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.
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