Archive for April, 2020

Remote Teaching: Did We Forget the Students?

April 22, 2020

Since this whole remote teaching thing started I have been running in front of a tidal wave.  I have not really had time to consider anything but my own teaching issues.  Today I read an email about one of our student’s that is having some major problems with remote learning.  She cannot adjust.  Along with this I was looking through my grade book.  From the looks of the grades I have a pretty high percentage of students that cannot adjust to this either.  I have lost a sophomore girl from my Honors Math 2.  No response to my email and one of her friends in the same class implied she has no inclination to do anything.  This is typically a smart middle “A” student that presently is failing.  The difference between daily motivation from a teacher and being on her own.  A significant percentage of my seniors have bailed.  Of my thirty-three Stats students I have four Fs.  I have given a Stats F every few years but never four in one year.  Admittedly one of these four was an F before the virus but the other three definitely were not.  One would have been a B/C, the other two solid Bs.  These students do not seem to be able to adjust.

My Game Programming with Unity is even worse.  Twenty-two students, six Fs.  To fail Game you have to do absolutely nothing.  The class is YouTube based and I give weekly progress grades.  The required progress is pretty minimal since the remote fired off.  The course is also sort of fun, like playing with Legos.  

I know all these students have email because at one time or another I have had contact with all of them.  I have tried to contact them about their lack of progress (Are you alive?) but no luck.  I am not quite sure what these kids are thinking.  Some are pretty smart so I have to put it down to lack of desire to make any adjustment.

This remote teaching has been hard on teachers.  I am getting the feeling this is no easier on the kids.  Maybe even worse.  Some teachers have adapted well and are getting teaching done.  Some students have adapted and are getting learning done.  I know some of both that have not done well.

At what point are the students responsible for themselves in all this?  I am a bit harsh with seniors.  I feel they are at an age where self-responsibility is something they have to understand.  It is time to give them a chance to sink or swim on their own.  They know what needs to be done. If they do not want to do it I give some prompting by trying to contact them by email and have their classmates contact them.  If they do not respond I let them sink.  If they want help I give them everything I can in the way of help.  Those that make the slightest effort get everything I have to offer.  Those that insist on doing nothing after I have attempted to get them going are on their own.  It is time to own up to their own decisions.

Doing school by remote is difficult for both teachers and students.  It requires a desire to do it.  My school’s staff is very professional and they have stepped up to the change.  Most of our students have stepped up to the change and are surviving.  Those students that do not step up simply do not get a lower grade, they fail.  The consequences of mediocrity have changed from a C to an F.

Remote Teaching: Lessons Learned and More to Learn

April 10, 2020

Four and a half weeks of remote teaching.  I have it down to an art (NOT!). But I have started to get comfortable with the method.  I have some tools that work for me. With these tools I am getting some teaching out there but I am not comfortable that the same level of learning is taking place as in the traditional brick-and-mortar method but learning is happening.  For me it feels like there is less comprehension, details are missing and it is much slower.  

Here is a list of my tools.

Google Classroom.  This is the center of everything for me.  I handout and receive homework, distribute videos and text-chat with students through this tool.  If Google Classroom was not there life would be much more complicated.

Zoom.  There has been a bit of controversy over Zoom, bombing, security, data gathering possibilities and so on.  Any tool is subject to improper use but used properly I think Zoom is the best tool for the purpose. Zoom’s major competitor, Google Meet, is just not up to the level of Zoom for features.  I looked at Microsoft Teams and Zoom is just simpler to use.

Screencastify.  For recording lectures this software is the bomb.  A simple no-brainer, exactly what good software should be.  It combines your camera, microphone and screen capture all in one.  Combine this with some kind of digital whiteboard and you almost have a classroom.  It saves the videos directly to Google Drive and will put them in Google Classroom for you.  Screencastify is giving the pro version for free. Just enter the code CAST_COVID and you have the unlimited version.

Microsoft Word.  I use Word for the Inking feature.  There is no way of freehand writing or doing math with a stylus on a Google Doc (my usual document writing tool) so I have gone back to Word. Using Inking I can free write on a document, do math and whatever I would normally do on a whiteboard.  It has a minor glitch in that I cannot figure out how to get typing below any inking I do but at the moment it is what I have. It is an easy whiteboard to use. I hope to find something better as soon as I get time to look. Time, I am a bit short of that at the moment.

XP-PEN graphics tablet.  I bought this the first week of remote teaching.  This is just a stylus and a board that allows me to pretend I have a whiteboard to work on.  I do not need to chase down special characters to type for a document to do math, I just write on the board.  Combined with Word it works pretty good.  It does take getting used to.  Looking at the monitor while writing on the tablet takes coordination.

I am still working on the Word/XP-Pen  solution. I have found a review of a number of digital whiteboards ( so I need to tinker a bit.

“Classroom” setup.  I have a table in my living room with a comfortable office chair with a sheep skin on it.  I can sit comfortably for hours. I do have to compete with the cats for the chair, they love napping on the sheep skin.  I have two monitors connected to a tower and a laptop, giving me three screens. Since I have three monitors in my school office I am most comfortable with the three monitor setup.  I cannot imagine doing the remote thing with a single monitor. The computer I am using is a 7-10 year old i5. It is struggling but it was ready at the beginning so it is the one I went with.  It has 16 gig of RAM but I think the processor is being pushed to the limits if I am running Unity with much else. About once a day I have to restart the poor thing to get it unfrozen. I have a 5 year old i7 sitting here unused but the i5 has all my software on it.  It would be a pain to switch over. Being setup in the living room is not a real good idea. Too many distractions (TV, couch, windows to the outside, wife reading in chair, cat wanting in my lap) but it is the only space available without some major furniture moving. Besides, I like TV, couch, looking outside, wife and cat.

All in all I would say things are working as good as can be expected.  The kids that are interested in their education are doing fine. The kids that do not care and I would have to stay on top of in the regular classroom are not making it. I would say 5 – 10% of my seniors are just considering the year is over. Their second semester grade is not going to make them happy.  They can see their grade in Powerschool but for some odd reason they think the world has stopped until this situation is over. Their education has shifted from being my responsibility to motivate and keeping them on task to being all on them.  Some are not up to the task.

I really do not like teaching this way.  I taught for 10 years at the university and hated it.  No real interaction with the students other than class work.  Teaching high school is so different. I like walking the halls and chatting with the kids about life.  There is a possibility of actually helping a kid in their life. This remote teaching just is not an even passible substitute for that.

Fun with remote teaching

April 4, 2020

With all this time at home you would think it is the perfect time to be blogging.  My screen time has increased so much that anything that increases that time is not high on my list.  

This remote teaching has been a major education.  How quickly can we get something up and running that actually accomplishes the teaching task?  If some software was not already in place we would be doomed. Google Classroom is probably the biggest aid.  Without Classroom I think we would have been in deep dodo. I am not even sure there is an alternative. I think I could have used just email but it would have been much more difficult.  Classroom keeps things organized. Next is Zoom. There are several alternatives to Zoom but Zoom is easy and was there. I tried Google Meet but it lacked many features. The Zoom whiteboard in conjunction with my XP-PEN graphics tablet gives me a board to do math on.  Zoom has a remote control feature that allows me to control a student computer. I have not tried Microsoft Teams but Zoom is working so well I am not in a rush. I really need to give it a try but the idea of having to build something new is just not interesting to me at the moment.

There is talk in the blogosphere about how many of us are trying to fit traditional brick-and-mortar teaching to an on-line environment and this is limiting us.  No argument. But most of us had a week, maybe days to get something up and running. I myself am in full duct-tape mode. Now that I have something in place, no matter how imperfect, I do not have time to really refine it.  I am just trying to stay up with what I have and do minor improvements like getting the XP-PEN graphics tablet.

One of the biggest issues I have is textbooks.  I found a Pre-calc text for my Math 2 Honors class.  I think it is even legal for me to use. The Stats class is another story.  I found a newer edition of the textbook I use in class but the legality of its use is very much lacking.  Not much of a choice. To find a legal textbook in that short a time with a $0 budget was not to be done. Using a book I am somewhat familiar with is a major plus.  Of course I do not have a teacher edition with answers for either text. This is a bigger issue than I originally thought. I can do all the problems but it just takes time.  

I am not videoing any lectures at the moment.  I am writing them up and posting them. I may have to try the video lecture.  Writing up lectures takes a lot of time and since the kids cannot ask questions on the fly as in a live classroom the write-ups can get a bit long in order to cover any possible questions.  

Testing is a bit of an issue I am ignoring at the moment.  I just do not see it happening. There is no way to prevent cheating other than personal morals.

When this all started the kids were of course glad to be out of school.  Now they want back. They say they miss everyone. Of course there are a few that are in heaven but as bad as this may sound they were all low achievers.  

Overall I am surviving.  My work time has greatly increased.  Writing lectures, doing IT work remotely, helping teachers with tech issues, the usual distractions of working in my living room “office”, helping kids over Zoom and so on that we are all dealing with just adds on to the work time.  Grading homework is very time consuming. The kids send me screenshots or pictures of the homework. Normally the kids do most of their homework in class so I can see what they are doing and help them as they do it. Now I try to read photographs of bad handwriting.  Takes time. Writing up all the problems and posting them would probably take more time. Many of the kids would also have no way of writing on their screens anyway.  

I am really wondering if we are going to get back to school this year.  We have been told we are out until May 4 which would give us a month back in the building.  I hope it happens just so the kids can have a little normalcy before the end of the school year.  There is always hope.