Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #7: Ready or not…

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

This week marks an end to your regularly scheduled programming of Weekly Wisdoms  – The school year is getting started, and I’m part of a teaching team too, ya know! The regular TEALS meetups are an awesome way to keep connected, discuss issues, share ideas, and stay energized about the incredible work you’re doing.

I want to use this last post to run my own quick checklist of things to remember to start the year. This will be a mix of things covered by the Classroom Plan or Remote supplement and from my experiences that I’ve found important to classroom success, and fairly short, to keep it focused 🙂

  • What will you be doing on day 1 to build connections with your students?
  • How about day 2, when there are generally  still computer issues?
  • Speaking of which, what’s your Plan B activity for total internet collapse?
  • Have you planned your first visit yet?
  • What are your students’ names?
  • What’s your plan for talking with every student every day?
  • How will you conduct frequent formative assessment to gauge class understanding?

 

Please share your answers below! I’d love to hear more about what you all are doing, especially for the first few questions – I’m always looking for ways to better engage with my students. And if you’re a returning volunteer, call out things I’ve missed that you’ve found critical!

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #6: Classroom Co-teachers

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

I’m going to keep going on last week’s theme of feeling a little clueless and make this week: “what’s my job again 2: classroom teacher edition.” Specifically, I’m gearing this towards classroom teachers in the co-teach model, though, many of the same tips apply to TA-support.

As the classroom teacher for a remote class, you are the single most important person in the success of your classroom. The content that the remote volunteers are delivering could be the best in the world, but without your support, those lessons will fall flat.

What does that support look like? Parts of running “remote classrooms” are things you’ll be very familiar with from running any other classroom. Getting to know your students, encouraging questions, keeping focus, handling behavior, and managing IEPs are all things you’ll do in this class just like any other.

So, let’s focus on some of the differences. The biggest one is a step that can be kind of daunting – not only inviting other instructors into your classroom, but also handing off primary content delivery to them. This may make you feeling a bit secondary – you’re not! Resist this feeling! Remember that you have the greatest ability to welcome the remote volunteers into your classroom, and to make interacting with the feel normal. Students will follow your lead.

Some practical tips to consider:

  • Talk to the remote volunteers in front of the class
    • Say good morning all together
    • Help repeat the instructions
    • When the volunteers indicate, re-prompt the class for questions or to raise hands
    • Let the volunteers know how the class is doing – you have the best view of facial expressions and body language, and are the only person who can feel when the room is full on confusion
  • Remind students to ask the volunteers questions
    • You should handle as much as you can, but you’ll probably get overwhelmed
    • Encourage students to ask their questions, even non-curriculum related ones, to the volunteers
    • Ask your own questions, even in front of class. You’re a student too, and it sets a great example for them to “do as I do, not just as I say”
  • Keep students engaged
    • Walk around the classroom – distracted students stay more on task when someone is over their shoulder
    • Take note of which students engage with the remote volunteers, and which shy away. The shy ones in particular will needs extra encouragement to connect, and some more in person help from you

I want to close this post out by inviting the classroom teachers we have here on the forums to chime in. What were some of your challenges in your first year as a TEALS co-teacher? What were successful and less-than-successful strategies for running your remote classrooms? What’s something I should absolutely steal and take back to mine?

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #5: I’m a TA and …what’s my job again?

Welcome to Wednesday Weekly Wisdom. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here

 

This week’s wisdom is directed to one specific set of you all: my fellow remote TAs.

As you’ve probably realized by now, the TA role in TEALS is a bit different to the TA role that you may have experienced in a University course. The TEALS TA role is not secondary to a class professor, but is an equal member of Co-Teaching Trifectas or TA Support Tandems[1]. The importance of the role and it’s place in the classroom are what keep me coming back as one each year.

But a not uncommon feeling I’ve head when I talk to other TAs is one of being kinda sorta useless – or at least, not very useful. Sure, you’re grading assignments, and trying to do check-ins with students in class, but you’re left with a feeling that you’re not having the impact in your classroom that you were hoping you’d have.

If this feeling comes up, it’s worth stepping back to analyze why. It could be that there are smaller, day-to-day practices you could be leveraging more. Things like asking your students follow up questions when you chat them, and making sure that at least one of your questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no”. There are certainly students who are absent, or are struggling to keep up with the pace of the class, and maybe those students aren’t getting the help they need. Working with those students can easily occupy a TA for a whole day.

It could also be that there are larger classroom practices that your team isn’t employing, and should strongly consider. As a TA, you’ll be leaving some great, personalized feedback for students on their projects and assignments. When was the last time you took class time to have students review and respond to this feedback? Remember, students need to hear it 7 times or do it 3 times to really absorb a concept. Responding to feedback is another time to hear, and correcting an assignment is another time to do. You’ll be the first to notice when the entire class does much worse on an assignment than expected, and you’ll be most familiar with the errors they made. This makes you best prepared to dissect what concept seems to have been collectively missed and to lead a review of that concept.

And finally, if you find yourself with some free time, you can use that freedom to add to your classroom in ways beyond the curriculum. Quick learning students will need additional meaningful challenges to grow. There are entire libraries of projects in every language that can inspire your students, but they’ll need some adapting for use in your classroom. And don’t forget that the classroom teacher is one of your students as well. They’ll have to maintain, modify, and grow this class long after TEALS steps out, and every resource you can find or create for them will set them up for long term success.

As you know, teaching is so much more than lecturing. As a TA, you’ll be less occupied by the lecture than the teachers, which means you get to be more concerned with all of the other aspects. You’ve got the most freedom to take your CS course beyond the confines of powerpoint – use it!

 

[1] Some more background, for my non-TEALS audience. Co-teaching and TA Support are two models of school engagement in TEALS, and TA is one of the roles that volunteers take on. The TEALS website has more information on both their engagement models and the volunteer roles.

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #3: Visit Early, Visit Often

Welcome to Weekly Wisdom Wednesday. Click here for background on what I mean, or read last week’s post here. This week’s post is a little more focused on a TEALS mechanic of remote volunteers visiting their partner schools, but contains important ideas for all remote educators

 

While many Weekly Wisdoms will focus on ideas, not classroom mechanics, I’m dedicating this entire post to one mechanic.

Visit your classrooms. Visit as early as you can, and visit as often as you can.

TEALS provides recommendations and guidelines for trips, as well as money to reimburse expenses. Keep that link handy. And, take note of where it states you have up to $1000 per remote volunteer for travel expenses. For those of you who have to take a flight to visit your schools, this will indeed only cover a couple of trips, so you’ll want to plan them particularly well. But for those of you within a few hours drive of your schools, even with costs for gas, rental cars, and/or hotels, your limiting factor on visits is mostly likely to be the time you have available, not the cost.

Spend as much time as your calendar and TEALS budget allow. It’s the single biggest classroom-improving action within your control. No other single class can have as much impact, inject as much energy, or build as many bonds as your physical presence in your school.

First as foremost, classroom visits are the best way for students to get to know you, and you to get to know your students. This is biggest aspect of the “visit early” recommendation. For all of the strategies available to minimize the effects of distance and online separation, it still involves being separate. You’re a person that exists, sure, but you exist largely in your student’s minds – more like an interactive character in a video game rather than a real person.

But when you step into the classroom for the first time, you immediately and irreversibly become a real person. You have a three dimensional form, they can see all of your hand gestures when you talk, and there’s no lag between when they ask a question and when you answer. And even when you’re no longer there, they can remember the you that exists in real life, not just how they imagine you. There’s a powerful difference between your students knowing you and meeting you.

Visiting often will help build your relationship with your students more quickly, so the more often you can spare, the better. This is especially important for students who are struggling. Online, it’s easy for your students to say things are going well or keep responses basic. But when you’re with them in person, with your human appearance and friendly face, you are far more likely to get a truthful answer from a student who wants to say, “I’m don’t think I’m doing well in this class.”

So, what should you do with all the visits you’re going to go on? I mentioned some ideas when I talked about how you’re cooler than you think, and I recommend all of them from personal experience. The general idea is to do whatever give you the most interaction with your students. Often, this means a culture day – it’s a good use of time! Summer Training #2 in Redmond provided some handouts about good ways to get to know your students and school, so review those when they hit Canvas (I would have unbelievable amounts of fun working out a scavenger hunt my students made for me).

There’s about a month until school starts. Have you planned your first visit yet?

Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #1: You’re Cooler Than You Think

As a part of my volunteering with TEALS, I’m writing a weekly blog for new remote education volunteers. See the tag “weekly wisdom” for other of these posts


 

Kicking off this idea of “weekly wisdom”, I want to start with one of those concepts that doesn’t really get covered in a training, and one that took a while for me to learn:

As a remote volunteer, you’re cooler than you think.

This is especially true for those of you who, like me, are volunteering with a rural school. Think about it from your students’ perspective – you are a professional, working in a field that your students are only just starting to learn. And you’re not just some guest speaker that will come in for a day and then never be seen again. You are stepping into their lives day after day for an entire year. They’ll get time to get to know you, get comfortable with you, and seek mentorship from you, in a way that they often are otherwise unable to get.

Taking it a step further – you are an incredible asset for your entire school. If you’re willing and able to put in the time, a visit to your classroom can be transformative not just for your students, but other classrooms as well. During trips to our school, we spend the entire day meeting not just with our TEALS class, but with the other tech classes, helping give deeper meaning to what they’re learning in courses from web design to basic computer use.

We also use one trip a year to drop in to some of the non-tech courses. We talk to the marketing class about how market research impacts the features we write and when we write them. We talk to the graphic design class about how our designers play a critical role in defining what our product is and how it makes users feel. We show these students how their work and interests combine with technology. And at the same time, these visits build bonds between our new CS program and other teachers, and build interest in TEALS courses in other students.

As you plan for the year, and plan for your visits, plan to leverage how unique TEALS is. Take your cool factor and invest it around not only your classroom, but your entire school. The benefits will come back tenfold.

From TEALS: Wednesday Weekly Wisdom #0

As a part of my volunteering with TEALS, I do most of my teaching remotely, communicated with my class via Skype. Despite large advances in technology, remote education is still a small field, and so the experienced remote instruction volunteers with TEALS are uniquely equipped to help prepare new volunteers.

As a part of this, I’ve started a weekly blog, aimed at covering topics that I feel new volunteers should know, and that are typically not covered during training sessions. I’m reblogging them here, all with the “weekly wisdom” tag, in case they’re of any use or interest to you, my loyal readers. Below is my introductory post, and the rest will come across the summer.

 


 

Hey remote volunteers!

My name is Matt, and I’m entering my third year of remote teaching with TEALS. In the past couple of years of volunteering, I’ve learned a lot about how remote education works. As a returning volunteer, I sometimes get asked to share some of the things I’ve learned, especially with the huge growth in new remote volunteers joining the effort.

I’m going to start some weekly posting on remote education practices or concepts that I think are important. If you’re a new volunteer, I hope you find them helpful, and if you’re an experienced volunteer, I’d love to hear about your experiences on the topic – I’m still learning too!

A lot of my experience relates to rural schools, but I hope the ideas are generally applicable. If you have a question to ask or an experience to share, leave a comment or start a new topic! Exchanging ideas helps everyone 🙂

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How technology education clashes with basic student needs – and leaves the most in need behind.

The integration of technology into schools across the country is growing, and creating incredible new opportunities for students to learn and broaden their horizons. Tech is transforming schools. With new opportunities, however, come new problems. For example, I’m teaching computer science to a group of high school students, nearly half of whom do not have access to a computer outside of school. Assigning homework that requires a computer would be giving those students work that they cannot possibly complete at home. And this is in a course that teaches them to program computers!

A growing number of schools are fortunate enough to have funding to implement “one laptop per child” policies, giving students a computer that they are often allowed to take home with them. The next step in that progression is to expand internet access, so that those students can get online at home as well. Amazing progress has been made against these issues: according to a 2015 Gallup/Google survey, 91% of students report having a computer at home that has access to the internet[1]. In terms of tech education, this creates powerful learning opportunities for students.

Except for when it doesn’t.

I recently participated in a Twitter chat focused on technology education in rural schools (#ruraledchat). One of the discussion topics was about struggles in planning technology based assignments when students have neither computer nor internet access at home, which I’m familiar with. One teacher’s follow-up, however, caught me completely off guard:

***

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Tammy G Neil: “Since my entire curriculum is online, I have to take into account those without access at home. It’s sometimes a struggle.”

Elizabeth Hill: “Do you have any easy to share suggestions about that? my district is going 1:1 and some of my Ss don’t have electricity…”

***

To hammer that home: this teacher’s struggle with planning tech lessons was that some of her students lack electricity.

This floored me. I had never stopped to consider the challenge posed by the lack of electricity. Setting aside all of the struggles of simply living a life as a student without power, it poses a near total barrier to home technology access. In the  best case scenario, the ability to complete an assignment becomes a race against the battery capacity of the school provided laptop, and it clearly gets much worse from there. The top question invading my mind was, simply, how many students are affected by this? Is a lack of electricity a widespread barrier to technology education? I dove into the facts to find out.

Or at least, I attempted to. The first thing I found is that there nobody really knows how many families in the US lack access to electricity. Some sources cite that 100% of US families have access[2], but this is demonstrably false. Lacking direct data, I turned to a few other sources to try to narrow in on an approximation. Helping place an upper bound is the Gallup/Google survey above. If 91% of students surveyed report having a computer with internet access at home, then absolutely no more than 9% lack electricity – and probably many fewer, given the multitude of other reasons that a home may lack a computer or internet access.

Trying to drill in to that 9%, the best stand-in I could find for living situation was data about student homelessness. The McKinney-Vento Actdefines, among other things, how schools have to count and handle homeless students[3]. Homeless students are not the only ones without power, but it provides a decent proxy. While the numbers are generally accurate, they may be low, as two issues are known to cause underreporting: first, that students who are homeless often do not self-identify, which is a major way of finding them, and second, that when identified as homeless, students will state that they have greater accommodations than they do. Being able to complete your tech homework when you’re homeless ranks low on the list of concerns in life, but that only drives home the point about the limits of technology.

Now, the numbers: the Department of Education reports that in the 2014-15 school year, the latest for which data is available, there were 1,290,649 homeless students in the US, which is a little under 3% of all students[4]. This definition of homelessness, however, encompasses a broad range of living situations. Some might have reliable access to electricity, such as those who live in motels or are “doubled up”, living in someone else’s home with them. Others, like those who spend their nights in homeless shelters, may have less consistent access to an electric socket from which to make use of their tech.

What’s more certain, however, is that a subset of this population will have little to no outside access to the power grid. They are the 40,306 students who fall into the category of “unsheltered homeless”, and they’ll spend a majority of their nights in parks, abandoned buildings, or similar places. What I find most astonishing about this group is the fact that, despite these circumstances, they manage to remain enrolled in school at all. The only positive aspect about this number is that it is a smaller percentage of the overall student population, coming in at under one half of one percent.

But it’s uncertain yet in which direction these numbers are headed. Even as the economy recovered from the great recession of 2008-2009, the number of homeless students grew, reaching a record high for the 2013-14 school year, and then falling only slightly[4],[5].

When we talk about helping students learn so they can live better lives, this is the group most in need of that help. And yet, the tools and technology meant to help all students learn has little hope of helping them. Like many cases, helping “all” really means “most”. This creates a tough balancing act for teachers and schools looking to increase the role of tech in the classroom, and it’s a balancing act I was hardly considering. How can we design technology oriented lessons that make no assumption about the students’ home resources? Can we even do that, and if we can, how good can those lessons be? How should we balance the fact that by using tech to improve some students’ education, we might be taking our most in need students and isolating them even further?

In the larger scheme of things, is it possible to solve this problem closer to its root? The “free and reduced lunch” program uses existing school infrastructure to offer students who would otherwise go hungry an opportunity for breakfast and lunch, under the guiding principle that lacking food is a major barrier to learning. Could we leverage school infrastructure in a similar way to provide students with greater access to electricity and internet access outside of the confines of class time?

I like to try to end my posts with a nice “lessons learned” section, but in this case, I’m overwhelmed. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is internalizing words I’ve heard before, but never felt as deeply as I do now:

“When we complain about how hard some kids are to teach, think about how hard some of their lives are to live”

 


References:

[1] https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/searching-for-computer-science_report.pdf
[2] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS?locations=US
[3] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/11301
[4] https://eddataexpress.ed.gov/data-elements.cfm
[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/number-of-us-homeless-students-has-doubled-since-before-the-recession/2015/09/14/0c1fadb6-58c2-11e5-8bb1-b488d231bba2_story.html?utm_term=.77226a226f4a

Banner image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and used under the Creative Commons license.