The newest member of our family is a robot vacuum cleaner. Piper has kept her distance until this morning when she realized that she might be able to play with the interloper.
I would be remiss not to mention how infatuated we are with the new cleaner—known as “Robo 3000” in our house. (The number changes depending who is saying it.) It is actually a “eufy” RoboVac 11S by Anker. It was one of the cheapest we could find but it has been a household revolution.
Griffin has been taking weekly piano lessons at the Walker West Music Academy since February of 2019. He had a few lessons in person and then, as the state locked down for COVID-19 in mid-March, started doing them remotely via Skype. He had his first recital yesterday evening; it was a virtual event where he played “Oh! Susanna.” One fun element of the virtual format was that friends and relatives from around the country could attend. We hope that he will get a chance to do more of these. See below for a trimmed video of Griffin’s portion of the recital. Listen for Oliver who makes an unintended cameo part-way through.
The full recital is available on YouTube. The audio gets a bit funky due to the streaming, but it’s fun to see all the different kids at different levels of skill.
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.
I’m starting my second week of distance teaching today. Not loving it thus far. Admittedly, there are some neat aspects to it. I thought I would dislike having to record all of my class meetings, but it’s actually pretty convenient. If I’m having a one-on-one discussion with a student during our “quiet study” period, I can share the video with them afterward so that they don’t have to worry about taking notes. Similarly, if a student misses a class meeting, the video of the class will be posted within about 15 minutes… so that can be useful.
But, and this is huge, the connections with students are so much weaker. I see all their tiny faces on my meeting grid, but I can’t really tell if they are with me or snoozing or confused. Normally I can walk around the room and read everyone’s body language. If the energy is sleepy, I rev things up or insert a quick oxygen break. If students seem confused, I slow down and go over things more carefully. All of this is much harder when mediated by a video conferencing app. Even doing a “whip share” where everybody shares something feels slower and less dynamic on the computer. I find myself losing focus before we make it around the circle (and when I’m zoning out, I know that most of the class is long gone!).
I’m confident that I’ll get better at this as I gain more experience. I hope to solicit plenty of feedback from my students, too, about what’s working for them. I haven’t been at it long enough to see how the quality of student work changes. I’m curious about that.
Below are two artifacts from my first week. First is the Welcome Back video that I sent to my eighth-grade social studies students before our first class. It took me forever to make and I have a million criticisms, but it’s safe to say that it was the best I could do in the time that I had. The second is a cartoon created by my good friend Nate. He’s a teacher on the east coast and used to draw illustrations of our high school D&D adventures. In my classes so far, I’ve seen all of his archetypes except the skateboarder.
Back in 2015 we documented the life journey of a monarch butterfly from egg to adulthood. This year, Sarah set up her iPad to film the entire process. The first video documents the caterpillar forming a J-hook and then transforming into a chrysalis. The second video shows the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
Oliver has been enjoying watching the construction across Snelling (see Daily Pilgrimage) and was starting to play with old construction trucks in the backyard. With the advent of chillier, wetter weather, Sarah came up with this activity in the kitchen. He loves it!
On the last day of our wonderful December trip to Bethesda to visit Andrew’s family, Oliver tumbled down the stairs and broke his left tibia. This was obviously traumatic on many levels, and we (parents) felt pretty terrible. Although Oliver rapidly adapted to his new cast, it was frustrating because he had just been learning how to walk. Crawling had remained his preferred mode of rapid transport, but he had been taking more and more bipedal steps every day. Now, he was saddled with a cast that he couldn’t even hobble on.
The cast finally came off on January 31, and Oliver spent the first few weeks developing strength in his left leg and relearning the mechanics of standing and walking. A few weeks later, and he rampages around on two feet most of the time.