Mystery Science for the WIN

Oh. My. Goodness. This COVID teaching life is no joke. I am EXHAUSTED. I mean, we all know that teaching is exhausting but adding on all of the new rules AND the constant changes, is extra rough.

I’ve learned this year that I have to be okay with not being the best teacher in some areas and accepting that things are going to be hard and different. I will admit that this week was a hard week in many ways. Our school has gone from dropping the bomb that we would be moving to hybrid learning in the elementary schools on Monday, to being told we wouldn’t be given prep time for that transition on Tuesday, to then being told we would not be going to hybrid on Thursday. There is no other way to explain it than to say it was a total mind f**k. On top of that huge confusion, I had parent and student issues going on as well. I honestly can say I know I taught something this week but I don’t really know what.

The thing that got me through this week was my amazing team. This is the first time I feel like I’m on a team where everyone understands each other and is always there for you no matter what. I’m also finally on a team where everyone is a real person. There are no words to explain how helpful that makes everything.

There has been one resource that has truly been a lifesaver for me. If there is one subject I am not good at teaching, it’s science. I have really struggled with that in the past and was really stressing about how I would do it this year since I’m struggling just teaching reading and math.

This year our district is piloting Mystery Science as our science curriculum. For years I have been showing Mystery Doug videos weekly to my classes just for fun. If you’ve never watched these videos, do it! They are usually about 5-10 minutes long and touch on anything and everything kids want to know about. A video might be on how pencils are made, but the videos go way deeper than just that answer. I’ve told my students that every time I watch a video, I learn something new even if I know the answer to the title of the video.

Mystery Doug than evolved into a full fledged science curriculum website known as Mystery Science. (To be honest, I’m not sure what came first Mystery Doug or Mystery Science but I personally heard of Mystery Doug first.) Mystery Science’s website is super easy to follow and teach that literally anyone can do it! Even someone like me who really struggles understanding parts of science in the first place.

All you do is find your grade level standards and there are videos ready to go to show your students. The video goes through a lesson and always has a hands on exploration at the end. My students are starting the year off by learning about energy and electricity. They just completed an activity where they built their own chain reaction machine. It was so cool because they got to learn about energy transfer while also being their own engineers.

The site is so friendly to use that it is PERFECT for a distance learning teacher. My students all have their own Chromebooks so we’ve been practicing on doing lessons completely independently just in case we have to go distance in the future.

I send out a link on Seesaw to the week’s lesson, show them the materials they will need for the exploration, and then set them loose. The lesson videos are 10-30 minutes long and the hands on activities are around 30 minutes long. I’ve really enjoyed watching my kids be totally independent in their learning while navigating the videos and making their projects.

We do every other lesson together as a class so we can have class discussions and I can keep track of their learning. The weeks that they go through the videos on their own, I have a print out of questions they have to answer throughout so I can see later they followed along. (This has prevented my slackers from just clicking through the videos just to get done.)

The other super nice thing about this site is they are always updating it and posting new projects and videos weekly for any grade level. An example this week was that they posted a video on creepy crawly bugs. I sent this video link out to my class today during WIN time as an optional “Friday Fun” activity. They watched a short video and then got to make their own symmetrical centipedes. They LOVED it! It was so fun watching them laugh at the videos and get super into making their own bugs. The best part was that, to them, it was a Friday Fun activity but they were actually doing a science lesson at the same time without even realizing it.

Moral of the story, even if your school has a set science curriculum, go check out Mystery Science’s site. If you subscribe to Mystery Doug’s weekly videos, you get a new free video sent to your email every week followed by extra activities they will randomly post throughout the week. (Like the bug activity from today.) Kids love it and I promise you will to because it is no extra work. It’s actually a nice relaxing time of the week because for a few minutes you can take a breath while they are captivated by the video being shown.

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Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons! This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday … Continue reading Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Back in Work Mode

Oh man, I don’t know about the rest of you but I feel like everyday has been a marathon and a sprint at the same time. I don’t know if it’s because of our shortened schedule mixed with our new COVID rules and procedures but I am exhausted at the end of every day. I also feel like I never get everything done that I need to.

We are now officially one month into school and I have finally come to the conclusion of what kind of class I have. I have a group of really sweet kids but they are also a group of kids who cannot be unsupervised or unstructured for more than a few minutes. They are the type of class that can get really loud and excited fast but then cannot come back down. I’ve had a couple of classes like this before so I sadly know what we will and won’t be able to do.

I’ve also come to the conclusion on who my students are as people. I know who my class clowns are, who my shy insecure kids are, and who my overachievers are.

My students (at least I think) have realized who I am as a teacher as well. I have high expectations for them and they know it. (Some of them hate it.) I do not tolerate certain behaviors that they have been able to get away with in the past. For some, this year has been a rude awakening and I’ve been called the mean teacher many times. In our district, 5th grade is the last year of elementary school. We tell our kids on day 1 that we are going to treat them like middle schoolers so there isn’t such a culture shock next year when they enter 6th grade. It’s been crazy for me to see how many of them don’t even act like a 10 year old.

It’s been rough trying to get everyone back into school life again. I’ve been told by my teammates that the 5th grade teachers are known as the “mean teachers in the school” because of the high expectations. What has made this year even harder than normal is that some of these kids haven’t had any structure in over 6 months. (Some even longer than that because their 4th grade teacher had no expectations what so ever.) The first few weeks I caught them doing things that I couldn’t even believe I was seeing. During a test I had students getting up to talk/share answers with another student in a different spot of the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had students who constantly tried to “sneak” on their hats in the classroom even though it’s a school policy to not wear hats. I’ve also had students who have flat out refused to do what I’ve asked of them. When I’ve asked them if they have gotten away with refusing what a teacher has asked before they said yes. It’s been wild and has definitely been an eye opener.

Besides the weird behaviors and adjusting to being back at school, we’ve had some pretty good moments including these amazing Daily 5 moments and this amazing writing my student wrote for me during write to self. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Max Kepler is an outfielder for the MN Twins and I love him!)

This year (thanks to the threat of going distance again) our school has provided Chromebooks for everyone in the district. Before this year, only kids in grades 6-12 had them. Being 5th graders, our students were the first to get their Chromebooks in the school. It’s been fun incorporating different sites and apps into our lessons. I am used to teaching with 1:1 devices, so it’s been fun for me to teach my students how to use different platforms like Seesaw, IXL, and Epic. I’ve also learned that “free Chromebook time” is the perfect Friday afternoon reward for positive behavior since the novelty of having them hasn’t worn off yet.

On top of the sites I’ve used before, I’ve also learned about more platforms our school is rolling out district wide this year. It’s been exciting incorporating different typing and music sites that they’ve been learning how to use in their media and music classes. As crazy as this year is, using the Chromebooks has been a nice constant in our day that will be able to stay constant when and if we have to go back to distance learning.

I’m also trying to adjust to trying to teach outside as much as possible. I’ve kind of been slacking on this. The only time I’ve really been outside with my class is to eat snack and lunch. That’s been it. (And that has been interesting itself.)

This is one of my students using the tinfoil from his lunch to “heat up” his friends peas….

I felt bad this week when I was hearing from other teachers about how they’ve been out to teach reading and to do math homework. Today I finally decided it was time to try going out. We were in the middle of taking our super long unit reading test so I had them finish it outside. It was wonderful and went much better than I had expected. (It helped that one of my harder students wasn’t in my room at the time.)

It’s been a weird month and it’s only going to get weirder. With our county’s COVID numbers, we are more than likely heading to a hybrid model soon which will be a whole new definition of weird. BUT I am thankful to have a job and to be able to see and teach my students in person. I’m really hoping things start to turn around soon so we won’t have to go back to what last year was like. Fingers crossed.

The mask eyes you have to make in order for your students to know
you mean business.

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Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons!

This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday that on Wednesday our entire school building’s schedule was going to change! Because of specialist schedules and bathroom schedules, the schedule had to be rewritten so our classes wouldn’t mix in the hallways. Luckily for us, the only thing that switched in our schedule was lunch being a whole half an hour sooner than it had been. That was wonderful news for me because I was STARVING by the time we finally got to eat. It’s crazy how much of a difference 30 minutes can make.

My students loved the change in schedule as well so it didn’t bother me too much. The only problem came when one of my students (who needs to know what’s going on at all times otherwise he has a mini melt down) couldn’t understand why our schedule changed and why we were going to lunch sooner when the clock didn’t read our “normal” time. I felt bad for the poor kid. He handled it much better however than I thought. He was able to adjust quickly by the next day.

Lunch has been one thing that has been really strange this year. For one thing, because we can’t mix with other classes, we can’t each lunch in the lunchroom with the whole grade level like normal. Because of that, we have to eat in our classrooms (gross) or outside! If there is one thing I hate, it’s the smell of a cafeteria in an elementary school. I LOVE my job but I hate lunch supervision duty. (Even if the smell wasn’t so bad, just watching some kids eat is disgusting!) When I heard that my students would be eating in the classroom, I was not too thrilled.

The first few days I tried eating inside but it was too chaotic and the smell was too much. This week, I took my students outside to eat and it was a little easier. It was a challenge to get my students to eat the first few days rather than go crazy because they were outside. I think it was hard for them to understand that we were outside to eat lunch, not play. Yesterday and today, however finally got better. They found a spot in the grass and ate their lunches like normal human beings which was a small but exciting win for me.

I did have to laugh though, because a group of my boys were yelling and pointing at something in the grass. When I asked what it was they informed me it was a dead bird…..I asked them why they didn’t move and they looked at me like I was the crazy one. I guess eating next to dead birds is the cool thing to do now…? 5th grade boys are weird.

Another small success came this week with one of my students. Last week I hinted at a story about one of my anti mask wearing students. In our district, parents were offered many options for their child this school year. They could opt in for 100% distance learning classrooms or 100% outdoor/nature based learning classrooms if they didn’t want their child to have to wear a mask. It was then stated that any family who chose to send their student back into the classroom would understand and agree to having their child wear a mask all day everyday. No exceptions.

One of my boys had a really hard time with this.

Side note: He is a really sweet boy who has ASD and ODD. He receives behavioral support services in a normal year so I had a feeling, with this crazy strange year, he would need some extra support to help him get through these first few weeks.

When I first met this student at our Welcome Back Days, he flat out refused to wear a mask. He then informed me his thoughts on mask wearing and let’s just say, they weren’t positive thoughts. During our first 30 minutes together, I didn’t get anything out of him other than his negativity towards coming back to school and having to wear a mask. I think I heard the word hate come out of his mouth at least 5 times every minute.

Because of our non-negotiable rule that if a student comes to school they must wear a mask, I knew the first day (plus) would be hard. Sure enough, day 1 started with him flat out refusing to take his mask out of his backpack. I didn’t know yet how to work with him in a way that would be productive so I had to call for some backup. Sadly, he was in my room for maybe 1/2 of the first day. I was able to have a conversation with him at lunch that day. I tried to get him to talk about anything other than masks but he was stuck on that subject all day. At one point, I asked if he’d like to wear a face shield instead. His response, “People who wear face shields look like terrorists.” Yep, so no face shield.

He was so angry and stubborn about wearing his mask on day 2 that I only had him in my classroom for 1 hour that day. I hate that! I never want a student out of my room for a long period of time even if they are having a rough behavior day. I wanted to regroup and go into this week with a fresh attitude and mindset on how to get him to be more relaxed so he could stay in our room all day.

This week, he walked in Monday morning with his mask on and that was that. It was like I was finally getting to see the real him instead of the angry irregulated boy I met last week. Granted, he still complained up and down about how much he hated masks but he kept it on. He would take it off every so often but as soon as I would ask him to put it back on, he did it no questions asked. That’s a success in my book! The best part was that by the end of this week, I finally got him to smile and laugh with me. I think we finally made a breakthrough where he feels he can trust me and knows that I’m in his court. I know we will have rough days this year but I think we’re building a relationship to help offset those rough days.

I know I’ve said this before but I have a soft spot for kids like him. It’s my more challenging students that I think about all the time even after I have them. I know that, because of past behaviors, sometimes these types of kids get a bad rap and some teachers immediately are prejudiced towards them because of that. I hate that. These kiddos need extra love, support, and understanding. They’re different, they need different things than most students in the classroom and I’m not afraid to give them what they need even if it makes my job harder. If you can build that connection and trust with those students, your “bad” days won’t be so bad. That kid will know it’s okay to have those hard moments and it won’t change how you feel about them or how you treat them.

Overall, our first official full week went pretty well. I love my class and can tell it’s going to be a great and fun year! There are a few yahoos in my room, however that might need to see the “mean Ms. Nygaard” come out if some of their choices don’t change for the better. They’re not bad kids by any means but I can tell it’s been 6 months since some of them have had any structure and discipline in their lives, thanks COVID! I’m hoping next week is just as great.

(There are talks about moving to a hybrid model soon so we’ll see what happens. If it comes sooner than not, be ready for some major teaching fails as I try to navigate teaching 2 rooms of students at the same time! Fingers crossed!)

Extra little surprise this week, one of the teachers at my old school sent me this awesome message over Facebook. One of my old students wrote about me in their weekly morning work. It’s the little things like this that make it all worth it!

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The New Normal

What world are we living in right now? It seems like things get more intense every single day. I don’t know what to think. Up until yesterday, I was doing okay handling all of this. We were told on Sunday that Minnesota schools would close officially as of today until at least Monday, March 30th. … Continue reading The New Normal