Planning Out-loud

I am trying to plan a bit for next year. This is some raw thinking, so feel free to push back. Until I have a pacing guide, I am going to work on structure, regardless of the course. I will be teaching NC Integrated Maths 1 and 2 to 8th graders.

I learned several things last spring. I have other areas to bring into focus so I can work on them. Here’s where I am now:

1. There needs to be a school bell schedule of sorts. This cannot come from me, but must be implemented above me. I tried to keep a schedule of synchronous classes last spring and continuously had to adjust my days and times due to staff meetings and department meetings and district training opportunities. Teachers and students need consistent structure, just like a normal school day.

2. Students need a schedule. Last spring, my most successful students were those whose parents made certain they went to bed at night and got up in the morning. Structure and home support matter. While that is always the case, the effects of parental support and structure are amplified with online school when learners are not yet in the mindset of self-monitoring.

3. Too many apps and links and new programs for students leave little time to concentrate on learning content. Figure out the most beneficial tools and stick to them. Seems to me 3 to 5 applications are the maximum any class should have throughout the year. I will be using Desmos, Nearpod and Edpuzzle for certain.

4. Planning at least a Module at a time is essential. Tweaks here and there must be made, but a longer-range plan is helpful. I hope I know where we are expected to be at the end of the first 5 weeks of school so I can plan backwards. I know I want to spend ample time up-front getting to know my learners and their support systems.

 5. Synchronous class time is sacred and must be used for class discussions, discoveries and sharing if student work. Students can take quizzes, complete practice, interact with videos, check homework and take notes on their own time. It is likely I will only see learners twice a week.

6. A platform must exist where students can easily submit work from their workbooks so I can plan how to use that work to further learning in class. Perhaps I set up a Google folder by course by week where students submit pictures or scans of their work. If students can scan their work into a file. I can select and sequence work for class discussions in realtime. Maybe there is a way to do this within Canvas. 

7. Students must value learning for learning’s sake if online learning is going to be successful. If students go through the motions, checking off boxes with no real interest in outcomes other than grades or parent approval, they will be able to play the game of online school. However, students will not truly be successful at it. So, how do I build the culture I want online? This is always the culture I strive for in my classrooms. My students can hear, feel and see my passion for learning, and for many, that is enough inspiration. That is far from the norm though. I must help them find joy in learning.

8. I want a white board where students can draft their mathematical thinking as they develop it. I know I am going to send physical white boards home with students when they come to pick up their workbooks, but what about an electronic whiteboard? I just started looking at Google’s Jam Board. I like that the boards can be captured as images. I like that you can add post-it notes so you can actually type things in. Typing with a mouse causes hand cramps and not everyone has a stylus or a touch screen for writing. Canvas has sharable whiteboard space, but it gets very crowded with large classes. Zoom also has annotation tools that could be used as a white board. I’m still testing out options.

9. Summative assessments can be run through Canvas, though I think I will tighten the windows of time available for assessments from what I permitted in the spring. By being too accommodating last spring, some students got so far behind they could not catch up so they gave up entirely. 

10. Communication with parents needs to be simple and systematic. I need to develop a newsletter format, include links for additional help, preview the coming week and recap the past week. This must be done for all courses. This will help me stay better organized and focused as well. I will put samples of the technology we will use in our learning for the week. I may put in talking points to help parents engage in conversations about learning math with their children. A weekly calendar will be necessary.

11. I see I have two classes of 37 students and 2 classes of 29 students at this point. I know supplemental instruction will be necessary as there is likely unfinished learning from last year. I envision this will be short videos I find or create. I do not want to steal student learning through these, but they must be efficient if students are going to watch them. Again, these videos will help me focus the course content. Videos can be part of a Nearpod lesson, an Edpuzzle lesson, a Desmos activity or they can stand alone as a file within Canvas. The key here is efficiency to cover unfinished learning from prior courses. I hope to accompany these with “green sheets” and train learners how to use these to support their learning so we may continue to work on course-level material.

12. Train students on using discussion boards in Canvas. I made an incorrect assumption last year that students knew how to respond and interact with discussion boards through Canvas before our remote learning experience. I was wrong. 

13. Activities in Desmos as well as the MVP/OUR lesson activities require perseverance on the part of students. Positive experiences requiring effort and perseverance will be key in the first two weeks of school to instill these qualities in students.

14. Not everything that matters counts toward a grade. Students and parents alike need to understand what grades are in my classes. Grades reflect mastering the standards. Grades are not rewards any more than they are punishments. Grades are simply the common shorthand language spoken and understood among parents, teachers and students. See number 7.

 15. Last year I did not teach Math 1. In fact I only taught Math 1 one year since the implementation of Common Core and those students just graduated. I am excited about this course. It used to be that students had 20 days to solidify their placement in Math 1. If, upon mutual agreement among parent, student and teacher, it is determined to be in the student’s best interest to move over to a grade-level Math 8 class, that could be accommodated, but only within the first 20 days of school. This first 20 days will be, likely, online. This necessitates additional relationship building with students and parents involved in Math 1 to get to know these students well enough to determine what is, indeed, in their best interests. It is also possible that the “20 day letter” is no longer a thing.

Emerging categories based on numbers above:

In my control 3 4 5 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Not in my control 1 2 7

Teacher 2 3 4 5 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 
Student  2 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13 14 15
Parent  2 5 10 14 15
Administration  1 2

Tangible 1 2 3 4 5 6 8 9 10 11 12
Intangible 7 14 15

Looking at my crude sorting of ideas, it is clear that students and I together shoulder the most responsibility. This is as it should be and always has been. I hope my list helps me better prepare communications with parents and students regarding needs and expectations. Looks like I have some work to do so I better get to it.

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