Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Explaining the hiatus on the podcast and further updates

Hello All!

So, it's been a bit since I've podcasted. This is an education podcast and I try for bi-weekly updates. Unfortunately, as those in education know, March begins the end times. The time of year where, no matter your years or experience or skill, the long drag hits. Some of it is because of staffing changes (letting people go, trying to hire new people, staff numbers dropping or growing or staying the same), some of it is that you're not sure if you're going to talk about everything you want to. Hell, some of it is because you're just tired of this year and you want to start over next year. But it has also affected teachers and support staff and administrators desires to stay after school on Friday's for a "chat". I should have a couple coming up next week. Trying to schedule them and work them out. Hopefully they'll go through with it and not have an emergency pop up.

The other reason I haven't been podcasting is because I've been trying to transfer some of my thoughts on my current class projects into blog post. And the elections. I am going a little crazy over these elections. As I've mentioned before, I'm  history teacher (this year) and politics and power and machinations are my passion. And this year has been crazy with it. So I've done a lot of writing on Facebook and some tweeting and sharing. It's hard.

Now, I'm a pretty out there left, liberal, progressive, something something blah blah blah. Who knows. My teaching career has been a battle against the shitty situations students have at home and the battle against that sense of the unattainable in students. Plus my own experiences in life and some of the drawbacks I've experienced as a man of color have also colored my political views. As could be expected, I'm a rather big Bernie supporter. Something I am careful not to share with my students.

But this is the first time during an election that I feel unsure of whether I am toeing the line of a teacher letting their bias show. And it is because of Donald Trump. The population I teach is majority Latin@/Chican@ (I think that's the right symbol?) and they hate him. Every day I hear whispered, "Trump is a racist" and "Fuck Trump". I created an activity where students went to the candidates websites and looked at their main issues and their opinions regarding one. I've had them watch their campaign videos and compare and contrast them. But I've also told them, "Trump is a liar and what he suggests violates both national and international laws." Now as a crazy liberachi, I'm not saying I respect all of the laws out there. But for me, torture is an important one. John McCain, not a liberal, is a shining beacon of reason concerning this area. And I feel it is necessary to point out Trump's insanity here.

Some of you may ask, do I point out other lies from other candidates, Yes, if students bring them up to me as something they thought was true/legal/etc. But a vast majority of questions from my Mexican-American students is about something Trump said. And I refuse to lie. I do have them double check. And so, a weird election season and teaching season for me.

Thanks for letting me vent a little on that. The Mars Colony project is coming along. None of the teachers are sure what we will have for a final presentation. But we'll definitely have something, and I will post pictures for reference.

And for the upcoming podcasts I'll be meeting with my department head in History, hopefully my VP and a school counselor/social worker, and I'd really like to meet with my union VP, but I'm unsure when I could work that meeting out.

I have no idea what my topics will be, but I rarely do. Hope everything is going well with you, and if you have any topic suggestions out there, I'm definitely open.

- Tony Alberts

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A breakdown of our 8th grade Mars Colony Project

I'm putting this down to share with people some of the specifics that people would need in order to create a similar project. Honestly, it's also for myself, in case next year I think it was incredibly easy and need a reminder.

Weekly schedule:

Meet during Wednesday morning during staff meeting time/Circle of Inquiry time: requires the whole time to discuss the focus for the advisory day. Each advisor for roles discussed what they were trying to accomplish and whether it required group work or just the individual in the group to work. Also figured out how much workshop time was needed.

  • Workshop: dedicated time when students go to a specific role advisor to get updated or trained on what that role needs to accomplish on the advisory day (roles we created were: Historian- led by the ELA teachers, Political Consultant- led by History, Engineer- led by Math, and Health Officer- led by Science)
  • The roles do not have to be attached to those specific teachers. We each volunteered for the roles, but for example, there are a lot of cross-overs for the historian and political consultant, and for the engineer and health officer
There were two teaching teams that partnered for this, so there were two history teachers, two math, two English and two science teachers. My history partner and I decided to meet Wednesdays after school for about 30 minutes to 40 minutes to create documents or items or the lesson for the Friday advisory days.

Thursday morning during my shared prep with my teaching team members, we met for the whole period to discuss what we were all doing and were we were going. We had 1st period prep. If we didn't, we'd probably have to push this back to Thursday and the Thursday meeting to Tuesday.

Friday morning, my team met during our shared prep to prepare for the advisory day. We usually do workshop during 2nd period and then starting third period we began our actual advisory.

  • On Friday's, students go to P.E. and their elective classes or support classes. However, during any core main streamed class, students go to their advisor (they signed up for advisors at the beginning of the project. The advisor is not their role advisor).
  • Four of us also had an elective class we taught. During those periods, we kept our advisory students and had our elective class. My combination was very large, so I signed up for library time so as to accommodate the number of students (about 40).
At the end of the day, all teachers met after school to debrief, talk about the energy level and what went well or not, and what we should bring to the table Wednesday morning. If we knew we weren't meeting Wednesday morning, then scheduling a day we could all meet, or just staying and planning on the Friday.

We highly utilized Google Classroom to list assignments and to keep track of student work. We also created a shared google drive folder to hold all our work, assignments and rosters.

Each team had to create a master advisory schedule with all students to track where they were and where they should have been. I created one for our team based off of students information and was also the contact for the office for them to look students. We marked absences on the master schedule so we could also take our normal class attendance.

If I receive permission from my team, I will attach all of the documents we created.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The year so far and some thoughts on class...

This is my 7th year of teaching and my 1st year at Davis Intermediate school in South San Jose, CA. Back to teaching history. After teaching science, after teaching English and history. It's been a while since I've written something, so I'm not sure where to start. Let's start with what has been happening at my new school site (the positive stuff).

Before officially working for the district, I had the opportunity to join some of my soon to be colleagues at a project-based learning training at the Oakgrove district office. There were new teachers and 20+ year veterans, and as we sat and talked about possible projects, an 8th grade science teacher mentioned that he had done a Mars colony project before. And an 8th grade history teacher mentioned that his girlfriend had done a government/country/colony project with her 5th graders. So I suggested the idea of creating a culminating 8th grade project, one where students produced something for each subject, but worked to combine ideas and subjects and did a community presentation. So we created an idea and the 8th grade history teacher created a video. It got peoples interest at the end of the 3 days.

Fast forward to this February (2016). We began the implementation, using our prep times or meeting after school or high-jacking Circle of Inquiry time in the mornings on Wednesdays to plan. The 8th grade science teacher gave us his old packet, we figured out what to keep and update, and I created the new iteration. Before the project began, we probably spent at least 5 hours planning together or in small groups.

Our opening day we took our two sets of 8th graders out of the their regular classes for an "in-school field trip". We started by watching "The Martian" and then proceeded to show them the introductory video to the project. They created teams and began to plan their colonies.

Since that initial launch, we still have not received any additional time, making time on our own. While COI time has been offered, we've also had to take time out to address data tracking requirements. At first we did this whole group, but I eventually took the role as I could enter information quickly and then get a cursory response from the two teams. Outside of work, we've probably spent another 10 hours training ourselves, finding materials or collaborating. It has not been easy finding the time.

However, the project is going well, students are engaged in their work and what they discuss and create has been impressive so far. We've managed to stay about a week ahead of students and so they always have work they can do. And our timeline has been tentatively planned out until the end of the year. We have created our own advisory days with our two sets of 8th graders moving fluidly during their core classes, but still going to their elective and their P.E. classes.

We've had issues bringing P.E. and electives into the mix, as they don't share any prep times with us and are often out at the bell or busy with sports. Very, very busy with sports. The time constraints are difficult and as we go we are learning. But even though we're exhausted, their is an exuberance amongst us that I have not seen for a while in teaching. It is very refreshing.

I wanted to document the above so I have some sort of reference in the future for what we did (besides our copious shared documents on Google drive and hand written pages). I'm not sure what is pushing me to blog today. Probably the fact that I have not done a podcast in a bit. And this week will not work out for one anyway, too much stuff on my plate.

I think I want to just reflect on my teaching and truthfully examine what sort of teacher I am. I think of myself as a good social and emotional teacher, but honestly, merely a sub-par academic teacher. The latter is something that has gone up and down in waves. Science, science I felt like I reached a groove and maintained and it was good. But for history, just getting back into it. I'm not saying my teaching is a crime against humanity, but I do constantly question whether I am making my students dumber through my half-assed efforts. And I wasn't sure how I was doing socially and emotionally. My first two years of teaching were my high. I became a part of a family. A FAMILY. I still see those kids and I'm damn proud of what they have done. And I can check in on them through my teacher Facebook and I'm super proud. My 4 years in Mountain View, they were my down years. Not because the kids were messed up or crazy or that I didn't like them. I think the shock of having a family so violently cut-off... it fucked my head up. A lot. and I was very guarded. There were kids I connected with, but I never built the same family. This year, I started to move back to that old me, but I wasn't sure how I was doing. The last week or two taught me I am making progress. I have had one kid consistently meet me at break to talk. He's had a hard time at home and in his life and he said, "I just trust you." I forgot what that was like for a while. And today as I was leaving school I saw one of my students who had missed class and I asked how she was. She said bad (worked too hard during physical education), and I wished her better, and another group of students, some of who I have, turned to me and said, "You're the best teacher. You actually care about your students." I responded with, "How else would I teach?" And they laughed and smiled.

It's nice that I'm bringing that part of me back, but I still feel bad for my current group of kids. They get me as a half-assed academic teacher and a stumbling blind social emotional teacher. I hope I figure my shit out before next year. I'm still trying to improve for this year so students leave on a high note.

If you read, thanks for reading. This blog is definitely a once in a blue-moon affair, but I hope it helps some of you out there. Please feel free to respond if you want. Love to hear your stories or feelings.