Virtual Learning: Cameras

After 8 months of mostly virtual learning, I find myself wanting to capture some of my thoughts and experiences about camera use in a virtual classroom setting. This has truly been a journey that I’ve varied my position on during the COVID learning situation.

March (cameras – whatever works for you)

We found ourselves plunged into working from home from a situation where we didn’t use technology very much in our classroom. I had been recording and posting my lectures and materials in Google Classroom every day, but the intent was simply for students to have access if they were absent. Our use of this tech was limited to substitute plans and those daily recordings. Enter the pandemic and in our sudden forced time at home we were expected to “deliver content” but not to necessarily hold synchronous classes. If we did have a class the expectation was that it was not required and that we record it so that students could watch later if they were unable to attend.

I spent 4 days creating and posting videos and having students submit work. I was so sad after those 4 days that I knew I had to change something and FAST. What if this went on for a long while? You can read about that journey here, but let’s sum it up and say that we moved to synchronous classes quickly and suddenly cameras came into play.

April – June: The rest of spring (cameras – whatever works for you)

It took me several weeks to have the courage to turn on my own camera. I didn’t have a webcam and my laptop was positioned off to one side while my external monitor was in front of me. I also had a Chromebook from the other side. My class was a mix – some kids had theirs on, some off and some off and on rather regularly. One day I turned mine on and one of my kids said, “oh there you are!!” We went on to talk about cameras a bit. I kept mine on after that – it was clearly important from our exchange to the kids to see their teacher. I honestly didn’t concern myself with cameras too much. I began to feel connected to the avatars and got more comfortable with video. One thing to note about this situation was that I in my 2nd year of teaching the same group of students because I had looped with them. We were pretty comfortable with each other by this time.

Summer PD (cameras – it makes sense to have them on)

Over the summer I had the chance to take some classes and lead some sessions. One session was done with a high school teacher in our district. We had a lot of chats about cameras and attendance and the general expectation at the high school was that students have their cameras on. I started to delve more into student opinions and also sought parent opinion. My parents said that it was kind of pointless to hold class if you didn’t require a camera. They heard lots of stories of students logging in and just walking away. Some students said they would just not come to class if they had to have their camera on. The reason they showed up was that they didn’t have to be dressed nicely and out of their pjs. Some admitted to eating breakfast while in class while others said their mom kept popping in and they’d be embarrassed if their camera was on and their peers could see that. Some shared that their internet connection was just not very strong and it couldn’t handle the camera being on. (and back in the spring we weren’t doing a whole lot of interactive things yet – it was mostly direct instruction with some activities). Just as with in-person learning there are so many facets to consider. I was only hitting the tip of the iceberg in my questioning.

September – October 2 – Class norms (I’d really like the kids to have them on)

I started off the year naively thinking that I could just set up my class norms and expect that the students have their cameras on. But with no schoolwide norms, our slightly whacky schedule (two of my classes were combined so we had one very large crew that made cameras/mics tricky at best), and the fact that students were used to not having live class in the spring or having no camera requirement if they did resulted in the planned norms not working quite so well.

October 5 – Nov? – Hybrid learning (I don’t have to think about cameras)

I admit I don’t even remember the date we went abruptly virtual again. I just remember thinking I was so glad I got birthday cookies handed out to most students before we went virtual. We got a little break from thinking about cameras for a while when our hybrid learning kicked in at the beginning of October. Suddenly I got to see my students in person and we finally got a chance to get to know each other. Wow – I think we got about 5 weeks where we didn’t have to think about cameras in the classroom. I had optional opportunities to log into class, and I did have a second screen so I could see the kids if they came to class and had their camera on, BUT in general, kids didn’t and we mostly relied on audio for the interaction between in-person and remote students.

Once we went remote – (cameras – please turn them on)

This was an interesting time for us all. We were suddenly used to seeing each other in person and I respectfully asked the kids to keep their cameras on as a class norm. It made me feel human. We had switched to following our bell schedule which meant we’d interact as we would in normal school from 8-3 with the exception of lunch, study hall and homeroom. It would be a long day for kids and teachers. Teachers aren’t used to a traditional desk job and students aren’t used to sitting at a computer ALL day long. I thought actually seeing each other would help.

And I succeeded … for awhile. I felt really connected to the kids in these first weeks home. Most students had cameras on and the vibe was positive. I looked forward to school and I was having fun trying new things for virtual learning. And then something happened with the students. I don’t exactly know what (teachers don’t often get the full story) but I do know that it involved kids feeling unsafe on camera because of their peers. I felt powerless to fix it and the dominoes started to fall. They fell on one day actually.

It was the best of classes … it was the worst of classes – (I give up)

One day I went from my period 5 class (every single student had their camera on) and our class went really great to my period 6 class (suddenly and abruptly the kids didn’t have their cameras on). I don’t know exactly the reason but I chose to pick the fight and engage that day. I repeatedly reminded kids of class norms and respectfully and continually asked them to turn them on. Some did and some did to turn them right back off again. It was a terrible class. When I went downstairs for lunch my kids said, “oh man mom that sounded awful.” I said it was awful and I really wasn’t sure what to do. I was already starting to struggle with staring at a screen all day and that was when kids had cameras on. Now I was going to have to accept staring at avatars all day long. I couldn’t fight the kids. I didn’t have enough kids with them on to start to try to change the culture. On that day I just decided to scrap the norms. I didn’t feel up for the fight that I didn’t feel I could win.

And we have a couple weeks back in school (no camera worries)

Now when we went back to school we had switched to requiring students to attend their classes on their virtual days if they were hybrid. Our virtual students attended every day online too. Again, no camera concerns. Our connection was by Google Meet but we didn’t focus on the virtual kids having cameras on.

Another month of virtual (and it is back to the beginning)

And this time my class that used to have everyone with a camera on has reverted to no one with their camera. The classes that used to have no cameras have hit a middle ground with some on and some off. We had “bring your emotional support stuffed animal to class day” and “holiday outfit” and “hat day” and even an online ice cream party. On those days more cameras were on. We now have breakout rooms and cameras are on sometimes there and sometimes not.

I feel like I’ve come full circle on this. As someone who just does what anyone in authority tells me to do I spent much of the fall just wanting a school directive. If you ask me to do something I will so if the school says “we have cameras on” most of the kids will. When we vary it teacher by teacher it is tricky. It becomes something of a class culture.

As we enter 2021 my thoughts on cameras

I stepped back from this and started to observe my own behavior. At faculty meetings, I turn my camera on if other people do. In a training, it is the same thing. If I can get away with it off I often leave it off. I get distracted by seeing myself. I am more productive and focused if it is off. But I feel more connected to the leader and my colleagues when it is on. I have grown to love the avatars the kids choose and I definitely notice when they change them. I wish I could use cameras as a symbol “turn your camera off as you work” and I could do this for a while back when the kids were with me on the norms I set. Thankfully Google Meet has evolved as we’ve been virtual as well. I can use their hand raise setting to do this same thing.

I miss the kids. I miss seeing them and interacting “in person” with cameras. But, I can recognize their voices and I know their avatars and we do know each other. I still think a class runs better when cameras are on and I would welcome a top down directive, but I’ve settled in and I’m ok with where my kids and I are right now.

We head back into in-person hybrid schooling Monday so at least for a bit I can stop thinking about cameras.

Using Jamboard for Math

Last year my son’s Chemistry teacher created a lot of assignments in Jamboard. He proudly showed me his work. At the time my Algebra kids were humming along with taking pictures of their work on paper. I was intrigued by his projects though and offered up the option to them to give it a try. The class agreed that it was too challenging to write on and it worked just fine to take pictures.

Math 8 was a different story. When I opened it up to them they were mixed. Some students preferred the format and others were really frustrated by it. Our school was using Google Classroom at the time and classroom played very well with my iPad. I could pull their pictures into it, mark them up and grade easily. It didn’t play nicely with Jamboard. So, last spring I offered Jamboard alternatives to students who wanted to use them but stuck with mostly traditional pictures of work.

Concurrent learning

As with many things, the world has changed since last spring. My school now uses Brightspace and my students are learning concurrently. On any given day we have a mix of students in the classroom and at home. Some students are virtual every day and many are hybrid students. In our district, this means that they attend school in person two days a week and learn virtually two days per week. With COVID we can find ourselves virtual for 2 weeks with little notice. Collaboration and connection are important parts of success in this new landscape.

The paperless classroom

I’m proud of the fact that I’ve turned my math classes almost paperless since the year started. Even with a little bit of paper use, I have made fewer than a couple of hundred copies by December. Jamboard is just one of the many tools I’m using to make this mostly paperless math room work. The complete list of tools:

Not all of these tools are for students. Many are just for me for creating materials. I’m trying HARD not to add too many tools, and every day I seem to find a limitation on a free version of something that makes me want to fork over the money for something new.

Looking for Jamboard templates? This great post from Kris Szajner has some great ones in a guest post in Ditch that Textbook. Select the image or click on the link below the image.

Check out these from Ditch That Textbook.

Student Jamboards

I kicked off Jamboards with my kids just a bit before Thanksgiving. All of these examples represent individual Jamboards. The first two slides are examples of Math 8 work and other slides are pages from Algebra work. A big thank you to my students both for working so hard

S.E.L. Dice

In the fall of 2019, as part of a regular professional development day in October my district had someone come in and work with us on Social Emotional Learning Standards. We participated in activities, collaborated and I left feeling ready to come up with some ways to more intentionally teach and reinforce social emotional learning in my classroom.

Dice

I spent the weekend reading through the materials and came up with an idea of S.E.L. dice. I found a template and printed it out on 6 different colors of thick colored paper, put the activities I thought I could manage on them and printed up a key for myself. Each table bin in my 8th grade classroom got a single die and we used them regularly. My original project is linked below. The GREAT things about it.

  1. No student ever crumpled or squashed one of my fragile dice. That meant so much to me that they cared for their table bins so well.
  2. It was right in front of us all the time so we used them a lot.
  3. Even though I didn’t have it set up in a way that we could just roll and use anything because of prep needed, the kids really liked being asked to pic a die. I’d say, “table group with the pink one pull out your die.” And then I’d ask them to turn to #3.

One Word Whip Around

I really wasn’t sure how it would go with the class. Some of the activities really require kids to put themselves out there. Others put me on the spot in the moment for my teaching. When we did the activity, “One Word Whip Around” as a faculty in our training we were asked to share our one word reflection from the lesson literally everyone was polite. There were a couple of words you could read into and think, “this person really didn’t enjoy this” but you had to know a backstory to even guess.

I wondered how this activity would go in grade 8? I was really afraid to try it as we stood in a circle on our first go round in Algebra at the end of a class. Kids started sharing words that summarized a takeaway from that day’s activity: Awesome! Fun! Meh. BORING. Cool. The range was there. I felt my face turn red as I heard Meh and Boring. I smiled when I heard Awesome. I realized it wasn’t always the kids that I though enjoyed the lesson that did. Some kids I thought were totally checked out had the most energetic takeaways. After the activity we felt closer – more connected.

Summer PD

I shared this with my principal, guidance counselor, grade 8 team and finally my math department. I asked my department if anyone wanted to collaborate with me to make it better. YES! Courtney was interested in developing this further as a summer professional development project. I had really just thrown my dice together and there was opportunity for more deliberate materials. We put in for a summer project. Then COVID hit and stayed we realized we needed this to be more digital than we had planned. This project was one of many pivots for the year.

The finished project

Our project is a Google Slides presentation that you can use in the classroom or virtually. You can use real dice or you can use the dice site we linked to in the program. You can use it as is or you can take it as a launching off pad! If you do the latter and make great improvements, I’d love for you to share it back with me so I can post it here as another option.

Some of our ideas we LOVE and some were our last attempts to finish in our 3 hours of work we were allotted (as with all things teaching we just stopped counting our hours once we hit our cap).

Teacher Version – explains the SEL in teacher terms.
Student Version – you can display as is to your class

Thank You

Thank you to Slides.go for the great free templates. Thank you to DiceApp.io for the dice app. Thank you to Trumansburg Central Schools and to our Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Pam Rapoza for approving our summer PD hours. And, thank you to Courtney Kempski for working with me on this. It was a lot of fun to collaborate together.

Hybrid Week #1

Well we DID it! The 8th graders had their first hybrid week back in our building. It was the 4th week of school but for most it felt like the first week back … after 7 months away.

The High Points

On Thursday I asked our Gold group (this is the Wednesday and Thursday in person cohort of kids) to share their favorite and least favorite parts of being back in school. In some classes we used it as a wrap-up and in others it was a midway “brain break” from some challenging exponent work. Here are their thoughts.

Looking ahead and reflecting back

I was pretty pleased that after 3 weeks of virtual learning (and a summer of studying School Tool pictures) I recognized almost every student this week. Even with how challenging virtual learning can be, I felt like we really connected enough in those first few weeks to have a launching off point for week 4.

As I look ahead I am hopeful that the kids will settle well into this 2 and 3 (or all virtual) routine. I hope that for the kids that have chosen hybrid those two days are enough normalcy to help them stay motivated for the other two days. Math builds on itself so it doesn’t work out all that well if kids come in on Wednesday without having looked at Monday and Tuesday’s lessons.

How can parents support?

Our daily plan is that kids come in and they see either a green dot or a red dot on the board. The green means we’re using technology and they should promptly open their Chrome books and check our daily announcement in Brightspace. After they do anything that requires, they head to the Content page and then shut their Chrome book halfway. When everyone has this completed it is my signal they are ready to start. A couple of things parents can do. They should also have their composition book and folder and pencil out.

Remind your child to do this exact same thing at home; check the announcement and then get into the lesson. Know that your child is welcome to attend live class. We have a few students who have chosen to do this (when it works with their check-in schedule) and it is going very well for them. If you have more questions about how this works please reach out.

Know that Friday will be our iReady assignment day. This is an every Friday thing that I will show on Mondays in Brightspace so that students can split it into small bits during the week if they prefer. Please note – Algebra students will always have to juggle iReady and Algebra work on Fridays. Our curriculum is too dense to not have instruction on Friday.

Time to prepare for week #2!

Hybrid & Virtual Math -grade 8

Today’s post shares my current plan for virtual and hybrid math class with you. In it I will also share a bit about the journey to the plan. Please note that attendance to virtual classes is not mandatory but totally optional for students. If a student wishes to attend they may. If they are unable or not interested it is not an expectation. All necessary instruction is available in Brightspace.

Awaiting a hurricane

Labor day weekend spun slowly for me. I felt like I was awaiting a very slow moving hurricane. How would we fare starting our first 3 weeks virtually? On one hand I was excited. Other grade levels could figure out the kinks before we came back after construction in the school reached a point where our classrooms were ready. On the other hand I was worried. How would we all manage starting the year virtually?

My parent hat

My son elected the all virtual choice for high school. His first 3 weeks have been … a learning curve. The first week was overwhelming. We had waffled all summer about what to do and that first week was chaotic. He kept getting kicked off meets due to the wifi and he felt a bit overwhelmed with it all. The second week he started to feel the fatigue of being in his chair at home all the time but by week 3 things started to settle. He’s thriving. It’s all good.

Now it is finally our turn

As we wrapped online learning I wrote to several friends who teach at the high school. “What are you doing? I know some of Xander’s classes but I want more details. Anything you can do to make this learning curve less steep would be amazing!”

They came through for me super fast. One teacher is also an 8th grade parent. He ran test classes with his older daughter before he started. I just got into my classroom for the first time Thursday and got my tech sorted Friday (it’s all new). When he told me about the test classes I thought, “YES this is what I’ll do.” I asked my husband and Xander if they could do a test class with me on Saturday.

So what’s the plan?

I know you want to know what will class look like on days my child is virtual? How will it feel in class? Here is the quick story after 2 trial classes.

I’ll be joining a Google Meet 3 times! One device will face the classroom and our virtual kids will see their fellow classmates this way. One device will be our audio and can present when needed. One screen (my iPad) will be our writing and primary presentation mode using my favorite go to program, Explain Everything. Trust me we need all 3 for this to work this way.

But what will class look like?

Virtual kids will join the meet in their regularly scheduled class time. We’ll all kick off together. Then, the kids in class will watch my pre-recorded lesson on the SMART Board. The virtual kids will hop off the meet and watch the pre-recorded lesson while we watch it in the room.

Then we will come back together (I’ll do my level best to keep our videos to 10 minutes or fewer) and we’ll go through examples TOGETHER. Following examples we’ll have work time. That can be so many things that I won’t get into it here, but the virtual kids would have the opportunity to stay on the line for work time or hop off and work on their own and pop back in when they have questions.

Whew that’s a lot to digest

Yes it is. And it is gonna be AWESOME. Why? Because it HAS to be. We need this to work. And did I mention I bought an amplification system for my voice. My voice doesn’t project well already so covering my mouth with a mask makes it worse. I tried that out today and it worked GREAT.

I’m really not exaggerating when I say I’m truly thrilled.

Assume Positive Intent

One last thought. This is HARD. It has been a long run already for ALL of us. I don’t know a single teacher who isn’t working harder than they’ve ever had to work. I have entirely new tech that is going to be relying on the internet working. It may not work sometimes. I know it won’t. In the past when we had tech glitches I could pivot to the whiteboard and everyone was with me. It won’t be as easy with this hybrid model. We’re still getting used to Brightspace (our new learning management system). Students are still learning how to upload work, take good pictures of work and they’ll be learning to breath and talk with a mask on all day.

I hope when things go wrong you’ll take a deep breath and remember I’m giving this my best go. Reach out when you are concerned and maybe even when you’re happy and know we’re all in this together!

My amplification system.

Thanks for reading. Welcome to week 1 of hybrid learning!

2020 Classroom Pictures

Our 7th and 8th graders are returning to our hybrid school model a little later than the other students in our building due to construction. Our rooms are ready for us and Monday October 5th is our return to school day.

Normally my room is arranged with desks in quads with a lot of group work. This year with COVID-19 all classrooms are in rows with proper social distancing. This means I have room for 12 desks in the classroom and we all face the same direction. It reminds me of many of the classroom arrangements when I was in school. I took a few pictures to share!

After a few hours in the room it is all set for the kids and me to spend our days here! I am confident we’ll get used to our desks and enjoy learning together whether we’re part of the Blue group (Monday/Tuesday in person and W-F virtual), the Gold group (Wednesday/Thursday in person and M, Th, F virtual) or Virtual every day.

View of front of room, complete with brand new SmartBoard.
Side whiteboard. We’ll have learning targets and announcements here.
View of the left side of room when standing in the front.