Reflections on 2020-21
I’ve been reading a book, Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, and I appreciate its methodical approach. Even though I am only through Chapter 4, I am beginning to feel school again, if only a little at this point. I’ve been reading threads on Twitter from colleagues around the country about their planning for this coming academic year, and I am feeling school a bit more. Before I can plan for next year in earnest though, I need to process last year.
Last year (2020-21), began with teachers teaching in the building and students studenting entirely online. Because I had experimented with technology so much since March 15th, 2020, I was ready for this year. I had to wait to execute my own class design, however, until the district gave the green light a month into school. The first month students went through the first module of the curriculum using Nearpod and those students that bothered to do that hated it. This was NOT the way to start school. Students really do not know how to learn online except the mechanics of it which were taught through some videos and their experiences the prior spring, which were varied. They went through the motions; checked boxes; and learned nothing. I was ready to teach and my kids were ready to learn. Live, online classes were consistently being held by September.
Finally, there was a system in place for students to log into class, participate in lessons, and go forth and learn. Classes were 40 minutes 4 days a week. That isn’t much time. I put multiple tutoring sessions in place for my students. I could see student faces during online tutoring and learn personalities and interact with people rather than a chat stream. That was time well spent.
We got back from Christmas break and by late February, classes moved to 5, 70-minute periods per week. The extra time was necessary to make progress in student learning, but left little time to support students outside of class. Live class time essentially doubled and that time came from planning time. In truth, the shorter the class period, the more time is needed for planning because every teacher move must be preplanned in order to stick to the schedule. Teachers with shortened class periods must be addicted to coverage to a greater extent than teachers with generous class periods of 60 to 70 minutes. This 70-minute schedule continued as we gradually began moving students into the building, live and in-person in March. At the same time we continued to have many students learning from home.
This shows merely some of the constraints under which school was held last year. Here is the technology side of how I operated my classes:
LMS (Learning Management System): We use Canvas and had a district designed format to use to make it easier for students to navigate. That was a positive result that came out of spring 2020’s emergency adventure into online learning. This format helped me stay better organized in my planning. I tweaked lessons and daily plans as we went along, of course, but all of my weekly structures were in place. I already harvested my activities for the week and I knew where I wanted my students to be by week’s end. I committed to my plan and published it through Canvas for my students to access.
PPT: My district also provided pre-made PowerPoint (PPT) presentations for each lesson throughout the curriculum. These PPTs follow the students’ workbooks exactly. Proofing, editing, and resizing, are required, but these PPTs were a real time saver. I shared my screen and took notes right on the PPT presentation. After class, I saved those notes of as pdfs and posted them to Canvas for students. The only tool required was my stylus (x-Pen 640) that I had gotten at the end of last year. I inserted blank screens among the PPT slides where I could write if the class needed to do some extra problems or take some extra notes. I did this before schooling changed to virtual and will continue this when workbooks are used.
DUAL MONITORS: I had been using multiple computers—as many as 3—but I resisted using dual monitors for quite a long time, though my media specialist encouraged me to do so. My mind was fixed, thinking it was yet another thing I had to learn and coordinate. Mid-year I finally tried using dual monitors. I will never be without dual monitors again when teaching whether online or in-person. Not only are transitions smoother within the same class period, transitions between class periods are also more efficient. When sharing a screen, simply drag the new visual you want to display for students to the new screen. Also, I can keep my eye on the chat on one screen while working with the class on the other shared screen. I can monitor student work on the screen I am not sharing as well. Split screens are useful, but using those in combination with dual screens takes teaching to a whole other level. This is a derivative of online teaching that will stick going forward.
DESMOS: Sometimes I had learners use a Desmos activity that duplicated the lesson for the day. That allowed me to see the work of all students and to pace the class so we could pause for discussions and quell student misconceptions. At times I would use selected screens in a Desmos activity for the lesson rather than the entire lesson. Some of these Desmos activity files, I created, but more often than not, I harvested collections from other users that I had saved in my library. I hate Facebook, but that is where I came across most of the lesson collections. In my district, we use OpenUp Resources curriculums (authored by Illustrative Mathematics and Mathematics Vision Project).
I also created a daily Desmos work file my learners bookmarked. If I needed to see student work, they immediately jumped into that Desmos class work file. I made student draw screens, which served as white boards. And I had graphing calculator screens and screens which were split between a Cartesian plane and a writing space where students showed their thinking. I paced my class to the screen I wanted them to work on so I didn’t have to instruct students to be on a specified screen and then wait for them to get there. Having this file at the ready allowed me to immediately check for understanding. I could make adjustments to the lesson as needed, and this improved learning outcomes for students. (Hint: If you pace one screen at a time and a student does not automatically move to the screen you designate, they are looking at a different tab on their computer. This is an opportunity to make certain everyone is engaged, whether they are sitting in the classroom or elsewhere.)
KAMI: I integrated Kami into Canvas. I used Kami for worksheet files to supplement the student workbooks. I had free, full access to all the Kami features for 100 days, then they wanted money. I seamlessly downgraded to the free version and it was fine for my purposes. With Kami, I can take a worksheet (like a sheet I get from Mathbits — legal because it is within the password protected LMS) by retrieving the pdf from my Kami folder in my school Google drive folder. I assign the sheet through Canvas and students access the sheet there as it populates in Kami. There, students can type, draw, highlight, and annotate as needed. Individual student work is saved in a class Google drive folder. I can access the student copy through Speed Grader in Canvas and write comments on individual student sheets. With Kami, I am more environmentally responsible and I save time making copies.
MATHBITS: The rigor of the Mathbits materials is top-shelf. The topics and sheets are well organized and cross-referenced to the standards. I know “worksheet” can be a bad word in education, but these are far from the worksheets I endured in the 70s. I write PTA mini grants to get my subscriptions funded if my school does not pay for my access. Because I now teach Integrated Math, I use three version of Mathbits regularly: Algebrabits; Algebra2bits; and Geometrybits. I use pre-algebrabits as well in years I teach the standard grade 8 math course. Beyond the worksheets, Mathbits has interactive quizzes and activities to which I facilitate student access. Also, Mathbitsnotebook is free and is where I send students who need a refresher or want extra practice.
QUIZIZZ: I used Quizizz a bit for quick checks for understanding. I usually had files already prepared from prior years so this was faster than building something in Canvas for a quick-check.
GOOGLE: Sheets, Jamboard: I spent much time creating collaborative student spaces with great back grounds and drag and drop matching cards and the like in the fall. This is what I used before I discovered Kami. I thought the Google Sheets and Jamboards were great, but they were much harder to manage than the combination of Desmos and Kami and really didn’t serve any better purpose. Issues arose when students would not access Google through their school Google account so I had to constantly remove access restrictions to accommodate that or spend the period serving in a tech support role. Though Google Sheets and Jamboards were pretty and I loved them, they didn’t stick around long in my classroom lineup of tech tools. I will likely use them when they serve the purpose in professional development sessions I create for teachers, but I do not see using Google with students next year.
ProblemAttic: I meant to use this resource more, but I forgot about it. The prior year I figured out how to create a quiz in Problemattic and import the questions to Canvas. It was awesome! I did not take the time to relearn how to do that this year. I am confident it will make its way back into my lineup this coming year.
There are several apps I thought I would use this year, but did not and I didn’t miss them. It’s not that they aren’t good; I just needed to streamline to survive. My students needed fewer options as well. Life was overwhelming enough already.
Nearpod: After what the district did to my kids the first month of school with all those carefully crafted lessons that my students didn’t complete or appreciate, I had a mutiny on my hands when I even mentioned the word “Nearpod.” It was a shame to waste that resource, but my students were not fans. That was not the hill I was willing to die on.
EdPuzzel; Flipgrid; Kahoot; Geogegbra; Padlet; DeltaMath: None of these made the cut this year. Well, Deltamath did show up a couple of times early on, but my kids said that’s all they did in 7th grade, so I wasn’t going to force that on them, even though it is an outstanding resource. Too many different student interfaces and kids get frustrated. The math is lost while figuring out yet another application. I decided last spring, enough was enough and I tried to use as few math resources as I could this year while still setting up an engaging and productive math experience for my learners.
Each year I have a wonderful group of eager learners to work with and this crazy year was no exception. Implementing my classes as outlined above contributed my Math 2 students averaging 81/100 on the county exam while the county average was 44/100. 4 of my 61 Math 2 students failed the exam and 3/4ths of those failures can be traced to attendance issues among other obstacles that could not be overcome by these students. In my Math 1 course 20% of the 59 students I taught exceeded state projections. About the 20% did not meet minimum state standards for the course, which meant 80% of my students were proficient. These results are low compared to a normal year, but I am confident results would have been better had we been full-time, face-to-face all year. My students are good souls who worked hard in spite of the challenges present due to the pandemic.
If I were you, would stop right here. The rest of this post is for my own documentation, but you are welcome to continue reading.
2020-21 behind the scenes:
I don’t even know where to start, but I survived and will return this fall to thrive as a better educator and as a better human.
The year was going to be missing some key players in my support system due to the retirements of a couple of my very best school chums, Jim and Lydia. I also lost my ELA partner, Meagan, when she decided to use another of her skills and teach Spanish instead of remaining in 8th grade language arts. Grateful she was still at my school though. I was also without my 7th grade math partner, Jeff, as he was succumbing to an aggressive cancer that was discovered over winter break 2019/20 and killed him the first week of school in August 2020.
School began in mid-August and settled into a rhythm in mid-September. That didn’t last. By October rumors started flying that staff members were changing classrooms. Nearly every single teacher moved. I had been in my room over 10 years and I had to move with little notice and less understanding for the move’s purpose. Before students came back live during 2nd semester, 20+ classrooms had to be moved again. I was spared that move, but that drama cost a new administration any and all credibility they were trying to build with staff.
If you are keeping track, I lost 4 friends and my room so far and the leaves hadn’t yet fallen from the trees. January finally came. My dear sweet mother, who had been cursed with Alzheimer’s disease for the past 10 or more years, began her decline in physical health by no longer eating. I was able to sneak up to Ohio and see Mom in mid-January and teach from my dad’s dining room table for a couple days. February 2nd during Core 3, my dad called to let me know Mom had just passed. Expected, but still hard. And final. A whirlwind trip through Ohio on our way to Minnesota in sub-zero temperatures for a lovely service and burial and I was headed back south.
By late February classes were running 70 minutes 5 days a week, where they had been 40 minutes per class, 4 days a week. That was a big adjustment physically, but certainly improved our ability to cover more of the curriculum. The 40 minute plan was predicated on the assumption that high stakes end-of-year testing would be waived by the state this year. That turned out to be a faulty assumption. We dug in deeper and finished as many of the standards as possible. By spring break, two-thirds of the students were in the building. Because at home learners needed to come into the building to test, schedules changed once again as testing season began. It ran from mid-May through the last day of school in the first week of June.
As if all of this were not enough, I decided to complete my Maintenance of Certification (MOC) for my National Board designation this year. I began the process and I attended multiple webinars that explained the submission requirements. Then I procrastinated and did not think about it until mid-February when I paid my fee. Then I procrastinated some more by not meticulously reading and outlining and making a plan using the printed MOC instructions. Every time I tried, I fell asleep. I was exhausted. In the mean time, I received emails informing MOC candidates that the deadline for submission had been extended. This happened multiple times. I also saw I had the option to defer my MOC submission until the 2021-22 school year and not have to pay the fee again. Mid-May I finally accept the fact that I would indeed have to defer, as I had no time to plan adequately nor did I have sufficient teaching days left. I was at peace. There was one problem though. I forgot to go to the NB site and inform them of my decision to defer. By the time I read where to go do that, the deadline had passed to defer, so I had a choice. I could submit nothing or submit the best application I could create between June 5th and June 25th. I was out the application fee either way, so I went for it. I submitted my MOC application with more than a day to spare.
All through May, I went to physical therapy to remedy a pain in my left hip and groin that plagued me for the better part of the past three years. June 12th I am finally permitted to see an orthopedist who declares that I need to total hip replacement as my ball and socket are now bone on bone. Surgery was scheduled for Friday, July 2nd. That gave me June 25th to July 1st to get a couple summer projects completed while I could still drive and go up and down stairs independently.
Tuesday after surgery, I was at physical therapy discussing some of my experiences at the surgical center and I start crying. No idea where that came from. The therapist assured me that it was totally understandable. Surgery and recovery take their toll. I got myself together and did what I came there to do – complete strength evaluations and receive exercise assignments. I now have a routine that I can execute to regain strength in my left leg and hip so I will be in shape when school begins August 23rd.
This spring and summer more retirements and resignations continue to peck away at my group of school confidants. I am going to do my best this year, but remain in my lane. That may be part of my theme for the year – stay in my lane.