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ISSUE 17.35.F • 2020-09-07

 

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The AskWoody Newsletter
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In this issue

DISTANCE LEARNING: Adapting to remote education — a teacher’s perspective

BEST OF THE LOUNGE: Patching survey — 2020

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

LANGALIST: “Please insert boot media … ” Uh-oh!

SMALL-BUSINESS COMPUTING: Microsoft 365 privacy tools

BEST UTILITIES: Freeware Spotlight — WinCustom

DISTANCE LEARNING

Adapting to remote education — a teacher’s perspective

Kendra Capen

By Kendra Capen

Each year it starts with the same question: “You’re already back in school?” Followed by the same answer: “Yup, I work at a year-round school.”

That usually spawns a confused look — so I explain:

A year-round schedule starts earlier in the summer and has more breaks spread throughout the year. The classic school schedule has nine weeks or so of summer break, but we have only four. My school starts mid-July, has a three-week fall break in September, and an extra week at end-of-year “holidays” and spring break.

It’s a great schedule for teachers and students — we all get relatively short breaks from each other at regular intervals, and there’s less “relearning” when we’re all back at our desks. Parents and school districts, on the other hand, generally hate it. So I am surprised each new school year when my medium-large district still lets a handful of schools operate on a non-traditional schedule.

Because a year-round school is kind of a novelty, it often gets overlooked in the normal school-district endeavors. We always like to gripe that nothing is ever ready for us.

But not this year! With the pandemic, most schools were already closed, not to reopen until August or September. However, we were scheduled to restart in July. We quickly became the teaching equivalent of crash-test dummies.

Planning for a new school year goes sideways

While most parents, teachers, and school administrators were debating how distance learning would look for the new school year starting in late summer, my school had to jump into it a month or more earlier — with frighteningly little preparation. We had to take to the road without a map.

In some ways, we got off easy. The school district and teachers’ union negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) remarkably quickly. Of the state-mandated instructional minutes (which varied by grade level), teachers would be responsible for about 20 percent “synchronous instruction” — live teaching via Zoom. The rest of the time would be asynchronous: individual learning with worksheets, assigned projects, and/or learning software. The only other requirement was that teachers hold two hours of weekly “office hours.”

The MoU had a fair amount of flexibility built in. We could set our own class times (within existing contract hours), deviate from the standard curriculum, and choose to work from either our home or the classroom. Despite a lot of anxiety leading up to the start, it almost seemed manageable.

A strange new school year begins

To my pleasant surprise, the start of distance learning has been not just manageable, but kind of exciting. After seven years of teaching kindergarten, I’d gotten into a groove — not a rut, but a comfortable predictability.

Now, I’m re-imagining and adapting my formerly set lessons. My grade-level peers and I printed out mini-books and worksheets, we compiled basic supplies like pencils and crayons, and we included more-specific staples such as flashcards and hands-on learning materials. We have organized drive-throughs every few weeks so that parents can return completed work and pick up new assignments.

Distance-learning tech

Obviously, the Internet is a key component of remote schooling. After a slow start, I finally have all my parents connected to the messaging app ClassDojo. I’ve actually used this site to connect with parents for several years now. But this is the first year I have 100 percent participation.

ClassDojo frees me from setting up email lists or giving parents my personal cellphone number. I use the service to post class pictures, send messages to individual parents, alert parents to important events — and send a reminder to Susie that she cannot Zoom while lying down in her bed.

I’ve had good technology support from my district, too. It adopted Google Apps for Education (GAFE) — not for the pandemic, but several years ago. All enrolled students have a unique district username and password.

Over the past four years, a special group of educators — Teacher Technology Leaders (TTLs) — has helped their peers adapt to new technology. As a TTL for my school, I’ve held classroom-tech training sessions for my coworkers, covering topics such as Google Classroom and Google Single sign-on. Unfortunately, too many of my peers were slow to embrace these new avenues for teaching — so when the pandemic hit, it was sink or swim within a few weeks.

Many of the students in my district come from low-income and minority families. Nevertheless, it found the resources to provide every student at my school with a Chromebook and, where needed, a hotspot (for those who lacked an Internet connection at home). That the district could pull this feat off was pure luck. This past February, it had ordered and taken delivery of the new machines to replace aging and dying hardware.

The district also gave my school full access to high-quality educational software, including Raz-Kids (supports reading), IXL (math and language arts), and MobyMax. In past years, the subscription level for this software was set by each school. (Some chose to distribute their funds elsewhere.) Now, every student has equal access to these online learning tools — and the district went a step further by investing in Clever, a single-sign-on portal that lets students use one password for all online resources.

A day in the life … pandemic edition

I’m now into a month of distance teaching. A typical day looks like this: My students sign in to their Chromebooks with their Google/school-district credentials. They click the icon for Google Classroom, find the link for Zoom, and join my class at 8:30. We learn together for 30 minutes. This is kindergarten, so I use videos from YouTube and show hard-copy materials with my iPad. We play games and share work — and also do lots of audio muting and unmuting.

We end class by counting down from 10. After the Zoom class, I post an assignment in Google Classroom. I also include a video that walks my students through their assigned work.

A new mom, I teach three days a week from my classroom and two days a week from home. Given the daily stress we all face, it’s nice to have that flexibility.

Still a work in progress

As I mentioned above, my year-round school was something of a test case for the school district. But now my established workflow is changing. It’s September, and the traditional schools in my district are opening with a new MoU.

It wasn’t easy reaching an agreement between the district and the union. The sticking point? It wasn’t in-person versus distance, it was synchronous (live teaching via Zoom) versus asynchronous (worksheet, projects, etc.) — originally divided 20 percent/80 percent. My new MoU is now 45 percent synchronous time.

This is a dramatic change, but not necessarily a bad one — it should significantly increase the quality of learning. But it could be tough on parents who are juggling work, home learning for multiple kids, and everything else. Still, I’m thankful that my district erred on the side of caution early on. I believe it’s done its best to engage with distance learning in an organized and, most importantly, equitable way.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Kendra Capen teaches kindergarten in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. She loves applied technology that enriches her life and the lives of others. She is also a passionate crafter, and her most visited website is Ravelry.


Best of the Lounge

Patching survey — 2020

The results of Susan Bradley’s surveys of business and consumer patching are in. Forum members offer their thoughts on the conclusion — and patching in general. Check out Patching survey: Consumer — 2020 and Patching survey: Business — 2020 in the Lounge.

If you missed your chance to contribute to the surveys, you can still add your two cents.


SECURITY

It’s a fact of digital life. As hardware and software age, support drops off. Plus member Cybertooth has been manually downloading and installing Windows Defender updates on a Vista machine for the past two years. But as of August, even that option has disappeared. There’s an obvious solution, but Cybertooth wishes to know the why of the matter. Loungers offer suggestions. Do you still run Vista?


WINDOWS

Keeping both admin and standard user accounts on a PC is SOP. But setting up a new account is not something most of us do often. So it’s no surprise that Plus member LHiggins needed a refresher. Fellow Lounger Myst was all too happy to oblige, providing the information LHiggins needed. But as is usually the case, other forum members added other useful tips.


UPDATING

Plus member Alex5723 posted information on new microcode updates from Microsoft. What’s a “microcode update?” They’re bug fixes for Intel processors. Should you install them immediately? As with all updates, caution is the best policy. Join the discussion if you’d like to know more.


ANTI-MALWARE

Even experts need help from time to time. Apple guru Nathan Parker has been a longtime user of Webroot AV. But a recent upgrade to macOS Catalina has caused Webroot to misbehave. Nathan puts it to the forum: Is there a better anti-malware product? What do you use?


MAINTENANCE

Plus member Michael Austin swapped out an old spinning hard drive for a speedy solid-state model. But over a gigabyte of space seems to have disappeared. Michael asks fellow Loungers for tips on reclaiming that lost storage. Not surprisingly, Loungers “discuss” good third-party partition tools.


TROUBLESHOOTING

Plus member CT47 is learning the ropes of Windows 10. But a pre-installed copy of Windows Media Player is causing headaches. Can you point CT47 to some useful diagnostic tools?


If you’re not already a Lounge member, use the quick registration form to sign up for free.

Stories in this week’s PAID AskWoody Plus Newsletter
Become an ASKWOODY PLUS member today!

 

Fred Langa

LANGALIST

“Please insert boot media … ” Uh-oh!

By Fred Langa

It’s never good when your PC can’t find its startup files — or even its own hard drive!

But there’s almost always a way to get the PC back up and running. And some of the repairs take only minutes.


Amy Babinchak

SMALL-BUSINESS COMPUTING

Microsoft 365 privacy tools

By Amy Babinchak

I’ll assume that most AskWoody readers take their personal privacy seriously.

But how many of you extend your privacy concerns and actions to your work? Linked tightly with security, protecting business privacy extends to coworkers, clients, and all stored data.

In the past, Office has been both a critical business tool and a significant security risk. Fortunately, today’s Microsoft 365 for business has an excellent collection of robust security features.


Deanna McElveen

BEST UTILITIES

Freeware Spotlight — WinCustom

By Deanna McElveen

For me, searching for new software is like a never-ending treasure hunt. It’s also an opportunity to personalize Windows — to make my copy of the OS different from your copy.

I work on a profusion of different computers, from clients’ and friends’ systems to the family PCs. But when I set my coffee cup next to my computer, I want that comfortable feeling of knowing that it’s configured just the way I like it.

Regardless of whose machine it is, there are things in Windows you want (or need) to hide from others — novice users, kids, employees, and possibly even yourself. A good utility for making that task easier is the free and portable WinCustom from G-Software. It gives you some real power over the look and feel of Windows.


Publisher: AskWoody LLC (woody@askwoody.com); editor: Tracey Capen (editor@askwoody.com).

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