Living History Project: Student Excerpts Week 1

After two weeks of basically running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I can finally breathe because the weekend is here. I now have time to indulge myself by reading a good book and relaxing on the couch.

But first, I wanted to share an update on the Living History Project.

This week, I have been busy reading and commenting on the Living History Journal entries from my students. While I don’t have 100% participation, I am pleased with the number of students who have been able to adjust to this new style of learning from home. Hey, I’ll take my victories as I can get them.

My goal with this project, besides capturing the thoughts and feelings of my students, was also to find a way to help my students develop self-management and self-awareness skills (see CASEL). While developing historical empathy has been a focus of mine for years, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to foster the development of social and emotional learning skills in the various tasks and activities I create for my students. Hence the Living History Project.

I wanted to share a few excerpts from the Living History Journals. Some of the posts were humorous, others displayed a sense of fear or worry…and then there were quite few that evoked frustration.

Excerpts on the lighter side…

  • Today, I woke up and realized there was PE homework. Like are you kidding me?
  • My second thought was that I was correct yesterday, we’re all going to die
  • One thing is that people are buying toilet paper, why do you need to buy toilet paper? It’s not going to save you from the COVID-19
From a student journal…

Excerpts that show my kids are dealing with real-life (adult?) issues…

  • What would happen if my mom wasn’t able to work anymore? How would we make money to support the family? What would happen if everyone wasn’t allowed work…?
  • My mom showed me a paper of where in case the police ever stops her from going anywhere she just shows them that paper. That scared me even more my mom works in a medical needs place so she isnt gonna stop working.
  • Yet, on the other point of view, people who have the coronavirus are still seriously on the edge of life or dead. I’m worried for my friends. I don’t keep contact of all of them, but are they sick? Are some of them being contaminated right now away from everybody? The thought of it scares me, even makes my heart thump faster…
  • The fact that my brother and I only have a limited amount of food and water  is scary to me, because if we run out we can possibly die.

Excerpts that reveal remote or distance learning is not their cup of tea…

  • I am super stressed with all of the homework my teachers are sending in. I hope it will get easier but only time can tell. At this point I wish I was in school.
  • I woke up and i head a bunch of messages on cell phone i was starting to hate the online homework because the teachers are spamming messages over and over.

Excerpts of how my kiddoes are trying to cope with the situation and find the brighter side of things…

  • As my anxious self continues to wander around I decided to ignore my anxiety as I baked goods for my family
  • This has changed my daily routine because now I do not go to school, can not hang out with my friends, and online schooling is difficult for me, because it is new to me. My parents are helping me navigate through my classes and i am doing my best

I was apprehensive, at first, about assigning the Living History Project. Part of me was thinking that we should just continue with what we were learning in class (for continuity)…but then I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to capture real-time experiences and reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their journal entries make me laugh, cringe, and sometimes tear up. Their honesty is part of their DNA. Middle schoolers don’t typically use a filter so I’m able to capture their raw emotions, thoughts, and feelings. They may not understanding at the moment why I’m asking them to put their hearts down on paper (or in this case a Google Doc)…but as a historian…I know that future generations will appreciate having a primary source from children who lived during this trying time.

I am so proud of my middle schoolers.

Something to Consider

A friend of mine sent the following gif to describe her current situation…and I think most of us have felt like that dog at some point within the past couple of weeks.

As my district enters the second week of remote or distance learning, I feel compelled to share something that I recently mentioned to several colleagues. In my discussions about how to help transition fully face-to-face or blended courses to completely online, teachers, students, and parents have shared their frustrations, fears, and concerns.

To begin, teachers who were not ready to use technology (as in they had not jumped onto that wagon) were suddenly thrust into a situation in which they had to not only quickly set up an online platform (Google Classroom being the easiest), but they also had to figure out how to upload assignments that students could conceivably complete at home. Teachers who used technology here and there had a bit of an easier transition since they had some working knowledge of what technology tools would best support the learning objectives. Then there are the teachers who use technology on a regular basis with their students, BUT they always had the opportunity to provide and receive real-time, face-to-face assistance when technology issues reared its ugly head.

Make no mistake, students use technology. They have their phones and gaming systems. They know how to use those. But those tools are typically for entertainment. Not school work. While some students used technology in their classes, as previously stated, they also had the real-time, in-person support of their teachers.

And then there’s parents. Most parents use some type of technology every day. It could be their phones to check email or social media, a computer to do their work, and even online gaming systems to entertain themselves.

So…teachers, students, and parents have some type of working knowledge of technology and how they use it in their daily lives.

But when the schools closed, suddenly all learning was transitioned online to be done at home without training and in-person support. Teachers, students, and parents were forced to figure things out basically on their own. And it hasn’t been an easy process. And that’s without taking into consideration the stress of this pandemic, running out of food and water, being forced into isolation, not knowing what the future holds…etc. [see gif at the top].

And I wanted to just say…no one* signed up for online learning.

  • My students didn’t sign up to take fully online courses
  • My colleagues didn’t sign up to design and teach fully online courses
  • The parents of my students didn’t sign up to homeschool their child for fully online courses

So, everyone just needs to take a GIGANTIC breath or two or three. I believe that everyone–teachers, students, and parents–is doing the very best they can considering everything else that is going on.

To my colleagues…I want to say, you’re doing a great job. I see you working overtime to figure out how to provide some type of continuity for your students. I see you trying to figure out how to create assignments that students can do with minimal direct instruction. I see you trying to balance work, family, five different Zoom session for your own kids, and your sanity. I see you.

To my students…you are doing an amazing job. I see you working late into the night trying to complete assignments or tasks. I see you trying to maintain your composure when you see that the food supplies are low at your house. I see you stepping up to help your little brothers and sisters with their suddenly online courses while trying to maintain the workload you have for your own classes. I see you trying to be brave for your parents who are worried that they may lose their jobs. I see you.

To the parents of my students…you are doing an outstanding job. I see you reaching out to teachers asking questions about technology. I see you patiently sitting down with your child trying to help them understand algebra while also running a Zoom meeting for your elementary aged child. I see your concern about your job and whether you’ll have enough money for food and utilities. I see you balancing more than you ever thought you could. I see you.

We may not have signed up for the fully online learning situation…but we can certainly get through this if we put compassion and empathy first. And that my friends begins by first showing compassion and empathy to ourselves…so that we can then BE that to others.

air hugs
Because…#socialdistancing

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*I have taught fully online courses…that is totally in my wheelhouse. But that didn’t make it any less stressful when I had one day to transition my entire course to be fully online.

Emotional Rollercoaster

I'm pooped

This has been an emotionally draining week for many of us, and I’m not going to pretend that what I’m experiencing is any more important than what everyone around the world is going through at this moment.

But I’m tired.

This is more than after the first day of school tired. It’s more than the day after packing up my classroom for the summer tired. And it’s certainly more draining than having 150 digital notebooks and essays coming in at the same time with report cards grades due in two days.

This is an emotional kind of tired.

Physical tired can usually be fixed with a good night’s rest (or perhaps a few good nights in a row). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m also physically tired…but I’m also emotionally exhausted. I am barely able to keep my emotions in check. I feel like I’m on the verge of bursting into tears all.of.the.time.

I think it has to do in large part with the unknown. I mean, who knows how long this crisis is going to last. How many more people are going to be infected? How many more people will lose loved ones? What happens if people don’t follow the “stay-at-home” order given by governor? Will we go into full lock-down mode…will martial law be instituted? If so, how will we get needed things like food? What about my mom who is 74 years old and lives 30 minutes away?

#sigh

And then there’s the unknown of work. How long will my school be closed? How will I get assignments to kids without devices? How are my kids doing? Am I doing right by them with the activities and tasks I’m assigning? Will those grades even count? Am I doing all of this in vain…?

Do you see what I mean?

I mean…the scene from Anchorman aptly sums up my emotional state at this moment…

At the 30 second mark is pretty much where I’ve been existing since my school closed.

Oh, I know…I need to take a break…focus on self-care…

Yes, I know what to do. But it’s not easy. I am finding it very difficult to turn off the 10,000 thoughts going to my head. My only respite is when I sleep. At least then I feel like my mind can finally slow down. My emotions are somewhat subdued.

But then I wake up and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again.

I know I need to be better…if anything I need to be better for my husband since we’re spending quite a bit of time together. We cannot afford to get on each other’s last nerve.

This brings me back to my 2020 #oneword. Present. I need to be present in the moment. I need to be thankful for what I have. I have a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, food in the pantry, toilet paper in the garage, and a husband who is hell-bent on taking care of me.

I am lucky. I am blessed.

But I’m also very tired.

Who’s Out There?

The sudden closure of our school meant that I spent the better part of last weekend scrambling for how I could continue to provide engaging and meaningful learning activities for my students. I believe I have a good start with the Living History Project. But the problem is how to tell my students about it…

So I posted announcements in our LMS and pushed them out via ParentSquare (messaging system). According to our dashboard, all parents are connected to and set up to receive notifications/message except for one. While I find that hard to believe…I’m going to go with the known data that 99% of parents/students are receiving my messages.

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So how does that explain that I haven’t heard from or seen any online activity from 25% of my students? Three parents reached out privately in response to my ParentSquare message about picking up a hard copy of the assignments, so I’m not counting those parents/students among the 25%.

So I decided to take one of the assignments I posted–a Google Form soliciting which type of Living History Project they were going to do…paper versus digital–and I made that a five point summative assessment grade in Aeries. Students who did not complete the Google Form received a zero. Those who did earned five points.

And then I waited…

Before long, I had students emailing me and completing the Google Form. In fact, this was my favorite email:

The student didn’t write anything in the email. They just sent me a screenshot of their grade in Aeries…to which I replied:

“I am so glad you checked in with me! I have been posting announcements in PowerSchool and ParentSquare/StudentSquare about assignments that you need to be working on. We are taking a break from the unit test and digital notebook and you are working on the Living History Project instead. The missing assignment is the Google Form that you need to fill out. Go to PowerSchool > Living History Project.”

And then 30 minutes later, the same student sent me a screenshot of the completed GoogleForm.

Mind you, I am not counting the GoogleForm as a summative assessment. But I needed to figure out a way to reach those students who have been silent since last Friday. I know many of them check their grades…so that was my way to get their attention.

I suspect that over the next day or two more students will come out of the woodwork as they and their parents adjust to a new normal. I know they need to catch their breath. I know that they have other priorities to worry about…but my goal was to see who has online access…who was out there with me. We were not given the opportunity to gather this information before school was closed which would have been more helpful than the data from ParentSquare that listed only one household as having not contact information.

If anyone has other creative ways to get students to respond…my ears are open. In this day and age, we need to band together to share best practices and innovative ways to stay in touch with our students.

#BetterTogether

Living History Project

Bitmoji Image

This past weekend I started to put together an independent project for my students (inspired by a Twitter post from another middle school history teacher – see below). At the time, all I knew is that my district made the decision to close our schools until April 13, which meant that I needed to get creative.

The history of the Middle Ages isn’t inherently interesting to most people, let alone middle schoolers. Having said that, I can make history interesting for my kiddoes, but that involves a lot of interaction (face-to-face)–there are stories to be told, simulations to do, and real-time back and forth banter. Going virtual is another story…so I opted to pause our current unit of study and take a broader approach to learning world history while making connections to current events and social-emotional learning.

I decided to do a Living History Project with my 7th graders. The following tweet inspired me, and the Google Doc that Deirdre O’Connor shared was a great starting point:

What is the Living History Project, you ask?

Great question!

The Living History Project is the essence of student-centered learning. Students are creating a primary source (through daily journal posts) about their experience living during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also one task that they have to complete each day that connects history/social science content, current events, and literacy skills. Students need to complete the task and add that to their daily journal entries. The tasks are organized by day/week on the Daily Menu (P.S. This is still very much under construction).

And because I believe in #studentchoice, students have a variety of options for this project:

  • Paper or digital
  • Writing, drawing + writing, video

Students can keep a hard copy journal or they can go completely digital. Some digital options: Google Slides (which I prepared and pushed out), vlogs, or blogs (e.g., Weebly, Wix). All entries will eventually need to be uploaded to the Google Slides for posterity’s sake. NOTE: If you’re wondering what I’m doing for students without Internet access or devices…I left a hard copy of the project and daily menu for parents to pick up from the front office.

I created a Google Form to collect information on how my students planned to record their daily journal entries. I also let them know that I expect them to send me photos or a link to what they’ve been working on by the end of each week. While I don’t want to micro-manage my students, I know that middle schoolers like to err on the side of procrastination, so I’m planning to make sure that they don’t procrastinate themselves out of this project.

Because I also like blogging, I plan to do the Living History Project along side of them. Then when we finally reconvene (anticipated student/teacher return date is April 13), we can share our experiences with each other.

If you are planning to do something similar, please let me know! I would love to see the end products and/or learn about how the process evolved for you and your students.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

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Today was an interesting day. My cell phone was going off like crazy with text messages from colleagues across Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Is your school closed yet? For how long? When will our district close? What is taking so long? Why is everything moving so fast?

From early in the morning to the evening, news and social media channels updated reports on which districts were closing and for how long. My district finally sent word to teachers at 2:46PM that we would close until April 10. Well, to be clear, students are not to return to school until April 13, but teachers are to report to school on Monday and plan on working for the week.

Um. What?

First of all, why weren’t many of us told that our schools were going to close before our students left? How are students supposed to know what to do? And what happens when communication with their teachers is suddenly cut off? (Keep in mind that not all our students have devices, let alone access to the Internet). For children, teachers provide a sense of comfort and continuity. Even if students don’t particularly like a teacher or the class, they know for certain that it’s going to come at the same time, five days a week. And for students whose home life may not be the most optimal, school provides a safe haven. There’s breakfast and lunch. Time for socialize with friends and forget about troubles at home. And then there are the students who really enjoy school and their teachers. They look forward to coming to class and learning. But the sudden closure of the schools in my district (and others across Orange County) means that many teachers and students didn’t get a chance to say their long good-byes. There was no warning to let students know that the closure of schools would be temporary and that when the time was right, it would open again and things would resume as usual.

Some of you may be thinking What’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal to me. While I use both an LMS and Google Classroom, I haven’t set the stage for students to use either of those platforms to connect with others at this point in the quarter (I teach a semester course). At best, I can hope that students will get bored and check PowerSchool to read my announcements. For the students who have already reached out to me via email, I told them to tell their peers to check PowerSchool on Monday for an update on our class situation. But that message won’t reach all of my students. #sigh

Second, I have watched via social media and news sources the proliferation of people offering help to move courses online, quickly. Many people have thoughtfully curated resources and companies have generously offered free access to platforms and tools. @joliboucher put together a list of companies offering free resources. Thank you! I took much of what she curated and created a Wakelet collection with additional offers I came across and received via email. I will be updating this collection as I come across new information.

P.S. The hyperlinked Wakelet collection is editable, so if you’re reading this and want to add something, please feel free! I’m all about collaborating.

P.S.S. I also created a Wakelet collection for COVID-19 resources. This collection will be updated as new information and studies are released.

Love

I am very grateful to the many companies stepping forward to help teachers, schools, parents, and students during this time of uncertainty.

However, I want to make clear that transitioning to online learning is not an easy endeavor. Putting activities online for students to complete without careful thought is a recipe for disaster. I’ve been teaching in a blended learning environment for over 10 years and it takes quite a bit of thinking, crafting, and technology know-how to put together a meaningful and engaging lesson that is technology-based–let alone trying to move an entire curriculum for two weeks(+) online.

My point is, for those who are scrambling for how to help students during this time of uncertainty…don’t rely solely on the technology tool itself. Sure, several companies are offering lessons so you don’t have worry about creating something. But think about this…

If your students are not used to using technology to learn, is suddenly thrusting them into this type of learning environment the best option?

If you are new to using technology to deliver lessons, are you comfortable with the quick turn-around for lessons? Would you be confident that your efforts would produce the desired end?

I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes, but I think that administrators need to take a deep breath. I know the decision to close schools is not one that they take lightly. And believe me, I don’t want to be the one to make that decision. But forcing teachers and students to move online without the proper foundation is going to be an exercise in frustration–for everyone, teachers, students, and parents…especially teachers. Teacher efficacy plays a key role in the decision to integrate technology (Ertmer, 1999; Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013). Teachers with low efficacy who are suddenly thrust into the position of using technology to continue the learning for their students are going to have a devil of a time. And who’s going to provide the professional development? Are schools and districts ready to offer that type of support?

To be clear, there are companies and individuals out there who are offering their services in this trying time. But make no mistake. Moving learning online is going to take more time than a weekend or a few days. Creating an online course takes quite a bit of time–I’ve spent no less than 20 hours for one course and that was just the skeleton version. In this case, the videos and quizzes were already made. However, I fear that many teachers are being thrust into the role of instructional designer with little to no training, let alone support.

Now will teachers do what it takes during this trying time? Many will, of course. But even those with the best intentions are going to struggle.

However, there is good news. There are many teachers out there who will gladly lend a hand, share a lesson, and spend time helping fellow teachers set up lessons. We’ll do what it takes to support our colleagues. But to be clear, these are short-term solutions. Like Rome, creating a learning environment that utilizes technology for meaningful learning cannot be built in a day or two or even three. But together we can help each other put together short-term solutions for our students.

I am here to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out.

#bettertogether #caedchat #miched #sschat #edchat

References

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47, 47–61. doi:10.1007/bf02299597

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2013). Removing obstacles to the pedagogical changes required by Jonassen’s vision of authentic technology-enabled learning. Computers & Education, 64, 175–182. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.10.008

Something to Consider…

Schools and the Coronavirus — Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Close the schools, an anxious neighbor says on Nextdoor (a local online bulletin board), when a parent of two school children in the community in which I live came in contact with someone who was infected with the coronavirus (see comment below: a careful reader noted that the source I used said the parent was […]

Schools and the Coronavirus — Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

If you’ve been following my blog or Twitter feed, then you know I am a huge fan of Larry Cuban. His post could not have come at a more opportune time as school closures have become a reality, both in the U.S. and abroad.

As a classroom teacher, I have been thinking about the impact of school closures on the students from my district. I work at a Title I school which means that the majority of my students come from low-SES households. As Larry points out, school closures disproportionately affect the poor. For some parents missing work means losing pay; while for others it means scrambling to find someone who can take care of their child while they go to work. We also provide breakfast and lunch for many students. Concurring with Larry, if my school closes, those students would have to find a different means of getting food. Closing the schools would create an economic hardship for those parents. For parents of middle school children (like the ones I teach), I suppose they could stay home unsupervised, but for children in elementary school…well, that’s another story.

I was thinking about the online learning option that several schools have chosen to do. But then again, the online option assumes that students have access to a device and the Internet which is not the reality for all students at my school, let alone my district.

So what is a school to do? How can we keep the learning going?

To be clear, I’m not worried about making sure that my students acquire the content information or skills to pass the state or district exams. That is not my concern. My concern is to ensure that my students do not fall behind in content and skills acquisition, in general. My secondary concern is to provide for my students some semblance of normalcy in a confusing and scary time. Students often look to schools as a safe-haven because it’s something they know–it’s something they are used to going to five days a week. The events of 9/11 clearly showed that.

How can I support my students when being physically present at school is not a possibility? What can I do for those who do not have access to reliable Internet connectivity?

I don’t have an answer to any of those questions. But I am currently working through some viable options for my students. I hope you are, too.