In 25 years of teaching I can honestly say I never saw this coming. Rumors of schools closing or teachers being replaced by technology yes, but never saw it actually happening! Here's the thing... we're not being replaced. We're just adapting to the new norm.
We've done it before. We'll do it again. Education is constantly changing. To be a teacher you must be flexible. It's part of your DNA or you won't make it.
Look at what we've faced so far in my 25 years. We went from theme based teaching where you kind of went with the flow to standardized everything. 9/11 and lockdown drills due to school shootings. Common core changing EVERYTHING we thought we knew about teaching and education. Then there's technology evolving so that what we are expected to do now is even possible.
Like anything else that's thrown at us, there are some that are ahead of the curve and totally ready to teach online or do the distance learning thing. Find them. Ask for help if you aren't there yourself. Teachers are helpers by nature. Social media is full of others sharing apps and opportunities that allow teachers to do this new school thing.
One of the positives that is coming out of this is that classroom walls are truly flattening. Teachers are being forced out of their proverbial islands. We're coming together as a community to do what we can to support the students as we always do. Just remember... WE GOT THIS!
(As always, reach out if I can help you in anyway!)
This past week we had parent conferences. While there were many great things to share on both sides of the conversation, one of the things many talked about was the community circle. Why I was resistant to the idea in the beginning, the result has amazed me.
For those unfamiliar with the community circle, let me briefly explain. Our class gathers around to share about different things going on in our classroom, school or lives. We have all agreed on some basic ideas that allow us to share freely without judgement or fear. Some of the agreements we have include agreeing to keep what is shared among ourselves (with the exception of telling trusted adults like parents) and no using of names of others. We start by sharing a fun, quick topic such as what is your favorite number or color. Then comes the bigger topic. These range from tell about a time you have been bullied to when have you been dishonest and how did it make you feel. We always try to end on a more positive note such as what is your favorite food or superhero.
While I can't go into details about what is shared in the circle, I can tell you the difference it has made in the students, the class and the teachers. First, the students have opened up in ways that were completely unexpected. We now keep a tissue box in the middle of our circle. It's not always the topic you think will bring the tears that makes the students cry (sometimes sobbing happy tears). They are willing to share their sad thoughts/experiences as well as what they find happiness in, and it has changed how they feel about school in general. The kids are now talking more in front of their classmates outside the circle, even the shy ones who previously wouldn't have said a word. (At the conferences one of the parents even shared that her daughter has asked that they now have a circle at home. Love it!)
This has also allowed the class to become so much closer. I have a class of some pretty quirky (in all the best ways!) kids. The year started with a few grumblings of "I don't want to be in the group with ____" as they always say. We no longer hear that. I truly feel that having the trust that has come from the community circle has changed how they perceive each other. They are willing to work with others that were once "different" from them. The shared experiences brought about through the community circle topics has created a true community within our classroom.
The other change has been with the teachers. While I can't totally speak for my amazing student teacher (who I know enjoys the community circle as much as I do), I am different because of this shared experience. I am much more invested in what the students share. This is not to say that I didn't listen to them before this year. It creates a different understanding when you see kids being so raw in front of their peers and you get to be a part of it. More students are reaching out to me outside of the circle when life seems too tough for them. The teachers share in the circle as well, usually about our experiences when we were kids that go with the topic. Recently I opened up about my current life so the kids could see the adult perspective. I can tell you I teared up as much as the kids did.
No matter how big my class gets in future years or how tight the schedule becomes, I will find a way to fit in the community circle. In this day and age, I don't see how we can go without providing our students an outlet for their emotional needs. And I don't know how I can continue to teach them without being able to know them on this level any more.
Every few years I end up teaming with another teacher for various reasons and take a break from teaching one subject or another. For the last two years I took a break from math and science. Now that I am back to teaching these again, I wanted to change it things up.
Last school year I attended a PD session with John Stevens (of Classroom Chef and Table Talk Math). There were so many ideas to use in the classroom. Some that I have incorporated this year already are Estimation 180 (which gets the kids thinking about not only estimating, but how numbers work in the real world), Would You Rather Math (trying to decide between the large chocolate bunny for the sale price or 3 smaller bunnies for a low price each is such a great critical thinking problem!), and Which One Doesn't Belong (Hint: they're all special in math and non-math ways!). The students look forward to our 10-15 minutes of these each day. There is no worry about working out a problem or even showing our work. Just talking about the math they used to pick their answer. They love it. AND they're increasing their ability to solve math problems. (We also tried a few Jo Boaler activities as well, but that's a whole other post by itself!)
One of the biggest ways I am changing is to run math rotations instead of whole class teaching. For each part, the students are focusing on a different skill. Center one is our technology focus. They work on a website that allows them to work on the current set of standards we are using at their level (whether that be intervention, on grade level or enrichment) and basic fact practices. Center two is our PBL (project based learning activity). This center is the only reason that my rotations are grade level specific. The current PBL is a combination of social studies and math. Since 4th grade is about California and 5th is the United States the groups are separated. This is not something I do for most of our subjects or activities. The third center is math games. Last week the students played three digit war. They had a blast and focused on place value without even thinking about it. This week they are going to play Factor Captor, focusing on factors, prime/composite numbers, and multiplication facts. The last center is run by me. Sometimes this will be skill based, sometimes it will focus on number sense math talk. (Yes, it takes a LOT of class management and a few extra adults to be able to successfully run all of this!)
Over the summer I had the chance to participate in the Build Math Minds online tech conference. A big theme of the conference was about math talk. One of my favorites was from Steve Wyborney. I immediately decided to put what I had learned in his session into practice during my teacher center. We play the Splat game (see his website linked above for more information!). What I love about the game is that I have already figured out where my students are in their ability to understand math sense and we have only done this three rounds. Some students (both 4th and 5th grade) are only comfortable using addition and subtraction, some have moved to multiplication and division. Some are great with visuals but struggle when you ask them to put the same idea into a number sentence. Some of the students are great with the math but can only see it in their head and struggle with both visual or number representations of how they got their answers. Having students share in a small group has shown them that everyone can have a different way of getting the same answer and that we all have value. All of that in a 20 minute rotation! WOW!
The best part of all of this so far has come from our back to school night last week though. Three separate sets of parents came up to me saying that their child came home saying that they love math and that is something that has never happened. While three doesn't sound like a lot, it's three students who have previously felt they weren't "math" people in the past. That's enough of a reason to continue what I'm doing. I can't wait to see how they progress as we continue with our math talk.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching