Monday, March 2, 2015

Taking Read Across America Literally (OR How To Stress Yourself Out And Dress Like the Cat in the Hat at the Same Time)

Today was Read Across America.

I was in charge of Read Across America. Why? Because it's my favorite school holiday ever. It's Halloween but with Dr Seuss. And Dr Seuss is the greatest author ever. The equation is simple:

Seuss cosplay + Seuss books = Happy Dougie

This year I decided to make things extra difficult on myself. Normally I send a few weeks working with the librarians and anyone else who wants to help finding members of the community like firefighters, cops, councilpeople, school board members, etc who are willing to come to my school and read to our kids.

This year I had a baby seven weeks ago. And I forgot to start planning. Because baby. Yes, I'm absolutely blaming my lack of preparation on new baby. Stuff gets shifted and forgotten when there's a squish at home.

So I was unplanned. And in a meeting with my VP I said, "I'm on top of it. It's not for a few weeks." At which point she showed me how calendars work and I thought, "Awww, crap. I'm screwed."

I ran to the twitters for help. I built a schedule in Google Spreadsheets taking into account everything that would be in everyone's way (I thought, I forgot about computer lab and how just because lunch ends at 11:40 that doesn't mean you're back at class at 11:40), posted it to twitter, and said, "HALP! Find a teacher and a time that works for you! Don't forget I'm in Pacific Standard Time!"

Damned if twitter didn't respond. After a few hours half the schedule was filled up. By the next day even more of it. Soon I had only a few spots left that I was able to fill with humans from my area. But most of the Read Across America readers would be coming to classrooms via Google Hangout.

I don't know about your staff. Maybe they are all tech-savvy. Maybe this plan wouldn't be any kind of an issue for your school. For my school this was very nearly a real dumbass plan. We do not have the most technologically comfortable teachers. Not all of them! Some are fine with computers. They aren't scared of breaking the internet. They are cool troubleshooting. They knew what I meant when I said "GHO" instead of "Google Hangout". They knew what I meant when I said "Google Hangout" instead of "a video call on your computer."

Some...not so much with the comfort or familiarity.

I had less than a week to prepare them. Here's the thing. I think GHO is really easy. I find the program intuitive and easy to troubleshoot. I also recognize that I'm in the minority. So I made a Slideshow and shared it with my staff going through every possible step I thought they might need, while also keeping it brief enough to not be scary.

I almost nailed it. So close.

I sent multiple emails to my staff last week. "Please please try this out with each other before Monday. Please email your readers, you have their contact information. Please please please hook up your Chromebooks and make sure you won't have any questions on the day."

Teachers are a lot like students.

Some did and I was able to help. Some didn't and I had emails Monday morning like, "We don't have the right cord to do this with the new Chromebooks." Ok good. I'm about to start teaching but I'll be down at recess or lunch to see what the hell that could possibly mean. We got the cord thing worked out, by the way.

Final verdict- It went better than I expected. I never expected it to go perfectly. I feared mass failure and pitchforks and anger at the blue-haired teacher who thinks tech is sooo easy for everyone. There was no mass failure. There were failures, but this is a first time thing, basically a giant experiment where I forced my staff to be guinea pigs. Fail happens. There were problems I didn't anticipate and problems I did but they didn't notice that I had.

The main issue was calls not connecting. I have seen that GHO does that. Sometimes you make a call and it says it's ringing and the person on the other end isn't seeing the ringing. I don't know why it does that. I do know that when it does that you stop, hang up, and try again a different way. A bunch of teachers did that. "I'm not sure how I got it to work but I started pushing buttons and it worked," one told me. Perfect. That's not far from what I would have done to help you. The less tech comfortable or patient teachers, and I'm not blaming them, gave up on the call. It happens, that's fine. I think there are things they could have tried but it's cool. I'm sorry to the readers that were supposed to read and never got connected.

One teacher or reader I think missed the pacific standard time thing. One read my schedule backwards, thinking she had a live reader when she had a GHO reader. And one told me she had a schedule conflict Monday morning.

The other common question was, "Why does the projector just show more of the Chromebook background but not the Hangout?" I heard this nearly a dozen times walking around collecting feedback after school. A TON of my teachers had no idea the screen extended when plugged into a projector. I swear I put it in my slideshow, but didn't want to say, "I told you this would happen," because they were asking for help very nicely. But I did tell them. It's the second slide. It's cool, most of them figured it out.

Those who did connect loved it. They were thrilled to talk to other teachers in other places. Their kids loved seeing the readers. It was awesome. I cannot thank everyone who tried enough. We took Read Across America literally. Readers from Washington to Virginia to Chicago. And beyond America! My class had an Aussie and an American in the United Arab Emirates. Talk about a lesson in time zones! Poor Jordan. "What time is it there?" my kids asked.

Jordan rubs his eyes, "It's 12:30am here." My kids don't understand. I show them a globe and how he's directly on the other side of it. He's calling from Tuesday.

My other non-American reader was Kim Sutton of Australia, who called from 7am Tuesday Aussie time. The future again!

Lindsey is less special. She just called from a few hours in the future. Kidding Linds, it was excellent.

Thank you to everyone who went out of their way to make this stupid big undertaking a success. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you showing what truly connected educators can do.

My call-in readers were Andrew Mead, Lisa Berghoff, Ashley Gravelle, Ryan Winklemann, Lindsey Lipsky, Kimberly Sutton, Ross LeBrun, Stephanie Robertson, Jordan Lanfair, Kory Graham, Travis Phelps, Dana Hsi, Grace Bedient, Sam Bates, Sarah Thomas, and Jessica Lifshitz. Find those people on twitter and show them all the love.

Special thank you to Jordan for the book. It means a lot. And everyone should know that Sarah Thomas was stuck at home because of snow so she read her class a book she wrote and illustrated when she was in second grade. I think that wins Read Across America book choices.

This is how tech works in the future. And even teachers scared of tech, teachers who had never done it before, managed to pull it off.

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