Silver Linings

Pixton Class Photos (Spring Semester)

To begin, my students and I started this school year completely virtual with rising cases in our county and, more specifically, the zip codes for our school. We all struggled with dual challenges between school/work versus our personal lives.

As we approach the end of the weirdest school year EVER, I find myself reflecting on how far my students and I have come.

I have taught 7th grade for the past 26 years so I know the trepidation that incoming middle schoolers experience. Perhaps starting school at home was a bit more comforting since they didn’t have to worry about (1) where their classrooms were, (2) how things were going to go in the locker rooms where they changed for PE, and (3) who they were going to eat lunch with.

But with that comforting thought also likely came concerns about (1) bandwidth/Internet connectivity, (2) how online learning was going to work, and (3) whether they would still fit in or not.

I think it’s safe to say that all of these comforts and concerns occurred for both my students and me at several points throughout this school year. In fact, I think we are still navigating some of those challenges even today: May 6, 2021.

What I’m most proud of this year is the persistence of my students. This year had not been easy for them. Many of them struggled with bandwidth, access to devices, completing assignments online without the immediate help of their teachers, but more importantly concerns about their family as some parents were laid off, others contracted COVID and recovered (while others did not), and monetary issues that affected housing and food.

How do I know this?

My students wrote about them in their Living History Journals.

What I love about middle schoolers is their lack of filter. Their Living History Journals are chock full of stories about learning how to skateboard, making their first cake, learning how to perfect their artistic skills. But these journals also contain heart-breaking stories of losing family members, unbearable loneliness, and in some cases outright despair.

These journal entries were the life-line between my students and me. I was able to gauge how they were doing as well as provide encouragement and feedback.

Make no mistake, reviewing these weekly journal entries has been quite taxing. I felt like I never caught a break in the grading/reviewing/planning/executing cycle.

However, I know that I am not alone in dealing with the declining health of a parent. The legal and medical decisions that have to be made have continued to overwhelm me. But when I start to wallow in self-pity, I remind myself that I am not alone in this. Many of my students have had to deal with issues of loss and death…and they don’t have the same support system or maturity of experience like me. So these Living History Journals have helped me to stand up a bit straighter because if my students can persevere, then I most certainly can.

This has been a tough 14 months. Nothing could have prepared us for this. But what I’ve learned is that through grace, love, and patience, we can all come out stronger as a result of this trying time.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I feel as if my students and I are finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We are going to make it after all. =)

Staying Connected via Padlet

Working with middle schoolers in and of itself is a complex process. You have 30 little bodies each with their own unique personalities and dispositions and only 45 minutes a day to get through whatever it is that you have planned. Add technology to the mix and now you’re looking at complex to the nth level.

I think by now most educators have realized that just because these kids are growing up in an era where technology use seems ubiquitous does not necessarily mean that these kids understand and are ready to use technology for learning (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2017). In fact, I think the cancellation of in-person instruction for K16 education highlighted the fact that the digital divide and the digital use divide is still a very real problem (Auxie & Anderson, 2020).

In my conversations with fellow educators, it seems as if teachers approached distance learning in two ways: continue with current pacing (albeit at a reduced level) or created new curriculum that aligned better with what students would be able to do at home on their own.

At my school, I was given the opportunity to choose if I wanted to continue with the current pacing or create an independent project. I chose the latter, and I’m so glad I did.

World history in my district is a semester course (don’t get me started on how to teach 1500 years of history in 20 weeks). So I used this time as an opportunity to try out a new curriculum knowing the level of digital access my students have at home, their technology knowledge based on what I taught them in class, and what I thought would interest them yet also provide a bit of respite from the ton of stressors that they were dealing with.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I have made a concerted effort to create assignments that would help students acquire and practice mastering socio-emotional skills. Every week there was an assignment that had students reflecting on the ethics of decisions by historical figures or making a personal connection to the content. But then I also snuck in assignments that would hopefully help to create an online learning presence – something that is foundational for online learning to be successful. I had to be careful in which apps or websites I chose to use because modeling was not an option during remote learning. I needed apps/websites that were easy to figure out, and then I used them over and over again. Padlet was one that my students used on a regular basis. Each week, students summed up their learning in a creative way (e.g., sketchnotes, open mind, meme) and posted their project on a class Padlet wall for all 150 of their peers to view and enjoy.

Padlet was our go-to app because it didn’t require a log-in, could be used on a mobile device or desktop, and was easy to figure out on their own. Before in-person classes were cancelled, we had used Padlet once. But once we were solely relying on interacting via online platforms, I decided that Padlet was going to be the tool that kept us connected.

The last assignment I gave to my students was to create a Summer Quarantunes Playlist. I wanted them to post a song that either motivated them or reminded them of better times ahead. By having students post their songs to a class Padlet wall, we created a playlist of various genres of music from my highly diverse group of middle schoolers.

For the past 12 weeks my students have been sharing their highs and lows of living with the coronavirus crisis and recent protests in their Living History Journals. But this playlist offered additional insight to how they were feeling…and I just love that. =)

Enjoy!

Made with Padlet

References

Auxie, B., & Anderson, M. (2020). As schools close due to the coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap’. PEW Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in education: 2017 national education technology plan update. https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/NETP17.pdf

Music is What Binds Us Together

This playlist was a fun assignment I gave to my middle schoolers prior to Spring Break. They were asked to upload a video of a song that resonated with them in some way. I loved their honesty and was pleasantly surprised at some of their musical choices and influences. This task also proved to be quite insightful as I was given a sneak peak into their musical tastes.

Enjoy!

Made with Padlet