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?

Learning Is Only For Professionals

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If these young minds haven’t already decided on a career of programming, then they’re just wasting time

In talking with parents, it’s not infrequent that I heard a sentiment similar to:

“What is the value in graphical programming? Don’t real programmers use text languages? Should we really be simplifying it, if they’ll have to learn a different kind of programming later?”

During these discussions, I find that I could not agree more with the points being raised. My job involves writing a fair amount of code, and I would be laughed out of any room for suggesting to use Scratch, Blockly, or any of their kin to implement a product design specification.

Certainly, the only purposeful way to learn programming is to jump in to what is needed at a professional level. In fact, it’s an educational model that I believe needs to be more widely implemented. For any subject, students should be introduced to the concepts at the same time as the professional tools. There are numerous examples of even young children who are up to the challenge, so why should we not try to teach every child in the same manner? Computer science is, after all, only for professional programmers.

With this in mind, I propose the following humble changes:
• When being introduced to basic arithmetic, students should be shown how addition and subtraction are used in the evaluation of harmonic series for estimation of non-real numbers. Math is only for mathematicians.
• When learning about the Earth’s unique ability to readily support human life, children should learn in parallel how to properly maintain cell cultures, with an emphasis on maintaining a sterile control environment in a laboratory setting. It is a basic professional process that is a fundamental component in determining what is and is not alive. Science is only for scientists.
• Snap-together plastic robots are a common method to teach children the fundamentals of both programming and of mechanical engineering. However, if a child is unable to simultaneously learn professional welding techniques, such as ones needed in the construction of an extraterrestrial rover, their interest should perhaps be directed elsewhere. Engineering is only for engineers.
• Early in a child’s Physical Education curriculum, they learn the benefits of stretching as a component of exercise. This should be expanded to include knowledge of professional level physical therapy. If detailed muscular knowledge is uninteresting or too difficult for the student, they should defer stretching, and perhaps all exercise, until more fully ready. Physical Education is only for medical professionals.
• Shortly after mastering the alphabet, children should be tasked to write a story. Many children enjoy writing from even a young age. However, all children should be required to submit their stories to a publisher, and to successfully have their work published. If they cannot, they certainly should not waste their time learning further forms of expressive writing. Writing is only for authors.
• Many children dream of becoming president. If, after watching Schoolhouse Rock, a child cannot even begin to get a post office renamed, their dream of high elected office, much less president should be discouraged [1]. Civic engagement is only for politicians.

It is a great blessing when children discover their passions early in life. By introducing professional level tools and requirements to younger and younger children, we should be able to isolate their true callings earlier, or at least, prepare them for the professional workforce by a much younger age. That is, of course, the principle goal of education, and we should strive to make it the exclusive one.

[1] An exception can be made here if money earned from lemonade stand fundraisers is deposited into a Political Action Committee designed to lobby for renaming local post offices.