Comic About Teaching: Zoom Mutterings

Teacher Zoom TalkI find it fascinating how pretty much universal this is: a presenter/teacher talking out about the technological things they are doing as the Zoom crowd waits for whatever comes next. I’ve even found myself apologizing to my students to narrating what I am doing to get things ready for class when we are on Zoom.

I always imagine my students having a chuckle about it at my expense. Which I don’t mind at all. The mute button is … right … over … here.

I put this into my album of Pandemic Comics, started last year.

Peace (out loud),

Designing a Theme Park: Music Land

MusicLand MapIn our Informational Text unit, I have my students do all sorts of writing and activities, integrating design and art as well as informational text. The other day, they were designing out the map and plan for a Theme Park based on a theme, and as they did so, so too did I (as usual). My musical park could have had a catchier name but I had fun designing a place around music ideas.

Peace (singing it),

Slice of Life: Documenting Opportunities (Pandemic Year)

Class Padlet(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It’s a year or so into the Pandemic, and it seemed like a good time to have my sixth graders reflect in writing on life in the Pandemic. I framed their responses as a Message in a Bottle (digital version) for Future Historians. We used a Padlet wall to write and I asked them to share both the challenges and the positives.

While the Pandemic has been disruptive and terribly destructive, the lock-downs and social distancing have also opened up some unexpected opportunities for many of us. I wanted to make sure my students were not deep in just the negatives (they wrote plenty of these — from missing family to feeling isolated to wearing masks to missing the normalcy of school).

Here is some of what my sixth graders wrote on the positive side of things:

  • Acquired new goats (three of them for one student) and a donkey (for another)
  • Adopted many new puppies and rescue dogs
  • More time outdoors; hiking with family; Exploring spaces in town
  • Lots of online gaming with friends as social events
  • Dancing via Zoom, connecting with distant friends
  • Lots of extra time to work on new art projects
  • Time to skate on the frozen ponds and create lawn rinks
  • Bike riding and running together, as a family
  • Time to read lots and lots of new books
  • Horseback riding with family
  • Welcome break from constant “always on” sports seasons
  • Time enough to get caught up with schoolwork
  • Dreaming of the great vacations, once it is all over
  • Listening to more diverse music and discovering new artists
  • Lots of memes/too many memes/memes everywhere
  • Interesting Tik Tok videos and projects (like musicals)
  • More time to practice musical instruments
  • Exploration time with new technology (VR)

Peace (finding it),

Slice of Life: Highly Efficient But Suddenly Forgetful

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I thought I was being very efficient as a teacher, lining up the release of assignments in Google Classroom to coincide directly when I would need the students to access them. I worked on Sunday, thinking on Monday, for the morning work for school and home students in our hybrid model and for a writing prompt in my three ELA classes. I sent an email to all students in my sixth grade, about materials they would be needing (as we shift this week to synchronous teaching, with Zoom Stations in the classroom).

Everything was aligned, all set, and everything, wonderfully efficient. Or so I thought.

Winter Storm Through the Door

Then, the snow storm came, and the superintendent called off Monday on Sunday night (a bit pre-emptive, I thought, but OK, fine) and I completely forgot that I had these different things all ready for Monday to be released on their own. Google Classroom knows only the clock, not the weather.

I noticed something amiss early on, when a few students (who would be in the home hybrid) began to email me early.

“I thought we had a snow day?”

“Is this is a mistake or is this work we need to do on a snow day?”

“Mr. H, do we have today off or not? My mom says we do. But I see work here to do. So I’m confused.”

Oops. Dang it. I scrambled to pull back the assignment, to send an email out to everything, to relabel the assignments already live with a bold SNOW DAY MISTAKE — GO PLAY, and apologized to those who had emailed me directly.

(A part of me thought, it’s so cool that they were so attentive to the ways our days begin that they were even paying attention enough to notice and email me … that’s another Slice on another day.)

As I write this, I just realized: I have something scheduled for release tomorrow that needs to be adjusted. I need to unschedule that. Be right back …. I’m back … all set …. thanks for waiting.

Peace (forgetfully yours),

Slice of Life: The Camera Follows You Everywhere

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

As many have and are, we’ve grappled with the effects on the Pandemic in our school by mostly using a hybrid/cohort model, and moving to remote when the virus numbers deem it (we are just back to hybrid this week after a few weeks of remote). Next week, we shift to a third model — synchronous learning.

Thanks to a hefty technology investment by our school district, our classrooms now have Zoom Stations — huge screen televisions, mini mac computers, video cameras run by teacher control, and a powerful microphone/speaker — which will allow students in the home cohort to join in to the classroom via video feed. In a dystopian sense, if you tilt that way, it’s like we just installed Big Brother into the classroom, with an ever-watchful eye on us.

ZoomStation SetUp

This shift comes as worries about the independent learning days are not engaging enough students, and with new hours-on-learning by the state Department of Education come into effect (an average of 35 hours of teacher-student direct interaction over a two week span).

Some of my colleagues are wary of the new technology but I think it will work fine, from a technology standpoint. (There’s also been real tension about how this was rolled out by the School Committee with very little input from teachers or administration).

What I am still working on is how to best leverage the new technology for better teaching — how best to pull the Zoom kids into the classroom activities and how to use the time together to meet the needs of all my sixth grade students. An online webinar the other night with AJ Juliani and Catlin Tucker on Synchonous Learning was helpful (and with 1,600 other people in the webinar, I am guessing many people are in my same shoes). I have some ideas on synchronous learning like this but if you have resources, send them my way, please.

I can already see some challenges of where to put my attention, how to make sure I am engaging the Zoom kids in class discussions and sharing and collaborations, and the need for us to feel “whole” even as we still exist into cohort parts.

We did a test run yesterday of the set-up during snack time, and the kids at home got a chance to see the room from their perspective and the kids in the classroom got to see the kids on the screen. We just played around with the camera and chatted. And it went fine.

Peace (settling in),

Slice of Life: One Zoom Morning (Time-Lapse)

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I know this is strangely narcissistic, but I was curious to know what I looked like, teaching remote via Zoom, and even more so, what would that teaching look like in time-lapse video? So, I did it. Here it is.

The other morning, during our Morning Meeting and then into our Vocabulary Lesson, for about 50 minutes, I let my iPad snap moments in time-lapse. It’s intriguing to see myself through that kind of lens, and I was curious about visual clues of interactions with students.

Here are some observations:

  • I seem to be smiling a lot and laughing quite a bit, which I want to note, is how I hope I am interacting with my students via video feed;
  • I seem to be talking more than listening. I know that students are also talking and sharing and participating, but maybe not nearly as much as I am;
  • My face demeanor changes once we transitioned from Morning Meeting (where everything is about playful connections) to the actual lesson on vocabulary, as we moved into talking about the work they had done;
  • It’s strange to see oneself like this, but a version (in regular speed) of this is what my students see each day we are in Remote Learning (this week, it continues a few more days).

Peace (looking in, looking out),

Slice of Life: No Need For LED (Frontline to the Fad)

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I started noticing them in the Fall. Maybe you did, too, if you are a teacher. Whenever we were in our Remote Learning (as we are again, this week), a few kids at home would dim the lights in their rooms where they were working, so their faces became shadows and silhouettes, and a string of colored LED lights along the doorways and walls behind them would create an eerie glow in the room.

Pink. Blue. Green. Red.

Following the holidays, what had seemed like a sporadic trend has become a full-blown fad, and unfortunately, the students who need the quietest space and least distracted space for thinking, the ones on learning plans for a range of issues, the ones who are struggling with Remote Learning and need the most support … those students are the very ones who have the most LEDs blinking in their spaces.

I’ve asked some students to turn them off in the past, but we never had a blanket policy. I guess I want them to be able to make where they learn, their own, with their own bits of personality. I don’t mind the periodic dog or cat coming into the video window, or even the antsy child who sometimes gets up and shoots a nerf hockey puck before settling back in.

But the influx of colored lights means we may need to institute a “policy” on LED lights soon. What it makes me wonder is, what were the parents of these children — the ones who need more focus, and less distractions — thinking when they bought strings of LED lights for the space where their children would be doing schoolwork? It’s hard enough, for the students and for us, the teachers.

We never knows what’s going to be all the rage next, do we? But teachers have the frontline to fads.

Peace (lit up),

Class Discussion: I Should Have Been Prepared But I Wasn’t

Fail Road“Fail Road” by fireflythegreat is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a teacher who often brings up current event into my sixth grade classroom, I should have been better prepared for talking about the riots and storming of the Capitol Building on Wednesday by Trump supporters, but I wasn’t. I don’t know why not. Maybe I was still trying to process the news myself. Maybe I was worried that talking about it would start me, as the teacher, on a political diatribe against this administration’s effort. Maybe I didn’t know what families had talked about and didn’t have a clear sense of lines.

But the topic came up, rather quickly, when one student asked, in a sort of whisper, if I had seen “the news about DC” and how terrible it was that people had died and another student, who has long been an open Trump supporter, called the breaking in of Nancy Pelosi’s office “a beautiful thing.” Another chimed in about images of broken windows and selfies that the rioters had taken and posted.

This took me aback, particularly the ‘beautiful thing’ coming from that particular student, whose personality is so peaceful, calm and nice. To hear them celebrate insurrection alarmed me. I took a breath, and led a quick discussion about the line between street protests and rioting, and didn’t even venture (yet) into how misinformation can be used to foment violence. We also chatted about the peaceful transfer of power in the United States as bedrock of Democracy.

I’m not sure I did a good job leading that discussion, to be honest. I’m trying to figure out how to approach it again today with information and respectful talk.

This PBS Resource is helpful for framing discussions.

Peace (bringing it),

Slice of Life: Goals for the New Year

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

With my students back in the building in our Hybrid/Cohort model, we spent some time yesterday morning after the Winter Break charting out some goals and aspirations we have for the new year.

Sharing our writing was a way to connect after a few weeks on vacation and a few weeks in Remote Learning, and as always, I shared out my own goals with the kids, too.

Mr H Goals for 2021

For many of us, the Pandemic was a common theme (mostly, to be done with it in some way or another). I guess that would be a common theme everywhere these days.

Peace (aspiring towards it),

Slice of Life: Snow Day Play Day

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The other day, we had our first Snow Day of the school year. Leading up to it, there had been plenty of discussions among administrators and chatter among students about whether we would have a “no school” day when the storm arrived, because we had just gone full remote, working from home, due to a sharp rise in virus infections. Many other school districts (like my son’s) were already full remote and any snow day would still be a school day, from home, because it would not matter the condition of the roadways.

Our superintendent, for various reasons (including the sheer size and rural nature of some parts of our district), however, went the way of traditional Snow Day, and so we had the day off.  The next morning was the most animated morning of stories from my students that I have witnessed on Zoom in quite some time. I couldn’t hold them back. I didn’t.

There were tales of sledding, of building jumps on hills, of crashes, of trying to construct snow forts, of shoveling, of snow fights, of jumping off back decks into piles of snow, of pets in the first big snow of the year. Their faces were lit up with the memory of going outside to play (safely, I kept hoping).

I shared about our puppy’s first energetic forays into the snow that morning of the storm, and how she leaped and ran and tunneled through the snow with pure rush and abandon.

Silent Sunday

This first Snow Day was a mental and emotional break, one that perhaps all of us needed, as we grapple with the demands and limitations of teaching and learning through Zoom and Google Classroom and other platforms that engage us, but keep us removed from the world each school day, too.

We need more opportunities for them to be kids.

Peace (and play),