Our At-Risk Kids & COVID-19

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Since the beginning of this, I have been in constant contact with one of my students. Student A has a rough home life. Student A (SA) is what I call a trauma kid. There is trauma in SA’s life.

I have connected with SA this year. SA has come such a long way and I couldn’t be more proud of SA. Our district hasn’t moved to Online Learning yet. We are a week behind most as our Spring Break was the first week – March 16. So for the past 3 weeks, SA and I have been emailing back and forth. SA reached out. SA reaches out often asking many questions. I have been able to provide guidance and information.

SA has contacted me about where and when to get food. What they should do if a police officer stops them (there was a rumor going around town – untrue). The breaking point came this week. Students were able to pick up computers. Upon hearing this information, SA was excited but nervous. I asked if they wanted me to meet them at school. SA replied, “Yes, please!” Okay, I have a soft spot for them, so I said that I would.

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Photo by Mateus Souza on Pexels.com

Today was computer pick-up day. SA called as they left their house. I packed up the pups and off we went. We got there at about the same time. I almost didn’t recognize SA. The spark was gone. In its place was a sad, withdrawn, scared-looking child. We chatted while waiting in line (social distancing the whole time). SA is home alone for a part of the day while mom is at work and the younger brother goes to the babysitter.

SA is not the only as-risk kid. This got me thinking. We talk about equity and the pros and cons of online learning. Yes, there is most definitely an equity issue in our nation. Students with no internet. Rural areas with no or poor access. Equity concerning students with IEP’s. And yes, those are important and should not be overlooked. But what about students like SA who NEED to be connected? Those students who are suffering alone and in silence. They NEED to have the opportunity to connect. I am happy that SA can connect. I’m really hoping that the simple daily meeting help SA.

Please reach out to all your at-risk kiddos. They may not be doing as well as you’d hope. I’ve also had former students (all at-risk) reach out to me.

What the Tests Don’t Show

I have a student this year that I am in awe of. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is a true testament to growth-mindset. She is my go-to person for most tech questions. She is the rare 5th-grader who uses technology in meaningful ways in her spare time. My student, L, is a role model to both students and adults.

pexels-photo-733856.jpegYes, I realize I’m waxing on about L and here’s why. L has run our school’s daily news all year – which is a news broadcast. She films, edits, and most recently, been in front of the camera. When I’m having issues with a computer/tablet she’s the first person I consult and she usually has the solution. She uses her phone as if it were a mini computer: downloading Google Classroom, working on assignments at home, using Raz-Kids, and other programs to help her succeed. She has helped her family to download and set up educational apps (on their phones) to help them be connected to Class Dojo and learn a new language. She ‘texts’ me via Google Hangouts (her school account) to ask school-related questions or just tell me that she’ll be out the next day.

I’m sure you’re thinking that’s impressive for a 5th-grader, but not swoon-worthy. THIS is where her story begins to show how amazing she is. If we only look at her statistics – test scores, socioeconomic status, home language, etc – we would miss everything!

L is a second (maybe third) language learner. Her family speaks a dialect from the Oaxaca region in Mexico and Spanish. She qualifies for free/reduced lunch.  She was hit by a car last year while riding her bike (no helmet) and still suffers from some brain swelling which has impacted her memory, vision (not drastically), and headaches. She continues to go to the doctor for her injuries. L has an IEP for learning differences. The IEP was in place before the accident. See, you’re impressed now, aren’t you?

So, while some tests can help guide us, they don’t measure the most important things about our students. They don’t tell their stories and it’s those stories that truly help us connect with our students and serve their needs. Without the personal relationships we build with our students, how could we ever build them up? How could we see their potential and set them on a path to success? How could we do our jobs? If only the test-crazy people would understand that a child is so much more than a silly test.

Notes & Voice Typing

pexels-photo-355988.jpegMy students constantly amaze me. They come up with great ideas and are innovators in their own right. Not only do I enjoy hearing their thoughts and ideas, often times we implement them in our classroom. I also feel fortunate enough that my students feel comfortable enough to share their ideas with me; knowing they will be taken seriously and not ridiculed.

Recently, one of my resource students (one with an IEP for both reading and math) created her own accommodation. We have been reading Tuck Everlasting and using a Hyperdoc to help guide us. While discussing one of the slides in the Hyperdoc, I noticed that the student had written some notes in the ‘Speaker Notes’ section. I found this interesting. It also made me a bit giddy as she was taking full advantage of our discussions. I privately talked to her about taking notes to tell her how impressed I was with her choice. She then revealed that she put on ‘Voice Typing’ during the conversation in order to capture everything that was said. Not going to lie, THIS really impressed me. Honestly, not sure I would have thought to do something like this.

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Later, I shared with the class what the student had done. Expressing how I felt it was a good use of technology, but shared with them my expectation that if they used this strategy, it is to be used as a means of note taking and all responses should be in their own words.

The next day, we were discussing the events that took place at Lexington and Concord – studying the American Revolution. At one point a group of students had ‘bug eyes’, began giggling, and pointing to their computer screens. I walked over to find out what was so entertaining. Sure enough, someone in their group had turned on ‘Voice Typing’ to capture the information. All I thought was, “Go kiddos!”

How Was Your Break?

pexels-photo-551590.jpegThis is one question I try not to ask. This and “Did you have a good break?” When dealing with many students from differing backgrounds, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has a ‘good break’. It’s a natural question for many of us to ask. We come back not really ready to be back. I mean, we all love to sleep in and get things done around the house or hang with family/friends or go on trips. But for many students coming back to school is a welcome break from their home lives.  And for that reason, I no longer ask students these questions.

I write this because I was reminded over my break that not all our students have ideal home lives. Some are dealing with the threat of a parent being deported or being evicted from their homes. Others are visiting a parent in jail over the holidays. Some don’t have money for presents. And yet others have had to deal with trauma and situations we can’t imagine. For these students, school IS their safe place; school is a welcome break from their everyday lives.

So what do I do? What do I say to my students when they come back? I’ve found that questions and statements such as: “I’m so happy to see you,” or “Are you glad to be back?” work well. “Are you glad to be back?” allows students to tell me about their trips to Mexico, all the toys they received, or the family they spent time with.  While allowing those in less than ideal situations to feel safe to say, “Yes, I’m happy to be back.” Many times they follow that statement with, “It was so boring.” Knowing their lives, I know this isn’t really the case, but rather they are happy to feel safe for 7 hours out of their day.

And it’s not just our students who don’t always have ‘good breaks’. Some of our colleagues have had to deal with situations that were less than an ideal Holiday. Remember: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” – Ian Maclaren.

50 States Mystery Hangout

Over the summer, I had the idea that I wanted my students to participate in a Mystery Hangout with a classroom from each of the 50 states.  I’m glad I started this journey.

So far we have connected with 3 states. In addition to the Mystery Hangouts, I wanted my students to start sketch noting the information we collected. I’m so glad I included this aspect. It wasn’t easy for them at first. In fact, I still have a few that write lists. But overall I’m pleased with how they are experimenting with becoming more and more creative.

State Test & Slime: Perfect Pairing

img_0003.jpgSlime. A craze that is still going strong in my classroom. While many teachers find it the bane of their existence; I do not. Okay, fidget spinners might be the new bane of our existence. I don’t ban the slime, or fidget spinners, mainly because my students seem to understand that each has a time and place. My students, for the most part, have found a balance between work and slime.

This past week, my students began taking the state test. Again, I didn’t ban slime, nor did I encourage it. It’s just a ‘thing’ that exists in the classroom. As I was monitoring the students, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: while taking the test they were playing with slime. Let me be clear. It’s not all students, in fact, it’s about 5 or so and they were completely focused on their tasks.

IMG_0006One student kept the slime in her container, read, and simply played with it by dipping her finger in and out of the slime. She gets a bit nervous because she wants to do well. I believe it helped relieve some anxiety. I took a quick picture and texted it to her mom (our school’s secretary). We just giggled.

Meanwhile, a few other students had it on their tables, off to the side. They poked at it, rolled it, and kneaded it all while focusing on the test.

So if you’ve banned slime in your classroom, you may want to rethink it. Of course, there have been times where I had to confiscate slime because someone was focused on playing with it rather than working. However, if it helps calm students, why not let them play?

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Websites In Class

Websites are great places to collect and display student work. I have used them in Math so that student can document their learning through videos, photos, and examples. In addition to documenting their progress, when students are unsure of a concept they can refer to another student’s page for clarification.

More recently, I have used them to document learning in Social Science. Earlier in the year, we were learning about Pre-Columbian Settlements. Students documented their learning on Google Maps then placed them on a website.

webpage-1The beauty of doing this is that it allows for easier sharing with the outside world. It has been said, and is most certainly true, that when students know the public will see it they up their game. When my students think it’s just for me, they give me ‘okay’ work. It’s like pulling teeth to get top notch work from them. However, when I say that it will go on a website that will be shared on Twitter and Facebook, they are much more careful and meticulous in their work. Adding to that, I present. I tell them what I am presenting and when. Okay, sometimes I ‘say’ I’m presenting on a topic even when I’m not. I want the best work from them, I have no shame.

Here’s another example from my students. We recently started learning the reasons for the Revolutionary War. There are various tasks that they need to accomplish. Those final products are placed on a shared website.

webpage-2I have used this method of documentation and sharing in the classroom for over four years. I have never had a student abuse their editing rights. On the old Google Sites, I could give page level permissions for editing but never did. All students have always had full rights on the site. However, this year I have a student who has been known to maliciously edit shared documents (and when caught asks what ‘Revision History’ proves). So said student does not have editing rights. While this makes me sad and I wish I could have gotten through to the student that such behavior is inappropriate, I have decided to exclude him/her from editing until he/she proves themselves to be trustworthy. I figure once in four-plus years is a pretty good record.

Two of my favorite websites were student driven. One was for a ‘business’ where the students created keychains and bracelets to raise money for St. Jude Hospital. They had photos and order forms! The other was a tech tutorial website. A group of girls calling themselves The Techie Chicks created one tech tutorial each week during Genius Hour.

Student Ownership

I love this time of year. That time of the year where you’ve hit that ‘sweet spot’ with your class: they know the routines, they can work independently, and they know they have a stake in the success of the class. On Friday, my students wanted to know if we were having a Valentine’s Day party. Personally, I don’t care. I told them that it was up to them. Of course, they decided to go for it.

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Source: Pexels.com

Then, a group asked if they could decorate the room. Again, I said go for it that it was their thing. This group, made up of both genders, got together during Genius Hour to create decorations for the classroom. They also informed me that they were not done and would continue next Genius Hour. How cool are they?

 

We also have another issue to decide. We usually have parties near the end of the school day for obvious reasons. However, Valentine’s Day is also First Tee (Golf) day. We go in the afternoon. Our current dilemma is when to have it. On the 14th at lunch? On the 13th? Wait until 17th (Genius Hour)?  This was not a popular option. I’m letting them decide. Majority rules.

I just love days like this.

Drone On

This week I received a set of 4 Mini Parrot Drones, courtesy of CUE Steampunk Mobile Labs  What a GREAT week it’s been. Well, not all great. We finally finished state testing on Tuesday, with 15 days left in the school year.

So it’s a bit of a crazy week with finishing state testing, completing our movie (A Tale Unfolds), and the valley fair begins on Thursday. This week has been the perfect week to have the students code and complete tasks using the drones.

On Monday, we started with me attempting to give them a challenge to complete. Yeah, that was a flop. They were more interested in exploring the drones and programming them to do various tasks. I quickly let go of my idea that they could focus on a given challenge.

TueIMG_0006.JPGsday, they were ready for a challenge. We took them outside to see if we could land them in a target. We had a few obstacles in our way: the biggest one being the wind. This proved to be perfect for their collaboration and problem-solving skills. Using the Tickle App on the iPads, the students programmed their Mini Parrots to lift off, go forward for a specific amount of time, and land. It was pretty cool to see!

Today the students were tasked with programming the drones to take selfies. THIS was a huge hit. At first, there were several random pictures taken. Then once they got the hang of it, they took some great selfies, which they downloaded onto their Google Drives.

(Selfie Photo credit: the students – they gave me permission to post)

It’s nice to have students finish the sentence, “Can we…” with something other than “…play a game”, “…have recess”, or “take a break.” They beg to code and explore every day. They are sad that they will be leaving at the end of the week and truthfully, so will I.

Thank you, CUE and Jon Corippo!

Makeshift Keyboards

Recently I received a new student in my 5th-grade class. Great kid from India. He has some English, enough to tell me he wants a Punjabi Keyboard. So, we created a Punjabi keyboard for him. First, we selected the correct keyboard on his Chromebook. Then, he pointed out that the physical keyboard was still in English. So then we looked up a Punjabi Keyboard online and I printed it out. Using Google Translate, we affixed them on the correct keys. We used tape. We were in business! Things were going great. Score 1 for me.

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This victory didn’t last long. He then came to me telling me that the paper was bugging his fingers and I needed to tape the tops too. I explained that the keys would then all stick down to the board. So then, I had another brilliant idea: Saran Wrap, poor man’s keyboard cover. Yet another score for me.

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Yes! This worked. He was happy. Until…. He wanted it all off. Yup, it wasn’t working for him. He wanted to continue with the English Keyboard…

(Sigh) You win some, you lose some.