganize my classroom.  I moved into a smaller room with less cabinet space.  To boot, the room also didn’t have any carpet.  Starting with a blank slate caused some anxiety at first, but it also gave me time to think of different design ideas.

Over the summer I received many great ideas from my pln about classroom design.  I knew I wanted to add additional group stations and lay out the space so kids could utilize all the different locations within the classroom.  I’m not an HGTV expert by any means, but I thought that some changes in my design might be helpful.  During August, I ran across a few Tweets from TMC about vertical non-permanent surfaces.  It even has it’s own tag – #vnps.  Interested, I researched this a bit and found some great news.  My summer book study and the TMC crowd both confirmed that these seemed to help students.  Thankfully, I ran across a Tweet about getting whiteboard from Home Depot.

I went over to Home Depot a couple days later and bought two 2 x 5 boards.  I wasn’t really sure where I’d place them. Over the next few days I started unboxing my materials and started planning out student learning places.  I put in a work order to hang up the vertical whiteboards and they were installed a couple days early.  Maintenance drilled the boards into the wall and I was a happy camper.

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I labeled the stations the next day.  I explained that the whiteboards were used so students could brainstorm and show their thinking.  Immediately, students were excited to use these new shiny boards.  The quality was decent and they easily erased.  It was interesting how quickly students picked up their Expos markers and got to work.  Some use them solo while other students like to use them in groups.

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My only gripe is that I wish they had a magnetic component.  Some students want to hang up their papers on the board and show their work on the board.  I’m still looking into options to what I can use to attach the work to the board without buying some magnetic paint.  Still checking out alternative ideas.  I’m looking forward to seeing how students use these surfaces throughout the year.

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Triad of Responsibility

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My students finished their seventh day on Friday.  The students and I are in the midst of a timely three-day weekend.  For the most part, I’d say that students and teachers are starting to get into their school routines.  There have been a few bumps in the road (there always are), but the school, teachers and students are making progress and we’re off to a great start.

This past week started off with discussions about expectations and routines for all stakeholders. Staff emails and student assemblies reinforced these expectations for teachers and students.  Early in the week I had the opportunity to have a class conversation about responsibility.  This stemmed from Caitlyn’s blog post and her experience with the NYC Math Lab.  Students were placed in groups and given a marker and anchor chart paper.  Each group was expected to create a list of at least five statements related to what ______ sounds/looks like.

  • What is  your responsibility to your class?
  • What is your responsibility to your partner?
  • What is your responsibility to yourself?

I gave each group around 10 minutes to discuss and write down their thoughts.  It took a while for the groups to decide on what to write, but they eventually came to somewhat of a consensus and documented their answers.

After the ten minutes, I brought the class back together and hung up the anchor charts around the room.  Students were given two stickers and asked to visit an anchor chart that wasn’t their own and place their stickers next to two statement that they thought were the most important.  Students were then given an additional two stickers to place on the remaining anchor chart.  Basically, students weren’t allowed to vote for their own anchor chart.  Afterwards, the class met as a group and analyzed the two most important (as surveyed by the students) statements.  Those statements were used to create the responsibility expectations for the classroom.

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I used this activity with three of my classes and compiled the results. I thought it was a decent activity and it had students thinking about their responsibility.

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Looking back, I probably could have took a math angle to this activity and ask students to think of how each responsibility applies to them as a a mathematician. Maybe next year.  : ) I’ll be referring to the “triad of responsibility” as the year progresses.