I finished my 2016-2017 school year on Friday, May 26th. There were many things that went well, but an equal number of things that did not go well. In the end, I decided to transfer to a new position away from my current school. I felt there were too many structural barriers that impeded success there, student success, my own success, program success, and collaboration success. In education, there are times that you have no control over certain variables, but there are times that you do. I felt our school dropped the ball in a major way on the things that we actually can control. We must not squander opportunities to change things that don’t work when we actually can control them. That said, I wanted to reflect on the good and bad to empty my cup, plan for my improvement over the summer, and be ready for my next challenge.
Next school year, I’ll be a TSA working in the STEM department of my district, on the Computer Science team. I’ll be working approximately 50% of the time writing and revising the CS curriculum, coaching teachers who are teaching the CS curriculum, and running monthly PLC meetings for CS teachers. The other 50% of my time will be teaching the CS curriculum, most likely at the middle school level, wherever needed.
What I wanted to do in the 2016-2017 school year
Over the summer in 2016 I ran a number of Donor’s Choose campaigns to bring new technology to my school. We had a very limited budget for technology so it was the only way to get some new engaging materials for our students. I was able to acquire 6 Makey Makey kits, 6 Beebot Starter Kits, 6 Ozobot Starter Kits, and 8 Robot Turtles board games. We were also able to purchase a new cart of 30 Chromebook Flips. During the early part of the year, due to participation in a pilot online reading program, I also received 10 ipad minis in a charging station. WHEW! I got a lot of new things and had lots of new plans, ready to roll out in 2016, or so I thought.
I wanted to have a variety of possible lessons and activities for K-2 and 3-5. I thought this would help me reach more teachers and do a better job collaborating and integrating technology into the curriculum. The year before was my first year at the school and there was no collaboration, no team teaching, no common planning, and I was very isolated and working in a silo. I wanted that to change immediately. During the 1st year, there were so many infrastructural things to address, that it was fine to focus on those things (wifi issues, old broken devices, etc) and wait to tackle collaboration the following year. The new year was here, and I had more than enough to get rolling, maybe too much actually.
Mostly, I wanted to emphasize computational thinking, computer science concepts, integrate our lessons into the classroom teachers’ units, build capacity among classroom teachers, demonstrate the infrastructure was stable so more teachers would try technology projects in their own classrooms, and specifically do more green screen video, which has so many applications in K-5.
What I did well
- The acquisition of the Chromebook Flips was great. It allowed me to have one set of devices that worked well for both K-2 and 3-5. Previously I had old iMac desktops (11 years old to be exact) and the K-2 students really couldn’t use them well, and I had to do a ton of prep just to allow them to get on and use even basic web sites and online games. I could reserve a cart of old iPad 2’s for my K-2 classes, but it was hard to get, didn’t enough a full set for all my classes, and they were clunky and slow, and I couldn’t install apps on them. The Chromebook flips allowed me to focus on engaging curriculum rather than how to prep to make sure students could use a computer. It also allowed me to get students as young as 1st grade to login to their Google Accounts, which opened up considerably the possibilities.
- I purchased a large piece of green fabric for use as a green screen. Students loved making green screen videos. We made PSA’s, weather reports, poetry readings, book talks in talk show formats, we even used it with Kindergarden to do end of the year reflections, etc. It took a lot of coordinating, but when teachers saw how engaged students were, they loved it.
- I did a digital storytelling unit for 4th graders using Scratch and Google’s CS First curriculum, the Storytelling module. Each lesson was supposed to be an hour in length, but it took me 3 45 minute classes per lesson for most students to be successful. There were 8 lessons so it took longer than I wanted, but students were highly engaged.
- I had all students in grades 2-5 create Code.org accounts and work through Code Studio Course 1 or 2. Students enjoyed the activities and coding puzzles. Having accounts meant I could make more meaningful mini lessons to target areas where students struggled because I could see all their work in my dashboard.
- I created Kahoot games to help students learn vocabulary in a fun way. They learned vocabulary initially about computer science, but they often begged me to use it in other situations, digital citizenship, Scratch blocks, Chromebook use, etc.
- I introduced Google Slides in a more comprehensive way to 2nd grade classes. I started with a lesson from Control Alt Achieve. The lesson had students build a snowman. Different parts of the snowman were on different slides so they learned a lot of other skills too like how to cut, copy and paste, resize and move images, drag and drop, how to search Google for images and insert them into a slide. This led students to ask if they could do other projects with Google Slides, for example, they learned about Cesar Chavez during class, their teacher wanted them to show what they learned with technology, and many students chose to make a slide, search for images of Cesar Chavez, add speech and thought bubbles, add facts and details about his life, and put a relevant background image.
- Both of my 3rd grade classes were very challenging in regards to behavior, however one thing they craved was Khan Academy. Many of them had very low math skills and their regular classrooms were not as structured as they needed them to be. I used Khan Academy a little with them at the beginning of the year. They were highly engaged, focused, and on task in a way I had not seen before. I let them choose their seats as long as they committed to helping their group members when they had questions. This allowed me to stay at other groups longer helping more students in a more in depth way than was previously possible. The dashboard allowed me to see who needed what and make mini lessons to help. The leaderboard made them compete with each other to do better. Sometimes that competition was not as productive as I had hoped, but many times it was just enough to keep them working hard. I was also able to put some students in the early math class who were not ready for the 3rd grade math. In the middle of the year, when things were really rough, and our class climate was poor, we revisited Khan Academy, and the class got back on track and was successful and productive. I would not normally have spent so much time later in the year on Khan Academy in class, but this class thrived when we did, and fell apart during most other activities.
- I used Beebots with 1st graders to introduce sequence, coding, computational thinking and incorporated math literacy and storytelling. I had done some simple lessons where students had to navigate from the letter of their first name to the first letter of their last name, then to all the letters in their name, to number sentences 2+3 = 5, then with Main St and Island maps, they had to tell stories in groups and program the Beebot through those stories.
- I focused a lot more on developing relationships, even though it’s tough when you see students just once a week for 35-45 minutes. I found time at other times during the day, during lunch, before school, after school, even walking with a student toward dismissal and chatting for 5 minutes. This started to bear fruit toward the end of the year and got me some leverage in situations I didn’t previously have it.
- I did a better job of showing off my passions related to technology so kids could see how much I loved what I was doing. I especially loved playing around with stop motion animation even if I didn’t get a chance to use it in classes. I worked with some students during lunch or after school on it just because it was fun to so. I think they saw all the ways I problem solved as we worked on a project and realized that I didn’t have all the answers either and had to work through problems just like they did when trying something new.
- I opened up my lab a couple of days a week during different lunch periods. It was here that I was able to use some of the materials that I acquired, but could not find a way to use in class. We used Robot Turtles more at lunch. We also played around with the Ozobots more at lunch too. Once we were working more on projects during the year, students would often come to finish projects, especially students who didn’t have access to computers at home. 5th grade students worked on desktops in a small back area and came to call it “their office”. In exchange for near complete autonomy in their office, they did have to help me sometimes to make materials for the school, for other classes, and put together their 5th grade graduation slideshow, all of which they did willingly.
- There were a number of other smaller successes, but for this first post to revive my blog, I’ll leave it at these. Perhaps, I’ll post about more successes soon, in individual posts.
What I need to improve upon
- My school is a “hard to staff” school. That means it can be a challenging place to work. I tended to try to solve most of the issues in my room myself or with parent contacts. This had the unfortunate effect of making colleagues and my principal feel I had few issues in class and things were going smoothly. I had very few referrals so people thought that meant behavior was excellent for me, when it was not. I need to find a way to clearly communicate with my principal the state of my classroom, even when I’m handling most of the issues myself. I don’t feel I had much support due to various structures related to how specials teachers are incorporated into the day. For this reason I just tried to manage everything myself. In hindsight, I can see how this further made me feel I was working in a silo.
- I bit off more than I could chew. I got too many new things to roll out for 2016-2017. I had too many unrealistic expectations. I felt bad when I couldn’t incorporate all the new stuff we had. I always wanted to roll out these new things in class, to give the most number of students access to them, but sometimes it became clear it would be impossible to do in class. I let some of the items sit idle rather than find other ways to get started with them. Eventually I had kids at recess, lunch, or after school playing around with all of the new items. This was not ideal, but way better than sitting in a closet not being used at all.
- Our specials teachers release teachers to go to grade level planning. This means we can never join grade level planning meetings because we teach their classes. I need to find a way to convince the principal to take a chance on doing grade level planning differently so specials teachers can be incorporated. This means that the Science, Library, and STEAM teachers don’t collaborate with teachers, don’t integrate with teacher units, and don’t learn from each other. In some cases, teachers made efforts outside of school, but in most cases they did not. We taught in silos. I am working to develop a small number of research studies about technology teaching models in 2017 look like or should look like, including how the way we’ve been doing it at my school is a model that failed 15 years ago.
- We were very isolated from classroom teachers so we didn’t have strong relationships. Strong relationships would have enabled teachers to trust us, take more risks with technology, see benefits for students, and want to do it more, and perhaps even advocate for the big change in the master schedule that we need. Over the year, the few teachers who eventually collaborated a little, were teachers who I’d managed to develop a closer relationship to. While this is an improvement, the student experience of school should not depend on whether or not I can develop relationships with their teacher, it should be an expectation from administration.
- I have to pick up my classes, I have to drop them off, I have to get them from lunch, and I have to dismiss them at the end of the day too. While none of that is ideal, it was reality. I need to have more strategies to line up, walk in the hallways, gather our things for dismissal, etc. Transitions schoolwide were very chaotic, but all specials teachers reported very frustrating experiences since students treated us only slightly better than substitutes.
- Students in our inclusion program had a very hard time doing any of the same activities their peers did when they came to the STEAM lab. Eventually I designed other activities for them to do, but it was not related to what their peers were doing. While the problem is a bigger structural problem, students only being mainstreamed during specials class, it again is a reality. I needed to find a better way to have students be able to participate in some way, even a small way, so they could do the activity with their peer group. We usually had a shortage of paras so it would be one para for 4 students, so they sat at a table by themselves, otherwise it would have been to hard to manage the students. This made it hard to differentiate if it depended on para support to do so.
- There are many other ways I can improve, but for the sake of a long blog post, I’ll cut it here. I’ll post more about specific things I can improve upon and ways I’ll attempt to do so next year, in separate posts.
While I have accepted a new position for the 2017-2018 school year, all of the above areas of improvement still apply. In some cases, maybe more so in my new position. I’ll be doing some classroom teaching, but I won’t be based out of a school, some some of the isolation issues will be more imperative to address. Since I’ll be focusing solely on teaching Computer Science, I’ll be able to avoid some of the frustrations related to common planning and collaboration when the master schedule doesn’t support it.
Books I have on my bedside table or digital device to read and learn from this summer:
- Teach Like a Pirate
- Kids Deserve It
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and how to Listen So Kids Will Talk
- Computational Thinking and Coding for Every Student
What were some of your successes or failures of this past year? How do you plan to improve them for the upcoming school year?Please follow and like us: