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How to Teach Math in a Hybrid Schedule

I think we math teachers can all agree that in some ways teaching math is easier than teaching other subjects. We don't have to grade essays, for example. Our grading is a lot less subjective and generally takes less time than our peers' in the humanities departments.

However, when there's a pandemic and the world is turned upside down, well, teaching math becomes quite challenging. Math is a lot of "show and tell."  Math teachers have to write on the board a lot. But if suddenly are in your home by yourself and your students are in their homes by themselves, well, you have to figure out another way to "show" the mathematics.

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Now that the school year has started again (and it's still not safe for everyone to return to school), my school has decided to do a hybrid schedule.

How does our Hybrid Schedule work?

My school does a six-day rotating schedule. During four of the six days, 5 classes meet per day. On the other two days, only 4 classes meet per day and the extra hour is for chapel or assemblies.

They opted *not* to change this rotating schedule during the hybrid learning time.

During hybrid, only students with last names beginning with A-K came to campus on the first day of school; last names L-Z were home doing virtual learning. The next day they switched, and the cycle continues. 

Yes, it's crazy. The craziest part is that because of our rotating schedule, one week I might see my Calculus classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday and the next week Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. So there are weeks where I will only see some students in person once a week and online twice a week. Are you tired yet? Me too.

What are the expectations?

  • We have to take attendance at the beginning of the period. 

  • We have to keep the students at home engaged for most of the period. 

      • Suggestions have been made to do a 15-minute large group instruction, 15-minute breakout rooms, 15-minute independent work time, and a final 15-minute large group. But, I haven't been doing that. It's only been a week so far, so maybe that will happen.

How do the students at home see the lesson?

The short answer is that I teach the lesson on a computer, have the computer join the Google Meet, and share the screen. Scroll down to read more.

How do the students in the classroom see the lesson?

The short answer is that the computer that is sharing the screen is also connected to the projector. Scroll down for more details.

What technology am I using?

First, I want to talk about what did not work, then I will share what *is* working for me, and finally, I will share what some of my colleagues are doing.

What devices did NOT work for me:

  • Using a webcam. The school provided webcams for those of us that wanted one. The idea is to connect the webcam to a student's laptop that is in the middle or the back of the room, have that student's computer join the Google Meet, and share the webcam feed so that students at home can see what is going on in the classroom.

      • What I didn't like about the webcam. The webcam was nothing fancy - is the basic type that was popular in the early 2000s. So only a portion of the whiteboard could be seen. I could have the student helper move the laptop and camera so that the math that I was doing could be seen, but I didn't want to put extra responsibility on a student. I could only write with a black or juicy red marker - otherwise, it was difficult for the students at home to read my handwriting on the whiteboard.

  • A Snowball microphone. The purpose of the microphone was related to the webcam; if the camera was in the back of the room attempting to film me writing on the board, then I wanted to make sure the students at home could hear me. Again, the school provided the microphone.

      • What I didn't like about the microphone. It was a very cool-looking microphone, which reminded me of microphones used on radio shows in the 1940s. But when it was given to me, it wasn't what I envisioned. I thought it would be a lapel microphone.
        • The snowball microphone was too much - the room is fairly small and the built-in microphone on the computer worked fine. Plus, once I decided that I didn't like the setup with the webcam, the microphone became pointless.

  • An iPad with a digital pen. Several years ago the school gave me an iPad Air (1st generation) because I used to teach regularly with the iPad (and an app called Doceri). I bought a new digital pen for the iPad hoping that it would allow me to rest my wrist on the screen while writing on the iPad. Unfortunately, the iPad is too old to allow that to happen.

        • What I didn't like about the iPad. Not being able to rest my wrist on the iPad while I write on it was the deal-breaker. If I didn't have another option to try, I would have stuck with the iPad. A couple of my colleagues are using iPads with success (scroll down to read more).

    What devices DID work for me

    In the end, I decided to use my personal tablet/PC. It's a Lenovo IdeaPad Flex that I had bought for myself in January 2020 before the pandemic started. I love my tablet/PC purely because I can write on it! It came with a very nice stylus and I can rest my wrist on the screen while I write.

    It took some experimenting so here's how I am making it work:

    Behind the scenes:

    My lessons are in PowerPoint, but I don't like writing on the PowerPoint presentation because it's not as user-friendly as Microsoft OneNote.

    1) Tweak the PowerPoint keeping in mind that the animation will not work when I send it to OneNote. Sometimes tweaking it means that instead of animation, I add a fill-in-the-blank part of a definition.

    2) Send the PowerPoint presentation to OneNote - this is in the Print options.

    3) Prepare the "skeleton notes." Upload them to my website (preferably the day before the lesson at least) so that the students at home can print them. Make copies of the skeleton notes for the students that will be in the classroom.
      • I often give my students "skeleton notes" that have the overall frame of the lesson including some definitions, diagrams, and the examples, but not the complete worked solution.

    4) Be sure to have a copy of my notes with the solutions on hand.

    During class:

    1) Join the Google Meet with my school-issued MacBook so that I can see the students. Turn on the microphone, speakers, and camera. Set that computer to the side. I am the only one that can see the students at home. The students at home can see me AND they can see my OneNote lesson simultaneously - depending on their layout settings in Google Meet.

    2) Join the Google Meet with my tablet/PC, mute the microphone, speakers, and camera, and share the screen.

    3) Connect the tablet/PC to the projector in the room.

    4) Open OneNote on my tablet/PC, annotate my lesson while the students in the room and the students at home can see it simultaneously.

    Socially distant in the classroom and masks required.

    What is working

    The first couple of days I had a backward setup. I was connecting my MacBook to the projector so that the students in the room could see the students at home and my OneNote screen (albeit on a smaller scale). 

    I didn't like that the students in the room could see the students at home, but the students at home could NOT see the students in the room. Also, I overheard students say they didn't like knowing their face was on the "big screen" (the projector) when they were at home.

    With this new setup of having the tablet/PC connected to the projector, it makes a lot more sense.

    On the MacBook I can see the students at home and a small-scaled version
    of what my tablet/PC is showing. The students at home see the same - depending
    on what layout they chose in Google Meet.

    What my colleagues are doing

    Two colleagues have a similar setup as me, but each has their own Microsoft Surface.

    One colleague bought herself a new iPad Pro and uses the Good Notes app.

    Another colleague bought an iPad Air (3rd generation) and a digital pen. I'm not sure what software or app she's using for annotation. 
        • She found a clever way to get her iPad screen to show on her computer screen: 
        1. Connect the iPad to the MacBook with the same USB cable that you use to charge the iPad (or iPhone).
        2. Open QuickTime Player, start a new movie, next to the record button you can choose the source of the movie - choose the iPad.
        3. Then in the Google Meet you can share that screen!

    Two other colleagues are using Wacom drawing tablets to annotate their screens.

    A colleague that is not comfortable with technology is using the built-in camera on her computer to show what is being shown on her projector. The projector is showing what she has under her document camera (every classroom in the school has a document camera). 

      • The students can see her hand while she is going through her examples on paper under the document camera.
      • She has had complaints that the students at home cannot hear her well because she is wearing a mask and standing 6 or 7 feet away from the computer so she is experimenting with headsets and lapel microphones. The problem with that, however, is that the students in the room will not be able to hear any questions that the students at home ask.

    In general, it's been very challenging for everyone to find a system that works for them. We have only been in school for one week and between remembering all the new steps required for teaching a lesson, cleaning the desks at the end of every period, and lunch duty to monitor social distancing, I am exhausted!

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