What a crazy year! There have been major changes to the way we operate as a school thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. And, these changes will certainly follow us into the next school year. Here are just a few of my personal (nothing official) thoughts on where things will head moving forward.
Covid is a part of our lives now and so are some basic safety practices. It has been highly advised that people where masks out in public and attending school will be no different. While I am not sure if they will mandate masks in schools for all, I am sure your teachers will be be wearing them. Masks are the new fashion statement and form of self expression.
They also highly recommend a behavior known as social distancing, where we will be expected to stay 6' away from one another. I think this is really a misnomer as people have honestly never been more social than during the pandemic, only in a different manner than we normally think of socialization. I prefer to use the term physical distancing. Anyway, what this will look like in schools is still uncertain as well. Will we have smaller class sizes where students can have more space between them? Will students do part of their school year in the class room and part online? Will we stay with remote learning until a vaccine or cure is found? If we are in school, how will class changes and lunchtime take place? I don't know right now, but I do know the make up of classes will certainly look different as will how we experience the school day.
Another question that remains is with regard to shared resources. Creating digital art means students are constantly working on shared computers throughout the day. How do we sterilize keyboards and mice between classes? Will every student need their own? Will students need plastic gloves? I honestly don't know.
And, it currently appears, that our online learning experience is shifting as well. Near the end of the year, teachers were informed to move all online instruction to a new learning management system known as Canvas. Although we were originally told we could continue using our current LMS (Schoology for me), it appears that they want every teacher, grades K-12, using the same system.
This week marks approximately one month since schools shutdown due to covid-19. Because of this, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how things are going for me and my students in my classes so far. Bear in mind, these are personal observations (for the most part) and may not be relevant to everyone teaching and learning through this crisis. And, while I know there are a lot of forces at work in all of our lives such as economic hardship and personal mental struggles resulting from stay-at-home orders across the nation, I will only address a handful of topics related directly to what I see as an educator. Unfortunately, I cannot solve every problem we experience.
I guess you can say that our students are lucky. Our school was already in the process of making certain that every high school student either already had or would be provided with some form of technology allowing them to access the internet prior to the covid outbreak. Although we were not quite finished ensuring this when the school system decided to shutdown, the goal was realized a very short time afterwards. Now, school administration and parents in our PTSA are working on the same assurance for our middle school students. This is awesome...though it holds some limitations for classes such as mine as the provided devices are all Chromebook based and cannot run the necessary software for the curriculum. So, I needed to find alternative software that can be used on a variety of device types and come as close as possible to the required software I teach to ensure continued learning of major concepts, if not the required tools. And, after considerable effort, I managed to succeed in my search for most of the software needed (graphics, video editing, animation and 3D modeling).
So, curriculum specifics aside, what else is new? Well, teachers and students have learned to interact in new ways using online tools. I have never been happier to have already prepared my students for curriculum distribution using a learning management system (LMS). Many teachers had to get up to speed with creating an online classroom as quickly as possible and I was already finished with overcoming this hurdle thanks to using an LMS for well over a decade. But, that is really where the advantages I hold as a tech ed teacher end.
On the personal note, I find myself working more frequently and harder than ever before to make sure my students succeed. I am busy converting lessons to focus more on concepts than software and find it hard to step away from work now that there is a very blurred line between my work-home lives. While I only need to work eight hours a day, I find myself working 10-14 hours. But, that work is typically far less stressful most days as I can select a single task to focus on, actually finishing it in one sitting rather than completing them in bits and pieces throughout a the week. I no longer live by an alarm clock despite typically start my workday at 6:00 am or earlier, walking from the bedroom to my office. I can delay the beginning of work, for the most part, if needed and continue later in the evening to accomplish the necessary tasks. And, most importantly, I can walk away to take a break any time I find it is needed without any consequences for doing so. I know if I take a needed hour-long walk or a mental distraction spending a TV show in the middle of the work day, I will make up the time that appears to be lost productivity later on in the same day, regardless of time, since there is no real punch clock or supervisor standing over me to keep track of clock-time physically spent with students. I am actually far more productive given the flexibility to accomplish the tasks I need to do when I am most focused on completing them.
Looking at general educational requirements, teachers are incorporating the use of video conferencing in place of face-to-face instruction using tools like Zoom or Google Hangout or Hangout Meets. As a result, I have flipped my classroom instruction. I typically use my hour-long weekly meeting with each of my four preps to provide a short overview of where they should be and where we are headed, update them on changes to needed school related information, and answer questions they may have regarding the activities I provide them. Most of the material that I would normally share as lecture in the past is now placed completely inside the individual pages and activities in my LMS as video content and/or reading materials. This allows me to focus on student needs as opposed to repetitive instructions, basic vocabulary and hands-on demonstrations during the short time I have with them in a face-to-face environment. I now see how I can change these regular classroom activities often resulted in an actual drop in student engagement during classroom instruction. For many students, lecture means tune-out and this flip encourages tuning-in. Flipping instruction is definitely one technique that will be retained once we return to the traditional classroom.
However, it seems that not every student flourishes under this model. There is a HUGE problem that has become abundantly clear as we move forward: apathy. Although I have reached out to the families of those students who aren't engaging in anything within my classes, regardless of whether it is participating in video conferences or submitting completed assignments, there seems to be a sense of being overwhelmed on the part of some students and/or their families. While I cannot say for certain the cause of this behavior in students (it could be caused by economic hardships, illness falling upon families, difficulty in sharing technology among family members, or personal difficulty in coping with the isolation resulting from stay-at-home orders in most states), it is a major problem that must be dealt with and overcome for students to be successful. Students need a supportive and encouraging home environment to help them navigate the now required changes to their normal daily routine. And sadly, it appears many lack this support structure, so they fall between the cracks and get left behind despite our best attempts for this to not happen.
On the other side of the equation are students who are heavily engaged/involved and who have that necessary support structure. These students are flourishing through the challenges and making every effort possible to be successful. They seem to be learning the importance of self-reliance and personal motivation, developing better communication skills, and finding connections between the skills taught in school and the world outside the educational bubble that they never saw before. It is a truly amazing thing to see these students develop as we continue doing our best to help all of our kids become successful both in and out of their classwork.
On Friday, I started a new tradition with my students: Friday Fun Polls. I decided that a simple poll to see where students stand on any number of topics could be an informative and a fun distraction, if only for a brief moment. And, I let them know that generally, these polls won't have anything to do with curriculum. To kick off this new weekly activity, I asked the students to respond to the following question:
Are you ready to come back to the classroom yet?
Out of my 110 students, I received a response from 42. And, while that is only 38% of my students, I found the results extremely interesting.
Think about this - 83% of students who are engaged miss school after only one month. Granted, that is most likely due to the social aspects school provides, but it still says something about students. Students generally want to be in school, despite everything families and teachers hear to the contrary from them.
In summary, I believe this crisis has exposed several weaknesses in the current educational model as well as those in the possibility of schools to be successful with remote learning. Personally, I feel we will not return to business as usual after this crisis ends, there will be definite and dramatic changes both inside education and our daily lives outside of the classroom. But, despite some of these changes relating to how we choose to live our lives, many of these changes can and should be for the better. Schools should be encouraged to truly embrace and close the technology gap both in instruction and student accessibility. Families should grow closer to one another and reconsider many of the commitments and time-burns they run their kids to and from on a daily basis, rethinking the importance of how they choose to schedule leisure time together outside of work and school. And, many people will learn the importance of thinking more before spending frivolously on things with less intrinsic value in improving their their lives. The world will definitely change around us, the real question is: how will we change both as human beings and citizens?
For starters, I KNOW I haven't been a good blogger this school year. It's simply been an insanely busy year for me both professionally and personally. But, that is about to change. I am vowing to return to regular blogging to share my thoughts and experiences in the classroom and education in general. So, let's get started!
As we all know, the world around us is constantly changing. Our latest hurdle to overcome is the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic. If you are like me, you watch the nightly news and have seen all of the information out there being relayed about this new threat to humanity. And, make no bones about it, this threat is scary. But, I want to look at it from a different perspective...a more positive one in my mind: what opportunity does this provide for educators to reflect upon our educational models? Many school districts across the nation are closing as a result of just how contagious this virus is and are moving to a remote learning model so they can continue to deliver education to their students and keep some sense of normalcy in all of our lives. Our school district and the state of North Carolina are no exception in this change. We were recently told that the district will be closed for a minimum of three weeks and just yesterday, the governor announced closing all schools for the next two weeks. So, let's take a look at how this affects my students and my content delivery.
For many years now, I have used an online learning management system (LMS) in my classroom. I've gone through Blackboard, moved to Moodle, explored Edmodo, considered Google Classroom and finally settled on Schoology. While different platforms will meet different teachers' needs, I found Schoology to be the best at meeting my needs due to the large number of resources and tools it offers for free as well as the very user friendly interface for both educators and students. I use my LMS every day with my students both in and out of my classroom. However, I have never made that leap to completely flipping my classroom out of fear for my students simply not doing what they are told and because some students might lack access to the necessary technology, even though I know they most likely have everything they need. In case you don't know, a flipped classroom is a method of teaching students where the content is delivered outside of the classroom, typically online, while moving the activities that are commonly used for homework and such to inside the classroom.
For years, I have wondered what would happen if I moved to a remote learning model even though my students continue to meet with me daily. I have fantasized about teaching from home and living a much more comfortable and rewarding life by doing so. Now, educators everywhere are finding themselves scrambling to answer the question of how they will deliver content, materials and instruction to students while in mandatory closures due to the virus. And, I find myself finally getting the answers to my ever-looming questions, as well as being better prepared to do so than most of my peers thanks to setting up my LMS over the years, using it with my students on a daily basis, and having experienced the excellent online learning provided in Adobe's Education Exchange. On a side note, if you are an educator reading this, the Ed Ex currently has a course on Flipped Learning for Your Classroom, which is 100% free! Just create a free Adobe account and sign up for Ed Ex...you may even earn CEUs for taking their online courses!
So, how will my students succeed in light of this pandemic emergency? For starters, I polled my students before we went into closure to see who has and who doesn't have access to the necessary technology as well as what kind of access they have. All of my students reported some level of access, be it computers with internet access or cell phones with data plans.
There are lessons I do in school where students will not have access to the same resources we use in my classroom while at home, I know this and need to find a way to compensate for it. This week, I am working my way through the content in my LMS to determine what is critical for my students to complete and what can be passed on until a later date when we return to regular classes. Some of the assignments I normally give to my students will change from hands-on creations to informational reading, vocabulary exercises, written reflections and online discussions. Some of it is basic conceptual understanding and while I prefer them to do hands-on experiences, it simply won't be possible and they all need the information to be successful later on. So, understanding the information is more important than the exercises.
Next, comes the problem of software. Luckily, Adobe offered schools with current licenses access to named user accounts for their students which enables them to use the software in the school's current license at home. While I wish our district had gone this route from the start, we have station licenses which means they can only use the software at school. This offer from Adobe is a real game changer for our students and greatly appreciated! Schools have to apply for access and our district did so as soon as this opportunity was announced. I am currently waiting to hear about approval. If you want more information on this, read this article. And, Adobe isn't the only company making their tools available to schools. Google has offered free access to the premium version of their Hangouts Meet software and other companies are doing the same. On top of that, some of the software I use already offers free access to students such as Autodesk 3ds Max and the Unity Game Engine. However, not all students have computers that can run this software. So, I need to find some alternatives for all of the software we use. I already have a long list of options compiled on my Digital Artistic Tools page here on my site.
To conclude, while this will be a challenging time for many, I am excited about this forced experiment in remote learning. While I fear some of my peers will not fair too well in this new educational model, it just might change the way I teach for the rest of my career in education. Over the years, I have done my level best to make sure my students are self-sufficient in their education and this will be a real test for some of them. But, I know they are well prepared for this kind of a shift in education and will be successful. If you are a fellow educator in a similar situation, a simple search online will reveal all kinds of amazing free resources that can help you as well. Everything from full-on LMS suites that are free (I'm telling you, check out Schoology, it offers a lot of tools in their free version), lessons and activities for every curriculum area that can be completed with little to no additional preparation, as well as tons of free tools you can use to deliver instruction and content to your students in interesting and engaging ways. Regardless of what everyone does in terms of continuing to teach in these trying times, remember the most important thing is to stay safe and well throughout this worldwide crisis!
What are your thoughts about flipping the classroom and remote learning? Add a comment below!
Well, there's no denying it at this point: Summer is Over! However, it's not something to be sad about. Sure, I know we enjoy those lazy days of sitting by the pool, but we can't just lay around forever. Personally, I am looking forward to the return, though there will be some challenges for me this year and there are definite changes.
For starters, we have a new digital art teacher, Mr. Lucas Gearhart. He comes to us from Las Vegas with a background in teaching digital arts for over a decade and a formal training in the fine arts. So, I am certain that I will learn a lot from him and look forward to working closely with him in the future development of our digital art programs.
Another change is the addition of a middle school course in the digital arts. While it is solely intended for students in the 8th grade, my hope is that there is enough interest in it at the middle school level to justify bringing in a third CTE teacher down the road. Only time will tell! This will be the first digital arts course offered at DSA for middle school students in close to a decade. And, we are catering the course to provide students with an understanding of some of the basics involved in our high school curriculum. So there will be a lot of work involved with this addition.
So, I wish everyone a good start to the school year and hope that sentiment continues throughout the year. I can't wait to see you all tomorrow for Day 1!
One of the things I have long struggled with is the idea of flipping my classroom. And, after reading the article Flipped Classroom: What to Know in 2019 by Elizabeth Trach, it got me thinking about it again. Maybe it's my age or the way I experienced school as a child, but even with the best of intentions, I have a hard time with letting go of classroom instruction in favor of instruction solely taking place outside the classroom. Perhaps, it's a trust issue that the kids won't do their part and then I will cave in and do it in class anyway. I'm not 100% sure. But, every time I come back to this point, I always intend to flip at the start of the year and then back off as the year progresses. Maybe it's the routine of past experience? I know that part of my concern is for students who lack access to the technology needed to see the instruction. Again, I am at odds with this. I constantly tell students:
But, I have a solution!
Rather than completely flipping my classroom, I do a partial flip. By a partial flip, I mean that I still spend face-to-face time lecturing my students, usually in the form of hands-on demonstration with accompanying explanation, but all of my materials are also shared through Schoology, either in written or video formats. That way, students who miss a lecture can still access the information outside of my classroom to stay up-to-date with the rest of the class.
Despite still taking time for lecture, the majority of my in-class time is spent doing hands-on activities where students work through the tasks presented at their own pace, within certain deadlines. Most activities contain a video tutorial demonstrating the skills needed to succeed and students can pause and repeat portions as needed until they understand the tool or technique being used. And, this instructional method allows me the freedom to help those in most need in a one-on-one manner while those who don't need personal attention continue working on their assignments and learning at their own pace.
So, while the odds of me completely flipping my classroom still seems far off, I plan on continuing to use the portions of this great technique that I feel work best in my unique situation. Maybe some day I will completely flip my lid (don't ask the kids, they'll say that already happened!)
DSA always has the best graduations. We hear this every year along with encouragement to attend as graduation celebrates both our students and our success as teachers in helping them make it to this major life transition. Plus, the kids love to see us there supporting their achievement! After 16 years of teaching, I am proud to say that I have attended 14 of these annual ceremonies. The only graduations that I have missed were for one class where I really didn't have a connection with any of the seniors very early in my career as an educator and the year my son graduated from Northern High School. While the core of each ceremony is the same, there are subtle differences between them as well. And, the same goes with each graduating class.
Although I see a small percentage of any one graduating class in my classroom, I get to know my students in ways that most teachers rarely do as my seniors generally stick with me throughout their entire time in high school. So we tend to form strong bonds, both professional and personal, over the course of their four years of exploring game design. In this year's class, I saw amazing artistic talent with both digital and traditional artistic techniques, great leadership and collaboration, amazing and (at times) surprising growth, I watched as individuals came out of their shells to rise in personal confidence and yes, I worried about whether a couple of them would make it to graduation or if they would be back in my classroom for an extra year. But, through all the ups and down (and there were a lot of those roller coasters throughout this year), this group of students showed amazing growth and perseverance. They were a great group and the lack of their presence in my classroom will be missed.
I wish all of this year's graduates the best in whatever life has to offer them now that they have passed this first hurdle toward independence. I see great things ahead for them!
Walking into my classroom this week, I could feel it, the end is near! Parents know it, teachers know it, and the kids DEFINITELY know it. This is the time of year when one of two things always happens: kids either start to lose their minds in anticipation for summer break or they realize just how close we are to the end and buckle down to finish strong. For some students, especially freshmen, it can be this final push that determines whether they move forward into the next class or repeat the one they are currently in. Unlike many of their core classes, there is no opportunity to make up lost credit for any of my classes during summer school. So, my hope is that everyone stays focused and finishes strong.
It is also a time for students to remain focused outside of school in preparation for exams. Although my classes don't have a state mandated exams this year (one benefit to courses being in pilot status), my students will still have an exam that counts for 20% of their grade, unless they meet the exemption criteria discussed below. This gives me a little more flexibility than the state exams in determining what my students have taken away from the school year. State exams in CTE consist of 100 multiple choice questions. While many students find these exams to be quite easy, I do not like this manner of determining mastery of the curriculum. My reasoning - some students fully understand the concepts, tools, and techniques they learned throughout the year but they simply don't test well. However, in having the freedom to create my own exam, I have a solution.
This year, my classes will do a three-part exam. They will still be expected to identify important terms based on various scenarios presented in a multiple choice test but they will also be given a piece of digital art to create (hands-on demonstration of skills) and a written reflection to show mastery and understanding. While this will make grading their exams a much slower process for me, I believe it will give students a better opportunity to demonstrate what they learned this year.
In case you are wondering about exam exemptions after reading what your exam will look like, you need to satisfy two criteria: grade and attendance. If a student has an overall grade of an A for the year, they must have no more than six absences to be exempt. If they have an overall grade of a B, the attendance requirement is no more than four absences. However, it is also important to know that while this allows a student to skip the exam, they may also opt to take it as it will not harm their grade and if they are close to jumping to a higher grade (for instance, they have a high C average for the year and only need a couple of points to jump to a B) they may want to take it anyway. Doing so can boost their final grade and while it may not seem like it at the current time, this boost in grade can help raise their overall GPA down the road, which matters for college applications.
So, in summary, while the end of the school year is very close, it is important to remain focused and finish strong. These last couple of weeks can determine what you are doing next year. Save the rest and playing around for summer break, not now.
This past week, our community experienced a very scary tragedy. A gas line exploded just outside the boundaries of our campus. It was close enough that every building on campus felt the force of the blast and the building where it took place was completely leveled to the ground resulting in one casualty, several injuries and a number of buildings exhibiting exterior damage at best and being condemned entirely due to major structural damage at worst. This event has forever changed the face of the streets surrounding our school.
While this is clearly a tragic event in terms of the losses for the community, one thing that worries me as a teacher is how it will affect both students and staff at our school specifically, especially those in the building closest to the explosion. Our school was closed for several days, mainly due to our inability to access the campus. However, I am sure everyone appreciated the time to process what had just occurred as well. Our school system used the time to offer counseling to anyone who felt the need to talk with professionals about the loss as well. Many of our students and staff frequented Kaffeinate regularly and came to feel welcomed by the shop's owner and staff. So this will be a particularly difficult time for them.
Now that the area is being cleared and safety around it is restored, we are returning to school tomorrow on a delay. So this is when we start asking those big questions such as:
These are hard questions to answer. While most teachers have adjusted to helping students through any number of hardships in life, this kind of tragedy is not something teachers are trained for providing assistance to our school community. I don't know what will happen next, but I do know this tragic event has had an effect on all of us at DSA and will continue to do so for quite some time. One thing that I am grateful for is that nobody associated with our school was hurt in the blast and despite the close proximity, none of our buildings were damaged. For me, this is a good starting point for helping everyone I come into contact with at school cope with the events of this past week.
I recently received a copy of Schoology's annual report on the state of digital learning and found the contents to be interesting, though not necessarily surprising. You can read it for yourself to see how schools across the US are looking at tech in the classroom. But, one thing I found interesting was the top three challenges high school teachers reported facing to integrating technology in their lessons. These included:
This is a major problem as I am sure most school districts are similar to ours in terms of requiring teachers to incorporate more technology into their lessons. However, without the proper training, teachers often fall back on the outdated technology tools and skills they have been using for over a decade. Things like: create a PowerPoint presentation on xxx or having students use word processors such as MS Word or Google Docs to write a report and then share it with the teacher when submitting their finished product. And then comes the item I normally hear: I'm using an interactive board when I lecture, doesn't that count as using technology? On that last question, I often tell the teacher something like 'Sure...if you only want the students to see technology. But, how are you preparing them for the modern digital world by using technology?' While these uses might meet the barebones requirement in meeting district mandates, they are certainly not the most interesting or sometimes even the most relevant way to do so in our current educational environment. And, they do nothing to really prepare students for the modern world outside of the classroom.
But, there is good news: there are a lot of free resources online that teachers have access to, if they only make the effort to do so. And, while this may not be true in all school districts, many offer teachers the opportunity to put this personalized training into use towards license renewal by converting the time spent into continuing education units (CEUs).
Teaching at a magnet school with an art-based focus, we use a lot of the Adobe products in terms of digital tools, as well as a few more specialized tools for my class. Adobe offers (some) free tools as well as their popular CC Suite subscription service. One such free tool is Spark, which allows users to create graphics, simple videos and webpages using their own individual Adobe ID, which can be created for free as well! They also offer free training that is incredible through their Education Exchange. I have been encouraging educators at our school, and beyond, to check out this amazing free resource!
Another way teachers can incorporate technology in their lessons involves using a learning management system (LMS) such as Schoology. While I have explored several LMSs, I have found Schoology to be among the best available. It allows me to interact with my students both inside and outside of the classroom and has become an essential tool in how I communicate with parents as well. Many teachers and school districts are using Google Classroom for a lot of the same reasons, but personally, I find Schoology to have more and better functionality. At least it better fits the needs of myself and my families.
A third and final essential category of digital tools that teachers should incorporate into their lessons are project management tools. While there are lots of free options out there, the one that I use in my classroom is Trello. Tools like this help prepare students for real-world project management tasks, they are great for both individual and group projects, and if used effectively, teach students the time management and collaborations soft skills needed to succeed both in the world of work and often, life in general.
These are just three of the many ways that technology can be brought into the classroom in a more interesting and effective manner. As I said before, there are plenty of free resources out there if teachers take the time to look for them and put them to use.
I guess the important take-away from this report for me is pretty simple: educators are both being required and want to use technology to prepare students for the 21st century but they need appropriate and up-to-date guidance in what to use and how to use it effectively. Teachers may complain that we are required to participate in too much professional development as mandated by our schools and/or districts, but this isn't the problem when it comes to technology. The problem is that the PD tends to be outdated and ineffective in terms of modern digital tools.
I have always loved snow days. When I was in school, it meant a day off to play and frolic in a winter wonderland. We would build snowmen and snow forts, have snowball fights, go sledding and just spend the entire day enjoying everything that winter had to offer in New England.
Now that I am an adult and working in education, I find these days to be mixed blessings. Sure, I still enjoy the opportunity to take a day off and catch my breath, but there are consequences to doing so that I never realized as a kid. Sure, I knew we would need to make up the day, usually by extending the length of the school year, but there is so much more to it now that I am the one in front of the class.
Instead of taking a day off to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery, I find myself spending time re-arranging the lessons I had already planned out thoughtfully for timing and deadlines. Everything needs to shift...somewhere, some how. And usually we still need to cover the same material by the same quarterly deadline. Instead of the school year being extended for these days off, Durham works make-up days into the middle of the school year. Plans you make today for an extended break such as the Winter or Spring Breaks may need to be changed as you cannot always count on having the full time as originally shown on the calendar. However, I also use these days to create new activities for my students, catch up on grading, and sometimes (like now) do a little reflecting on how things are going at a much more relaxed pace than I would have if we were in school. I also make sure to take at least a couple of hours off from doing work, as I know I will be losing a day off at some other point in the school year.
It's not all bad. I hope my students and their families have enjoyed this extended weekend and used it to spend some time catching up on rest, catching up on work and spending time together as a family. Yes, there are definite mixed feelings about snow days as a teacher, but in short, I think they are the universe's way of saying 'I know you need a break, let's take one today!'
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.