Saturday, April 18, 2015

A state of emergency

This past week, my fifth graders were supposed to take the SBAC test, which is an online version that replaces the traditional paper and pencil standardized test.

Since we were testing in the classroom, we spent weeks going over laptop procedures to get them ready. We talked about how to properly plug in the mice and headphones, how to carry the laptop, how to remove the laptop from the charging cart, how to tell if you need to plug the laptop in, how to set up the splitter and ethernet cords since we didn't want all the laptops pulling from the school's wifi.  My students were assigned cart-wrangling jobs and everyone knew their testing number, since it corresponded with the bag of mice, headphones, and laptops.  We went over the procedures for logging into laptops, logging into the test, all the web 2.0 tools (highlighting, clicking, hovering, typing, etc) that are imbedded in the test and necessary to pass.  We went over all these procedures more than once until every child knew what to expect.

I spent hours of instructional time practicing for THE TEST.

We read Testing Miss Malarkey and were adopted by another class, who provided us with cute treats the morning of the test.  

We had a pep assembly at the local high school to talk about test anxiety and get them ready.

I spent several hours after school covering all my anchor charts, since my room was the testing zone and had to be within protocol.  And as a friendly reminder, teachers aren't paid over time, so all this necessary prep was done on my time since I can't climb on desks while teaching--that's rather frowned upon.

We, almost painfully, problem solved every possible "what if" scenario...except for the big one.  

What if the test doesn't work?

We used splitters to problem solve for the wifi bandwidth.  The rest of the school was asked not to use the pod computers during testing time.  We did a practice run as teachers to create the testing window  and select all the various buttons we'd need to click in order to properly set up the test for the students.

We created a schedule, rearranged preps and lunches for the entire school.  We have three grades that need to test, but only three classes can be testing at a time (two on the laptops, one in the lab).  Some of our students need smaller groups or accomodations, but all that was worked into our perfect schedule.  There was time for make ups and no tests were scheduled for Mondays.

However, none of that matters.  Tuesday, the morning of the test, the SBAC server failed.

Not just for our school.  Not just for our district.  For the entire state.

Correction, for three states.

On a side note, system issues also briefly took out curriculum engine (where we have our online lesson plans) and interact (our email server).  Good times!

To say I'm disappointed with the SBAC corporation would be an understatement.  They had years to hype this test and get it ready.  We asked, time and again, for practice runs.  They failed to adequately deliver the standardized test.

The line from the media report is that they experienced technical difficulties due to a "spike in student participation."  

Students logged in, during the testing window, to take the test...shocker.  This in no way should have been a surprise.

We lost the entire week. Testing is "scheduled to resume on Monday" but we'll see.

So the tough decision was made to rearrange some of the other testing...which means my students had twenty four hours notice that they'd be taking the science component of the old CRTs (paper pencil version of the standardized test) on Friday.  Both sections of the test.

This component of testing was originally scheduled for the middle of May.  

They weren't ready.  We weren't ready.  We have a guest chemist coming in next week to talk about mixtures and solutions.  We have a whole force and motion unit planned, since we put our instruction on hold to prepare for the SBAC.  We stopped teaching to prepare for a test that through no fault of our own, and despite our best efforts to prepare them, still didn't happen.

My students did amazing, despite the circumstances.  With grit and determination, they spent the entire day struggling through a test of concepts we hadn't taught.  Some were more prepared then others.  They did their best and I can't ask for more than that.

I'd like there to be some accountability from SBAC.  This situation was ridiculous and unfair to both students and teachers.  There are now discussions at a federal level about repercussions because what happens if Nevada doesn't test? Will we lose federal funding?  What if the test doesn't work on Monday, then what?

I, as an educator, uphold my end of the deal.  I show up to work each day with an optimistic attitude and a desire to inspire, teach, lead, and challenge students to help them become the leaders of tomorrow.  I juggle state mandates and curriculum with the very real emotional and social needs of thirty young individuals.  I provide rigorous, challenging, engaging lessons that lead to connections and real-world applications.  I work tirelessly to make sure my students' needs are met.  Sometimes, I brave this battle with heels.

I did my job. Test makers, do yours.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Digging into History

One of my favorite eras in history is the American Revolution...which so nicely ties itself with some of our informational text standards (RI 5.6 and RI 5.8).  These standards examine multiple perspectives, author bias, reasons, and evidence--perfect for looking at this era! 

Over a week and a half, students analyzed many different accounts, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Paul Revere's account (available here), and multiple accounts of the Boston Massacre.

I gave each table team a different combination of the primary source documents from Colonial Williamsburg (here) to closely read and annotate.  

From there, students did a gallery walk to see how other groups analyzed the documents.

What is great to see is the different ways students dive into the text.  Some make meaning by drawing pictures to narrate what is occurring in the text.  Some highlight reasons and evidence.  My job is to teach them multiple strategies, then let them take ownership over their own learning. 

How do your students dive into history?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Grading over spring break

In an attempt to wrap up their learning units before spring break, I gave a lot of assessments the week before break.  None on Friday, which was field day, because they were a ridiculous giggly mess.

That meant I came home with a mountain of paperwork. Maybe not a mountain, but a good four inch high pile of 10 different assignments.  I spaced out the grading with naps, shopping, Netflix, and girl time so it hasn't been too painful.  

However, here are the real reasons it takes me so long to grade:

At least they're cute.  Lord knows what I'll do in the future when there's also a puppy helping. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fingers Crossed...

Today I'm taking a leap of faith.

I decided to apply to Discovery Educator Network's Summer Institute (DENSI).  I went two years ago when the institute was in Burlington, Vermont.  It was an amazing opportunity that I will hopefully get to repeat!  I didn't apply last year because we'd just bought a house and I was in the middle of remodeling the kitchen (painting all the cabinets) as well as unpacking.

Before making the decision, I called B to discuss the idea.  This summer we plan to adopt a puppy, so I wanted to make sure he'd be okay with three pets by himself for a week.

He was amazingly supportive and encouraged me to go for it.  He likened the experience to being Leslie Knope (my spirit animal) and conquering DC.  With his support, (and my best friend's and mom's), I decided to go for it!

I wrote out my application questions and am practicing my video.  My school's literacy coach is amazing and agreed to film it for me Monday morning.  I don't know how to edit videos, so I've got just one shot to make it right!

Applications are due May 1st (apply here) and I'll find out May 16th.

Will you be joining me in DC?

Teachable Moments, part 2 (the roster)

A large part of teaching relies on being reflective of one's practices.  Some lessons I've bombed and that's alright. I made corrections and retaught it with a different strategy with a different outcome. I don't make the same teaching mistakes twice.

Sometimes I embark on various different tasks and when I'm done, I realize there was a much more efficient way to get the job done.  Here is part two of teaching lessons I've learned the hard way.

The Roster 

I'm almost embarrassed to share how long it took me to figure out the glory of the roster.  With our new gradebook, it's always a challenge to find things because they aren't always in the most logical place.

In the past, I printed a roster when I needed it (which wasn't often).

After observing other teachers and listening to their conversations, I realized there were some much better uses for this glorious piece of paper.  Here are my top 5!

5) Collecting anything (permission slips, progress reports, etc).  I print a roster, label it at the top (example: progress report), and staple it to a manilla envelope.  I then place the envelope near my collection zone and place the responsibility on the students.  Whenever they turn ___ in, they highlight or check off their name.  I normally model this day one so they can see which system I'm using.  I tend to give a positive reward for turning the form in on the first day they could, which encourages them to not only be responsible, but get things done in a timely manner.  I tend not to give a negative consequence until the third or fourth day the form was due because sometimes it's not up to them, it's up to their parents.

4)  Leave it for the sub with notes about nicknames and how to pronounce any unique students' names.  Bonus points if you can print one with students' pictures.

3) Use it for informal conference notes.  Check off students' names after you meet with them about ___, then pat yourself on the back for not skipping anyone.

2) Put the roster in useful places, like by the phone and in the emergency folder/backpack.  Having a list of parent phone numbers right by the phone makes calling home (for positive reasons or classroom concerns) that much faster.  It's also great for making random groups of students or assigning writing partners.

1) Grading.  With our new system, I'm not 100% confident in its ability to you know, save assignments.  So we've had to create paper backups of everything.  However, I soon realized that if I write down all their scores first, it makes entering grades a breeze because everything is already in alphabetical order!

BONUS tip:

Using your handy dandy roster, print your student names on sticky labels (size 8 font) and put them on the back of your teacher ID.  This helps during emergencies!

How do you use your roster?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring Break Goals, Part Two

I previously blogged about my lofty spring break goals and now that it's Thursday, I think I should revisit them.

1) Finish rewatching Friends on Netflix. 

This goal is part way done!  We are on season 7!

2) Finish Parks and Rec.  I haven't been emotionally prepared to see the end of this glorious show go, so I've been avoiding it.

This is tonight's goal.  I have tissues ready.

3) Try a new restaurant for date night.  A few new places popped up near us so I'm excited to try them.  As an added bonus, most are breakfast food places. 

Um, not yet. Maybe tomorrow or Saturday or Sunday with B's family?

4) Restain the bathroom cabinets.

HA! This didn't happen.  We spent hours at Home Depot and for the security door I'd like, it's just not in our budget right now.  Maybe summertime :)

5) Doctor's appointment. 

Woo hoo, I can check one off!

6) Finish going through my closet and actually take the pile of clothes and shoes to Goodwill instead of letting them accumulate in a bag in the garage.
Um...maybe tomorrow.

7) Finish the small tasks I've half-way started: ...yeah.  Not.  Grading is almost done! I've taken myself out to lunch a few times in an attempt to get that done.

8) Try a new recipe or two.  Maybe just one. Let's not get too ambitious here.

The ingredients are purchased and it's the plan for tomorrow!

9) Put away St. Patrick's day decor and decorate for spring.  Woo, two done!

10) Girls lunch date(s)?  Yes, I had lots of these :)

11) See new babies (?).  We were hoping to go see baby Sophia, but they're getting newborn pictures done Sat am.  Maybe next weekend.

12) Finish the books I'm reading.  One is for professional development and one is for pleasure.  I know which one will be read first!  

Yeah...didn't happen.

13) Cancel my gym membership....check! On a roll.

14)  Change my pedicure.  My Jamberry mint chevron wrap is holding strong at four weeks, but I think I want something pink...maybe tomorrow.

15) Make a new front door wreath.  I started one, then ran out of both burlap and wine.  This shall be completed tomorrow!

4/3 update: Finished! (For now)


16) Spend a whole day in pajamas!  Oh, this happened more than once!

17) Start crafting their end of year and testing treats :) 
I looked on pinterest? Does that count?

So, of the 17 ambitious goals I set for myself...I accomplished five and some parts.

And I in no way feel bad about it!  I did some grading, some shopping, got my hair cut, went dancing, and took a lot of naps.

How was your spring break?