#kidscanteachus on Zoom

#sol21- June 8, 2021

BC (before Corona) I always opened up an afternoon or two (or more) to third graders having the chance to teach whatever they wanted to a small group. We would build the schedule together, where “teachers” decided how big a group they would manage, bring in any necessary supplies, and then have a time to teach.

Last week when we were planning the activities that we wanted to make sure we got to in our class I mentioned this as an option. After some jumping in then out and others waiting until the last day to decide to join we ended up having only three volunteer teachers this year. A taught how to make a fidget, L taught how to draw anime, and T taught tech tips. Their students joined them in a breakout room and for ten minutes or so they all were learning new things.

In the debrief afterward the teachers shared:

“It was hard because they couldn’t always see what I meant.”

“They did not always understand me well.”

“I had to say it again and again.”

The learners shared:

“I did not have everything I needed.”

“It was hard to see.”

“I did not know it would be so fun and I would learn so much.”

Now with only three days left I am wishing we had more chances to learn from each other. Such an awesome group- always wearing the hats of learner and teacher!

What Award Would You Get?

#sol21- June 1, 2021

We are winding down this long and complicated year and today I was reminded yet again how much I love this class! They are always up for new ideas. We had a unit Who We Are to start the year and now we are reflecting on how we have changed since then. They spoke on a Flipgrid to their peers and the teachers they will have next year.

Today, in part inspired by Pernille Ripp, I had the third graders create two awards- one they would give themselves as a reader this year and another for a book they read this year.

Here are the awards they have given themselves so far:

  • Best voices for every character
  • Late to graphic novels
  • Thinking about main characters and what they do
  • Books made me read more
  • Big reader
  • Reading more
  • Reading into the night
  • Actually reading sometimes this year
  • Better at inferring words I don’t know
  • Read a book until 12 am
  • Starting to read chapter books
  • 30 minute reader
  • Reading an hour a day, getting excited, and learning lots of new words
  • Ninja
  • 2 hour reader

These readers have grown in these ways and more this year, in spite of being online for more than half the year. In the coming days we will make reading plans for the break (they have already created a Jamboard with reading challenge ideas they would like to try). What’s not to love???

There Can Never Be Too Many Books!

#sol21-May 25, 2021

It is that time of year! Even though we are still in school (until June 11) we are online, so it is time to move classrooms again-ugh! This will be my third classroom in my fourth year at this school and to be honest, I have lost track of the number of classrooms in total. I have to say, it does not really seem to get easier.

At this school we are lucky to have absolutely amazing TAs who make the moving process as painless as possible. I have to be honest though- I have my own criteria for awesome… There are the people who walk in and say “Wow, you have a lot of books!” with awe and wonder in their voice and then there are those who say almost the same thing, but with, perhaps, a bit of a sneer or eye roll.

When the books were packed last week the TA who works with me was in on day one and set the bar high. The TA who was in the next day did her very best to keep her packing up to that high standard (and succeeded). Unpacking began today and the superstars of today asked for my system of organizing books, immediately earning star status too and we got so much done. We fit more into the classroom (even allowing for Covid distancing that seems likely to persist in August) than I might have guessed and the overflow fit (sort of, more or less) on a shelf just outside my room and the grade level piazza.

You know you have the right TAs when they pause over books, admire covers, flick through pages as they go. At least one left with a borrowed book today and others made promises of borrowing soon. I am so happy to be in the presence of other book lovers and as nervous as I am about moving to a new grade level seeing all my book friends in a new classroom gave me a little zing of excitement. I may have added about 40 new books to the library in the last two weeks… there really seems to be no stopping my book buying habit.

Meanwhile, my current class has extracted a promise from me that they will still be able to borrow books next year!

It Started with a Breeze

#sol21- May 18, 2021

It started with a breeze,

I ride my exercise bike each morning before dawn with the window open, so I can pretend I am outside,

The breeze wafted in, not too hot yet,

Usually when it is Zoom o’clock I close the window, because even living ten floors up it can get loud outside,

And that breeze, it often likes to push hot air inside,

Today it seemed to hum a little more quietly and the traffic outside kept me company all day,

The breeze ruffled the curtains, until it didn’t— then there was a shift,

The sky darkened, thunder boomed, the air closed in on me and the damp, rich scent of rain tickled my nose,

A few minutes later and many booms had passed, but that rainy perfume was gone

without it’s cooling promise, not even a lightning flash-

and there was the breeze again dancing with the curtains

Keeping me company even as the sun starts to set.

Student Voice

#sol21- May 11, 2021

I have been reminded of the importance of student voice and again today. We are finishing up four-week units on opinion writing and fictional character studies. We are online. We only have two teamwide literacy lessons a week. It was a challenge to decide how to squish in all that I hoped to accomplish in 8 lessons each for reading and writing. Some days it felt like it was all a bit out of reach- so little time, so much to do.

Today listening to third graders share what lessons Dyamonde had learned and how she resolved her big problem(s) (I chose Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel– it conveniently had 8 chapters, as our mentor text) I was wowed at how much they had learned as they used evidence from the text as they talked about how they knew the character had changed and what she drew on to make the change.

Then there was the writing unit. The students chose their topics- something they thought people should notice/appreciate or something they thought was a problem that should be addressed. Here is another place where their individuality came out. Problems ranged from air pollution to covid and bullying. There were many other things that the third graders thought should be appreciated- football, the sport field/gym, drawing, dogs as the ideal pet, Sunway Lagoon, butterflies, parents, food, books, bees, the library, Central Park, and me all made their writing. Their topics really mattered to them, and as a result they worked hard in this challenging time to push themselves in writing. They crafted but by bit, took on feedback and improved their work.

I was so impressed as I immersed myself in their thinking today. They were really giving their best at a time when it would be understandable to give up on online school. These third graders are making sure that their ideas were shared as effectively as possible. Our future is in good hands with these thinkers and advocates ready to take the lead.

The April 29 Experiment

#sol21- May 4, 2021

Do you have some author crushes where you are just sure if you met in person you would be good friends? I think some people make everybody feel like they would be a good friend, so that may be a part of it. Amy Krause Rosenthal is one of those people for me. Her picture books are full of voice and quirky. In March of 2017 she wrote an essay for The New York Times entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” published just before her death 10 days later at age 51 of ovarian cancer. This just felt to sad, as I (selfishly) never got to meet her and I went on a hunt for all things Amy Krause Rosenthal and I read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krause Rosenthal and then looked up all kinds of videos that she had created. She was a true creator and liked to make art and events. In Textbook Amy Krause Rosenthal she stated “On 4.29 at 4:29pm, text someone I love you. That is what I would like for my birthday each year.”

Well, each year since 2017 I set a reminder to do just this. Last Thursday when my alarm went off I was momentarily puzzled. The light slowly dawned and I immediately texted my mom, day, and two sons with that simple message.

Due to time zones there was no quick reply (all but one of them is in the US, so my afternoon is the middle of their night), but how lovely later in the evening to get their love messages back. Ironically my son who is in nearly the same time zone is notorious for not answering texts, so his response… well, I am still waiting for it… Sending the message felt especially poignant this year as I will not be able to travel back to the US this summer and have not seen my parents since July of 2019.

My mom’s response, “And I love you and miss you too. It’s been too long, thank goodness for texting and FaceTime at least.”

My dad: “Me too, Erika. Wish we could be together.”

My younger son, “Love you too! How is lockdown going?”

The April 29 Experiment filled my heart, yet again. Thanks to AKR for continuing to inspire.

A Few Small Moments

#sol21- April 27, 2021

It is always the right time to try something new, right? We have been in and out of online school this year with the latest round starting February 23. A few weeks ago I had a brilliant idea- student co-hosts on Zoom. I pick a learner via our ever popular cup of named popsicle sticks and the one chosen can continue to admit latecomers, remind students to keep cameras on, and be the one to share their screen to demonstrate something on the whiteboard- win-win! T was our first one and he brilliantly demonstrated partitioning a number line to place add corresponding fractions. Learners are rushing to be in on time because they know the stick is picked at exactly 8.

Play time has long been a thing at the end of our Zooms, even if only for a few minutes before learners who want extra support stay on Zoom to work together, but Friday afternoon Zooms are now extra special because everyone who wants to stay to play gets to be a co-host and they all scribble and draw on their whiteboards gleefully sharing with the others.

In preparation for April Fools Day a few weeks ago the learners who stayed to play wanted to be allowed to go into a breakout room to plan a prank. Several pranks were played and one never seems to lose its appeal as multiple learners enter with my profile picture and name.

Today’s small moment… They LOVE to use the chat, but are not always using it helpfully, so today I decided to have them all use the chat purposefully. “Think of one thing that has helped you get through this lockdown (we started a curfew April 14 and a very strict lockdown the next day).”

“Now I want you to type it in the chat, but do not press enter yet,” I shared. “I will count backwards from five and then say ‘go’ for you to press enter.”

“Can it be a person?” T asked.

“Sure, ” I confirmed.

I typed in my word and then began the countdown. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, enter.”

The words showed up and almost everyone listened when I reminded them that they should only share their word once.

“That was the coolest thing ever” L said. Yet another reminder why I love this class so much- all of these tiny things thrill them.

Our Turn Now

#sol21- April 20, 2021

Lockdown Blues

Lockdown in Phnom Penh,

Keeping an eye on numbers,

Trying to stay calm.

(A haiku is all I could muster today- our lockdown started April 15. Until about 8 weeks ago the Corona numbers here had been really low, but now… new restrictions keep being announced and…)

The Kindness of Strangers Means So Much

#sol21- April 13, 2021

I was surprised when the phone rang. My phone almost never rings- the last time was a random call from Lithuania (surely a scam call). I glanced at the number- it was local and I was pretty sure I had seen the number before, sooo…

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello, ma’aam, DHL. I’m here, are you home?”

I was confused- I knew that there were two deliveries from Amazon due today (I know, I would much rather not get books via Amazon, but they do manage to get me most of the books I want at double the cost, here is Phnom Penh), but the delivery address was my school.

“I am not at school, but you can leave it with the guards,” I said.

“No, no- are you at home?” he asked.

“I am, but the address you have is my work address and you can leave the packages there,” I insisted.

He went on for a bit longer, but I was convinced that I had been clear and he would leave the packages with the guards at school, as it has happened this way in the past.

It is Khmer New Year break and we are teaching online anyway, so I knew I would get the books eventually.

Not too long later I got a message.


This is XXXX at the Secondary Office and a DHL delivery man asked me for a favor to contact you regarding your package from overseas. As security guard didn’t accept the package on behalf of you, the DHL man will hold it until after Khmer New Year. But he can deliver it to your house if you request the DHL office and provide them with your current address.”

Whaaa??? I may have cried a little- this super kind delivery man and the way he reached out to a contact who could in turn reach out to me- I do not know either of these people, wow!

A few messages later to the person in the secondary office at my school (who I do not know, who is on break) and I had the number for the DHL office and the waybill numbers of the deliveries.

I HATE to make phone calls- especially when I am pretty sure I will not be clearly understood, so I immediately took the plunge.

I dialed and the woman who answered spoke in a mixture of Khmer and English, so I forged ahead in English and explained my dilemma. She asked a few questions and took down the information.

“It can’t be delivered until tomorrow, sister,” she said. (Sister is a polite term here.)

“Thank you so much! Thank you for all of your help and thank you for speaking English. You have been so very kind and patient.”

When I got off the phone I cried a bit more. How could these people be so kind, to me, this stranger?!

I immediately texted the phone number of the delivery man who had called me to express my thanks.

Later I looked up which books will be arriving and I know that having them here will enrich my break.

I am constantly overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, especially during this weird pandemic time. When I have moments like this I am reminded of the kind of person I want to be- kinder than necessary, for sure!

(As a bonus, I am totally confident that the packages will arrive).

When Your Teacher Brain Is on Overdrive

I finally stepped away from the computer, the siren call of approving “just one more” Seesaw post echoing in my brain. I grabbed my lunch from the oven (pupusas, yum!) and gratefully pulled my book open (Halfway to Harmony- if you teach grades 3-6 I heartily recommend it!). I was determined to have a 15 minute break from the screen!

The crispy outside demanded my full concentration so that lunch would end up on the floor, when what, to my horror, should happen…my school brain fired up…

Fractions, of course, it is that time of year in third grade! Do you have that happen too? Once you are teaching something you see it EVERYWHERE!?

This afternoon I was trying to explain the problem to my third graders. I said, “I was all settled down for a relaxing lunch, when I had a problem!”

I showed picture 1. “It looks yummy,” A called out.

“Yes, it was! But before I tasted it I did this…” and I showed the second picture.


” You made fractions!”

“You ate fractions!”One after another they saw my problem- fractions are taking over our lives.

“Who else ran into fractions today?” I asked and a few students described their encounters.

“Are we reading a book today?” A asked (we always do in our afternoon Zoom).

“Of course, ” I replied, ” back to our regularly scheduled programming.”

Wouldn’t you know it, but we managed to find a way to talk about fractions even in the book we read. At least I know they will encounter fractions in their life outside school. I see this all as a sign that I am ready for a brea- my teacher brain needs a rest (3 more days, not that I am counting… ).