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Day 5 - Online school

Friday 20 March 2020

Cover lessons be gone....

I normally get clobbered for cover lessons this end of the week - so there is a silver lining to all this! So there it is - one week down. I started this blog series on Monday with acknowledgement of those schools that are already 6 or 7 weeks in. I'd like to reapeat that now. Respect to all those that have been managing this for longer. With 4 children in the school, I'd also like to repeat respect to my coleagues for all their efforts this week - really quite an amazing effort. My son even had a singing lesson via zoom this afternoon (and I got to hear it!) Such a fascinating variety of things have been on offer.

For a bit of perspective though, I'd just like to make a massive shout out to all those in the front line of this situation. Health workers, those keeing the basics a float and those working hard to figure out a way to manage the situation. Keeping a virtual school a float seems like the least we can try and do.

What happened today?

I enjoyed a quick chat with my tutor group first thing and was quite pleased with the rebus puzzles I found for todays 'Daily curiosity' mail I have been sending out to the whole school every morning.

Grade 8 - So I had another lesson repeat today with the Islamic constructions I was working on yesterday. I have a student in this class whose specific difficulties make drawing a challenge. I was keen to be in touch with them this morning directly and ask them how they felt about trying the task. We were both pleased to be able to settle on this great drawing tool as an alternative and they were able to produce these wonderful images while the others were drawing. All this made me think about the attention I can pay to individuals this week in the virtual school and how that might be different to before. I think some of the drawbacks are fairly obvious, but I hadn't expected to find upsides. Because I am not physically managing the classroom in the same way, I find myself freer to pay specfic attention to individuals... Like so many things this week, these are just initial thoughts, but they are interesting.

G12 - Maxbox experiment

So I wanted to start our very last little unit on the IB maths studies course with students this morning and it is about basic optimisation. I so often reach for the wonderful Maxbox activity. You know the one.... cut out a square from each corner of a piece of paper and fold the resulting shape in to an open top box. What size square creates the box with the biggest volume? This will be a two part lesson and I'll wirte it up for next weeks post so people can use it. For now, here are 3 key things that we did.. - Following our staff meeting last week I was keen to try this tool with a class, particularly because I like the 'gallery view' that means we can all see each other. See an impression left. I guess lots of us are seeing this kind of picture. As you can see, a couple of students felt it was too early to show their faces! (And by the way, we have al be told that none of us have to) This allowed me to teach with my hands again!!! No idea how much I had missed that. I also find it difficult to talk to a group of students I can't see - I miss being able to read their faces and body language - such an important part of guaging a room. So this was great. We all made our boxes with different square sizes and then showed them to each other and had the discussion about the differences whilst making predictions about which would have the biggest volume and why. So this was welcome and it was great to see students and interact much more like we do when in the same room. Downside - 1 student was just not able to get connected and join in. This was really problematic as I wanted to continue, but knew I was leaving them out. I had written all the details down in a shared space we use (see earlier posts) and was trying to keep them enaged via the chat channel, but this was less than ideal.

Google sheets - Then we used a shared google sheet to pool our results. Took me 3 minutes to prepare and share before the class. (note though how much it helps to have a central place for link sharing already set up). So we had the discussion about how square size impacts length width and height and everyone entered the data for their row. It was great when one student entered the generalisations - unprompted. We had some good discussion then about the results compared to conjectures we had made earlier. Then of course, in the spreadsheet, it is easy to generate lots more points quickly. I have always loved these collobarative tools, but today, they were of particularly good value.

Enter the great Desmos. I had already set up a graph and shared it. We hit a hitch here, because, it doesn't behave in the same way as a live google doc in that I thought, when I put the points in, students would see that automatically. I had to save and share again. I'll look in to this some more, as it was a bit unsatisfying, BUT, it was really easy, then I knew they were all seeing the same graph. At this stage, I could have easily opted to share my screen, but I was going for the whole collaborative document thing. Once I knew they could all see it, we were able to have a good conversation about the nature of the model, the position of the maximum point and the relationship with the calculus we had been studying. Still I was really happy with how it worked out and took a lot away from it for next time.

Reflections on week 1

I have tried to sum up, breifly, some of the things I am thinking about after this first week.

Ranting mother - I you haven't seen this then I recomend a watch. It made me laugh, but also made me think. We have all been so gung ho to get stuck in to this that it seems posisble that we might have over done it. Not saying we did, but it was good to take a step back and think about how this is panning out for students on the other end.

Exams - There is naturally much talk of Exams and posisble cancellations. Clearly, lots of people will be affected by external exams and that is all very significant. You may remember that I said I have a final year student in my house. Internally though, we have taken a decision to postpone some and cancel other internal exam sessions. This is natural and defintely takes some pressure off. I laughed when I saw this from Anne Watson, one of my key teaching mentors that I have been lucky enough to work with. Made me think about what we might really like our students to try and acheive during this period....

Teaching with my hands etc- I mentioned this above, along with being able to look at my students when I talk to them. This is huge and one of the biggest things to recognise. Whilst some of this will be posisble sometimes. It is probably a mistake to use the tech tools to try and recreate the normal. A little bit, OK, but the longer this lasts, the more important it is to make some key shifts in our understanding of what a lesson is.

Facilitating - There is so much useful discussion and debate about the teachers role in a classroom. Crudely framed as everything between the 'Sage on the stage' and the 'guide on the side' (not that I like either of those terms), but the online virtual school  environment is going to involve a huge amount of 'facilitating'. Provision of plans and resources and then a lot of support along the way. Something about letting go of the physical classroom seems to have freed me up to do more facilitating... Its early days, these are just reflections.

Balance - A variety of tasks and mediums is always important. I am conscious of screen fatigue as well as medium fatigue. It is a key challenge to try and provide a balance of activity.

Chasing - One thing I have done this week is a lot of chasing students to let me know they are there. For now we have adopted a synchronous approach as a school, which means that students are sticking to their timetables 100% and teachers are 'facilitating classes' at those times. It doesn't mean that students are having live lessons all the time, but just that they need to be there at the beginning. A simple little thing I have done is to post a good morning coment in teams and ask all the students to 'Like' it at the beginning of the class. I can quickly tell who is there and who I need to chase. By the end of the week, the habit is there and I am just chasing a couple of students who are just having tech problems. At lunch time today, we all went in to the garden for a bit of sun. It was really tempting to just stay out a bit past the (virtual) bell, but I think that structure and little rituals are going to be important.

Student and teacher feedback - I have had some one on one chats with students and teachers this week and it is hugely important to get feedback from each other and listen. The curve is going to be steep. On that note, we - the school - sent home a survey to all parents today.

The routines  - I have some little starter routines that I have tried to keep up with this week. Little trivia quizzes and riddles etc. These are part of our week and students have come to expect them. These could easily lapse so I am glad to have managed and set a precedent.

Planning - I'd love to tell you I am always thoroughly planned well in advance of my lessons. I can't. Like many - I still sometimes wing it, and more often change my mind late in the day based on things that have happened. That is really not going to be an option in the online school.... The little details have to be ready. Who knows, if we do this for 6 months, maybe I'll come back to you with 'How to wing an online lesson', but for now, not so much!

Adjusting SOW to fit resources - This came to me in an epiphany mid week. OMG - of course. I dont have to stick to my scheme. Sure, I will where I can, but if there was ever a time for a change of heart it is now. I am rethinking so that I can play to the strentghs of a given unit. Availability and nature of resources, suitability for the virtual environment. Makes perfect sense and within a school year, will not have undesirable knock on effects.

Brings focus on to the purpose of some of these tools - As I was using some collaborative tools today, I got a real sense that students saw a value in them that they hadn't focussed on before - Sharp refrain!

Synchronous/Asychronous - Much is being written about this at the moment. I am getting tired and its Friday night. Just to say that I don't think I had used the word Asynchronous before a week ago. SOOOO much to think about here.

Students chatting on 'virtual' tables - This is great, the moment when I realised that in my virtual classes, small groups of students were 'on a call' with eachother, ostensibly helping each other out. Of course this happens all the time in my classroom, but I can normally hear it!!! I can see that this might present issues, but I was really happy to think of them virtualy working together. We live in the countryside and my children are often working together on facetime. Its normal. I can't control everything. I am also aware of how important it will be for them to interact.

so much more.... but

Have a great weekend!

My best wishes to everyone to stay safe and healthy and to those I have already offered my respect and appreciation too. I can only imgaine there have been some tough weeks this week for people in different places. I have done the only thing I could do this week - it has been a whirlwind so I feel like I may have earned a beer... Cheers to all - I couldn't resist...

x Jim



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