Friday, August 7, 2020

A Structured Class During and Unstructured Year

You all know how we got here. You don't need the back story. I'm not going to spend time debating or discussing my position on whether or not schools should or shouldn't open. To be honest, I don't have time for that shit. I gotta keep moving forward with what I know and what I can do. When I sit down to start looking at what this year is gonna look like, there are all sorts of unknowns. But here is what I do know.
  1. My high school is starting off in a hybrid model. Half of my students Monday and Thursday, the other half Tuesday and Friday. Wednesdays and days when kids aren't in class are considered remote learning and students have to log 6 hours of school work (between all of their classes) every remote day. 
  2. It is my job to provide material and lessons for students who are enrolled in my class on both F2F (face to face) days and remote days. 
  3. It is silly for me to go into this year thinking that I won't miss due to catching COVID or being quarantined at some point due to my exposure to others with COVID. There is also the chance I could get really sick and not be able to get to my computer to "push" work to my students.
  4. It is also silly for me to plan on having all my students who should be in class on F2F days when they're scheduled to be there. Kids will be quarantined too. Some due to sickness, some due to exposure. It's gonna happen. 
  5. I am still responsible for the learning of my students, whether or not I or the students are physically present.
  6. At some point I need to assume it is possible for us to "out of the blue" go completely remote

Now. I have to design a class that promotes rigorous learning keeping all of those things in mind. Yeah. Not an easy task. And one that I have spend a good amount of my time obsessing about in my head for the last three months...and that has started to spill out of my brain to anyone who would listen in the last three weeks. (My poor husband...) 

And now...for now anyway...I think I have a plan. I'm going to share that plan with you today. Not because I think it is perfect. Not that I think it's the best way. But because I see teachers out there STRUGGLING to even imagine what this kind of learning looks like. This isn't just a pivot for some's a complete jump away from what they have been doing their entire careers. It's overwhelming and stressful. I am hoping this helps with some of that. 

My Plan: My US History class will be almost 90% asynchronous and virtual, even when we are F2F. As we start the year, hopefully my students will see these three factors about our learning environment. 

It's not just teachers who are going to be teaching a whole new way, it's students who are going to have to navigate this with very little prep. On top of the loss of 5 months of school. If I can do one thing to ease that transition it's to make things consistent. Each of my units will have four major components. 
  1. Historical Context
  2. Vocabulary Work 
  3. Document Analysis 
  4. Assessment (usually project based) 
This will hopefully help them know what to expect with each of our units. And while the activities and lessons that will be assigned will be different, and each unit may do more of one than the other, those 4 components will remain. 

Most of what I will be giving my students is going to be virtual and paperless. That's not ideal, I get that. But none of this is ideal. I have to figure out a way to help them keep track of their assignments and know what, where, and when to turn things in. This is my biggest hurdle still to figure out. I can come up with a method, but in reality it may not work. I know will use a combination of my class website, Google Classroom, and one-on-one student check-in meetings (socially distant of course). 

This is the biggie. All of those "knowns" above made flexibility my number one priority and the number one reasoning for the asynchronous/virtual environment. I need to easily be able to provide material no matter what "pivot" is sent my way. And I don't want to be scrambling at the last minute to come up with a different virtual plan when we were supposed to be F2F. In order to be flexible I'm going to have to work "smarter not harder". (PS...what is "smarter" and "harder" to me doesn't mean it is the same for every teacher...please don't take this as "your way" is not right. You do you, bruh) does my asynchronous/virtual class look? 

Each Friday, I will "push out" the next week's schedule to the students. It will look like the picture below. (Please see the bottom of this post for a note about the resources in this blog post). You will notice that each day gives an outline of the assignment. The students know what to expect and have all the resources to work on no matter the environment in which they are working.

Everything that I would "present" or "teach" in the live classroom will also be pre-recorded. This way if we are in person I can do the presentation live, but if I'm gone, students are gone, or we all get sent home I still have that material already created. All assignments are provided ahead of time so when students are "remote learning" they have their materials with them.

F2F days are saved for teaching technology programs, organization, one-on-one check ins, and for me to elaborate on and explain the content they are working on. Also, if I desire a quiz or test, F2F days will be used for that. For the most part "in class" time will be work time on their weekly assignments. 

This helps me in two major ways. 
  1. If students or I are gone, they know what they're doing. 
  2. If I were to become so ill that I cannot get to my computer I have the buffer of at least a week to get better. And if I don't, there will be a backup "emergency plan" with my department and administration to help. (I don't have that ready yet).
In order for my plan to work I am relying on at least a few F2F days to train my students and have them prep and practice what they will be doing. If we don't end up with that, I can make it virtual training, but that will be much more difficult. Not impossible. Just more difficult. 

The big downfall. My "F2F" classroom is not in anyway going to resemble what is really good teaching or what the kids are begging for. They WANT normal. They WANT interaction. They WANT active learning. And that is minimal with this plan. We will discuss, interact as much as we can, but none of this year is going to be what we really want it to be. I am doing what every single teacher out there is doing. Trying to do what is best at this moment, knowing (painfully knowing) that it's not good enough. 

As the year progresses, maybe...just maybe we'll be able to get some consistency in our world. Numbers of COVID spread will stabilize and we'll be able to add in some more "live" lessons, activities, and projects. I am, and will always be, hope for that. 

***A note about resources***
You are welcome to look at and use the lesson I created for our first unit, the 1920's as detailed in the above picture of the weekly plan. Please understand a few things. I am not completely finished with it and I do not plan on going back into this shared folder and adding/changing anything. Please don't contact me and ask if I finished will have to take it from there. Also...some of this is created by me, but a lot of it is pieced together from a variety of resources. None of this should show up on TPT. Thanks for that consideration. 

Link for 1920's Asynchronous Folder: CLICK HERE 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Teaching and Cycling: An Analogy

I recently took up cycling. My husband has been riding for the last 5 years and is a pretty serious riding 30-70 miles on a regular basis. Over the years I have developed a desire to try riding a bike for exercise. I have bad knees and limited amounts of time being a teacher and a mother of four young children. This was something I figured I could squeeze in that wouldn't make my knees swell up like cantaloupes.  So he got me a bike for Mother's Day, and I've been riding all spring and summer. I've come to realize that how good you feel on a bike can completely depend on the wind. And here in Kansas we have a lot of wind. Basically you will encounter one or a combination of the following three scenarios.

A tailwind, giving you a nice push and making your ride seem easy.

A head wind, making the ride 10 times harder and usually involving a few choice words as I push through.

And a crosswind, which isn't as hard as a headwind, but is tricky because sometimes you THINK it's a headwind until you turn and realize that the wind is blowing much harder this direction.

Of course any of those scenarios can come with the route that you ride. Could be uphill, could be downhill, could be flat land. How you feel about your ride totally depends upon the combination of all of these things.

And one morning as I was pushing up a hill (and probably swearing) I was started to think that cycling is an excellent metaphor for teaching. 

Allow me to explain.

For 13 years I worked at a middle school in a small town. And while there were moments where it may have been a little bit difficult for the most part it was easy. And it was fun! Essentially this was a bike ride with a tailwind. And while there might have been a few hills along the way (maternity leaves, new admin, student teachers, new standards, new technology...) I still had the wind pushing me in the back allowing me to remain, mostly, comfortable. Easy.

Eventually that got too easy. There was no challenge left in that road I was taking. It was flat land with a huge tailwind. I couldn't push myself anymore where I was. So I changed directions.

All of a sudden I found myself riding uphill with wind in my face. I had made a huge shift in the direction I was going. Now I was teaching a brand new content, and a brand new school, to a brand new age group. All while having four kids under the age of seven. It was a crazy ride! As I kept going and as I pushed through it started to get a little easier. The hill started to flatten out a little bit the wind started to die down. In January I felt like finally I was feeling more confident and I was growing stronger. It was exciting! I could just tell that come next August that wind was going to shift back into a tailwind helping push me through the hills that would come.

Nope.  As often it does, unexpectedly the wind changed. Instead of shifting into a tailwind. We were all forced to ride straight into a headwind. A strong headwind. Uphill. 

Now as I approach the teaching year in August of 2020 I find myself looking at a very long and windy uphill ride. And there's no clear view in the forecast of when that might change.

But I know all I have to do is keep going. Keep pedaling. There's no reward for finishing first. And while some of us have been riding for a while and have tools and tricks and muscle built up to push us through. We have some that will stop, they are tired of the ride and won't do it anymore. And that's okay.  We also have brand new cyclists. Who are not starting out on a flat road with wind behind them, they're starting out with a huge hill and a strong head wind. They're going to need coaches that cheer them on and ride next to them as they struggle.  We may need to find new tools and equipment that can help us push through. We'll have to just keep moving forward, even if it is slow. 

So what can we take away from this analogy?
1. Slow progress is still progress. Even thought it may not seem that way and it will be hard...and probably consist of a few muttered "choice" words. It's still progress.

2. There is no room for comparison. I ride at an average sustained 13.5 mph on a good day for 8-12 miles. My husband rides at an average of 20 mph and goes on 50 miles rides. For fun... (WTH??). It does me no good to compare myself to him. He has different goals and is in a completely different kind of shape than I am. Same goes for teaching. Look to learn from those who are better...not feel defeated because you don't know or do as much. It's ok to be where you are as long as you're working on progress. 

3. We're gonna need to rest and take care of ourselves along the way. Long rides don't happen without some self-care along the way. Otherwise you put yourself in danger. Take your personal days. Leave your computer closed and find ways to regenerate! 


4. Eventually the wind will die down and the land will level out. And when it does we will emerge from that ride amazed at how much stronger and confident we are.