padme, stidmama, star wars

Time passes...

Almost a decade since the last "about me" entry.

It is now June 2020. I have been teaching third grade for six years, after one year teaching middle school (which was my actual goal) and a couple years teaching regularly - literally almost every day - as a substitute in several school districts.

In March 2013 our home caught fire and our pets perished, our younger son tried to put out the fire when he got home from school, but he was just too late. He was fortunately not badly injured. We lost a lot of mementos and spent a year living away from home while things were cleaned up and then rebuilt.

Our new home is comfortable, a bit larger (with a small garage). We have a new furry companion named Wally. We are down to just one lizard.

For a while our younger son lived with us, but he recently moved out and we are mostly just two old folks in this big house.

Which is at this point in history both good and bad. During the initial stages of the pandemic lockdown it was hard to ask all our kids (both our own, and those who have become family) to stay away. But not having a lot of people in the house was helpful also since both Tom and I needed to work from home.

Teaching from home was a HUGE deal. Not all students were able to benefit from the online materials I prepared. That's okay, I was able to refine my teaching and have a lot more confidence and knowledge about what must be done and what can be let go. This should help immensely for the rest of my teaching career.

Something I mentioned in the last post in my profile was that my hip problems had resolved. Well... they unresolved in a dramatic fashion last summer and I taught all year from a wheelchair. The investigation of what exactly is going on was stalled by the pandemic, and I have yet to go to the orthopedist for a follow-up after an MRI. Long story short, it looks like there is nothing structurally wrong (as usual!) and I am FINALLY starting to experience entire pain-free days. But I still cannot walk very far even with crutches so I have been using the wheelchair whenever we want to walk Wally or go out for shopping.

In addition, the serious allergies and chemical sensitivities have increased in number and severity along with finally getting a tentative diagnosis of celiac (hello, gluten-free life). The celiac diagnosis meant that I was able to get some tests for nutritional deficiencies. With extremely low vitamin D and iron levels the reason for my extreme exhaustion the last two years was clear. Supplementation has allowed me to do a lot more, and enjoy myself again!

Finally, I have been looking for my "next steps" in professional development, and I think I am about ready to commit to a course of study that will allow me to refine my skills based on my interests. I don't need another degree for improving my paycheck, but I think it's time for me to demonstrate my skill and knowledge. My choices are "culturally-responsive" teaching, diving deeper into literacy or numeracy, or focusing on curriculum development and assessment which was my initial area of interest when I went back to school -- I would emphasize materials for distance learning that are developmentally appropriate rather than aligned to "common core" which in my opinion has been a disaster for students in disadvantaged communities. The third choice would naturally pull in the other two, so I am drifting in that direction at the moment. But I won't make any decisions until after the end of the school year and a one-week workshop on teaching writing at the end of this month.

Finally-finally we are in the beginning of a nationwide (and worldwide) awakening to the problem of racism that is endemic in many nations and institutionalized in the United States in laws and expectations from the largest federal agencies to the smallest police force and in educational settings as well. Black Lives do matter. Latinx Lives matter. Asian Lives matter. Gay Lives matter. Immigrant Lives matter. There are so many groups that are disadvantaged right now... but I do believe things are about to change. Black Lives Matter is very much on all our minds right now in the wake of several disturbing deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police forces. Black Lives Matter was just painted on the street leading to the main driveway at the White house in the aftermath of peaceful demonstrators being assaulted by riot police without warning for a photo op. There are a lot of problems right now... and they boil down to embedded abuse of power at multiple levels. I hope that addressing this will result in equity for all. For the first time in the history of this country.f
padme, stidmama, star wars

techdate: Hardware at Home and School

I just checked, and it has been three years (almost) since I last posted here.

A long time, in tech news!

I continue to use the MacBook Pro I purchased in 2010 for my graduate studies. It continues to work well and, with a few updated parts (more RAM, and soon a new battery), should provide solid performance for my currently minimal needs for several more years. I carry it back and forth to school on occasion, and hook it up to the desktop I use to project data in front of the class. I write lesson plans on it, connect to the internet from home to log into the school's GoogleApps account so I don't need to remember to share everything via email or lose material on a thumbdrive. I cannot vouch for newer versions, or the "Air" models (which I admit the weight is appealing...). But for me, this is one of the better products I have owned. I haven't really used it for video editing, sound/music purposes, or other high-powered applications, though I keep hoping to have both time and energy. I would buy Apple again if I needed something they provide.

I use my ipad at home and at school daily. I use it for a timer, to randomly pick student names, occasionally to supplement instruction with specific apps I have acquired for my students, and to play music and videos for the students as well as to photograph their work, scan "bubble sheet" style assessments, and use the magical app "Plickers" to quickly check the whole class for understanding of concepts.

I find the classroom's document camera to be a little fidgety, and I wish I could upgrade. The current model is several years old, and lacks some functionality that I could use daily: the ability to raise the lens even higher to project an "establishing shot" of sorts on larger materials such as maps and books, then use the regular zoom so the kids can read the text. Right now, the only way to do this is to take a photo, upload it to the computer and then project it. It can zoom in bigger, but a full page of text is always cut off.

I wish the projector itself had a brighter, crisper picture. I don't know how expensive these projectors really are, when I look for them online they seem to cost upwards of a thousand -- but I know for sure that I shouldn't have to turn out the lights in the classroom for the image to be bright enough to see; and the text should be more crisp, easily seen from the back of the room. It may be something as simple as needing a new bulb, but I know those are also insanely expensive.

There are two printers I can access at school -- an old laser printer that is supposed to serve multiple classrooms (it's right outside my door though, so easy for me to grab materials quickly); and a color laser printer in the computer room which is still relatively close, but I am reluctant to use it often because of the cost of ink. I can print as many pages as I need on the standard office copier in the staff room, or on the "Gestettner" (?) printer that uses a liquid process so it's really best for single-sided copies, but can take thicker paper such as construction paper.

At home, our printer is a Brother color laser, which I use as needed to create and print student materials as well as items for our home. Most of the time though, Tom prefers to use paperless documents for recipes, banking, etc. So mostly I am the one who prints things.

At home, we replaced the large Vizio TV from before the fire with an even larger one -- It is very clear and very bright. I can see remarkably small details from about 15 feet away, even with my strange eye defect. I wonder if schools will start using flatscreen TVs instead of projectors and screens. It is expensive, but if it works better for students, perhaps so? I can connect my computer to the TV relatively easily, and the ipad that I use as well.

I am not in a school with a large surplus of funds for tech, but they are doing their best. We have some computer carts for Chromebooks so we can accommodate the several hundred students who take the now-mandatory computerized versions of the state tests each year. The rest of the year, we use them to help the kids get used to using the devices. I have had my students practice all year long using just the trackpads, so if the mouse fails, the student can continue testing. We'll be testing in the regular classroom, so it will be very important to be able to flexibly accommodate tech issues!

There is only one smartboard that I know of in the school, and that is in the computer classroom. We also have some ipads available -- one cart for the upper grades to share, and a few in each of the primary classrooms. "High tech" our school is not... but we are able to do a lot with the materials we have.

A far bigger issue is the alluring promise that more tech will automatically result in students who understand more and can do even better. This is nonsense, if the developmentally appropriate curriculum isn't there... so the tech that supports and enhances instruction can be useful, but I hope no one will lose sight of the real purpose of an education and the still-valid need for hands-on, experiential learning!
padme, stidmama, star wars

tech date: Best Buy

We had a truly unpleasant experience last night at our local Best Buy.

Bear in mind that we have purchased computer equipment, a freezer, a television, many types of video games and other items there, and Tom gets fairly nice little rebates on the purchases because most of them are more than 50 dollars.

We went in last night to buy a Macbook for Tom, to replace the computer he had before the fire.

The first time we went in, a salesperson wandered by, asked if we needed help and wandered off when Tom said he was looking at MacBooks... and didn't come by again.

We left the store and went to the MAC store elsewhere in the mall.

Tom decided he liked the selection better at Best Buy, and went back again.

This time, a salesperson said he was going on break but another person would help. Then the first one continued to visit with the other person and a presumed customer (by this time they were within 30 minutes of closing, and no one should have been going on break).

Tom came to get us, and we did a couple other little errands in the mall.

As we were going to the car, Tom decided to talk to the manager. At first, the manager IGNORED the fact that Tom was waiting to talk to him, and walked away when he was done talking to a different customer. So a man behind the service desk flagged the manager down. I stood back, but I could hear what Tom was saying...

And at the end of explaining that we had just had a house fire and Tom needed to replace his computer, and was in the store FOR PRECISELY THAT PURPOSE, and that the salespeople ignored us TWICE...

The store manager (or the flunky on duty at the time) just walked away. No expression of concern for the troubles we have had this week, no apologies for the bad manners of his staff, no offer to help Tom get what he wanted right then, no request for confirmation that we had been loyal customers. Nothing.

He treated Tom badly, too.

We will not be purchasing anything at Best Buy again. EVER.

We'll drive farther, and wait longer, and go somewhere that the employees of the store, whether on commission or not, actually take pride in their work, and focus on their jobs: taking care of the customers.

Best Buy has gone from a four thumbs up to a four thumbs down. AVOID this store.
padme, stidmama, star wars

techdate: real classrooms, real kids

This will be brief, as my time is limited. Now teaching as a long-term sub in a middle school classroom. Learning as much as (and probably more than) the kids, and feeling highly stressed out much of the time. Also enjoying really wonderful moments, and stretching to my capacity.

I am using my macbook pro to connect to the school's wifi and online grade book. Using Skyward, the same one the neighborhood school and my sons' high school uses. Pretty ubiquitous around here.

I also bought an adapter so I can hook it up to the projector and show condensed versions of the textbook. The students are not highly oriented to print, so anything that reduces the effort of reading and allows them to get to the math quicker is worthwhile. It takes about 3 hours for me to do a powerpoint for a lesson. If I do a lesson over two or more days I do a quick review powerpoint the following day(s). Thinking about adding a few prezis, just for fun. I also print out notes taken directly from the powerpoint, most of which I find crumpled up or otherwise discarded, but for a few students they are really important. And of course I show a few videos either using the DVD player or youtube, to illustrate or highlight lessons.

I use my ipad mostly as a timer, occasionally to supplement the classroom calculators (which are fewer than the number of students), and rarely to give a kid who needs a break a math puzzle to work on. I don't have time or energy during the day to read, so the books and professional journals loaded on it are waiting for me to have a nice long break (beginning of April). Just loaded Haiku Deck to the ipad, and will try that out for a quick overview of the previous chapter before the test on Friday. It looks like it may be a quick and easy way to add some color and life to the classroom.

There are a few working computers in the classroom, which the students are accustomed to playing games on. And that is apparently the only use they have been put to this year. I would love to have some computer-based research or activities, but in most of the classrooms the students need more work on cooperation, following directions and purposeful exploration before I try that.

If it turns out I will be here much longer, I will start making plans to have small groups of students work in pairs on the available computers, doing additional research or using some of the online supplemental instructional materials. It would have been nice for the current chapter (almost done), but I was still establishing classroom routines and expectations.

I think that teachers (both in training and in real life) get really excited about the possibilities of enhancing presentations, but I am finding that the prep for presentations is most valuable just in helping me distill the most important ideas and tasks. The shiny toys don't really change the content of instruction, nor do they significantly change student engagement or learning. More on that in my regular blog later.

I am going to crosspost this to my regular website as well. Feel free to visit me there and post any comments. My screen name with a com at the end...
padme, stidmama, star wars

techdate: accessibility and Google

I have complained before about accessibility issues on various devices.  Most notably, my MacBook, which doesn't allow me to increase the font sizes in headers and windows unless I do a full zoom on my screen.  Very frustrating.  I compensate by remembering which tab opens which site when I have multiple tabs open and enlarging the text and images on pages that allow me to do so (which comes with its own set of issues depending on whether the fonts scale well...).  Much of the time I have to not read pages because I can't make them work.

Today, I was browsing the web, looking for information about some of the renaissance and medieval composers I like when Google popped up a screen about my computer having "unusual activity."  I needed to prove I was human by using a captcha input.

This would be a non-event, except that I have been at a conference for the past three days and my eyes are shot.  They are not working well with print inputs and so...

The captcha did NOT have an option for audio!!!  The visuals in captchas, on a good day, are difficult for me to see.  On a day like today, I had to guess at what the letters might be.  It took me several tries to guess correctly.  A screen reader, of course, cannot read a captcha image (I do have a screen reader but use it rarely because it goes so slowly).

Not only is this a clear problem for people like me who struggle at times to see print, but for people who are completely blind they would be locked out of using google for a time.

I tried contacting google about this problem, but couldn't figure out how the contact worked -- they only allow certain types of comments at certain times or something.  I know that the forums aren't going to be a good place to make a complaint.  

So, here is the ADA site about accessibility.

And at some point when my eyes don't hurt I will try again to navigate google's text-heavy pages and figure out how to contact a real person who can address whether they will add audio to the captchas on these kinds of pages.  I know they can -- they do in blogspot!  :-)
padme, stidmama, star wars

techdate: the case for Luddites

With the increase in cost of living, the decrease in my darling Tom's take-home pay and the addition of my student loan payments (which substitute teaching so far pretty much pays for, but not much else), we are looking at ways to minimize discretionary spending.

We have recently decreased the number of cable channels we receive (because we are in a dead zone, airwave-wise, we need cable to get even the local stations).  I am going to eliminate the data plan on my phone and switch to a much simpler cell phone.  All I need to be able to do is call a tow truck if I get stranded on my way to or from a job, and contact Tom and the kiddos quickly when arranging transportation.  I only need about 20 texts a month, about 30 minutes of talk time.  Tom makes phone calls even less frequently.  I am certain we are spending way more than we have to!

We are looking at additional ways to conserve resources as well.

We do have a second phone line (via the internet cable) which I use for business purposes -- it's a way to nag at the kid just a little less...  so that expense is worth it.  And the land line for the regular phone is a must-have in our rural area where cell service is spotty at best.  It works, even when the power is out and the cell towers are down (which happened last January).

We have two Tivo receivers, but we paid upfront for lifetime use, so those don't cost us anything more, and it is very nice to be able to watch our favorite shows no matter what events come up in real life.

I don't need the latest and greatest fashions, and to hear my younger son -- and many of the students -- tell it I clearly am not fashionable!  But I do need comfortable shoes, which have been purchased, broken in, and set out for use.

I could use a more gasoline-efficient car, but at the moment our finances don't allow even looking...  so the relatively efficient, very comfortable and safe minivan stays.

And then (insert drumroll)...   

the HDTV from Vizio is getting lines going across the picture.  Each time we turn it on, there is another line.  Sometimes they are red, sometimes black, and occasionally yellow in part of the line.  Which means we will need to replace the television.  

Unless we decide not to.  In which case we would have to
  • watch television shows/movies on computer screens (which we already do about half the time)
  • play the video games using computer screens (less convenient, but perhaps impetus to play them less)
  • read more
  • play board games more
  • talk to each other more
  • and/or all of the above
It is this last expense, that is clearly discretionary that is giving me the most pause.  We do not, technically, require a television.  Tom has a monitor that doubles as a TV at his desk.  I don't watch many TV shows, and the ones I do are available online.  Grant plays a lot of video games, but his monitor can serve as a pretty good game screen, too.

If we didn't have the television in the living room, we might actually talk a little more.  We might play old-fashioned games, and read quietly in the evenings.  We certainly wouldn't be shelling out several hundred dollars for a television at a time that we are pinching pennies on groceries!

Would that mark me as a Luddite?  I don't think so, not with the other gadgets that surround us.  

But it might mark me as someone who values my time and quiet hours a little more than the average person.

And it might keep us just a little bit more financially afloat until I can get that full-time position I am looking for.
padme, stidmama, star wars

Life Update

ipad in schools:  I wish now that I had sprung for an ipad with less memory and with a cell connection.  Some schools don't have wireless internet.  As a substitute, I can't log in from any computer without the child-"friendly" school filters blocking many of the sites I would use, including sites that are actually designed for educators and students.  Also, because the low-income schools tend to have little in the way of technology anyway, the ipad can be a real distraction for students because I don't have the luxury of allowing the students to share it over the course of a week or two (turn-taking is important for kids!) and I can't replace the regular lessons entirely with ipads.  So it becomes a way for me to read my kindle during my downtime, to record my thoughts on the text editor, and to take pictures of ideas that work in various classrooms.  At home, I use it to research, listen to music/radio, and as an alarm clock.

House:  still in a state of shambles.  Substitute teaching really takes it out of me.  The new arrangement in the living does work, but the sofa is covered with laundry baskets much of the time.  I moved to the chair by the window since I am the person most often home during the day, and now the floor and surfaces near the chair are covered in books and papers.  I haven't managed to get the office cleared out enough to sort through anything.  I find it frustrating that on the days I have the time I lack the energy.  Hoping that in the summer when school is out I will be able to pull things together a bit more.  The bedroom, with its cheerful coat of paint and new lighting and drapes has been cozy and functional all year.  That's a keeper.  Still hoping to replace the king-size bed and aging mattress with a queen-size to improve the space in the room, but that's something that can wait for a full-time paycheck.

GARDEN:  I have one again!  A real, honest-to-goodness garden.  Coldframe in place, we have harvested lettuce and bok choi from it and it now shelters the tomato starts.  Bean "bed" (really -- a bed frame for a trellis) planted with peas and two types of peas.  Pumpkins, garlic, parsnips and carrots and a "salad mix" planted, with room for a few more succession plantings.  Potatoes moved from the old potato bed and planted from the "volunteers" we found in the pantry.  Strawberries, cosmos, herbs.  The garden is looking good.

Orchard:  the cherry tree has to come out.  It bloomed, but the blooms wilted almost as soon as they opened.  There are cherries trying to form, not sure if the withering leaves can pull it off.  I will wait until the end of the school year and then we'll take it out.  Probably will remove the never-flourishing mulberry at the same time.  The peach tree has curl, but also seems to outgrow it every year.  I am content to leave it alone for a bit longer.  We will have European pears, apples, Asian pears, plums and blueberries this year, along with the native and Himalayan blackberries, gooseberries, strawberries and huckleberries.

Professional Development:  I continue to have questions about the best way to integrate technology in the classroom.  My master's paper was about whether it's reasonable to try to integrate tech assignments when students don't have access to the technology on an ongoing basis.  I have been attending webinars and reading about teachers who have done wonderful things in their classrooms, who are implementing something called a "flipped classroom" or who use mobile technology to increase student engagement.  All of this is well and good when the school's technology is readily available AND when students have the resources they need to accomplish tasks as assigned.  But what to do when, as in many of the districts near me, the students lack internet access or even computers with printers in the home; when the public library has only a few computers that have time limits on use; when the only exposure to the necessary technology is at school.  I want to use technology to enhance instruction.  I want to support my students as they work in the content areas, in ways that are pedagogically sound and engaging.  I don't want tech use to be either distracting or disempowering.  I don't want to penalize students whose families lack the resources and know-how to turn in assignments based on tech usage.   I also keep thinking through types of assessments and how to reflect student progress accurately using the grading systems that are in use in my area.  How to distinguish in meaningful ways between students who made remarkable progress but aren't yet at the level expected for that skill/knowledge and grade, and students who are at or above the expected levels but who made very little progress or who may have regressed (lack of engagement, illness, high mobility often play into this)?  As long as a single grade or number is expected to represent a student's work and ability, I suspect I will struggle with this.
padme, stidmama, star wars

Techdate: iPad

Yep. iPad2. I wanted something to use while subbing that had some ability to hold interesting video and activities in case the scheduled activities didn't last as long as the time allotted, or if the teacher didn't have time to prepare. I think this is going to be a great investment.

I got a wifi only, with 64G memory. Looking at more durable cases, though I like the magnetic cover it's not secure enough for classroom use. Also woul like a real keyboard, since I can touch-type faster and more accurately with that.

Science360 is a fun app that has pictures and videos, but needs a data feed. I have some astronomy apps as well. And a wordsearch game. So many possibilites!

Mulling over my options for hotspots, since I need to replace my android G1 soon, looking at several options. It appears there are now some cell providers with limited service at our house, which would be excellent now that I will be subbing.

I also have an app to listen to the audiobooks i get from Learning Ally, the ibooks app and Kindle app so i can physically read texts in fonts large enough to see. This Livejournal app, however, does not have the ability - that I have found, to let me increase viewing size. So future posts will be coming from the Macbook. As my eyes get older, I simply require more assistnce with reading.

padme, stidmama, star wars

techdate: IKEA

Okay, slightly frivolous, but I hope useful to some people.

After three years (including summers) in full-time or more than full time school, the house is a mess.  My first chore:  to get the living room back to livable.  To that end, I was on the lookout for three things and tasked with three things:  something to hold all the electronic media gadgets that were beginning to ruin the antique desk; something to replace the old media cabinet that was used by the door to hold all the "in and out" gear such as keys, bags, and mail; something to hold the rather large collection of DVDs we have accumulated; clear off the counter/desk under the window; rearrange the furniture for better flow and conversation/TV viewing; and finally to get the space clean!

IKEA (and World Market) to the rescue!  I found a three-shelf console to hold the TiVo, receiver, DVD-player, etc at World Market for half the usual price.  It's also close to the same color as the piano which is the largest piece of furniture in the room.  At IKEA I found a Besta shelf unit that will be hanging from the wall by tomorrow, above the media console, a lighter wood that matches the two IKEA POANG chairs (beech finish), and a black sideboard (NORDEN) that has two drawers and two shelves.  I also purchased a small bench (MOLGER) to hold my gardening supplies near the door and provide a seat in the entry for changing shoes.  Re-arranging a few things, and suddenly the living room is more functional. 

Additional things I did:  put ALL the graduate papers, books, folders and binders in boxes in a storage locker until I decompress enough to sort through in a rational state of mind.  Boxed up the thousands of books in the bedroom and bought paint for that room (after 11 years, it's time).  Put a good bit of the materials that had accumulated in my office in the storage locker so I can reach my workbench and desk.  

Next steps:  clear off my workbench and desk and put things to rights so I can work in there again.  Paint and re-arrange the bedroom and accoutrements.  Find a way to keep my dining room furniture more dust-free despite the birdcage in the same room.  Might try a piece of HEPA-type filter on the side of the cage that faces the nearest furniture piece.

Oh, and keep working at my garden.  Thanks to Tom and the elder stidkid, I have a garden bed that is ready to plant  and three that are almost discernible from the paths.  Once it stops raining, I can get something put in!
padme, stidmama, star wars

techdate: MacBook Pro

This is just a holding post -- I have had a MacBook Pro since last September.  An issue with my eyes required a large, non-glare, high-res screen.  The MacBook had those qualities. 

And I was curious about the capabilities of the machine.

Well, here we are nearly seven months later and I can say that it's an OS like so many.  There are nice things, and some annoying things.

It's NOT fully accessible to me.  The ability that Windows has to allow a person to make text in message boxes and menu bars BIGGER has somehow escaped the supposedly great abilities of Apple.  So I struggle to see what is going on at times, and that is highly frustrating.

There will be more, later --

I am almost done with the years-long process of getting my master's.  I think.  Look for some radical updates and changes in a couple months!