Wednesday, May 24, 2017

When You Need a Break

It's May, we all have those days.  You have the mountain of grading staring you dead in the eye that needs to get done.  You are just feeling so unmotivated thanks to months of grinding through material.  Teacher fatigue happens to the best of us.  Now, what will you do about it?  One of the most important things to remember is teaching is mentally, physically and emotionally draining and self care is paramount.  Let's talk about lazy days.

Project Work Days
Here's the rub with this one:  while the day itself can often not be too mentally taxing, the lead up takes a lot of work.  The project needs to be rigorous enough that it makes sense to give the time.  Once you have that project though, turn on some music and turn them loose.  This one works well for me mentally and in terms of pedagogy.  I'm a constructivist for those who have read a lot of teacher academic writing.  I believe, especially in science, in letting students explore and make discoveries.  This allows the ideas to stick a lot stronger.  And project based learning is great for that. So pros: lots of independence.  Cons:  Lots of prep and planning.

Find Those Best Science (or Your Own Subject) Movies
For biology, I feel like you can't go wrong with Planet Earth or with the Disney line of movies.  Also, Bill Nye never goes out of style.  His new show has a lot that is applicable to current science classes, and I can see turning one of the episodes into a pretty in depth discussion.  In particular, the last episode in the Netflix series can be a great intro to scientific method and can help alleviate that beginning of the year exhaustion.

The ultimate for my physics people is definitely Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos.  The information is great, visuals are good and is overall an enjoyable romp.  I'm a fan.  Plus, there are oodles of online resources in terms of worksheets to use for all the above.  Or, you could use the videos as some sort of evidence for a written assignment.  Also a good idea.

Another great way to bring in student voice is have them create videos as a project and then show them in class.  Less reading for you overall, and they love to see each other.  While they sometimes hate watching their own product, if a student is anxious, they can sit outside.  Also having strong presentation or video class norms is imperative.  This also makes grading crazy easy.  Just have the rubrics in front of you while the video is playing and there you go, all done.  Rubrics, I think, over anything else have allowed me to give timely feedback by grading quickly and having clear standards.  By no means do I think I write great rubrics, but I'm getting better at it through collaboration with colleagues.

The Post Test Day
My master teacher back in the day would always show a fun movie the day after the test.  Why?  To grade the damn test.  She would use that time for kids to compile their stuff from the unit to put into their portfolios and do the reflection.  I kind of wish I felt like I had the time to do this, and someday I might give the post test day its due.  As of right now, however, I kind of do this on the actual test day in some form.  However, it was a nice chunk of time to just crunch out the tests and allow students to organize themselves and reflect on what we learned that unit.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

End of My Third Year

There's this feeling in teaching that once you make it to your third year, you're really a teacher.  You've had your first two bumpy years to work things out, and now you have figured out your methods and voice as an educator.  That is, if you stay at the same school.

Between my second and third years, I switched schools.  Districts, in fact.  I went from teaching in the Bayview to the heart of Silicon Valley down the street from where I grew up.  While I am now teaching in my community, both where I currently live and where I am from, there are some challenges that come from changing schools, just like changing any job.  From discussing this with friends, it takes about 5 weeks to get the hang of a new company and feel secure.  In teaching, because things change so often throughout the year, you don't feel comfortable until the year is over.  And even then, you still feel like you have a lot to learn.  Plus, the next year, you get new kids.

With all of this, I think I still improved as a teacher.  I had better classroom management and organizing things as well as posting grades more consistently.  However, I feel like there are a lot of new tricks I want to steal from coworkers in terms of homework return and test and quiz retention.  It's all about figuring out what is expected at the school, and how much students actually want their work back and what is realistic for me to do.

I've already gone through and figured out some new organization methods for work return and classroom set up.  Something that hasn't changed is how messy students can be, so whatever I can do to minimize that (and keep myself organized), I will most certainly do.  I think my strength as a teacher is being reflective.  I look at how thing went (even as they are going) and think about how I can improve it.  I will never think I am perfect.  I don't think I will ever stop growing or learning as a teacher.

In the future, I hope to post more activities and ideas onto this blog, and less reflection of my practice as I move forward.  I am planning on reorganizing my classroom and recording that here to hopefully help other teachers like me, especially science teachers, to keep themselves sane.  Writing definitely helps, I can tell you that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Paperless Grading: A Saga

I thought to myself "How hard can it be, to go paperless?  Or at least decrease paper in the classroom?  Easy peasy."

Ha. Hahahah.  Ha.

So, let's go with the pros.  It gives my students way more autonomy and access to materials.  Worksheet with a video embedded?  Yes please.  Neat tools that are super fun to access?  Don't mind if I do.  Interactive rubrics?  With a side of documents to be organized by a neat system.  In theory, I should be streamlined more than a slick shaved swimmer.  In theory.

But there is something to be said about the ticking time bomb that is a hard copy to a thing.  It is much easier to have one physical object to represent a student.  Then it gives you a hard timeline because you want that thing out of of your face.  Without a thing in my face, I find it very difficult to get things done.  What I used to get back to students quickly for feedback can now take up to a month or more.  Occasionally, I will also have multiple assignments pile up on me and that can be entirely overwhelming.It's much more satisfying to decrease a pile than to fill in a spreadsheet.  It became hard to feel like I had accomplished anything.

On the other hand, not having a pile of papers lets me keep my desk and classroom so much less cluttered with extra mess.  Without hard copies of their projects, I don't have student work to put on the walls.  Therefore, I only have nice science posters to post.  Kind of nice and pretty really.

There are also a lot of programs to help expedite the grading process, like Doctopus and Goobric, which are now communicating much better with Google Classroom.  And Google Classroom now communicates with our grading system, School Loop, so now grades (more or less) automatically fill in the gradebook on School Loop from Google Classroom.

While I feel like I'm getting the hang of the system as it exists, there are many modifications I would love to see.  I would love for group projects to be easier to assign, grade and enter.  On the developer side, I would love for the connection between School Loop and Google Classroom to be less glitchy.  On my side of things, I want to make more webquests and autonomous discovery based assignments.  I want to do things faster and better.  So, off to a good start.  I just want things to keep going.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Drawing is More Important Now Than Ever

I had a really interesting conversation with a student a few days ago.  We were swiftly approaching the big one:  the Forces Test.  In physics, this is kind of a Waterloo moment, where the math really is based off of physical ideas in a way many students (myself included) find incredibly challenging, especially in terms of the normal force.  (Aside:  If someone else says 'natural force' to me again whilst referring to normal force, I'm going to lose my mind.)

The point of all of this is the fact that I have had multiple students come to me in near tears because they are terrified of this exam.  They are normally A/B students who have found themselves getting a C or D on exams that they have prepared for as they would for any exam in any other class.  Physics is a beast unto itself, with things that may some logical but are incredibly difficult to define mathematically.  And this is an honors class, which is just another layer of math on math on math.  So, panic attacks have ensued and I have had the responsibility to talk students back from the edge. 

One such student came in and told me their study habits, which is not uncommon for this area.  On average, after they finish school they go to their after school sport and get home between 5 and 6 PM.  Then, it is not uncommon to do homework until 10-11 PM.  I can tell you as a teacher, I don't make assignments that should take that long.  Also, many students do work throughout breaks in the day and so have 8 hours of classes and possibly 8 hours of homework.  This student also dedicated their entire Saturday to my class. 

So I did what any adult would do: I asked the student what they do for fun.  A big part of learning is letting your brain rest.  You need to take a moment to not think on occasion, to do something enjoyable.  Your brain often will be still be churning through the question in the background, but focusing on something else takes the pressure off.  I think this is why I actually could engage hardcore in art and science in college.  I would oscillate between the two because they were different parts of my brain, and it allowed me a time to let something go in the background.

What the student said scared me.  Nothing.  They do nothing for fun.  I asked if they like to draw.  The response was "Yes, I love it.  But you can't make money doing that."  Which absolutely broke my heart.  I know where they are coming from.  Many parents in this area (mine included) feel that creative arts jobs are not for their children.  It's true that the jobs with stability are hard to find, but they absolutely exist.  Also, you can still enjoy and profit from your hobbies. 

So, to help illustrate my point to my student, I took out my sketchbook for Inktober.  I'm doing my best to do a draw every day this month, and I find the challenge actually really inspiring.  The look on the student's face as we flipped through brightened.  All my students can see how hard I work and how much effort I put in, and yet I have given myself time to enjoy a pastime.  This, however, doesn't help students see someone not just emotionally profit from drawing, but financially profit as well. 


And that’s when it struck me.  It's imperative that I keep drawing and enjoying myself.  It's easy as a teacher to get sucked into just grinding all the time to keep up on grades and to find new and exciting activities, but for me, creating something should be a focus as well.  And it's not just for my own amusement, enjoyment and profit anymore.  Teachers are inspirations to students, as egotistical as it sounds.  I want to be able to tell my students I made something and made money from that.  Or that I'm using my creativity or am proud of something I made.  Especially at a school with so much talent and drive, I feel like I need to match that.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Technology in my Classroom

So, we have best practice at every department meeting, and at a recent one, a coworker shared an app he uses called Zipgrade.  Being the curious little science teacher I am, I decided to try and use it.  This brings up a neat topic that I feel is becoming increasing relevant in this day and age: technology in the classroom.  I actually did a project about it in graduate school, but I feel like it has become a more polarizing difference between teachers.  I find myself straddling the line between pro-technology and wary of technology, but when it comes down to it, I like when things can save me time and effort.  So, let me share with you a few tricks I've begun to compile while I experiment with apps, widgets and all that stuff.

Apps and Stuff
These are a combo of some apps for phone (both Android and iOS) and have some kind of computer interface to download and analyze data.  If you are pretty good with Excel or Google Sheets, the process of setting up classrooms in these apps is pretty straight forward.

Zipgrade:  I have a few apps I use for expediting the grading and analyzing of data.  One of the newer ones I mentioned was Zipgrade.  Through this program you can print out and grade, rather quickly honestly, scantron style multiple choice tests.  You scan with your device and can then upload a file of grades to your grading system.  Compared to how I grade a quiz of a comparable size, it takes about 1/3 of the time to grade and post grades to School Loop or whatever system you use.  The set up process takes some time, and it took me a while to figure out the weighting component, but I loved it.  That way, I never have to worry about using a scantron reader or entering grades by hand.  I'm into it.

Doctopus:  This is a mass copy system that works through Google docs.  Basically, it can make a specific copy of a Google file for each student to use so they don't edit the original document you share with them.  I use it mainly for rubrics for projects and lab reports so they can get feedback much faster.  There's a plugin where you can speak your feedback as a recording, which is great for accessibility.  There's a ton of stuff this one is capable of, I just haven't unlocked its full potential as of yet.

Socrative:  This is one of my favorites for quick quizzes.  Basically, you create an online quiz where students can answer either on their phone or on a computer.  You can use it to create a quiz game, exit tickets, team up the students or keep it individual.  The school I am currently at has a pretty strict no phones out policy, but in a classroom where you have Chromebooks or a less strict school phone policy, you could totally do a quiz game where they have rockets that shoot off into space as they get answers right.  There is an app for students and an app for teachers.  The teacher app can connect directly to your Google account and gives you a really comprehensive readout of what students have gotten correct and incorrect.  A lot of this app is similar to Zipgrade, but it is free and has a free response option.  However, in terms of assessment, it's good for formative, but for summative, I would lean towards Zipgrade due to the phone not being a part of the student interface.  Taking a test on a phone with the internet so close is too much for me to handle.

Plickers:  I'm trying this one soon with my freshmen.  This is a good check for understanding tool where each student gets a specific QR code to use during class.  You ask a question and scan for responses.  I am excited about the anonymity it brings to students, the accountability for understanding and the ease in grading with another spread sheet like Socrative and Zipgrade.  The thing I am not fully in love with, and this could be due to my inexperience with the app, is the organizational system.  Zipgrade and Socrative both have questions organized in a quiz format.  Plickers has the questions in a shared folder, so you have to choose the questions in your queue before each session as I see it now.  Hopefully, I can figure a better system.

Overall, these are the apps I have found that work the best in my space or I'm excited to try out.  If you have any experience with another system, please let me know.  If you can't tell, I'm excited to test out anything that will make my life easier and allow me to give better feedback.  I suck at giving work back in a timely manner.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

And Now the Positive Side to the Second Year

That blog post went dark.  Pretty quickly.  I wasn't feeling the best about myself at that time, and I decided to just clear out my brain.  Which oddly helped.  But the other side of that is that we need to fill in the space made by clearing out the bad by filling it in with something good.  So, let's try and do this so those of you who may be younger teachers than I can feel like the world isn't all terrible.

You are a Better Teacher
This will not seem right at all.  But believe me, when it comes down to it, you are better.  Seriously.  It may seem like on some days that all you can do is make mistakes, but they are mistakes that are not just because you are new.  They are mistakes because this job is hard, and that's how you learn. Whenever I feel like poop, I listen to the Tarzan soundtrack from Disney and scream along with the "In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn" part.   It ends with "all these things will come to you in time."  Thank you, Phil Collins.

New Students
My first year, I had a group of students who pushed every button I had.  I had to think on my feet so fast to just get through a day and get anything done.  This year, thanks to those students, I feel like I knew what to kind of do if it came up again.  Yes, there were many new challenges (see last post) but it has been wonderful to get to know a group of students and still see some of your old ones.  New jokes, new lessons, new personalities.  It has been a great year with these scientists, and I'm super proud to see how my past scientists are doing.

Honing New Skills
I make a conscious decision to get better at a thing a year.  This year was being timely on updating the online grading, and I feel like I have generally become much stronger at that and I still have the skills I honed last year, like planning using Post-Its (shout out to all my teacher friends who showed me how to do this) and positive narration, but boy howdy did grading get to me.  I've learned how to get as much grading done as humanly possible as fast as possible.  I also learned the best thing for me, is to focus on that thing.  I tried to implement a bunch of new  tricks, and many of them no longer are being used.  I figure I still have them, and the same thing happened last year until I kind of cracked those tricks this year.  I figure when it comes down to it, I'll keep learning a new trick a year and that's pretty fantastic.

People Know Your Name
I saved the best and least obvious for last.  It is amazing your second year to have name recognition.  I had to introduce myself last year or, in one case, hear someone ask my friend "who is Ms. S?" in front of me.  Now, thanks to chaperoning a few field trips and word of mouth, I am kind of known at school.   There are still batches of kids who have no idea who I am besides that mean lady who sends them back to class, but I have a way better relationship with other teachers.  Which is to say, I have a relationship with the other teachers at all.  I actually have some pretty great friends as a support network, and that I think may actually be the best part of being a second year teacher.

Yeah.  This definitely helped.  Hope it helps you too!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Second Year Teaching

As you can see by my crazy consistent posting, teaching as a second year teacher has been tough.  And, being the loving and generous author I am, I want to walk you through why it is so tough subject by subject.

All New Kids
Ok, this one sounds like a no brainer, but as a 1st year teacher, you find tricks that work with your group of quiz.  Talking out of turn?  Participation points.  Oodles of latework?  Ironclad latework policy second semester.  Basically, everything you came up with is tailored to that group of students and their needs and idiosyncrasies.  In my case, I had a sweet but chatty group of freshmen, so a lot of the management tools I had to use were based around talking out of turn.  This year, I have some personalities.  While they are still talkative, they are not quite as sweet about it.  There is a great deal more time spent dealing with negative interactions or trying to dissuade really inappropriate language and conversations. This is a very different challenge and requires a different skill set.

There's a flip side to this, of course.  In some cases, your following class benefits from your previous knowledge.  You'll find you can explain certain things way better if you were able to teach the same lessons both years.  However, many teachers I have known have had the most change in curriculum the first two years.  Even if you feel you have a strong set of lessons and activities, things happen.  Materials can run out, maybe your students are more or less advanced or maybe you just do not like how it addressed the standards previously and need to tweak it.  No matter what, changes are tough and you'll have a lot of them.

People Expect More of You
Especially if you don't change schools, you have proven that you can be a contributing part of the community.  Mainly, you survived.  And in some cases, this means you will find yourself in a leadership position, whether you feel ready or not.  In some ways, this can be fantastic.  You can really see how a school works and gain some great experience.  In some ways, this can be exhausting.  Seeing how a school works makes you realize how many moving parts there really are.  It makes your really respect all the administration do.

Also, expectations of abilities of teachers increases greatly.  I relate it to how the expectations jump for students from middle school to high school, even if they really don't mature that much over the summer.  You will be expected to be just better overall, and in many ways, you will be.  You'll find tricks to grade more efficiently, you'll get better at doing things on time, you'll be better about contacting families and managing a classroom, but you by no means will be perfect or meet the expectations of others sometimes.

People also expect you to know more things.  I have now been part of a few research projects, so if you need a good interview, you know who to look for.  Answer:  it may not be me.  While I do have some knowledge, it's very narrow and specific.  And yet, people love to study second year teachers.  Maybe it's a sophomore situation.  You are just starting to know how much you don't know.

You Expect More of You
I am my own hardest critic.  Whenever I have observations or evaluations, I see everything going wrong in the space and none of what is going right.  I tell myself that these things that are happening should not be issues any more.  My brain says "YOU HAVE DONE THIS BE PERFECT" and yet, I can't.  There's only so much 'can' in my body and sometimes, I run out.  I think this leads well into the fact that I have way less patience now with students and with myself.

You Have Way Less Patience
Yeah, remember how tired you were last year?  Multiply that by two.  You will have all of the baggage of prior students as well as current and almost no way to handle it constructively.  Ok, I'm exaggerating, but that's what it feels like a lot of the time.  I have not learned how to let some things slide, or I feel bad because I am letting more slide or mad because I take work home mentally and physically.  I feel like I had this youthful exuberance last year like YAY I'M A REAL TEACHER and now I sometimes just feel old and frustrated.  I'm also a bit of an idiot and made like three major life changing decisions in the span of the last six months (marriage, moving, job) and so I am really, really in my bones tired.  I don't know if anyone but my dad and my fiance really can see how tired I am.  I think I thought it would go away this year, and in some ways it has been less severe, but then I had to go and add on more stuff to do.  So this may be less about being a second year teacher, and more about just being me.


While all of this looks like a bunch of sadness and complaining, I do think I have improved but I just needed to vent.  I think I just needed this moment.  Positives to follow.
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