I can safely say that one reason I haven’t posted recently is because I haven’t been to school in 2.5 weeks. As you well know by now, the East Coast was slammed with several snowstorms in a row and for a large, rural, mountainous school district whose ambient temperatures have held steadily in the 30s, that means lots of school cancellations. As such, I haven’t really been up to much. Many of my colleagues complained of cabin fever, but I was quite content to stay at home and catch up on some reading and resting.
But, the snow and ice is slowly melting off the roads and it seems likely that we will return to school (with a generous 2-hour delay) within the next day or two. I remember the first day back from winter break (I mean, the scheduled winter break back in December…) I felt extremely rusty. Several times I was on the verge of tears when someone asked how my day was going and I said “fine” though I secretly wished I were back in the comfort of my own home. And as I prepare to go back to school, that same feeling of dread is looming over me, but I’m sure it will be fine. Many of my students are whining on their facebook profiles that they actually want to go back to school (to see their friends, true, but when you’re in 8th grade, seeing friends is one of the highlights of going to school anyway.
One debate I had with myself during this break was in regards to the role technology can have in keeping a class going regardless of weather conditions. I have recently set up an Edmodo site for my advanced class (being as all of the students in this class have access to a computer with internet at their home or parents’ work), and for the most part they love it. I can post assignments and files online, there is a class calendar where I can remind them of upcoming due dates, and there is a “wall” like facebook where my students can talk to each other. Well, missing 13 days of school in a row kind of threw off our schedule quite a bit, but my more motivated students continued to submit assignments and got all in a tizzy when they turned in an assignment late or couldn’t complete an assignment because a group member was unable to access his/her computer, etc. Luckily they were able to contact me by sending me notes using this educational platform and I was able to calm their nerves. But this constituted about one third of my class. The other two-thirds were obviously out enjoying their snow days, of the mindset that not being in school physically equates with doing absolutely nothing school-related at all. (And I’m also hypothesizing that one handful of students still hasn’t quite figured out that there are assignments that need to be turned in on the site…but that’s for another discussion).
In any case, as the state has been clear to communicate by email, that the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests (Writing is first up for me) will not be postponed due to days missed for inclement weather. Not that weather should be an excuse for, if I’m doing my job, my students have been preparing for this test all year long through the various assignments and projects we have done. Though I’m not really that worried about the testing date that is fast approaching, I do wonder how I might have better capitalized on platforms like Edmodo and dimdim.com to communicate with my students and give them information. In the future, I think I would be sure to introduce these technologies early in the year so that they become a classroom routine and enable students early on to take charge of their education. The disadvantage is that not all of my students have access to a computer, and some of the more collaborative, interactive sites that I wish to explore with my students are blocked by our school’s web filter.
I suppose I’m feeling overwhelmed because setting up these cool online experiences does take some time and advance planning, and technology, and further, its applications in the classroom, advances almost daily and it’s so easy to want to do everything all at once. But I’ve found that as a first-year teacher, whether planning an online experience or an offline one, it’s best for my students’ sanity (and my own) to just pick and choose one or two things at a time to really focus on.
Cool resource for English teachers: Northern Nevada’s Writing Project site, full to brimming with project ideas, lesson plans, and techniques for teaching writing outside the box and simultaneously preparing students for standard writing exams.