The 2021 Kevie Awards Part 1

The Kevie Awards are back. Join me as I reflect on the worst year of teaching I hope I ever have to experience. I'll do my best to be positive when appropriate! In part one see who wins for Best Binge, Best Tech Hack, Best New Lesson and Biggest Frustration!

Best Binge

Arrested Development Seasons 2 and 3 - I reached a point this year where I was exhausted and just needed to laugh. When in doubt, turn to the funniest show ever made. I hadn’t watched Arrested Development in awhile. I’ve seen seasons 1-3 at least 3 times and likely many more when counting afternoon reruns. Seasons 4 and 5 were once-throughs that honestly made me forget how hilarious Seasons 2 and 3 are. Season 2, in particular, has some of the flat-out best episodes of any show, ever. I think the Uncle Jack episode might just be the funniest 22 minutes ever made. I loved rewatching so much it almost got me to rewatch 4 and 5. Almost.

Ozark - Shortly after finishing AD I finally got back into Ozark. I liked season 1 but never went back to it. I was immediately sucked in. The characters are fantastic. The tension is real but not often too overdone. It is grounded more firmly in reality than that other good-guy-turned-criminal-show that people love so much (minus that absolutely ridiculous story arc with Wyatt…). Last year I said Better Call Saul was better than Breaking Bad. This year, I’m saying Ozark is. I was all in from episode 1 of season 2 and can’t wait for season 4.

Erased - My anime pick for the year. Anime was a huge topic in my class chatrooms most days. Early on I watched My Hero Academia which I enjoyed but didn’t love. I watched Demon Slayer over the Summer and loved it. I tried some of the other ones the students were talking about and just couldn’t connect. I saw Erased on a recommended list and gave it a shot. It is emotionally heavy and mentally stimulating. It’s short with just one season but it stayed with me quite a bit. In my limited anime experience I’d put it at the top of my all-time list. (I just wish the final villain reveal had gone differently…)

And the Kevie goes to…

Erased - If you’ve never understood the appeal of anime, try this show. It takes the naive-young-hero trope that is at the core of so much anime and, almost literally, does the opposite. It rivals the best psychological thrillers I’ve seen and adds a touch of sci-fi while dealing with intense themes like abuse and loss. It’s so, so good.

Best Broken Appliance

Refrigerator - August 2020

Washing Machine - October 2020

Air Conditioner - May 2021

And the Kevie goes to…

Lowe’s - Nothing to say here except that I had to replace 3 major appliances in the last year and paint my house - not fun. We really should do a better job preparing kids for home ownership. I will definitely find a way to fit budgeting and life skills into my senior economics class!

Best New Lesson

Hamilton: Act 1 - I didn’t create many new lessons this year as mostly I was in survival mode every day just updating my existing lessons to work with distance learning for my 5 (!) preps. Still, I hadn’t taught US 8 in a couple years and wanted to bring Hamilton more deeply into the course. I made this hyperdoc that has 20 mini-activities attached to 10 of the songs from the first act of the play. I had lots of help from colleagues on Twitter which made it all the more cool. Students were a bit overwhelmed by the size of it so in the future I might break it into two files but overall it went great. It made Hamilton a regular reference point throughout our study of American history.

Rundown Redux - At the end of first semester my analysis showed my students had not learned how to write argumentative paragraphs (I call them Rundowns) satisfactorily. Some of my colleagues didn’t bother to try teaching it in this awful learning setting but I doubled-down. I once again received great support from my Twitter colleagues. I created a hyperdoc with mini-activities for each of the 3 parts of the Rundown (Claim, evidence and reason.) It closed with students writing a review for a product on Amazon using the C-E-R format. Kids enjoyed the lesson and, more importantly, it worked. Their Rundowns improved immediately. It worked!

Soul: Sparks - I watched very few movies this year (because there were very few movies this year) but one I saw that blew me away was Soul. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that it was made by the man who created Inside Out - the greatest movie ever made. I knew Soul was about passion and life beyond what we see but I had no idea it would tie so perfectly into my curriculum. The movie is about a search for sparks which is also a unit in my elective class. I got to work remaking my unit theming it around the movie. It came out better than I expected and students loved it.

And the Kevie goes to…

Rundown Redux - When a lesson single-handedly changes the narrative of my classroom in a positive way I know it’s a hit. Before this students groaned at Claim-Evidence-Reason writing. They were struggling with it and that turned into disgust. This lesson reframed Rundowns at something both fun and achievable. Walls fell and students improved very quickly at their writing. This is one I’ll use for the rest of my career no matter what level I teach.

Best Tech Hack

Direct Sound in Google Meet - In November I had to switch from Zoom to Google Meet. For reasons that I still do not accept, students were convinced Zoom was causing them to lag. It made me sad. Zoom has excellent green screen background support and, even more importantly, the ability to share direct PC audio. Meet can only share audio when doing tab sharing and from one tab at a time. So, any time I was showing a PowerPoint the audio had to just be picked up by the microphone which sounds awful. Further, if I wanted to share one tab and play music from another, I couldn’t. That meant, my Preshow that I had spent so much time making, had to run in silence. Yuck. Eventually, I learned about this simple hack that let me play audio directly from the PC through Meet. It still isn’t as easy as Zoom, but it works and it made my sound and presentation significantly better through Meet. Here's how to do it!

Tables in Google Slides - Digitizing assignments can be very time consuming. Early on I was working mostly in Google Slides using Master Slides so students didn’t have to worry about clicking on the wrong boxes when trying to input information. This process is quite time consuming as it involves lots of flipping back and forth between slides. Then I learned that if I just put a blank Table wherever I wanted students to input information then things worked quite well. Tables hold their size and shape (which empty text boxes do not) and require only a single click from students with no delay to start editing. This tiny hack improved my workflow tremendously.

Google Slides as a Planner/Calendar - Our LMS calendar does not integrate with Google Calendar. I stubbornly refused to make a second calendar so my LMS did not have the best organization for the last couple years. Then I came across a planner template from SlidesMania and things fell into place. I placed links to the daily chat, attendance form and assignment on individual slides. On the cover slide I had the 5 days of the week. I embedded the Slides presentation on the LMS and not only did it keep things nicely organized in one place, but it added some design and color elements that made the page much more appealing.

And the Kevie goes to…

Direct Sound in Google Meet - This was a long year. It would have been significantly longer if I couldn’t do the things I do to make my classroom magical. Starting each day with background music was such an important part of that. If I had lost that my room would not have had the even limited amounts of excitement and energy that it did. Bonus points for this hack making it seem like I had magic powers that other teachers couldn’t match. My students really appreciated my efforts in making my show look and sound as professional as possible.

Biggest Frustration

Apathy - Apathy is always frustrating. This year it nearly did me in. I came close, on multiple occasions, to just throwing up my hands and giving up. It is always tempting to take the easy path and just assign reading and worksheets instead of taking the time to create and host the inquiry-based lessons I do. It was really hard this year when I saw that most of my students’ other teachers had done so. It was even harder when no matter how much effort I put in more than half my students weren’t going to engage. I had a day where we talked about Ninjas all day where 7 kids one period logged in and then disappeared, presumably to watch Netflix. We had a pirate day complete with treasure maps and silly songs where less than half of kids played along. I even literally had a day where we played video games and I couldn’t get more than 17 kids out of 35 to log into the game. I know the “in” thing to say is that it wasn’t the kids’ fault this year. Well, yes it was. I had some kids who managed to make it work every day, even from the car. Could we have done more as a system to help them? Absolutely, as I will address, but that doesn’t excuse them from responsibility. It was brutal.

Attendance and Engagement - Despite the apathy, I had to lie every single day and report those students as present and engaged. Multiple times throughout the year a student would not be online when I took attendance and did not engage in chat once throughout the entire period. I’d mark them absent and then get an email from our attendance clerk saying a parent had called insisting the student was there. Perhaps if that parent spent their energy insisting their student engage in class somehow then I’d know they were there. I had to check and recheck multiple attendance lists every day to try to catch every kid who logged in for any time more than zero seconds. Then, I had to report they were fully engaged for 80 minutes, even when our periods were shortened to 45 minutes. The whole system was built on lies so the state and district could pass on the lies to trick parents into thinking the online teaching thing was working. It wasn’t. If we had been honest from the jump I believe we would have avoided many of the issues that built up over the year.

Lack of Respect - Middle schoolers often aren’t the most respectful bunch. They need training in how to not be selfish. I don’t blame them, it’s developmental. Take that natural tendency to narcissism and remove their opportunities to interact with others and you end up with a year where I’d have kids email me at 2 AM telling me they turned in an assignment that was over a month late then email me back again the next morning demanding to know when I’d grade it. I even got an email the day after school got out with a student saying, “I turned in a bunch of work and I know you don’t have much going on now so could you grade it please?” Ugh. I am truly worried that as we, both kids and adults, do more and more of our interacting with screens and not each other this is going to get worse.

And the Kevie goes to…

Attendance and Engagement - I knew this was going to be a problem before school even began. It came up in every staff and department meeting. It didn’t matter. The higher ups didn’t care. They wanted to make it seem like everything was going great so parents would stay quiet. It robbed kids of high expectations and turned me into a liar. Nothing made me want to quit more than this year than posting these made up numbers every single day. Disgusting.

Read part 2 with awards for Best Tech Tool, Worst Thing and Best JackboxTV Game!