Will this ever end?

Will this ever end?  Those were the words written between the lines each week when I read my students’ responses to their weekly check-in.

Every week during the school closure, I had my students complete a check-in so that I would know how they were doing.   It asked them how they were feeling and why.   It asked them if they needed anything.   It asked them to tell one fun thing that they planned to do.   Every week, I saw “anxious”, “overwhelmed”, “lonely”, “bored”, and “hungry”.   Every week, I tried to coax my students to show their face during the Google Meets rather than their avatar.   I told them how much I missed seeing their faces.   That was true.   What I didn’t tell them was that I wanted to see their faces so that I could gauge just how “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, and “lonely” they were.

Every week, I used the same structure for our math activities.  While it felt like their world was spinning wildly out of control, I wanted my students to feel the comfort of something that stayed at least kind of the same.

  • Every week, we had two short Google Meets so that we could launch and debrief the math we were doing.   Every week, I opened the Meet about 15 minutes early so that kids could just talk to each other and feel connected to someone outside their house.
  • Every week, I gave them one skill practice activity in Delta Math.   This was something that they already knew how to do.  I hoped it was a place where they could feel confident and in control.
  • Every week,  I gave them two Desmos activities.  While we only had so much experience with Desmos, it was always something that they loved.   Desmos was a way to give them excitement and engagement and the chance to play with math.
  • Every week, I gave them one or more optional challenge activities.   The optional challenge activities were always designed to be creative.   I wanted them to be a place where kids could go and play and explore and create so that some of those empty hours could be filled with purpose and fun.  I wanted to give their anxious minds a few moments of rest.   So, I gave them resources to code apps and create origami, to make mandalas and build structures.

Every week, I checked on kids who didn’t “show up” in at least one way.   I emailed parents to see if they were sick or if they needed help.    I let them know that I noticed.   Then, every week, they showed up.

At the end of school, one of  my students posted this in our Google Classroom “Thank you guys for making school feel like home.”

During those last days of school, some students were speaking of summer with a sense of dread.   They were looking at endless days of empty time ahead.   There would be no camps, no sports, no trips, no time playing with friends – just endless swaths of empty time to fill.   Again, there was the unspoken plea, “Will this ever end?”

For a million reasons,  the answer to that  plea feels like “no”.  It does to me and I know it does to them.   So, this year, my Google Classroom is not going to close.   In the week since school closed, I have posted materials on how binary works and a project they can make, an introduction to Javascript and a “take a virtual hike” project, information on how to code an app and on an app development competition,  engineering projects they can do at home with basic household supplies, and information on a virtual coding/engineering camp.   I will keep posting things there all summer, just in case my kids need it.    If nothing else, each post tells them that I am thinking of them.

It feels like a lifetime ago, even though it has really only been a matter of months.

Covid 19 hit my radar at the onset of the outbreak in Wuhan.   I had a student who was spending several weeks in China at that time.   I found myself wondering if he was OK, if he would be able to return.   He was and he did.

Those circumstances, though, brought Covid 19 into our classroom experience.   We began to analyze graphs and scatterplots from the CDC and the WHO to help kids understand the things happening around them.    We started with “noticing and wondering” about  the “flatten the curve” graphic before it hit the media.    We moved on to looking at infection rates vs mortality rates for a lot of different diseases so that we could understand how this disease compared to other diseases.    I wanted my students to understand what was swirling around them and I wanted them to understand how to analyze data so that they could be informed consumers of information.

With the arrival of March, my students headed off to a long weekend.   They were scheduled to have what would essentially be a four day weekend because student-led conferences were scheduled for Thursday and Friday of that week.   This meant they would have four days off from school with the exception of the time scheduled for their conference.    That four day weekend turned into a three week spring break when the first COVID 19 cases hit my state.    Because I know my students would be struggling with so much empty time while confined at home, I started posting Desmos activities in our Google classroom for them to do.   I didn’t take grades or hold them accountable.   I just gave them something interesting to do.

At the end of those three weeks, schools were closed for the remainder of the academic year.   The district gave us a week to figure out how to do our “Continuous Learning Plan”.   As a middle school, each class was permitted a maximum of 3 hours of school work per week.   No new material was to be taught.    No grades were to be taken and all activities were optional.    At that point, I established the structures we would use for the rest of the year.   At the end of school, I decided that I needed to carry our classroom into the summer.

 

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