Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Considering the Purpose...All Sorts of New Questions

I've had the pleasure of hearing Shelley Moore speak twice and one of biggest takeaways has been when she speaks about PURPOSE. What's the purpose of a student being in a class that they are in? When I work with teachers and advocate for students, I make sure the teacher understands the PURPOSE in a student being in their class. Once we have this common understanding expectations, grading and planning becomes so much more clear.

My district is on Spring Break this week but the week before we had our first five days of virtual learning. I'm feeling so challenged right now.

For a student with significant mental health issues, autism and an intellectual disability - what is her purpose of being in 20th Century American History, Biology or Art now? Two weeks ago, it was to build academic stamina and be able to participate in classroom activities while practicing self-regulation techniques. It was to practice turn taking in group activities with her peers. It was to practice writing and reading graphs or find information on infographics. She has a 1:1 assistant to help promote these goals but also be in close proximity when she verbalizes she needs a break or when behavioral outbursts occur - and they do at least once a day.

Now she's at home and participating in Google Meet video chats with assistants and me throughout her day. Gone are the peers in an academic environment. Gone are the group activities. Gone is the highly structured day. We have 10 weeks of school left, what's her new purpose of being in these  classes? I have materials and activities that are at her independent level because she needs to be independent. There's only so much cueing that can effectively happen during a Google Meet so I'm worried I'm not giving her any access to grade level materials.

I was pleased when I heard that some of her Best Buddies and classmates had been reaching out and she had been FaceTiming with them. When I hear that, I feel that her social PURPOSE had been successful...but what's her purpose now? COVID-19 has now created a situation that we can't even worry about, "least restrictive environment" because everyone's environment is home but I wonder am I creating a situation where her curriculum is more representative of what she'd be getting if she was in a self-contained environment? Then, I go back to the reality that she needs to be independent with her curriculum requirements so they aren't the same as if she had peers next to her to provide cues...then I ask why does it even matter because academic content was never really her purpose?

It's a heartbreaking circular argument that I'm having with myself and trust me, there have been a lot of tears. I probably just need to breathe and admit we're all doing the best we can right now.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Relationships, Motivation and Passion Projects

The concluding project or activity in our co-taught Physics class is a Personal Physics Project. Students are given one 84 minute class period a week for about the last seven weeks of class to work on it. They can pick anything they want to do as long as it falls into one of these three categories:

1) Learn to build/make something
2) Carry out an experiment
3) Deep research

All the projects involve some of the NGSS Science and Engineering standards and students are required to maintain their digital portfolio documenting progress, maintaining notes/research, reflection and creating a product to share with a community audience. There are multiple opportunities to connect with teachers to have questions answered and have thinking pushed. These check-ins have been fun for me this year. After one check-in with a student I learned she was struggling to find a good, final resource. Twenty minutes later she was FaceTiming with my cousin who was in Switzerland. I was able to hook another student up with an emergency room RN for a FaceTime interview. Helping students connect with experts is very rewarding for me.

One student, James, initially picked deep research on dreams. I'll admit it, I talked him out of the topic for a couple of reasons. First, deep research isn't an area that he's going to excel in. Reading and writing are not areas that he lists as strengths in his Learner Profile. He's excited and passionate about wrestling and video games. And second, he enjoyed the Sphero Chariot building project we completed in November so much and wanted to do something like that again. James must have deep respect for me because it took very little nudging for him to switch his topic. We were still early in the project when he switched his topic to designing his own video game controller. He made up for lost work time quickly. In fact, I've never seen that level of motivation from him.

He determined pretty quick in the process that he might not have the background knowledge or time  to actually design and build his own video game controller but determined he could learn to 3D print one from plans that he found at Thingverse in the amount of time that he had. He independently connected with our FabLab specialist, Mrs. Berna and set up a time to go meet with her to get the 3D printing going. Over break he sanded down his pieces and came back to school ready to keep working on it (this was not a requirement, in fact we are told not to assign homework over breaks). He came back to school, with his pieces in hand, asking if we were going to be working on our projects and expressed disappointment when we worked on the sound and light units. I finally begged him to stop carrying around the pieces because I was afraid he'd was going to lose or break one. James was so motivated to work on this project that he got the written portion completed a full week before it even needed to be drafted.
All that's left is to bring the "guts" of a controller to school and assemble. He had a four day weekend and it wouldn't surprise me if he completes this part on his own at home. On Thursday, of this week, he will bring his x-box to the showcase night and allow visitors to play video games with the controller that he 3D printed. He will confidently answer questions about his process, set backs and what he learned by 3D printing. Participants will not only have the opportunity to speak with him and play his game but also explore the interactive Thinklink he has been working on.

Here are my three big takeaways...
1) It does matter if students like me. I believe we work harder for people we like and I want students to work harder than they realized they could. Cultivating positive and meaningful relationships with students is so important.
2) When students are intrinsically motivated they are successful. Success looks different for everyone. For James, his success looks like being able to independently follow through on contacting a staff member, making multiple appointments in the FabLab, voluntarily working on school work outside of the school day, not losing anything related to this project and meeting project deadlines.
3) All students have the opportunity to excel when they given the opportunity to design their own learning. Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time...whatever you want to call it has a place in all classrooms at all levels.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

#OneMonthGoals Check-In #2

Our #OneMonthGoals of trying 31 new things is going very well. I'm glad that we made the allowance of being able to double, or sometimes triple up, on new experiences to work ahead. Week nights can sometimes get busy with pick-ups, lessons, practices and not feeling obligated to do something has been a relief. Two weeks ago I posted about #1-8 and here's a recap of new experiences  9-21:

#9:  Brian worked from Valentine Coffee as a break from his routine Colectivo.

#10:  Recipe Roulette:  We tried a new recipe called, Rene's German Marinated Chicken. Brian put it in the crockpot and in retrospect, I don't think that's a good way of cooking chicken. It was pretty dry. I ended up shredding it and adding barbecue sauce.

#11: Logan taught Brian how to play Spiderman on the PS4

#12: Ethan taught me how to play Minecraft. He's a great teacher but I don't think I'll be playing independently anytime soon. One hour of 1:1 time with my son was wonderful and I'll gladly play video games with him if it means we're spending time together.

#13: Recipe Roulette: Ethan made Strawberry Bread and it was delicious!

#14: Recipe Roulette: Pasta, this was yummy. We had some leftovers and it made for a great lunch a few days later. It came from the Binging With Babish cookbook.

#15: New Game for Family Game Night:  I borrowed Century Spice Road from a friend. We really enjoyed this game - so much I'm considering ordering my own copy or adding it to a wishlist. It took a little less than an hour to play and was perfect for a group of 4.

#16: New Game for Brian and I:  Backgammon! I've never played Backgammon before, which is somewhat a surprise because we got the game from my parents as they were cleaning out a closet. I remember seeing the game as a kid but never played it. Brian and I enjoy playing games together so this is a great addition to our 2 person game options.

#17: I learned how to snow blow. This was important to me. November 11 was a rough day. Logan broke a bracket on his braces and needed to go in for a 10 minute appointment which meant I had to take a half day off. Our dog, Arthur, had been sick the day before, couldn't sleep and was in obvious discomfort. I ended up taking him to the emergency ER at 4:00 in the morning after he had spent the last 4 hours pacing up and down our bedroom hallway. To top it all off, it snowed that day. A lot. Brian was traveling for work that week so the snow removal was all up to me because the boys had wrestling practice until 6:30. Around 11:30 I got a call from Brian - panicked he was having a stroke. He handed the phone to his boss who assured me that he'd stay with Brian as an ambulance was coming, he would go to the hospital and keep me up to date as every piece of information became available. I weighed my options and decided that I really needed to just remain calm until more information was available. I had a sick dog and two children - it's not like I could jump in the car and start driving to Cleveland without a fair amount of organizing our life. Not very much time passed before he was diagnosed with Bells Palsy. Even though not life threatening, there is a family history of strokes, at young ages, so he was kept over night at the hospital. That afternoon, as I shoveled all the snow on our long driveway I made the decision that if something ever happened to Brian, the boys and I would move into an apartment or I needed to learn how to use the snow blower.

#18: Homemade Tortillas:  YUM! Can we have these everyday?

#19: Recipe Roulette:  Korean Style Beef Tacos from Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook. This was delicious and enjoyed with the homemade tortillas. We will be enjoying this again sometime!

#20: Brian chose Stoney Creek Coffee to work from rather than the normal Colectivo.

#21:  Ethan gave me a bass guitar lesson. I really wish I had a basic understanding of music because he was so excited and I had no idea what he was telling me to do. Ethan has six years of music and three instruments of knowledge to draw from. I have none. He was very patient but I know he was frustrated that I couldn't read music.

Ten more experiences to go!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

#OneMonthGoals: January 1 - 5 or Experiences 1-8

Here's our first check-in for January #OneMonthGoals

We created a game called, "Recipe Roulette." We picked six cookbooks and numbered them. The cookbooks we will be working out of are:

1) Binging With Babish
2) Pasta Sfoglia
3) Skinnytaste
4) Skinnytaste One and Done
5) Skinnytaste Fast and Slow
6) Community League's 35 Years of Treasured Recipes from Menomonee Falls, WI (this is your typical family favorite cookbook)

To determine what recipe we are going to try we ask our Echo to pick a number between 1-6 and then pick a second number from 1-how ever many pages of recipes are in the book. If the lucky recipe is something we havealready made or it's on a page that doesn't reference a specific recipe we ask for a new random number.

January 1:  Recipe Roulette
Loaded "Nacho" Potato Skins from book #3
This recipe is definitely a keeper. The filling is a turkey chili made of ground turkey, refried beans, crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic and an assortment of spices. We topped with cheese, sour cream, jalapeƱos and green onions.

January 2: Break from Routine 
Brian went to a different Colectivo to work. When you work from home, you develop a strict routine. This was a huge break in routine for him!

January 3:  Recipe Roulette
Book #1 and page 303 were chosen by our Alexa so that means we made cannolis from the Binging with Babish cookbook. This was the first time I've ever made cannolis and we took a big shortcut by purchasing the shells rather than making them from scratch...which was really the bulk of the recipe. The filling was tasty but I think I over filled the shells. My sons were only mildly impressed and ate about 3/4 of their cannoli. To be fair, this isn't the sort of dessert they'd normally enjoy and with wrestling season in full swing, they are eating abnormally healthy.

January 4:  We realized that if we wanted to do this as much as a family we will need to use the weekends to work ahead on new experiences. As I was organizing meals for the week, making sure there is someone to do the dropping off/picking up of our children, I realized this goal was going to be very challenging since we have a very busy week coming up. So, the goal has been revised to: 31 NEW EXPERIENCES THIS MONTH

New Experience #4:  Grocery shopped at a new store
We might be the only people in southeastern Wisconsin who don't shop at Woodman's. Going to a new grocery store on a Saturday probably wasn't the best idea. We found the store to be too big, too many choices and too many people. The carts are gigantic so that added to the general feeling of too many people. 

New Experience #5:  Dinner at Balistreri's 
This is a regional favorite and a consistent winner of, "Best of...." awards. We had never been there despite living in the same town as this restaurant. The wait was long for a table but worth it. It was probably the best thin crust pizza I've had. We'll go back!

New Experience #6:  Recipe Roulette
Slow Cooker Italian Sausage and White Bean Soup with Escarole from Book #5 Skinnytaste Fast and Slow...this is going to be my lunch for the week. I'm really looking forward to this, it smelled amazing and the small amount I tried was delicious.

New Experience #7:  Recipe Roulette  
Polenta, Rock Shrimp, Peperoncini, & Brown Butter from Book #2 Pasta Sfoglia  
This was so good and easy! We will absolutely make this polenta again. While I've made polenta before, this was a little different with the slices of garlic and pepper flakes. We've also never used butter like this with polenta. The boys weren't as big fans of it as Brian and I were but this wasn't surprising. I've made polenta before and they tolerate it - not love it. 

New Experience #8:  Dragon Fruit.  Ethan suggested we buy a dragon fruit. It was fine...I'm guessing if it was fresh and local it would have been more tasty. It was sort of like a tasteless kiwi.