Going Back to Distance

Like most Americans right now I am starting my 10 day stint of being in quarantine. I just found out that I have been exposed and had to take my first test. I’ve been dreading this day because I didn’t know what it would mean for school. I couldn’t imagine being away from my kids for 2 weeks while someone else teaches them. Ironically however, yesterday was our last day of in person teaching for awhile. Our district is officially moving to a full distance learning model so this unfortunate quarantine is coming at the right time.

As we all know, COVID cases have been skyrocketing these past few months and it is now hitting Minnesota hard. I can honestly say, up until August, I knew of maybe 3 people who had tested positive. Those cases were people that I didn’t even know personally. They were relatives of Facebook friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I knew how serious COVID was, and I have been one to take it very seriously, but it hadn’t really affected me yet.

About a month ago it started hitting too close to home. My class started to become a rotating door of students in and out of quarantine. At first, they would only be gone for a few days while they waited for their parent’s negative test results to come back but then the tests started to come back positive and I would have students out for weeks at a time.

It wasn’t just my class. This started to happen around our community. Because of this, we had to move our elementary schools to a hybrid model of teaching. Our hybrid model was a bit different than what other schools have done. The district still wanted our kids to come everyday but they had to be at least 6 feet apart at all times. To do this, most classes didn’t have to change anything except for moving some desks farther apart. That was not the case for my 5th grade teammates and I.

Because our kids are bigger and our class sizes are larger, we had to split our kids up. In order to do that, but still give them full instruction in person everyday, I had to move 1/2 of my kids into an adjoining classroom.

This was a wild concept for me to grasp my head around. I was going to have to teach 2 classrooms at the same time. After many hours of planning and preparing I finally got my “second classroom” set up and had my schedule set to how I was going to do this.

The view from my adjoining classroom door.

Within days of us moving to a hybrid model, our district decided we would be moving to a distance model right after Thanksgiving. We spent exactly 8 days in this hybrid set up with our kids.

Yesterday was the last in person day with my class. It was surreal to have to go through this again. The upside was that I was able to prepare my students for this possibility. I stressed so many times how this would be vastly different than what we went through last spring. I explained MANY times how we would be coming back sometime soon. This still was hard for some of my kids to understand. I had a few meltdowns because they were convinced they would never see me again. It was breaking my heart.

I was able to send them off with a little gift to keep them entertained until we start distance learning on December 1st. Last year, I had donors who supported my students so each one would get a free book every month. Thanks to the shut down, I wasn’t able to give them their March, April, or May books. Those books have been sitting in my car for 6 months waiting to be given to someone. I thought this was the perfect thing to send home with my students to put a much needed smile on their faces.

It was exactly what they needed. Even my harder students were thanking me.

This is going to be very challenging once again but I think we are more ready than we were. I know that this won’t last forever and I’ll have my class back in person soon. Once again, this proves to me how much I love my job and how much my kiddos mean to me.

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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.

For more day to day action, go follow my Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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