The Adventures of Mr. Bread

The 2021-2022 school year has been hard so far. Last year was a challenge that I embraced from the very beginning, jumping full into the pool with two feet. This year, fatigue has set in … for me and for my students. The fall felt somber, challenging, and forced.

iReady

My students have to take a diagnostic test called iReady 3 times a year. To help support their learning outside of class and to support additional growth with math they are expected to work on the iReady lessons for about 45 minutes a week. I know that when they were 7th graders a lot of my students struggled with this requirement. A current grade 8 student, (Willoughby) had started a petition against iReady lessons as the last school year drew to a close. Determined to set a positive stage, I talked with a colleague this summer at length about how to increase student motivation for this platform, held a brainstorming conversation with my students, and made a plan.

We came up with some things:

  • Students would work toward a classroom competition goal. Algebra against Algebra and Math 8 against Math 8. After 5 weeks we’d have a party for the winning class in each category.
  • An individual goal was also at play – a treat for every 3 one hundred scores in a row, or for 4 scores over 85% or for every 5 over passing.
  • A sticker chart on the wall to help keep track and brighten things up – big emojis for 100s, masked emojis for 85+ and a star for 70+ (passing by iReady standards).
  • An option to have the assignment each week or to “binge” it and do it across a 5 week spread. *some students did pick the 2nd option, but the platform reporting makes it hard to maintain this over time. Additionally, not many 8th graders were able to manage the complexity, so I dropped the option after the first 5 weeks.

What happened?

  • Some kids jumped two feet in and crushed it – many worked much harder than without any incentives.
  • Some kids ignored it all together. The incentives didn’t matter to them and/or the platform was unpleasant for them.
  • Most kids hit the middle ground – happy to have a treat when it arrived their way, but behavior wasn’t drastically changed due to what we did.

Outside the Box – Enter Mr. Bread

The way I set this up was through a Jamboard that the kids could fill out. They circled their goal for the week and then they reflected on whether they had reached the goal when they turned it in.

The blank Jamboard for students to fill out

I shared with them that my students last year had a lot of fun with Jamboard individual and group assignments creating their own fun end page to add some levity to my life and theirs. Evey took me up on this fun idea and started to submit weekly “Adventures of Mr. Bread” as part of her iReady submissions. I asked her early on if she would be comfortable with Mr. Bread having a featured post. She responded, “Sure” so now he gets to make his debut. Below is a Google Slides presentation that shows Mr. Bread from weeks 1 through the end of our iReady Adventures. I’ll get to that next … but first, enjoy Mr. Bread’s journeys.

Select image or caption to view Mr. Bread’s journey!

Bright Spots

Circle back to the challenge of the year. Mr. Bread has been a bright spot – for me and for Evey. For Evey, it was a way to trick herself into looking forward (or at least embracing with a fuller heart) a challenge that wasn’t something she was super jazzed to do each week. For me, it provided a laugh in my hours of looking through student time spent and results scored. For both of us, it offered a digital connection. This connection is something that helped support growth in the in-person classroom. A conversation started digitally could continue in person and go back to digital and so on.

Our iReady lessons ended

In our first 15 weeks of school, iReady was only actually assigned 8 times. We had a few weeks to get situated and take our first diagnostic and then our lessons started. We had a gap for Thanksgiving and then I didn’t ever plan to assign the week before our winter break. All in the expectation for kids was just 6:00 of time if they took the “guided tour” or 45 minutes each week. My students’ times ranged from 0 minutes to 15 hours and 51 minutes. I have 64 students on this platform. The average time spent was 6:25. My Algebra students did an entire mini-project with our data – they used our statistics to reinforce their knowledge of skewed data, median, mean, practice box plots, and more. One of my students completed all the lessons left in the iReady platform in the 8 weeks we had and several others were close. I had two students who didn’t participate at all. Most passed almost every lesson they tried. Some were able to use iReady as a tool to help them learn to focus (the lessons are 20-40 minutes and students learned the discipline to put their phone on silent or airplane mode to allow full focus).

Ultimately we decided as a school to stop the lessons for many reasons. I agree with them all – too many digital platforms, the stress created instead of the joy of learning, and more.

When I shared the school’s decision in Willoughby’s class there was cheering and high-fiving. I smiled. I was proud of him because he had shared an opinion and started a movement. I was even more proud that while he felt passionate about this, he respected me, the situation, and school expectations. He demonstrated that by completing his iReady with a full heart (in fact he logged over 3 hours more than the minimum requirement).

Sphere of Influence and Final Thoughts

  • As I wrap up this post, I think about all the things we are all required to do that we don’t really WANT to do. I’m proud of Evey for finding a fun way to engage with things to trick herself into having fun. I’m pleased that it provided both of us with some weekly smiles.
  • I’m proud of Willoughby for demonstrating initiative and also for accepting that our school had his best interest at heart (filling in learning gaps) and leanding in and doing the work.
  • I’m proud of my many students who went above and beyond expectations for this platform and “skewed the data” for us. The truth is that in this pandemic we all have gaps in all subjects. Those that embraced this platform for the time we used it had some of these gaps filled in. I am also proud of kids learning to manage their own distractions. This is essential to success in high school and the workplace and more.

I hope you have enjoyed Evey’s Mr. Bread Adventures and all my thoughts to go with his journey!

Jamboard for Review & Teams

This post shares our experiences with using Jamboard for group work!

Getting Started

There was an assignment. It consisted of just a few problems and students were working in small groups for it. I enjoyed looking at the different techniques and styles the kids had for solving the problems. With Jamboard you can see their creativity come out. Do they draw on the board? Insert pictures? Add colors and fun text or keep it simple? Do they show a lot of work or just a little? Everyone has a different style.

One pair really made my day. They did the math part and then they added a page at the end – a collage that just showed how much fun they had together. They were collaborating in a breakout room on a Google Meet. One student was in person 2 days a week and the other learning fully virtually. I like Jamboard because it makes it easy to collaborate together. Here is their mini topic Jamboard.

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Pandemic Teaching – 1 year later

A year ago tomorrow marks what was our last day in a normal classroom. On Wednesday March 11th 2020, I was arranging for a teacher to observe my class. I was her mentor and we were searching for a mutually agreeable time. I suggested the next day. It wasn’t the best day but I just had a feeling it was going to be our last chance. I said, “I think it is going to be the last opportunity.” She did come and it was. We had a normal lesson that day on the 12th and our planned (and slightly modified version) of Pi Day on Friday the 13th. In this post I’ll share the journey to now through this very crazy year. View posts below that show the entire journey through this.

You have a year

We started this fall virtually due to construction in our building. I yelled from the rooftops about this wonderful opportunity we’d been given. We had several extra weeks to let the 5th and 6th grade classes work out all the kinks before we came back to the building. All things considered I had enjoyed my journey with my students last spring. We gathered for our not required online classes and that not required part somehow made them feel special. We had a little virtual awards ceremony at the end of the year. We shared stories and we learned math.

But the fall felt different. I didn’t know the kids yet and just a few weeks in I started to feel like I was a cop instead of a teacher. Most of my days were good, but I admit that I started thinking about what other fields I could pivot to. I gave myself a year to find a new career. My husband asked me occasionally what my plan was for that. Of course I didn’t actually do anything about it because I love teaching and knew I really didn’t want to switch careers.

Beautiful things are happening

At a team meeting last month I blurted out, “so many beautiful things are happening in the classroom!” I’ll share just a few of them. I’ve always struggled with tutoring. It can be awkward to look over someone’s shoulder to see their steps. It is hard for the student to focus on what I’m doing on their paper. There’s something just inherently a little weird about it for me. I think screen sharing, online whiteboards and breakout rooms are incredible. We can collaborate real time, focus only on voice, use multiple colors and more. Jamboard has brought our kids at home and at school together in ways that I never could have imagined. I like so much of what is happening collaboratively right now.

Learning to yell

When we first went back to our hybrid in the fall I bought an amplification device to use because I was so worried that my voice wouldn’t carry. I used it for months but hated wearing it. The kids could hear me but I couldn’t move my head passionately, I got feedback from it when I got too close to the board and I just felt weird. I hated wearing a mask and yelling through it and even with that I didn’t feel like anyone could hear me. One day when I was in my temporary space a floor up due to short term construction my friend from down the hall commented that she was exhausted from yelling all day. As I sat in my classroom listening to her voice carry down the hallway, I thought, “You know you could talk a little louder if you tried harder.” So, I stopped wearing the amplification system and started yelling more. Note that for me yelling is probably speaking just loud enough that a kid can actually hear me so there’s that, but I am happier!

“Virtual students I lost you!”

As I worked with my class last week I had so many tabs open that I briefly lost my virtual students. I shouted, “I lost you” to the virtual kids and one student laughed saying, “that would have sounded INSANE a year ago.” A year ago I had never used Google Meet and only used Explain Everything to record my classes each day. A year ago, my students were all in one room and each class had 15-20 students. A year ago I worked with all students in the same space every day. A year ago my comment WOULD have been insane.

Collaboration during Covid

I am SO proud of my students for their ability to collaborate across the distance. I’ve been able to watch my husband collaborate with people across the home/work divide for over two decades in his work from home journey. He even hosts a weekly Twitter chat about working from home and wrote a book about his experiences prior to the start of the pandemic. This year I got to experience it and teach students to do the same. There are new skills that kids need for this.

Just a few include: willingness to talk to a screen, no fear of others listening to them both in the room and out there in another space, understanding of how to share a screen, navigate into and out of breakout rooms, talk from several feet away and more. It feels weird but once you get used to it, it isn’t all that weird at all. It heightens other senses and increases your focus. It makes a teacher and student really lean into what is important.

Groups

Typically my classroom is arranged in groups of 4 with kids facing each other. They stay in these groups for 5 weeks, allowing students to settle into their team. This year has been different. I remember my first few days with the rows of kids 6 feet apart looking at me to give the information. I remember trying to parse out how we could collaborate from 6 feet apart. I felt sad about our situation. Now, in March we’ve settled in. I realized that just because we’re not together in person that it doesn’t mean we can’t have these 5 week groups. Those skills in working together strengthen when you have to stay together for a bit. I’m seeing that develop across the distance now. It’s well known that the best way to learn something is to be tasked with teaching it. In the group, kids have the opportunity to help each other strengthen skills as they collaborate.

Study Hall Miracles

I wish I had grabbed pictures from this day, but I’ll paint a picture instead. About two weeks ago, several students who are not assigned to my study hall all came in to work on math. It was a mix of Algebra kids and Math 8 kids in to get help and/or to collaborate with their group. I sat at my desk and set up the Algebra class meet so that two groups could get into the meet and join breakout rooms. That allowed the groups to collaborate with the kids at home (note that kids are not required to attend study hall on their virtual days). The coolest things happened that period. Math 8 students were working together in the room and I was bouncing around giving help. The Algebra students were working on a team Jamboard and I was interacting with one team in a Google Meet breakout room giving help by sharing my screen. That group had one student in the room on the meet, another at home on the meet and one student not on the meet but on the Jamboard. We could watch his pen moving on the board as we were talking. Another Algebra group with one student in the room was collaborating in a breakout room and I heard, “one of you should take a picture of your work and put it in the Jamboard because that’s more efficient than me writing on the Jamboard.” That’s a cool feature of Jamboard. You can write on the page but you can also add an image of your work on paper. I think what struck me most from this day was again how much more effective it was to work with the team virtually by screen sharing than it would have been to hover over the 3 of them in person. They were free to focus fully on the math vs any distraction the physical experience offered.

Next steps from here

We’re heading out of this pandemic back to “normal” times or at least toward normal. Where do we go from here? What is in store for us? I know that I want to keep as much as we can of the good from this time. Our students are more responsible, prepared, better at following school rules, grateful and even mature. They are also sad, lonely and disappointed in many ways. I look forward to restoring everyone’s mental health and continuing our gratitude. We are and will continue to be resilient. Public school is a gift of education and for so many it has become a chore. I think this year has highlighted just how essential it is in so many ways.

I know that I’ve loved not waiting at the copy machine for printouts or having everything done and ready at home except the copies. I love that the kids can take their Chrome books home and that on any given day I can expect all but one or two kids to have remembered to charge them at home. I miss the shared calculators, cute little bins of shared supplies at our table groups and the lively collaboration that is all happening in class. I can’t wait to have that back. I don’t miss the kids having to take down chairs and put them up in the morning. I don’t miss bells. We removed them during Covid because our grade 5/6 is on a different schedule than 7/8 and guess what – as long as our clocks work this situation works beautifully!

I hope next year we can celebrate Pi Day again!!

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.

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