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A Self-Contained Class Hybrid to Keep Us Safe, Kids Learning & Looked After

These should be the priorities for our beautiful, lively, seriously social middle school students and my dear colleagues:

  1. Physical health of students and staff. 
  2. Mental and social/emotional health of students and staff.
  3. Students’ academic progress.
  4. Family needs for child care.

But these priorities have been lost in the furious stakeholder battles. Let me be clear – everyone has a point and there are lots of good intentions and some selfish, horrible stuff too. The result is that middle school is now ground zero for crazy hybrid schedules – A/B schedules mostly where the student body is cut in half. Each half attending school for the equivalent of 2 days a week. Teachers will see the same number of students a week that they did during a normal week. They will teach the same information twice as many times and will also need to plan distance learning for the other three school days of a student’s schedule.

Is anyone going to have fun with this? Is there going to be push back from… everyone? Teacher workload issues will delay or stop MOUs with the unions. Parents will still not have a good child care solution. Harried teachers will not be able to give the attention upset, stressed and perhaps ill students will need.

And worst of all, the number of contacts of anyone who gets COVID will be enormous. Let’s be clear. There WILL be members of any school community in the US who test positive. Contact tracing is impossible with large numbers of contacts. Schools will shut down again for sure, with all the chaos for everyone that entails. Not to mention death.

These A/B hybrids suck. That’s the technical term.

There’s an alternative. It’s the ‘Self-Contained Middle School Classroom Model’. Here’s the basic schedule and it’s described in detail here.

Screenshot 2020-07-02 14.24.05

Basically, students are scheduled in the normal way (relief for admin right there…). Take one period, say 2nd period. Each teacher’s second period class becomes their ‘homeroom’ class. They will see half the class in the morning and half in the afternoon. A total of 28 or so contacts for the teacher, 15 contacts for each student. Way better. That risk reduction will save lives and allow more in-person schooling safely than other hybrid models.

These small groups of 14 students to one teacher every day make for little school ‘families’. Where I as a teacher can form strong bonds with students to help them, all of us really, weather these very hard times. I’ll see a shadow over a child’s face, hear a cough and react quickly to help. We’ll be able to relax a bit and joke a bit, I’ll have time to chat with children privately if they are seeming down, I’ll learn about their lives and their progress across the curriculum, and we will bond as a small tribe sharing this huge and historic experience. I will get to look after my little family of tweens.

Each teacher will develop distance learning lessons and grade their normally scheduled students the same way as last quarter. With any model of return to school, we will all have to continue developing distance learning plans for the kids who are kept home, and for the half the kids who are not in school at a time. But I will NOT be developing lessons nor grading the work of other subject areas outside of my specialty. A huge relief for all concerned 🙂

It’s true, I will be supervising kids doing work from other teachers. I have had to supervise learning outside my subject area when subbing for a colleague, and when I was supervising homework with my son. So, not as good as the subject specialist (especially Spanish and math, sigh). But I am trained as an educator and I imagine I can manage to read the directions on a math assignment to offer at least some help to a 7th grader. If the student and I are super-stuck, I could call up the math teacher. Or look it up. Or ask another student who gets it. Elementary teachers manage this on a normal school day and now we know. They are miracle workers and I am not being even faintly insincere here.

Here’s what a schedule could look like for a teacher:Screenshot 2020-07-02 14.24.39

But what about credentialing outside of your subject area? Ed Code says that emergency waivers can be granted and if a lawyer or a state legislator can’t argue that this is an emergency then well, get another lawyer.

Here’s what the schedule will look like for students and parents:

Screenshot 2020-07-02 14.51.40

It’s very likely we will go back and forth from hybrid in school to distance learning as the epidemic grows across the US. How to do that with as little disruption as possible? How about this distance learning Zoom model that mirrors the self contained classroom model AND will allow a smooth transition to a normal, 7 period day schedule after the epidemic wanes? Here’s the distance learning schedule overview and more detail here.

Screenshot 2020-07-02 14.57.44

It also meets the needs of parents and students to have more structure in their school days. The homeroom teacher from the self contained classroom hybrid model will keep up their relationship with their distance learning cohorts by checking in with their students in the morning and at the end of the day – what are you planning to do? What did you actually get done? That should help take some weight off very stressed parents.

These ideas are based on the science of keeping us safer. Not ideal but I think the best solution so we can pick up the pieces with everyone still alive at the end of this pandemic.


July 2, 2020 at 2:11 PM Leave a comment

The Science of COVID-19 Prevention for Teachers.

An evolving list of questions and some answers.  Updated 6.26.2020

I’m about to go back into the classroom, a science lab in a beautiful middle school in the San Francisco Bay Area. A school in such a lovely setting I thought I’d fallen into paradise when I interviewed there almost thirty years ago. 

Distance learning using Zoom and Google Classroom, has not been a disaster in my district. We are lucky to have 100% access to hot spots and devices. Learning did continue albeit at a slower rate with less playfulness and fun, less opportunity for informal interaction. I miss the joy of in person teaching and my heart hurts for some of my students who were clearly suffering from loneliness and depression, only barely making out of bed to a Zoom if they were there at all. 

But the epidemic is on the uptick again after optimism in May that we might be able to open school safely in August. 

Four infectious public health experts rank activities for risk in this article in MLive on June 8th, “The doctors pointed to five factors, when considering how risky a given activity might be: 

  • Whether it’s inside or outside; 
  • proximity to others; 
  • exposure time; 
  • likelihood of compliance; and 
  • personal risk level. 

They rank schools as more risky than casinos and indoor dining at restaurants, even with social distancing and hygiene because students will likely be within 6 feet of each other for long periods of time “…with the added challenge of getting children to follow precautions like staying separated, wearing a mask and washing hands well.” – My colleagues and I cannot be the pandemic police at all times or we will get no learning done and relationships will be seriously strained. 

Even so, based on a survey at the end of May, about 75% of our parents want school to return full time and are very vocal about it at school board meetings – child care is uppermost as parents struggle to return to work. Children are suffering, losing ground academically and socially. We are under enormous pressure to return to on-site, in person education on August 11th. The need to figure out the effectiveness of the virus prevention strategies in school settings is urgent. 

To put the need to protect teachers in context: In the 2017–18 school year, there were 3.3 million full-time and part-time traditional public school teachers, 205,600 public charter school teachers, and 509,200 private school teachers. The teaching profession has many members who are in high risk categories. 18.8% of teachers in the US are over 55 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As of 4.3.202, here are some of the teachers who have died so far on EdWeek. So far 30 teachers have died in New York. 

This epidemic will be a relatively small blip in children’s education: Anthony Fauci suggests that a vaccine may be available by January 2021, there are new treatments emerging and testing and tracing is ramping up. Balance that against the real risk of preventable deaths in our communities – grandparent infected by hugging his twin grandsons on a rare visit where they thought they were being careful, a parent recovering from cancer, a teacher who is quietly HIV+.

It’s bad enough if a teacher fails to come to class the day after the Oakland Hills Fire. Dr.Loggins had gone back for his cat and disappeared forever. The cohort of 6th graders who loved him, never really did recover from the trauma. Imagine the grief and fear when a teacher dies from an infection that their students and families may have also caught. 

Elementary teachers will be expected to be in rooms with 28 students on average, or 28 students over the course of a week if a hybrid model is adopted. Secondary teachers will be exposed to many more students – their average teaching load is in the range of 90 to 160 students a day or a week, depending on the school schedule. Teachers are some of the most exposed professions as evidenced by the common experience of infectious illness in your first year of teaching in a new school due to the close proximity over a long time indoors to a large number of contacts. 

We are in the middle of an economic collapse and school budgets will be seriously impacted. We need research-based, inexpensive and practical infection prevention. 

Here’s an evolving list of urgent, life and death experimental questions teachers have

  1. Do children get and spread Coronavirus? Studies currently indicate that student to student spread of the Coronavirus is less of an issue than the spread from adult to adult. Child to adult spread, and teen to adult spread has not yet been shown to be significant but this may be because there has not been enough time, nor enough schools opening in fairly normal ways for this to be conclusive. I can see no real reason why a young person with a viral load (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) would not be able to spread the virus to their teachers. See Nature “How do Children Spread the Coronavirus? The Science Still Isn’t Clear.”

2. What is the best way of diluting viral droplets and aerosols?

a. Being outside: The most widely touted ways to keep safe is to dilute viral load by being outside and distanced. But weather, connectivity and space restrictions do not always allow that. 


b. What is the most effective way of reducing infection risk with ventilation? – with box fans? With HVAC systems that suck or blow? Where, how? What filters work best? What are the costs?

How Healthy Buildings Can Fight Coronavirus” Financial Times March 2020 suggests that air flow needs to go from clean (outside air) to dirty (classroom air 🙂 So having HVAC systems sucking air out of the room is better than blowing air into the room. Box fans blowing air into the room is better than blowing air out of the room. Probably. There are filtration systems available that will recirculate cleaner air if outside ventilation is not easily possible. 




It’s important to check ventilation is not accidentally blowing dirty air into another classroom. SARS was spread like this in a Hong Kong hotel in 2003. Here is original research and analysis from JThoracic Disease 2018. 


3. How effective are plexiglass shields? Which designs are better at preventing infection? These are expensive and interfere with student/teacher communication. Is it worth it? Research needed here.

4. How effective and necessary is frequent swabbing of desks and door knobs? It’s a lot of work for how much gain? The main spread is via droplets and aerosol. Surface contact is a secondary means. Needs more research.

5. Is hand sanitizer for students and teachers good enough for infection prevention or is the additional nuisance of handwashing worth it?

6. Does the enormous chaos of staggered and/or hybrid schedules to limit number of students in a class make a big enough difference to be worth it? Is “6 feet” a magic distance? 3ft would allow classes to resume as normal – we can fit that distancing into most classrooms. 

The effectiveness of social distancing has been evaluated in a meta-analysis in the Lancet, June 1st – 1 meter or more is increasingly effective. There is no ‘boundary’ distance. Risk falls off with the inverse square law: 1/distance squared.

7. Do we have to have all children facing the front? It will take us back to the ‘sage on the stage’ model of instruction. How bad is having kids at tables to do group work? Research needed.


Mask Questions:IMG_0551 

  1. Which kinds of face mask currently and widely available are the most effective at preventing infection? (Air flow, droplet and aerosol flow, field studies) 


The Mayo Clinic “How Much Protection do Facemasks Offer?” 5.28.2020 and British Medical Journal study showing that medical masks offer better protection than cloth.

“We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with extensive testing, quarantine, and contact tracking, poses the most probable fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine.” in Identifying Airborne Transmission as the Dominant Way of Spread for COVID-19” PNAS 6.2020 

Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks from ACS finds that double-layered cloth masks that fit well, especially if tightly woven greatly reduce droplet and aerosol transmission. 

Nature Briefs Respiritory Virus Shedding and Masks reports similar findings. 

Research started at Texas Tech University May 20th and in Nature Medicine April 2nd, show convincing evidence that surgical masks do significantly reduce droplet and aerosol transmission from symptomatic individuals. It is not clear how effective masks are for say, a teacher in a class with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic children who are not or cannot wear a mask. 

The mask must be properly sealed against the face with a nose wire, around the cheeks and under the chin. This is NOT true for many home made and loose-fitting masks. 

Surgical masks are now available through Amazon for about $20 for 50 surgical masks. 

Materials and layering make a difference – some cloth homemade masks are unlikely to be effective. Double layers of tightly woven cotton, or layers of two different materials work better at filtration. 

Another meta analysis in the Lancet 6.1.202 statesFace mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection” especially N95 respirators (probably not practical in a classroom setting).   

The masks with valves on them protect the wearer but allow unfiltered exhaled breath out. Schools should consider not allowing these kinds of masks and have replacement medical masks to offer students turning up in them. 

However, Coronavirus spread and is still spreading like wildfire in nursing homes even after most there were wearing masks. Prisons too – although mask wearing may be lower there. Meat packing plants have people in closer proximity but in much larger facilities than classrooms and they were wearing masks from early in the epidemic. Masks do offer significant protection if worn consistently by everyone. But how will teachers enforce this on very hot days? With very young children? In classes where classroom management is not the best? 

2. Can you take the mask off in between periods? 

Intermittent masking even with respirators was NOT effective at reducing transmission according to the Lancet article. Gah! You could probably go outside and take your mask off though. Not in the classroom with the hot fugh of child breath though 🙂

3. How effective are face shields? Can they be modified perhaps with a cloth gasket around the bottom and side to provide improved infection prevention without obscuring the teacher’s face? 

Eye covering has been indicated in some of the meta analyses mentioned above. However, face shields do seal around the face so there is more potential for droplets to get in and out compared to a mask. Face shields supplement a mask but do not replace it. 

How necessary are new masks/laundering masks or can they be worn several times?

4. Research your own preferences:

a. Which kinds of mask allow you to breathe easily and do not get too wet and uncomfortable over the course of a day?

b. Which kinds of mask will allow you to talk to a class without muffling and distorting sound too much? 

c. Which kinds of mask will not be too intimidating to children?

Uncomfortable masks will not be worn consistently. The N95 masks that cup your face are too tight and restrict the jaw making it hard to talk. 

Minimal coverage, allowing eyes and more of the face to be seen. There is a cool design of face shields with a loose-fitting cloth gasket around it here. That might be much better as students can see your whole face. Some masks have a clear panel in them which I think looks kind of freaky. But then, maybe my uncovered face looks kind of freaky so there is that. 


June 26, 2020 at 8:12 AM 1 comment

How to get an ‘A’ for Anti-Racism in Science Class…

Thinking about moving beyond token black scientists with specific ideas for making anti racism a vibrant part of the science curriculum.

Continue Reading June 24, 2020 at 4:04 PM Leave a comment

Reopening School Without Dangerous, Expensive Chaos.

What would the socially distance learning experience be like for kids, parents and teachers? Do these expensive and difficult measures actually protect kids and teachers? Or should we err on the side of calm?

Continue Reading June 5, 2020 at 4:18 PM Leave a comment

COVID-19 Online Science to Steal From…

Just in case this would be helpful to you, here is a link to my 7th grade science class website with activities, links etc. that you are so welcome to use if it will help you weather this with your classes or your own children at home. Or both. Start from Monday, March 16th, 2020, the first day of our school closure and the ‘Shelter in Place’ order by Bay Area counties.

Topics so far are minerals and rocks, coming up is a very short unit on earthquakes, followed by genetics and sex ed. We are using CK-12 free online textbooks as the backbone for our courses. It’s a life-saver. It includes short text, videos, practice quizzes.

We are also using Google Classroom for students to turn in a daily journal entry. Other useful FREE apps are Flipgrid so kids can do little videos to see each other asynchronously, Kahoot because they love competing against each other for review questions and Socrative for self scoring multiple choice questions. We’ve been using Zoom for check-ins and will soon try using it for review sessions and office hours. But my 7th grade science website above is where it all starts from. Please note the parent newsletter links in the lesson plans too. It’s been great to hear back from parents, and I notice an uptick in participation each time I send an e mail to parents.

Here is a reassuring and helpful article “Teaching Through a Pandemic: A Mindset for This Moment” from Edutopia. And here is a complementary one, this time for parents trying to homeschool their own tweens and teens. Also reassuring and profoundly good advice: “How to Help Teens Shelter in Place” by Christine Carter, Ph.D, out of the Greater Good Science Center at U.C. Berkeley. 

And here are some curated lists of resources for science teachers: PBS Learning Media, NASA – Fun things to do with STEM, Network for Public Education and the mother of lists of excellent science content online is here, courtesy of the Massachusetts Science Teachers Association

Virtual field trips of Hidden Worlds of the National Parks is here, and the Natural History Museum. is fabulous for getting the hang of Zoom live video conferencing with students – presenting live streamed lessons, webinars or, in my case, touching base and ‘office hours. Here is their free Teaching Online site.

I really hope you are doing okay, feel free to steal any of what I’m sharing here to help you and your students. My class website will be updated every day of school.

March 28, 2020 at 5:00 PM Leave a comment

The New, Improved “Take Action Project” Starts!

The Take Action Project 2020 includes 7th graders getting the community to take informed and effective action for the future with them! Learn how to get prepared to start this exciting real-world project.

Continue Reading February 7, 2020 at 2:34 PM Leave a comment

What are your hopes and fears, solutions and New Years resolutions?

Here’s what kids have to say about their hopes and fears for the future of nature. Respond to them with YOUR ideas for solutions and New Years resolutions.

Continue Reading December 22, 2019 at 8:34 AM Leave a comment

Schooled! The Podcast

Launching our new podcast “Schooled!” where teachers tell ‘war stories’ and share their hard-won wisdom from the classroom. Our guests are educators who tell incredible transformative tales of how they ‘schooled’ themselves.

Continue Reading December 11, 2019 at 8:20 PM Leave a comment

Earth in Verse

I heard a snippet of Maria Popova’s “The Universe in Verse” and was inspired to do something for Earth Day this year.

Students were challenged to find a photograph of nature that made them feel happy and one that made them feel sad, and then to write a poem about one or other photo: Nature Light and Dark. I suggested they start with a descriptive phrase and go from there. Here’s the example I shared.

Why something so art-y and subjective/imaginative in science class? Because what you feel is what you remember and what you care about. And the world desperately needs young people who care about the state of the planet, who care to learn about it and do something, and know how to get others to do so too. It’s a lead-in to a unit on environmental science coming up.

They were free to use photos from their phones. They could also do a Google image search from a growing list of science terms that have something to do with nature. For the happy photos, they looked up images of places that they love. They picked an issue that they were especially concerned about as a search term to find a photo that made them sad. Here is the slide template I shared with them via Google Classroom.

It was lovely to watch them so completely absorbed, showing each other pictures on their phones, had to set a few boundaries – no selfies, or pics primarily of their pets. Resort pictures are not really wild ‘nature’ and that’s an important consideration these days where the wealthy get this manicured view of nature inside giant resort enclosures where the surroundings are often seriously impacted – Cancun springs to mind.

A bit of counseling to avoid the first image that pops up so we don’t see the same thing over and over. But also a lovely opportunity to roll the chair around to each group and listen in, encourage, help and coach. What IS a ‘good’ photo? – one that makes you feel something. In sharp focus, with ONE main thing that it’s about. But other than that, you sort of know when you see it. Some students are so schooled in ‘the right answer’ that it’s hard for them to know and trust their gut when it’s appropriate. And what is ‘good’ poetry? Another huge question but for the purposes of today, I suggested the following: It’s what is true for you. Write first whatever comes up from the photo that you feel most strongly about. THEN edit. Don’t worry about rhyme unless it comes easily. Consider the sound and rhythm, the meter of the words and the punctuation. Read it aloud. Does it sound right? Edit.

Students wrote their poem on the third slide and then copied and pasted their work onto a slide set for the class so it automatically made a slide show. Today, they read out their poems with the picture that inspired it behind them.

Here are the best poems and pictures in a Google Slideshow.  Kids would love it if you commented and said where you are writing from!


May 15, 2019 at 8:22 PM 2 comments

The Freedom to Fail…

is central to success. ?!

Leading the lesson with that caused looks of confusion in my somewhat stressed students as we near the end of a major project. It’s important for me to realized too. I have to allow students to choose to fail. If there is no possibility that anyone will fail, success has no real meaning. And I am making myself responsible for all student work and taking on the onus. Plus it would make me super-stressed and really (even more) annoying, nagging them to death and um, treating them like I didn’t trust them.

Of course I’m going to support students, check in with them, break down tasks and deadlines and most importantly, talk to each individual group in this last project-work lesson. “How are you?” “What’s your panic level?” “What is next on your check list?” “Want me to look over your written section for suggestions?” (note NOT to re-grade stuff, that entirely changes the vibe.) “What are your plans to get this done with each other at home?” I also go round and distribute the rubric for the finished project to keep them focussed on what is required. Having kids share documents for color printing is a good way for me to give a last look at their work too.

We had a bit of a laugh looking at Tim Urban’s TED talk “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” too.

I thought they would be tempted to spend way too much time decorating their poster board or to stick on random pictures just to make it look pretty. But in fact it was more like they didn’t want me to bug them – too busy getting it done.

It is SO hard to resist the urge to nag, require, boss and take over their decisions. I feel like a bad teacher if they are just standing about chatting when they could be working. Especially students who have been struggling. But when I think of how I learned not to procrastinate, I had to really feel the pain to make a change worthwhile.

I used to let grading pile up by the end of each quarter and then have a last-minute, late night frenzy, giving kids grades based on what was bad because I was too tired to notice what was good and give encouragement. Then they’d get their work back weeks after they did it, and would only look at the grade and not pay any attention to the other feedback. It was all long past. So it damaged relationships with my students which then resulted in tense parent exchanges too. It was ultimately enough pain to start to challenge the urge to procrastinate.

But the other piece was more positive: Barbara Nagle, a former chemistry teacher and mentor said that she was really curious to know how her students had done on an assignment right after they handed it in, and I noticed that’s when I was most motivated too. So I tried it after a particularly brutal end-of-term grading thrash. There’s also when I started to made more careful decisions for what to grade and not to grade. I write rubrics and/or a model answer for most pieces of work now. But I also just get on with it, (the mantra of – British psychotherapists 🙂 grading work often during seat work time in class, which allows me to give students one-on-one verbal feedback to save me the time of writing it down. Plus tone of voice can soften criticism to become coaching, and if I lead with curious questions, I often uncover what was going on with a child who’s done a horrible piece of work. Saves accidentally smacking a kid down when their dog has just died etc.  I know. It was sometimes horrifying how close I’d come to doing that in the press of work and hurry and stress.

I do have one student who is driving me crazy right now – bright, friendly guy but does nothing. Nothing. Just hangs out and shoots the breeze with anyone who will listen. I keep talking to him – checking he gets the big picture and try to help him feel how great it would be to have a project to show his parents etc. Come to think of it, I have two more who will probably end up with nothing much. Worked with them all today trying to structure tasks with them, one piece at a time. One did quite a bit and gave me a hug at the end. The other drew a picture of an eagle instead… But would nagging them make any real difference other than window-dressing with a ‘project’ that was basically done by me/parents/special ed colleagues? And would it do actual harm – helping to form entitled, lazy and ultimately unhappy young adults?

I do feel that it’s a genuine gift – the freedom for my students to feel the pain, visualize and to choose to avoid it, or learn from it. It’s good for me to remind myself that I’m in it for the bigger goal of preparing them for their adult lives, and it’s good for me to grip the controls a little more lightly – like riding a mountain bike over rough ground.  It’s not a free-for-all, it’s not chaos. My feet are definitely not up on the desk. And there are boundaries – no distracting other groups for example. And no chopping worms in half. But that’s another story.



March 21, 2019 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

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