JBB’s Final Thoughts Episode 40: Well, That Didn’t Go As Planned
2019-2020 School Year recap/4 Years at Fitzgerald Recap/COVID19 Pandemic recap
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Joe Bustillos here.
I began writing this post a couple weeks ago, just after I posted my last unit of the school year, UNIT15: Stop-Motion Animation (Home Edition). I had introduced Stop-Motion Animation as an optional activity before we began “remote learning,” and immediately I began exploring how to translate the activity into a “home edition” activity.
I’ve been doing online learning since I got my masters degree from Pepperdine online in 2002. It was a bit of a challenge to work online in 2001-2002. Pepperdine gave us a list or standard of technology that we needed to have to participate in the program. It wasn’t cheap and it took a concentrated effort to get it all up and running. In part, the complication came from the university having to support every kind of Windows PC and Macintosh computer that came through the door the first time we got together for a week-long face-to-face boot camp at the beginning of the school year, to test everything out before we went back to our homes across the country to finish the rest of the program online.
When I went to work at Full Sail University in 2008, teaching in one of their fully online programs, they addressed the technology problem by making a deal with Apple and setting up each and every student with a new MacBook Pro and needed software as part of their tuition. I’m sure that was even more expensive but a lot less heartburn working with one vendor versus whatever came in the door. One thing both methods had in common was months and months of planning, training, and testing of equipment and software before anything was ready to begin. Also, both programs from the beginning were designed to conduct education online that was expected to be of the same quality and scholarship as traditional on-campus programs. And, it should also be noted that we were working with adults who chose to get their degree in an accelerated online program.
Things were much different when CCSD schools shut down in mid-March. On campus my school was proudly one-to-one Chromebooks and had just upgraded all of the computers in the three computer labs (thanks state testing!). But right up to the day we left campus it was still a bother to get my upper grade students to login to Google classroom and successfully do the activity without my personal intervention. And that was when we were in the STEAM Lab together, with 11 computers, 30 iPads and a good internet connection.
Once school closures began we quickly learned that the majority of our families did not have adequate technology at home to get the job done. Nonetheless, my fellow educators began calling homes, checking in on their students. I put together the spreadsheet where they could record which contact information was current and working and we were all directed to post a record of every contact we made, the expectation being that we’d reach every student every week if not more frequently. Remember my previous frustration getting upper grade students to use Google Classroom when we were all together, yeah, so I focused on getting student login accounts up and running and sharing that information with their home room teachers. The music teacher had been using SeeSaw in the classroom and it seemed like a good fit for the primary students, so most primary teachers worked together to get their students communicating on SeeSaw and the rest of us used Google Classroom.
Then the local Internet Service Provider, Cox, stepped in offering WiFi for free for three months and then $10 a month after that. The district setup local Wifi hubs using school buses that would provide an hour’s worth of Internet connection every day. Toward the middle of April the district began distributing Chromebooks to families to meet the technology need at home. It was amazing seeing teachers work together, gather working contact information and keep the ball rolling. That said, a lot of kids/families have slipped through the cracks. I had one fourth grader email me when I began writing this post, telling me to stop sending her or her mother “stuff about stupid seesaw.” Out of over 350 students, 96 have checked in and participated. Whatever it was that I was hoping to do with the last nine weeks of the school year, was reduced to mostly check-ins and this re-purposed Stop-Motion Animation unit. As proud as I am at the efforts I’ve seen from my fellow teachers, this certainly wasn’t how I hoped the school year would end.
Sadly this isn’t anything approaching the quality of face-to-face education. Some think that it’s foolish to entertain the notion that online or remote learning can ever compare to face-to-face learning. But I know from my own experience as an online learner and online teacher over the past 20-years that it can still be effective, useful and life-changing. But you can’t expect that to happen over-night and unplanned.
One of the benefits of every student on-campus is that every student has the same access to the teacher, the curriculum and the facility. And having worked with this group of students and teachers for the past four years I can proudly say that they are good people who come in every day and give it a go regardless the challenges at home. I’m sure most conscientious teachers would say the same thing about their students. Alas, what this attempt at remote learning has demonstrated is that things are hardly equal when it comes to students working from home. The students from the richer neighborhoods probably don’t have an issue getting online, having personal technology to use, or even how many siblings and cousins they have to share their bedroom with.
I guess what I’m struggling to say is that I’m proud of the work that my fellow teachers did and the students who found a way to check in and that the “educational problems” exposed by this pandemic aren’t really educational. These students learn just as well as any students in any part of the district. These teachers are just as talented and dedicated as any other group of teachers in the district. Delivering and creating curriculum, the business of learning isn’t the problem. The problem is what happens when our students leave campus and go to their homes. The problem is this inequality that we’ve put up with and tried to work around. The problem isn’t educational, it’s sociological. It’s the fact that you can be a screw up all the way through college and turn out okay, depending on the neighborhood you grew up in. Or you have to have a plan about what you are going to be by third grade, by nine-years-old, because any mistake you or your family may make along the way and you won’t get a second chance. We work around that reality, but you really can’t work around it when you can’t contact students because they don’t have the technology at home, and they live in an unequal world.
It’s a huge problem. And everyone is going to want for things to return to the way they were before, when we could work around the inequity. And while that is better than having 2/3rds of your students never check-in, this can be an opportunity to address that much of what some might think of as educational problems are not educational at all, but our willingness to let many of our fellow citizens and those who have come here for a better life, our willingness to let them get less opportunity than others based on nothing more than their damn zip code. It doesn’t have to be this way.
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2016-2020 Remembering Fitzgerald
Next school year I’m beginning a new chapter at a different school, teaching mostly robotics at the middle school level. But I wanted to end this podcast remembering some of the experiences of the past four years, making friends and learning tons with the folks at HP Fitzgerald with the following video segment. If you are listening to the audio version of this podcast, you’re going to want to watch the video version at my JBB’s Final Thoughts YouTube channel. Again, Adios Fitzgerald and in the words of one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, goodbye and thanks for all the fish.