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What do we need? Time! When do we need it? Um, lemme check planner… Thursday 11:15?

March 31, 2020 am31 12:03 am

I am now a remote teaching veteran. One week and one day. If I’m not going to work, how come I’m exhausted?

So here’s what I normally teach:

  • 4 sections of precalculus, each meets 4 times a week (normal, in my school). I give lots of quizzes, (no tests) and I assign a lot of homework, and check it for completeness, not correctness (we can correct each other’s homework, and they are responsible for asking for help). And I give the occasional more-involved project.
  • I am down one class for comp time (I’m back to programming).
  • But I picked up voluntarily, one period a week, kids’ lunch period, where I do a reading seminar in Set Theory for a small group of highly motivated kids.
  • And I picked up one more period, same idea, we call it Axiomatic Arithmetic, we are nibbling around the theoretical edges of the construction of the real number system.

And here’s what I remotely teach. Once a week I Zoom Set Theory for an hour. We did that today. Once a week I Zoom Axiomatic Arithmetic for an hour. I do that tomorrow. I prepare for both classes. I’ll have a worksheet for Arithmetic tomorrow. I practice with Zoom for both of them. I bought extra equipment today to make it easier. I’m spending about twice the time for these classes as before, while the actual instruction part takes literally the exact same time (they even meet on the same days as before, at the same times).

For precalculus, I used to teach 16 hours a week. Now I’m teaching 10 – but it’s not teaching – it’s live office hours (on Google Meet Up, which most of my school uses for most of our core classes) with questions and answers. Actually, quite a bit of time has been taken up just checking in on the kids, making sure they are ok. This was complicated by the death of a teacher in my school last Wednesday (not COVID-19 related). Everyone was edgy. Then they were edgier. I’m trying to keep my lessons aligned with what I did before the crisis. The homework, that’s easy. But the lessons. I have been writing up notes, in my style, in my voice, that accompany the text, that explain the text, that focus on what is most important, that warn about easy traps to fall into. Those notes, they take a long time to write, far longer than a lesson. And there is no “easy” way to type math into documents. On the blackboard, I had chalk. COVID-19 stole my chalk! And the quizzes?  Not a clue. So let’s go back to the homework. I am now grading selected problems (because I have nothing else to grade). I decided to assign homework each day, but collect selected exercises from the week on Friday. Easier that way, right?  Except I got piles of homework – and grading on line is hard. You have to click open each page, leave comments on the page (because that’s what I do), and assign a numeric grade. I’m a fast grader. This process is SLOW. And oh yeah, I’m also dealing with a project. I have been giving intermediate deadlines (one was last Tuesday, next is tomorrow). And that involves checking sketches submitted on line. Sorting projects into Google Classroom categories. Creating new assignments (not so bad, but ti takes time). But there’s lots of questions. Did I tell you about Office Hours?  I didn’t mention that I am getting a ton of e-mailed questions as well. It feels like 20 screen hours a week for precalculus – and I’m leaving stuff out.

Everything is new. Everything is foreign. But I’m getting it!  I now know how to use the whiteboard in zoom, and how to comment on kids’ work in Google Classroom without assigning a grade.

But get this. It takes time to set up. It’s on a computer, so it’s fast, right? Nope. If I’m going to use a virtual whiteboard, I need to plan its use. I put a lot of planning into how I use Google classroom. And even when I know how, it’s slow. And that’s on top of my regular lesson planning.

And how about this:  if I needed a better intro to say, my logarithmic change of base lesson – sounds scary – right? Well I can start with my textbook, or I can look at a different textbook, I’ve got them all over the place. If I’m not happy with that, ask a colleague in my school, or in a bunch of other schools who I know, I can post a question on line, I can google it (try it now – google logarithmic change of base lesson – what comes up?

But every new question with Jupiter or Zoom or Stars, getting each answer is a project.

Not every teacher is having the same experiences as me. Some already kind of did this stuff. They are good. Some teachers are super-tech savvy. But maybe not as many as you think. And a lot of teachers know less than me. They are trying to work with the one tool they were handed, and may be copying the colleague in the next classroom, hoping that they know more.

Frankly, in many cases this has become another excuse to curtail our professional autonomy (glad that’s not the case in my school).

Look, I’m not saying this can’t work. Though I do have my doubts. And I’m pretty sure this is nowhere as good, even at its best, as good teaching, face-to-face teaching, teaching with students in the same room, interacting with each other, and with the teacher. But as good as this is ever going to get, it’s not going to get there the way we are going now.

For teachers to switch to remote, we need more time to plan and prepare. Much more.  I’d say we need roughly one hour preparation time for each hour teaching. Maybe more. Not less. Not meeting time. Not team planning time. For our own planning and preparation to happen – we need more time that we can use, ourselves.

SInce that can’t mean fewer classes, it probably means reduced contact hours. And stop wasting our time with useless meetings. (again, my school has not wasted our time, not yet, and maybe not ever – but it is happening throughout the city.

Give us a chance. Give us the time. But, please, get us back into the classroom as soon as its safe.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoff S permalink
    March 31, 2020 am31 11:41 am 11:41 am

    J – during pandemic you popped into my mind and I have revisited your site. Thank you for the work you do with kids, teachers, the city …I appreciate it! Especially the big picture takes on math education and what you are doing with your students , especially the ‘experimental’(?) work like logic and set theory and proof construction and all of that. Brings me back to Lehman 2002 – special time for me and I learned so much from you and prof R and the cohort.

    I have been thinking about how our collective situation (assuming good health) will impact what is important in education. Anyway, I have started reading a text online by Borovik and Gardiner (the essence of mathematics). I want to create something that could be like your ‘lunch group’ but interstate/international (?) that would rework the intent of math education…I don’t know, but I am thinking a lot these days! [also don’t have FB and sit have your email so I put this in your comments – sorry – “Geoffrey dot P dot slack at g mail “— if you have time….and believe me I am w you — so much busier at home than at school, but getting it also]

    Peace from Maine

    • March 31, 2020 pm31 3:24 pm 3:24 pm

      I’ll write you an e-mail – but what a great surprise to hear from you! Thank you

      Remember this – every ear of corn has an even number of rows?


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