If you’re not familiar with #BookSnaps, go to Tara M Martin’s site. In short, students connect with a reading with thoughts, graphics, and images. This year, our district has been virtual (we will be going back the week of April 12, 2021) and this has given us the opportunity to explore different ways of delivering instruction.

NOTE: It has been so nice getting away from curriculum and helping teachers find what works for them and their students. Hello EduProtocols, MathReps, BookSnaps. I hope this trend of giving teachers autonomy continues.

Well, as a TOSA I am often invited into classes to help develop lessons and model some of the new pedagogy. Which I totally love! On Friday, I went to a 1st-grade class to do a #BookSnap. The kiddos did awesome! First, we read a book about ladybugs 🐞 . Then, using Nearpod the students annotated and connected with the reading. I chose a page to upload the image for them. I gave them a few prompts they could answer. And this was the result!

I want you to think about this. How often have we said or heard that 1st-graders can’t do (fill in the blank). They are too young. If anything, this past year proves that students of all ages can do whatever. We need to stop underestimating them. I’d also like to point out, that these students ARE NOT BEHIND. They have acquired different skills than they have in past years. In many ways they are AHEAD.

One of THOSE Teachers

I am one of THOSE teachers.

I will always fight for my students.

I will speak out when I feel something is wrong.

I will point out issues.

I. Will. Speak. Out.

I will fight for equity, fairness, and what is right. While I am labeled as ‘one of those teachers’ and it’s meant to discredit my words. It’s meant to silence me. It’s meant to send a message to others.

So, yes, I am one of THOSE teachers. I can only hope that the right people, those that CAN make a difference, ignore the label and do the right thing.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

NOTE: This is not about one thing in particular. I have been labeled this several times over the years and felt the need to express my frustration at this label which is meant to encourage others to ignore what I say.

2020: A Year in Review

I know most people feel that 2020 pretty much sucked. And to a certain extent, it did. However, for me it wasn’t so bad. Sure I missed my kiddos from March 13, 2020, on. Yes, I missed hanging out with friends and going to a music festival – it’s always around my birthday and a friend and I make a tradition of going. I absolutely missed going to see my family. It’s been over a year since I’ve been able to see my dad. I also missed going to conferences in person. And, I got fat! The sudden change in a routine did me no favors. Despite all this, I can say that 2020 wasn’t all that bad for me.

The Upside of 2020

Burying yourself in the sand is always fun!

The first few months were fine. Nothing extraordinary happened, personally. Sure there were concerns over the spread of Covid-19. Every time a student coughed another would shout out, “You’ve got Covid.” Clearly they didn’t understand the gravity of the situation – nor did we. As March progressed, things began to take a turn. March 13 was the last day I saw my class in its entirety. However, for me, it’s a bit more memorable than most. We had a field trip that day – to the beach. It may have been cold and overcast, but we still had fun. We were there learning about the environment with an organization (Save the Whales). Before we left, I got into a conversation with one of the volunteers. He was concerned about a shut down of schools. This was his only source of income and if schools shut down that would greatly impact his livelihood. I didn’t want to admit to him that I felt a shut down was inevitable. I felt for him. When we returned to school, I ran into another 5th-grade teacher. She asked if I had seen the email. I said, “No.” She proceeded to inform me that we would be out for a few weeks. Seeing as the following week was Spring Break it meant we would be out for approximately one week. Well, we all know how that turned out. As I had a bit of time before the end of the day, I was able to prepare my students. They had many questions for which I had no answers. Fast forward 10 months and we are still virtual. Our area has been hard hit.

Ah, my cheerleaders. Love these kiddos!

I know, that didn’t seem so positive. But think about it. The last day my students were together we were on a field trip. That’s pretty cool. Other positive things occurred this year. The EduProtocol Field Guide Book 3: Math Edition, of which I am a co-author, was completed and ready to release to the world in Spring 2021. When Covid lock down began, my dad insisted that we call each day. Before Covid, we spoke once every few weeks. We have a good relationship, just didn’t talk regularly. Then, my district saw the value in a new position (3 positions): Tech TOSA (aka Coach). TOSA stands for Teacher On Special Assignment. At any rate, this is a position I have been longing for over the past few years. It took a pandemic for my district to create this position. I have been able to work with so many teachers in our district. This is truly filling my bucket. I work from home. As an introvert, this has been awesome! My family stayed healthy, mostly, during 2020. Then my dad had to go and get pneumonia just before Christmas. That was anxiety on steroids for me (he has severe COPD). But, he went home! Then went back in on New Year’s – seriously, not doing anything for my anxiety. Good news is that he is doing well and slated to go back home soon.

None of this is not to detract from those who lost loved ones (350K deaths to date), those who lost jobs, homes, and/or other things. I realize I am one of the lucky ones and am thankful. I support local businesses as much as I can. When others talk about how crappy 2020 was, I stay quiet. Their experiences are valid and need to be heard.

So 2021

Well, here we are in the new year. I can only hope that things continue to trend in a positive direction. We now have 2 vaccines. While we still need to mask up and social distance, it is a step towards being together again. I look forward to going back home (Detroit), hopefully this summer, to see friends and family. I look forward to being in class with students – safely – and hopefully as a TOSA in the upcoming school year. I look forward to seeing all my EdTech friends at conferences IRL. I can’t wait to go to the annual music festival. As with the beginning of any new year, there is a lot of hope and optimism.

My Wish for You

May your 2021 be better and brighter than the past year. May all your hopes, desires, and dreams be fulfilled. May you be happy and healthy. Have a GREAT 2021!

TikTok Rabbit Hole

Initial Thoughts

Okay, so I’m super late to the TikTok party. Better late than never, as they say. In the beginning, my only experience with the app was through my 5th graders. During class parties, my students wanted to put on TikTok videos via YouTube to dance to. I let them and we had fun. Note: I only allowed ‘clean’ versions. They knew how to search for them so I let them. So that meant that I thought is was for dancing and learning new dances. While I love dancing, it wasn’t an interest I had so I ignored it and brushed it off. That, and I thought I was too old for the app. Yeah, that was a stupid thought.


Fast forward a year or two and I stumbled upon TikTok creators showing how they create optical illusion videos. Now this is something I am interested in. Not that I want to create them, but I appreciate the time it takes to create them and appreciate the creativity in general. My curious mind also likes knowing how it’s done. This phase began earlier this year in 2020. Let’s face it, we had a lot of time on our hands this year, at least I did. I didn’t always handle the pandemic and all its restrictions in the healthiest ways. This got me curious about all the other things that might be on the app.

Then, I watched as Holly Clark began to explore the app. I watched as she began to explore and share out some thoughts on other social media pages. As she is an educator that I greatly respect and know that she is an innovative educator, I was official starting to think about exploring this app even more. Dare I say, signing up.

The final ‘straw’ was a close friend and educator signed up. She began sharing her experiences. There were a variety of people on there and it was positive and welcoming. There were so many people (BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, BLM, and more) sharing their experiences, educating others, and having a voice that I hadn’t heard on other types of social media (admittedly, that is on me).

Taking the Plunge

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

So a few days ago I took the plunge. I signed up. I am hooked! As I’ve stated, there were so many people sharing their experiences and helping others. I also have seen that there can be a great deal of racism and hatred on the app (some of those I follow report on it). So I don’t want anyone to think this app is all sunshine and roses; it’s not. However, I am choosing to follow those that are helpful, educational, and bring love and light to the world. As such, I have found myself following those that belong to the following communities: BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Indigenous, Black, disabled, women, educators, and GenX to name a few.

Some things that I have noticed – based on who I follow. Remember, I am choosing to follow those who educate and bring positivity to the Internet. There are so many videos that have a closed caption feature. This is great for so many individuals, not just those with hearing impairment. So many people are sharing experiences and/or their culture. I’ve watched videos on how a woman with a non-verbal autistic 3-year-old son is helping to create a safe place for him and channeling his creativity into stickers. I watched an Indigenous man share how he handmade his headdress and bustle. I’ve listened to a non-binary trans person share simple ways I, and others, can be better allies. There is this beautiful Black woman who helps others understand how to care for curly, kinky hair (regardless of race). She even explained why young Black girls get beads in their braids. Clearly, I am learning a lot and enjoying my experience. I’ve also learned that as a white person, I can help elevate the voice of these wonderful individuals. I am trying to do my part.

Educational Potential

Of course I see educational possibilities in this. Many educators have talked about harnessing the power of this app in their classes. Many secondary teachers talk about allowing their students to show their learning of a subject matter via the TikTok app. Being an elementary teacher, this isn’t good practice as the app isn’t COPPA or FERPA compliant. Luckily, Matt Miller has created a safe mock version of TikTok using Google Slides. I used this with my 5th graders and they were very open to the experience.

Lots of educators are on the app sharing tips, tricks, extensions, and other useful resources. Thank you to all of you! But this got me thinking. What else can we use this app for? How can we harness this for classroom use aside from having students create videos? I will admit as a noob, these ideas might not be ‘new’ to those who have been on the app. But nonetheless these are my thoughts.

As I’ve stated, there are many people sharing their experiences and cultural history. These are things that I didn’t learn in the textbooks. Why not use the videos as sources to learn from? Hear me out (and I’ll explain how to share the videos with elementary/middle school students without using the app in class). I watched several videos on Indigenous people and their heritage and experiences. In 5th-grade students learn the four Indigenous regions across the United States (let’s ignore for the moment that within each ‘region’ the tribes that existed were unique and held their own traditions, customs, and language). What if…A teacher collected information from Indigenous people sharing this information? Yes, this can also be found on YouTube. However, part of the genius behind TikTok is that each video is one minute or less. Short, quick, to the point bits of information that students can easily digest. Another advantage of this app is that it’s visual. It’s engaging and because the videos are short students are less likely to ‘zone out’.

So how can one collect videos and share them without having students use the app. As I’ve stated, I’m super new to this so there might be an easier way. There is a feature to copy the link of any TikTok. There is also a feature to copy the embed code, but this will not work with Google Sites. Sites needs the HTML code and the code you will copy from TikTok is iframe. So, personally, I would copy the link and create a list somewhere. It can be on a Google Sheet, Doc, Slide, Wakelet, or your choice. I would NOT share this resource with students. Reason being, once the link is clicked not only does the actual video you want them to see appear, so do others that may/may not relate to the topic appear if they begin to scroll. Therefore, the viewing would be as a whole. Which has its advantage: class discussions. Is it a perfect system? No, so if you have a better idea please share out.

Edited to add: Contacting the creator to get their permission might not be a bad idea. From what I’ve seen, I would guess that most creators would be willing to allow permission and possibly even help you out.

Final Thoughts

Just like any social media app, it is what you make of it. If you want feel good material, follow those creators. I am. While I don’t have any content posted, I am gathering my courage to give it a go. There is so much to the app and there are so many on it that are willing to help and answer questions. If you were like me and thought that it was for young people and dancing, think again. While it is that, it is also so much more!

MathReps on Jamboard

It’s no secret my new love is Jamboard. I began exploring it a little over a year ago. I liked some of the features: ease of writing, collaboration, and simplicity. I did NOT love some of the features: no revision history, inability to lock background, and some other annoyances. Yet, it became one of my favorite Google Tools.

Within the last four months, Google has been quietly updating Jamboard. First came the text and shapes features. Then came the ability for creators to lock a background. Recently, I discovered that a keyboard shortcut allows you to view the revision history. PC – Alt Ctrl Shift H; Mac – ALT Command Shift H

With all these updates, teachers are using Jamboard more and more. Last week I was able to work in a 1st-grade classroom and introduce Jamboard and MathReps to the students and teacher. We used a MathReps that the students could feel success. This way, if the tool was too much for them, they could at least follow along. Well, the tool was NOT too much for them. It does help that our students have touchscreen Chromebooks to use during distance learning (and yes, when we eventually resume in class instruction). The students had fun, the teacher learned about a few new tools, and everyone left feeling successful. Some students started pressing buttons (this is a good thing) and discovered the shapes tool!

Check out their work:

More Fun!

I really am loving my job this year. I am fully aware at how blessed I am to be a Tech TOSA in my district. I have been working with a few teachers regularly this year and it is amazing. This is the first time our district has had coaches or TOSAs since the early 2000’s. Honestly, we are all figuring out this new role together. Myself and the other TOSAs: how to best help and support teachers. Teachers: How to best use us and what questions to ask. Personally, I think the teachers are doing an amazing job in their classrooms.

One teacher came to me before Thanksgiving Break and wanted to know the best way to create a class picture using Bitmoji or something similar. This is when I directed her to Pixton. Pixton is a comic based creation website where students can create, show learning, and share their comics (be sure to sign up for the educator account). Then, over the break she played around with it to create her avatar and begin her classroom pic.

The real fun started when I was in her room earlier this week and I tried to lead her class of 1st-graders through their creations. Let’s just say, they barely heard a word I said and went for it! The results were awesome! The kiddos had a great time – as evidenced by their total engagement.

The teacher was talking to a colleague about Pixton and how much fun the kids had. I got a DM from the second teacher. This teacher also taught 1st-grade. Same thing happened in that teacher’s classroom. The kids were so engaged that they didn’t hear a word I had to say.

Class Picture

While exploring we found some fun features. The students can have various backgrounds for their class picture including space, dinosaurs, and a Christmas theme. While the free version is limited with backgrounds and character choices, the students can use each other’s avatars in their comics. This is great for story telling, beginning – middle – end, explaining math or science. There are several possibilities with this.

Christmas Class picture
Create comics with your classmates and teacher.

Google Draw + Primary Learners + Distance Learning = Success

I love that I am lucky enough to work with teachers who go along with my crazy ideas. Last week, I had the idea that primary learners could learn to create a turkey using Google Draw in a virtual environment. And let me be very clear on this. These were 1st and 2nd graders many of whom do not have an adult sitting with them. Many are doing this on their own.

In this virtual environment, the students were assigned a blank Google Draw via Google Classroom. In two sessions we created turkeys. Many of the teachers were learning right along with the kids. I am thankful to work with a group of educators who have a growth mindset and celebrate the fact that they are learning with the kids (and openly share their learning with their students). I am also thankful that they never limit what their students can/cannot do in the creative world.

Honestly, this lesson went much better than I anticipated. I knew it would be a challenge and the students rose to the occasion sion. Sure, there were a few who couldn’t access the tool so they got to draw the turkey on paper and share with the class. The students learned to create a shape, copy it, paste it, move it, rotate it, color it, and in some cases insert a photo, background, use the draw tool, and explore different shapes to create their turkeys. I was so tickled, I decided to share our success. Enjoy! Thank you, teachers for allowing me to join you and giving permission to share!

Distance Relationships

My district has been in distance learning since August. One apprehension I have had with my new position (Tech TOSA) is not being able to connect with students. How wrong I was.

This past week, I had a few different interactions with students. Student A is a former student. They have had a hard time with the distance learning and personal issues. I have been encouraging them all year. This week they contacted me to let me know they got a B+. They were very excited! As a result, they get brownies. Anything to encourage them to keep working.

Then there are two sisters from my previous site that celebrate Diwali. Remembering how excited they were to share information about their holiday last year, I made sure to wish them a Happy Diwali celebration this year. The sisters were excited and shared pictures of their hands with me. Their mom does it for them each year.

Then there was the student in a class that I regularly assist in. This student is not a fan of communicating at all. I met them virtually in this class this year. They independently reached out in Google Chat (school account). This is HUGE for them. I contacted the teacher to let her know. We both celebrated!

My point to all this is that virtual, face to face, or hybrid model, we can connect with students. We don’t need to limit ourselves to those in our classroom. We can keep in contact with former students. We can encourage them and celebrate them. We can make new connections with students.

Distance Learning Advice

I originally thought that I would do this post based on what I’ve seen in classes. I then realized that I should put it out to the masses. Thank you to those that responded. This is what they had to say:

  • I’ll start: take attendance and let kids in zoom/meet/teams while playing a song. Super fun! ~ MathReps
  • Brandi Cross Miller – Lisa Nowakowski my daughter’s teacher does this and I have my own little dance party (out of view) as we start our day!
  • Cris McKee MathReps let the kids pick the song. Sometimes it helps to give them a choice between 2 songs.
  • Naomi Harm – MathReps And the best way to amplify that song while you’re waiting are you using Spotify or another resource to ensure the kids can hear the music as I’ve been in a session recently that they should have had background music and they could never get it to work yet I’m assuming that they didn’t check the box prior to going live which did not enable the sound to be embedded into the playback of the webinar.
  • Cris McKee – Naomi Harm I just use YouTube videos with the lyrics in the hope that my 2nd grade friends read them!
  • Marisa PierucciI teach rsp so we only have an hour together 4 days a week – so yesterday I decided to end teaching 5 min early so the kids could just chat about whatever they wanted. They really enjoyed that time to kick back and share about life.
  • Carrie Tibbs I play music while I admit my kiddos and have them do their “bell ringer” check in. They are getting quite the education of oldies.
  • Courtney Butterfield The paintbrush roller for copying formatting in Google Slides!! It’s a total game changer!
  • Sarah Buhler Vierra Using a second monitor
  • Alicia KirbyMengel Second monitor helps so much!!! I may keep my vision!
  • Jan Mathews Remember to share your screen because eighth graders won’t tell you you aren’t.
  • Loretta Wolfinbarger -Jan Mathews, funny. My fourth graders didn’t even tell me. After throwing in an incentive, they now all that out.
  • Susana Rudy – Jan Mathews Junior High Teachers Unite! Lol! I had to make it a rule; they must tell me if they can’t see my screen, and that helps. They have to tell me, as in, unmute their mic! I give extra credit points to the first person to let me know. It’s working.
  • Loretta Wolfinbarger Spending the time reviewing “how tos.” When this doesn’t work, try this.
  • Jennifer HoytDuring our lunch – break out rooms! They want to talk to each other a lot!
  • Veronica Gonzalez Meza Pear Deck add in for PPT (or google slides too)! Total participation game changer for me. I can present and see kids answering/ working on problems. Went from 4-5 kids raising their hand to answer to 22/27 attempting math or writing a response. I love it!
  • Jan Mathews If you see “Sign in with Google” use it—its like the Magic School Bus! It takes you right where your teacher wants you to go!
  • Jan Mathews – Mackenzie Ferreira The credit goes to one of my brightest eighth graders—shout out to Alejandro!
  • Nikole Kempi Scarlett – Jan Mathews yeah, my right hand student is Carlos! Nice to have student helpers!
  • Anila Bowers Change your viewpoint on tech glitches. View them as a normal part of life rather than a frustrating part of life.
  • Susana Rudy – Anila Bowers yes. And a learning experience. Discuss the tech issues with your students. This is the world they will be inheriting.
  • Sandy JohnsonOn Friday we have free choice fun Friday. Kiddos bring toys to the last 20 minutes of class. They get to talk and visit. Some of my kindercuties have become friends as if they were in the classroom
  • Dawna HunterSaving silly faces for the end of our day.Lots of songs!
  • Angela Der Ramos This may be basic but I didn’t know you can share sound directly if you share the tab instead of the window.I put music video on to take attendance, and we’ve had two movie parties already. Think I need an upgrade on the computer though…
  • Gloria McGriff PearDeck- getting students to show their thinking, since we have to track student engagement this saves me some work keeping another form.
  • Gloria McGriff Coffee shop social – allowing 4 students to stay on Zoom call to chat – me with my video and sound off. Has been a hit.
  • MaryAlison Weintraub Trying new tech tools and doing comparison polls in Webex to see what kids prefer. Ex Nearpod vs Pear Deck, prefer Nearpod, prefer Pear Deck, either works for me, don’t really like either.
  • Gloria McGriff I have been inspired to write jingles and song bites and encouraging students to do the same: Zero is my hero, because it SAVES place value! And for exponents It’s all about the base, bout the base, and exponent
  • Angela Der Ramos Leaving video or voice feedback embedded in the kids work on Seesaw. Error analysis and Feedback is a sweet spot that isn’t easy in DL.Benjamin Cogswell showed me this.
  • Ben’s Video
  • Kristan Dm Shared google slideshow is my go to daily place for students and groups to post their solutions to math problem. Assign 1 problem from daily set to each group, let them discuss in breakout room to prepare group slideshow and insert combo of photos handwritten work and typed explanation . After class I switch setting back to view only so kids can only edit during the class period. So simple but very effective as group and class collaborative space

I’m Worried

It’s that time of year when schools start back up. There have been many heated debates about how this should happen during the Covid-19 pandemic. I assure you, no matter what you think, it’s a bad idea. Go back with social distancing: teachers fear contracting it, no collaboration, isolation while in the same room as others. Hybrid model: similar issues as going back live with the added stress of creating asynchronous lessons. Keep things locked down: the kids lose in this scenario. Then there is the virtual model. THIS is what our district is doing.

This was like a multiple choice quiz with NO right answers.

A little background. In July, our school board made the tough decision to go back virtually. They were faced with nothing but wrong choices. This was like a multiple choice quiz with NO right answers. This was preceded by several weeks of debates, parents and teachers giving public comments, a previous meeting at which the decision was postponed. My point is that our board took this decision seriously. Then, here in California, the governor created guidelines based on Covid numbers as to which schools would be teaching virtually and which could entertain the idea of going back face to face. Then began the task of figuring out how to do this.

Of all the conversations that were had: how to do all virtual? What will it look like to young learners? How will we do OT? What will intervention look like? How can we prepare teachers in 3 days (all the PD we get normally with the calendar)? How will we get students the supplies needed? How can we get books into kids’ hands? What impact will this have on students’ mental health? How can we keep kids engaged? We also needed to adhere to the compliance pieces that the state rolled out. And so many other questions and discussions. No where in there did we – district or nation – address the mental health of educators. This is probably one of the biggest oversights of this situation.

It will take time and adjustments to get to a place of greatness.

This virtual thing, on such a mass scale, is new to everyone. While districts are communicating, each has come up with their own plan. Some are doing it better than others from what I’ve heard, but I don’t believe anyone is doing it with great success. That is not a criticism, rather an honest statement. How can anyone or any entity do something with great success the first time? It will take time and adjustments to get to a place of greatness. The key will be to adapt as we go along. The districts that stick to their original plan will most likely fail.

This is the schedule our district has adopted. A/B groups for TK – 5 and whole groups for 6 – 8.

Our middle school has done this for four days and our elementary has done it for a day or two. Teachers are drowning. Let me be clear on this. While teachers feel overwhelmed and underprepared, they are giving it their all. There isn’t a teacher in our district that is taking it lightly or giving up. They are all looking for the silver linings. I am in awe of our teachers.

Not only are our teachers struggling with this new model, but our families are too. Many teachers don’t see how this model is sustainable. Our teachers are online most of the day. They are exhausted and then have 1/2 hour to have office hours, check work, give feedback, and contact families, and plan lessons.

Now, let’s compound the virtual learning issue by adding Covid-19 Slide to it. It’s like the summer slide, but Covid related. According to a research firm, “The report estimated that, on average, students could lose seven months of learning during the pandemic, compared to 10 months for Black students and nine months for Hispanic students. ” (Georgia State University). So for a district like mine – Title 1, 100% free lunch, and a high percentage of Latino students – this is even more stressful. That means a 5th grader coming into this is really more like a beginning 4th grader IF they were at grade level before the pandemic hit. If that 5th grader was below grade level before March 13, the gap is even larger. Not only do we need to teach the standards, but we need to fill gaps. Then, there is the dreaded state test. NOW would be a really great time to explore their actual importance to education (Hint: they’re not. They only are important to the test makers because they make money. It’s a racket.) If you worry that your child/student is behind, don’t worry. This is a global problem. All kids are ‘behind’. And let’s face it, they are arbitrary measures to begin with. The kids will be fine in the long run. Point being, the teachers have to teach the standards/content that students have difficulty accessing.

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

So what can be done? If you’re a teacher, be kind to yourself. You don’t need to do it all. If something isn’t working, speak up. You might not be the only one with those thoughts. Know that it will get easier. Rely on others, collaborate. If you’re district administration, listen to what your teachers are saying. They are the boots on the ground and are experiencing it in real time. Better yet, shadow a teacher for a day or week. Experience what they do daily. Don’t even think of uttering the phrase, “Fidelity to the curriculum.” Reach out to teachers to find out what is working, what isn’t, and where more support is needed. If you are a policy maker, for the love of all that is good, cancel all standardized tests for the foreseeable future! Create policies with actual teacher input.

To all of my teacher friends, I am here for you. To parents, please be kind, forgiving, patient, and understanding. Teachers are human. They have families. They are worried for your child’s education, too. They really are doing their best.