Begin: Weird School

Some schools have been going for a while. Others are delaying even longer. My school began with orientations this week for each grade level. In the middle school, we had each grade on a different day, spread out throughout the building in the largest classrooms. Students were grouped in their advisories and stayed together all day aside from an outdoor, socially distanced recess. Most advisory groups had one or more students who remained off-site—for medical or other reasons—and connected to the classroom virtually. I had three such students in my group of eleven, so I shared the room with eight physical students.

Orientation ran from 8:30 to noon. The time passed pretty quickly, though the adults were certainly worn out by the end of it. My own mask became incredibly irritating after the first few hours. It would have been smarter for me to try wearing a mask for four hours at home to really learn what type is most comfortable for me. As it is, I’ve rarely worn a mask for more than 30 minutes at a stretch (usually while shopping).

In the pictures below, you can see the fairly insane tech setup that we had running in my room. (It’s not actually my normal classroom, and none of us have been in during the summer, so things are pretty messy.) I had two computers and three screens running simultaneously. The laptop in the middle had the camera and microphone for the Google Meet with my virtual advisees. The laptop was also connected to the huge smartboard where I could display slides or videos. I had that Chrome tab shared in Google Meet with the remote kids. The third monitor, on the right, is attached to a separate computer that was also connected to my Meet so that the virtual participants were visible on a larger screen for the rest of the in-person class. My in-person kids were spread out with at least six-feet between each desk, so some of them were quite far away from the monitor.

We spent the day getting to know each other, discussing our summers, and laying the groundwork for the coming year. Regular classes begin next week. They will be fully distanced (remote teaching) for at least the first three weeks. Then the school will decide, based on infection numbers in the Twin Cities, whether to move to fully in-person teaching or some sort of hybrid model. It was great having this time to get to know some of our students before beginning classes next week. Just having them in the building (even virtually) made it feel more like school was really starting.

I have no idea how things will play out in the coming weeks, but I’m glad that we’re finally diving in. While there were many wonderful things about this summer, the hours of planning, worrying, scrapping plans, and worrying more was not my favorite thing.

Below is a copy of the introductory video that I shared with my advisees. It features some pictures of our new dog, Piper, and a few screenshots from my summer role-playing games.

Video introduction for my advisees

New Office

Like so many others, I have spent far more time at home over the past six months than usual. Our house wasn’t organized with a workspace for me. We live so close to my school that I normally do almost all of my work there. If I need to take care of a few things at home, I can use my laptop on the couch or at the dining room table. That’s fine for occasional use, but doesn’t cut it if I need to be teaching classes and attending meetings on-line for many hours a day.

Last spring I spent a bit of time improving the small desk in the basement. I put in a keyboard tray, and bought a wireless split keyboard and mouse. This improved the ergonomics enormously. The room, however, was cramped because it doubles as our guest bedroom and we had a pretty enormous bed taking up most of the space. Moreover, the walls were dinged up pretty badly and the existing shade of green made me look a bit ghoulish on video. In August, therefore, we got rid of the bed, picked up an Ikea convertible sofa, and repainted the whole room to be a calm shade of bluish gray.

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