Buzzers

Our first test in PreCalc is tomorrow; we typically play “Trig Brain Power” the day before the test. Kids race in groups to answer review questions and then move their brain token around the unit circle on the Smart Board. It’s always tons of fun. I usually have a bell at the front that they race to ring. I don’t know why. It serves no purpose other than hyping up the class and making me laugh.

It’s the little things, you know?

My Precalc colleagues asked how we could play this game and still social distance.

I said something to the effect of what if we got a buzzer/bell for each group and then we came to them instead of vice versa. The kids would need to strain a bit to work together while staying in their seats, but it was do-able, I insisted.

So off I went to Amazon and found these gems:

Oh yes. They each make a different noise. Plus my bell. Plus another buzzer I snagged from the dollar spot at Target months ago for such a time as this.

Six annoying sounds.

It was perfect.

I knew the kids would love it.

The best part, honestly, was sharing with my team and hearing how fun their kids had with it, too.

Now go get you a set of $12 buzzers made for children 3 and up. You will not regret it.

Social and Emotional Learning Webinar

After teaching from 9-11:30 this morning, I co-led a webinar for educators on social and emotional learning in this moment. We shared ways to build connections with students, ways to connect students and build a classroom community, and ways to communicate and collaborate with families. Planning the webinar with this friend and colleague was an amazing experience. We learned so much as we worked together.

Presenting it was super fun. I’ve never done anything quite like this so I was highly nervous. We were doing it for my state’s ASCD affiliate which is a group of people I adore so that helped. My co-lead has done this many times so that was also reassuring.

At the end of our hour I was exhausted and energized. I love the opportunities I have to grow and learn and this was an awesome one.

Overwhelmed and Feeling Lucky

This is my 23rd year as an elementary school teacher and I have never worked this hard. Things that I’ve done for years without needing to think much about it now require me to spend hours prepping. As a team we’re doing a lot of work together which helps a lot. But it is still an immense amount of work.

Yesterday I sent my families the overview of plans for this coming week. Today I sent individual emails to each family with feedback on their child’s progress in our first two weeks. Mostly I wrote about the ways each kid is doing so well. I shared stories with families and thanked them for all they’re doing to make this work for the kids.

One mom sent me some pictures of her child’s creations that resulted from something we did together. This is super hard. But it has some amazing bonuses and the links with families is definitely one of them for me.

Proud

My calc kids watched the intro lesson to product and quotient rules last night. Today as I was starting their assignment with them, I began to hear that pride…

There’s this tinge in the way calc kids start to speak right around now. This air of, “Wait. I’m in calculus and I mostly know what’s going on.” Their eyes sparkle just a little bit brighter. They sit up a little bit straighter. They smile a little easier.

They’re proud.

And today was that day.

As I asked what they product rule was they were quick to show what they remembered from last night’s lesson.

Ah yes. There it is. There’s that pride. There’s one of the many reason I so love teaching this class. I’ve seen it transform students year after year.

*****

These came from a virtual student and her family today…I have no words…

Expressive Little Faces on My Screen

Right now I’m teaching third graders full time and undergrads part time and I have middle schooler and a high schooler in my house. The little ones are the only ones that will have their cameras on all the time. (I know there are lots of really good reasons kids of any age might not want to turn their camera on and it isn’t something I feel any need to push.)

These first few weeks with my third graders I’m spending a lot of time working on various online tools and apps so that they can be as independent with them as possible. One of the apps we’re using is Flipgrid. This tool allows me to give them a prompt and they can make a video response. I can set a limit on the length of the video. So far we’ve used it to share fun things, not content. But it’ll be a great way, I think, for them to respond to a book or share a math strategy with me. They’re still learning spelling and writing to enough of an extent that they don’t usually share all of their thinking when they write because it’s challenging. So a video helps. They can just talk through it as if we were sitting together.

What I didn’t expect was that when they click the link that I share with them, it takes them to a new tab to record but I can still see them in our virtual classroom. I can’t hear them but I can see the wild gestures as they record their videos. At the end, Flipgrid has them take a selfie to post with the link to their video so I get to see them throwing peace signs and cheesing it up.

I have never met most of these kids in person. I was worried about how we would build a strong community and how I would get to know these kids as people in this virtual environment. I am pleasantly surprised to see how much who they are comes through in this setting and how much they’re getting to know each other and coming together as a community.

Snapshots from Virtual Calculus

The hour that was causing me so much stress last week has become a highlight of my day this week.

I am *so* proud of my virtual calc kids (and also proud of me, can I say that?).

We are finding our rhythm. They are working so hard. And, most importantly, they’re supporting one another.

Here are some snapshots from the week:

Kids are in breakout rooms while I monitor their work live on Desmos.
Watching “Draw a function whose limit exists at x=2 but is not continuous there” answers come in. (Names anonymized)
Look at all those dots and checks!
And then about every hour I watch them have some amazing calculus conversation through the discussion thread. Yes, it’s a grade. But I feel like they’re enjoying this part? Maybe.

For my calculus friends, I loved this series of questions I asked them on Desmos (in breakout rooms). Had I jumped to the last screen without the other two, I would have gotten empty stares. But prepping them this way, everyone got it right.

This is what I had envisioned when I took on this class—collaboration despite all of us being in different locations. I’m excited about teaching again. And that’s a pretty big deal.

News

A past student messaged me today to say he just found out he is the recipient of a rather large scholarship.

“I really felt like telling that to someone.”

Oh, when we get to be that place where they share their joys and sorrows. Maybe it’s my Enneagram 2 coming out but I swear there’s no higher honor.

Illustration Study

Tonight I taught undergrads in our children’s lit class. It’s all online and I feel completely at sea because I’ve never taught this class before or undergrads before and the online thing is hard for me. Tonight’s focus was on literary elements and illustration elements.

For the illustration piece I shared Molly Bang’s Picture This. She does an amazing job of breaking down color, shape, size, and space through a narrative with images she created. Many of my students were fascinated. And I wanted them to explore these ideas in a hands on way and I struggled with how to do that.

Thanks to brilliant MTBoS folks on Twitter I ended up in google slides. Every student got a slide. They picked an emotion they wanted to evoke and then played with the shape tool and colors to see what they could create. For 15 minutes they moved things around, changed sizes, explored different colors, and manipulated shapes. It was awesome.

Be less helpful

My main motivator into researching the flipped classroom this summer (aside from Shelli Temple telling me she was considering it) was simply to have a way for me and my kids to transition in and out of distance learning. That remains a large motivator. Theoretically, my kids who are quarantined for two weeks aren’t missing a single lesson.

But as I researched, two other guiding principles came to light: (1) more opportunities to build relationships and (2) more opportunities for students to take ownership of their own learning.

Today I really felt this sense of, “Dang. They’re really owning this.” They may not feel like they are, but it’s very obvious to me that they’re determined to succeed.

Today I gave them this slide via Desmos (name anonymized):

They gave me feedback on which groups needed me and which didn’t after last night’s lesson. I came over to a group that had a question and they had pulled the exact time stamp of the part of the video they had a question on.

Just like they’re supposed to do.

Happy tears.

After our warm up, I braced myself for the usual myriad of questions (limit definition of the derivative). And I could tell they were honestly pretty fuzzy at first. But they pressed on. I saw them go back to their notes and ask their peers.

Normally there are more hands flying than Mrs. Peterson can get to during this lesson.

But not this year. They took ownership. They kept struggling through it. And at the end of each hour I heard comments like, “You really get the hang of these after doing a few. It just takes some practice.”

Be still, my heart.

A new day

Last week I hit a serious wall. When I reflected, I realized I was trying to do too much with fifth hour, which was created to be a virtual class but we allowed a handful of in-person students to join due to schedule conflicts.

So my afternoons looked like this: get the handful of in-person kids started on their assignment (20 min); Zoom with the virtual kids (30 min); come back and answer questions with in-person kids (10 min). And then the next hour (plan) was spent answering questions or getting things done for the virtual kids that didn’t check in that day on Zoom.

I talked to my principal and without batting an eye he said the in-person students need to become virtual for just that hour. I felt instantaneous relief.

So I broke the news to them on Friday. Today was my first day trying it out.

I feel like a new person. I had time to make sure my tech was working before my Zoom call; I had time afterwards to send emails to virtual kids who are semi-MIA.

And then…I actually got a planning period. To like plan. For my face-to-face classes.

Then I read this discussion thread kids were having regarding differentiable functions and nearly swooned (zoom in):

And then I got to pick up my kid at a reasonable time who informed me he’s Kristoff from Frozen when they play pretend at school. “Because I’m not a reindeer, Mom!”

It was the best day so far.