Routines and the first week of classes

After an extra week of spring break, after all of the planning and worrying and scrambling and course-modifying, spring term classes started on Monday.

So far, it’s going….ok. I have my first synchronous meeting with my class later today, so I’ve only interacted with some of them via email and Slack at this point. I have a short activity planned that sets up the next asynchronous activity they’ll complete, but I suspect that most of the meeting will involve all of us getting used to being online together, and answering questions about the class. And we’re only meeting for 30 minutes, which is not a lot of time.

I’m still trying to figure out what an “appropriate” amount of asynchronous work is per week. I doubt I will get this exactly right at any point this term. I am trying to be ok with that.

I managed to put all of my students on teams, based on time zone and working hours preferences. There were 2 students who didn’t respond to my pre-term survey (and, I just checked, who haven’t even accessed the Moodle page for the course yet), so I had to make my best guesses for them. (Note to self: reach out to them after finishing this post!) One student dropped the course immediately after I made the team assignments (I am pretty sure those events were independent), and I suspect I may have to do a bit of team-shuffling if others drop. I’ll admit: this part of course administration was difficult for me, because I’ve developed a team formation activity that I adore that I had to abandon this term. There isn’t the time, or the space, or the ability to carry out this exercise virtually, so I had to make do with imperfect data. Which, come to think of it, is kind of the theme of this term.

So far, I’m giving my video lecturing skills a C+. My least favorite, and least effective, ways of teaching are (a) lecture and (b) slides, so this is not a shock. I may have found a compromise: slides, but presented using Explain Everything so that I can scribble on them to my heart’s content. (And now that I have a decent stylus, scribbling should be easier for me to do and for my students to read.)

My kids, who also got a bonus week of spring break as their school district moved learning online, started back last week, so they’ve had a week to find and settle in to a routine of sorts. Having their routine set is helping me immensely as I try to figure out my routine for the term.

One thing that works in my favor: everyone else in my family is a night owl, and I’m a morning person. So I have a couple of hours of reliable, uninterrupted work time in the mornings. I’ve started doing some screencasts and other recordings since the house is quiet and I won’t be interrupted during part of that block (the other part I reserve for research). But since I’m still in my pajamas, I haven’t done any recordings with me on video during that time.

Last week, as the kiddos started online learning, we quickly learned that one of us needs to be actively supervising the 3rd grader, who struggles with attention and focus and has some combination of IEP and 504 plans in place for a variety of reasons. 10am to noon is “school time” for the kids. During that time slot I work in the same room as the 3rd grader, so that I can help him stay on track, plan what to do and in what order, answer questions about what his teacher likely means, and provide some semblance of quality control. The 7th grader has started hanging out with us in that room, too, so it’s like a little homeschool party in the mornings. This means, however, that I can’t get any deep work done, so I reserve that time to catch up on email and do some of the less taxing administrative work for my course and for my STEM Director job.

My spouse, in turn, takes the kiddos outside in the afternoon between his meetings, so that I get a bit of an uninterrupted break to work on deeper tasks. Or, increasingly, to attend my own online meetings. The kids are pretty self-directed, but left to their own devices they tend to…spend all their time on devices. So we do have to do some redirection during their free time, because there is such a thing as too much TikTok and too much Minecraft.

The uncertainty is the toughest thing to deal with at this point. We have a routine that mostly works. Will we be doing this for a couple more weeks? The rest of the school year? Next fall? It’s that sense of not knowing that makes it difficult to fully settle into our ways of working and spending our free time. And the uncertainty definitely casts a pall over everything we’re doing right now.

I’m curious to see how the rest of the week goes, and particularly how my first synchronous class goes. I suspect that next week will feel different from this week, as the novelty wears off and as reality sets in. I wonder about sustaining our energy and engagement levels, with this degree of change and angst and worry.

I hope I’m up to the challenge.