Posts filed under ‘Starting the School Year’

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 ūüôā

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

How to get an ‚ÄėA‚Äô for Anti-Racism in Science Class‚Ķ

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

Working Less, Kids Learning More with PBL

Working less for more engagement and more science content covered even with PBL.

Continue Reading September 19, 2016 at 1:46 PM Leave a comment

Using a Sibling Sense of Fairness for Science

Conclusions have always been a boring minefield. What did you find out? How sure are you? And kids always say either ‘very sure (because can’t be bothered to think too hard and don’t want to admit to playing with their cell phones under the desk the whole period) or some kind of pat answer like ‘we could have made sure to time it better’. But most really don’t get that analyzing an experiment for uncontrolled variables is an application of the sibling rivalry keen “It’s not fair!” And it’s usually not. Remember when you got to stay up later than I ever did at your age, Diana? Let’s not get into who sits by the window on car trips…

So Dr. Stupid came in today to drop rulers through children’s hands to find the effect of light level on reaction times as a practice run to remind students how to identify the experimental and responding variables, and how to spot the unfairness aka the uncontrolled variables and other bad practice. Then I assessed them on “Who has faster reaction times – boys or girls?” using the “A Grading Policy”. And that’s working out okay too – I get a quick snapshot of who gets it without getting mired in a point for this and not for that tedium. The repairs and redos will be on Monday after¬†coaching¬†while¬†the kids who pass do¬†science news activity.

At the end, they wrote “The ice cube¬†experiment we did was unfair because….”

Seriously better than previous years. Really cool to point out how naturally they are scientists. And much more fun, especially sharing unfair sibling stories, some of which are at least perceived as wildly unfair. Justice: let’s play that forward too.

September 7, 2016 at 11:39 AM Leave a comment

PBL 101 with the Buck Institute, the Genuine Gold Standard in PBL

Report with all kinds of v. useful links to a million PBL resources.

Continue Reading June 16, 2016 at 2:07 PM 1 comment

A Whole year of 7th Grade Science – the best one yet!

A link to the whole lot – a year’s worth of successful, fun and free curriculum tested at Orinda Intermediate School.

Continue Reading June 11, 2015 at 2:12 PM Leave a comment

Getting started with notebooks in science

The Common Core hits science, aaarrrrggghhhh…. or is it (shhh)¬†not so bad?¬†

Continue Reading August 30, 2014 at 10:31 AM Leave a comment

Improv All Kinds of Classrooms

Improv ideas for all kinds of classrooms, especially science. Have fun yourself, relax a little and enjoy a smorgasbord of improv games to add to the start of your year.

Continue Reading August 13, 2014 at 7:21 AM Leave a comment

Analogies to Assuage August Anxiety Dreams

I’m inspired by Ben Johnson’s Edutopia blog ‘What does it take to be a great teacher?’ but I was unnerved at the thought of defining myself as even approaching ‘great’.¬†Because like being a ‘good’ Christian, as soon as you say so, there’s your righteousness¬†reward, and not in heaven. Besides, in both cases, it’s the reflection and the striving that might accidentally, unconsciously and occasionally make for greatness.

I also watched some BigThink videos on economic collapse from Michael Lewis, Dr.Kaku’s Universe, and some Neil DeGrasse Tyson on why go to Mars?¬†All speakers used analogy-based explanations¬†to put¬†powerful pictures that will stay in my mind, like the central hanger of a mobile – you have that and everything else, the little details, hang from it. Analogy involves, pictures, sensations, emotion, and those are incredibly powerful memory hooks for me as well as for my students.

Here are some that I keep in mind in the anxiety-dream time of August:

Surfing in Uncertain Seas¬†– waves are a little unpredictable but it’s fun to ride them anyway, gives me confidence that I’ll maybe even enjoy some unexpected changes. You have to pay attention to what’s coming in the distance as well as what’s welling up right behind you. But you know that you’ll make it to the shore sooner or later.

Mountain Biking the Bumps – works so much better to loosen your hands and arms riding down hill, keep your head up on the big picture, go with the general direction and don’t flip over the handlebars from looking down. Look where you DO want to go, not where you don’t, or you will. It’s called ‘target fixation’ and it’s amazing how well this re-framing works in real life – in difficult conversations with colleagues, kids, parents and administrators.

Horse Riding Classes of Kids¬†– Controlling a giant horse is pretty much mind over matter. You have to have the confidence you can do it or the horse knows and messes with you. Same with the much larger mass of 28 12 year olds compared to you. Both have been picked up when foals¬†and unconsciously think you still could. But still, horses and classes are bigger than you, you can’t force them, it’s so much more subtle and interesting than that.

Captain of the Ship – the class is the crew, we’re going on a great exploration around new continents. Here’s the picture of the painting:¬†6th curric painting

The Wet Fish Fight for when things really get nasty. Repeatedly. The whacky-whack, stagger back. It helps me think of fighting back sort of like¬†Asterix¬†in the cool French comic books. ¬†Not mean, but still standing up for what’s right with relish.

Add more of your own in the comments below…

August 5, 2014 at 2:01 PM 2 comments

Start with fun, finish with depth of knowledge

On the edge of overwhelm with the new standards? Start with what’s fun for kids (and you) to funnel them into real depth of understanding. Here are some ideas and sources to lighten up and light up your students.

Continue Reading February 2, 2014 at 4:04 PM Leave a comment

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