Monday, February 1, 2021

Hey students, what do you think?

In my 13 years of teaching high school, I believe I've been in the homes of zero students. Yep. Nada. Zilch. Nobody.

I've run into students at Trader Joe's, Target, Starbucks, the driving range and random public places, and I have embraced "the art of the awkward conversation with my teacher." Love that stuff!

With online only school, that has changed. I unwittingly have found myself in my students' homes via Zoom, and I see glimpses of home lives that I never aspired to see. In unexpected ways, I have gotten to understand my students better this year than in a conventional classroom, and maybe that is some sort of silver lining. 

As an educator, my approach always has been to soak in what is happening and use that to improve my teaching — and life. That remains my modus operandi, and I may be growing more as a teacher this year than any. Why is this? Answer: My students.

Before the shutdown, my students inspired me with their drive, work ethic and commitment to education. They also have inspired me with their personal stories, kindness, progressive attitudes, tech skills and overall awesomeness.

During Covid times, I've been inspired even more. I have heard numerous heartbreaking tales and, of course, wish we didn't have to go through all of this pain. However, the human spirit is resilient. I see students working through grief, dealing with anxiety and confusion, and as I look at them, I am amazed at how strong they are.

So today, I thought it would be worthwhile to ask students this: Hey, what's working, and what's not? When it comes to online only school, or school in general, what do you believe works well? What does not?

Now, I have my theories on what is working in schools and what is not, and I'll offer the "not" side with a brief self-assessment. Of course, this most likely is flawed.

Where Mr. Stevens could improve:

1) Less talking, more listening. I am making a concerted effort to keep anything resembling lecture to 10 minutes or less via Zoom. However, I notice that leading an opener, offering a health tip per class, explaining a lesson and clarifying assignments involve words. At least I use pull cards to call upon my students as much as possible.

2) Stop the madness of insignificant assignments, readings and tests. The good news is that I am an English teacher, and teaching the standards can be applied to a zillion readings. Giving students choice in what they read is huge. Some students have told me that by picking their own books, they actually are reading again. However, I have to make sure not to backslide into the trap of assigning waste-of-time materials, just because that's what was done when I was a student.

3) Grade for skills and understanding, not compliance. It appears that "doing the work" often is synonymous with "earning the grade." How often do teachers fail students because they missed an assignment or two but have shown grade-level competency? On the flip side, how many students earn high grades, even though they may not have mastered the standards? I'm doing my best to focus on the standards and not the compliance.

OK. Let me shift gears and throw out three obstacles that hinder teachers. These come from impressions I get based on the meetings, professional development and conversations.

1) Overload (AKA "future shock"). In his 1970 book Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term future shock to mean "too much change in too short a period of time." During Covid-19, I see that teachers have been thrown so much, so fast, that some may be shutting down or have shut down. It's just too much. Some are retiring; others are struggling.

I have no magical solution to this problem. Genuine support from the state, district, admin and colleagues would help, but if that's not there, teachers may be stuck with figuring this out on their own. I only hope they have a good support system at home.

2) Horrific self-care. Sugary diets, lack of exercise, negative thought patters, thought disorders — teachers could be struggling on these fronts. Self-care is HUGE. Sometimes, we teachers make sure to take care of our students and families, but what about ourselves?

3) Stuck in patterns that don't work. This is where excuses and ire toward "the system" or whoever is the perceived villain occurs. To me, when I hear teachers complaining, I lend an ear and am kind. However, a lot of times the complaints seem beside the point. While we do have plenty of legitimate concerns, I'm pretty sure that I have the most influence on whether my students succeed in my class or not as opposed to outside forces.

Of course, these Covid times present us with extremely difficult propositions and situations, but maybe that's why we teachers are more important than ever now.

73 comments:

  1. I think something good that teachers are doing is the support block.

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  2. Things I like about online school is when we get to pick and meet with our breakout room group. Something I don't like is having assignments that are useless or taking notes from slides.

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  3. Some things that don't work in online school are breakout rooms. Most of the time no one talks and everyone either stares at each other or has their cameras off. Some things that do work however are, having breaks, allowing us to have our cameras off, and also shorter classes.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. I've had some students say they love breakout rooms, but I believe your opinion is the majority.

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  4. I like the journals in this class because you can get to know people and interact with them through their writing. However, when teachers do breakout rooms to try to help students "make friends", I don't think it works very well. It's almost always very awkward and silent even if there's something we're supposed to be working on.

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    1. Thank you, and noted! Perhaps the intention is nice, but maybe it just work with: "OK, now, you be friends. Go!"

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  5. I personally prefer to work at my own pace, so I really don't like having to take classes at a specific time of day. I really liked the beginning of quarantine where we worked on whatever we wanted whenever. I feel I was most productive then, but everyone is different.

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  6. I think that if the teachers are not putting any effort into their teaching, then obviously the students won't do well. They tell us to write notes down, but don't explain the concepts. When tests come around, the class average has never been above a 80%. Our motivation has all gone down, so I think online school makes the teachers and students feel lazier. The only thing that works for me in online school is that we have more breaks. Overall, school is tiring and has not helped me learned much at all.

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  7. It does seem like they give too much work at one time, but it doesn't seem like its overloading. I don't think the breakout rooms help out much, but that's my opinion.

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  8. i like being able to have cameras off at times

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    1. Yeah, I like think teachers who allow cameras to be off are pretty chill and nice.

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  9. Online instruction is working better than I had anticipated. Originally, I thought it would be unorganized, but the teachers manage to plan the lessons well. However, something that doesn't work well are breakout rooms as we often don't say anything.

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  10. I think it's easier since I like learning in the comfort of my room and I feel like I do better during online school.

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  12. something I don't like about online class is breakout rooms. It's only with a few people and most of the time everyone is just on mute

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  13. Like : Optionally having cameras on/off for some classes because having my camera off helps me focus better.
    Dislike : Repetitive classes (doing the same thing each time although it's different material), when the teacher reads off the slides, and when assignments aren't thoroughly explained when given.

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  14. I've realized that homework does more harm than good, especially during these times. Even though it's meant to help students, the amount of work that we get has made most students overwhelmed. Many students have to deal with other factors along with school such as doctor appointments, jobs, taking care of their family, mental health, and a lot more. Getting time to socialize and sleep, and even grab a meal, is scarce as it is with 6-8 hours of school every day and homework brings more onto the table. The fact that homework was originally made as a punishment should be enough to completely rule it out of the school system.

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    1. To me, 6-8 hours sounds way, way too much. I'm worried online only might turn into over-assigning. Also, I agree. I'm not so sure homework works that well, especially when so many assignments can be Googled.

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  15. A positive aspect of online school is breakout rooms because you can associate with your peers. Something I dislike is that teachers are able to assign new assignments during the middle of the night, it creates unnecessary stress.

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  16. I don't like how easy it is to get distracted in online school. There are so many things, like seeing what other people are doing in your house going, playing on your phone, and even playing video games

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  17. One thing that works well during online school is how most of our work is done on our computers. One thing that I think does not work well is that homework assignments are due at 11:59. In my opinion that stresses me out more, because I have a certain time I need to turn it in.

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    1. I'm with you on that 11:59 deadline. I find that to be a major stressor.

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  18. Learning should be a conversation not a lecture. I like how Mr. Stevens approaches education. Often times I find that I am fully grasping the concepts we talk about because he is engaging. He makes a point to not only make the lesson interesting but also interactive. It feels live a conversation versus a bunch of information I'm forced to remember. It also helps because I feel like he likes his jobs and makes an effort to connect with students. In other classes I feel that it's more so about getting a good grade instead of understanding the actual topic. We have gotten accustomed to putting grades before education.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. But you don't have to say that! ... I know it comes up as "anonymous," but these comments have earned you an official A plus. ... Kidding!

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  19. A negative of online school is that everyday feel like a routine and you start to lose motivation

    A positive is you being more focused and being at home

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  20. Something I enjoy about online school is the teachers that strive to make learning fun, and teachers who empathize with the students. Something I dislike about online school are breakout rooms. 99.9% of the time you get put in a room with people you have never spoken to before. I get that teachers want us to get to know each other but it tends to be really awkward and no one wants to speak up. At least from my experience, nothing gets done in breakout rooms.

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  21. One thing that works well in online school is that I only have each class twice a week. This makes it less stressful for me, as we are getting less work than in real life school. One thing that does not work well in online school is the communication. In my opinion, it is much harder to communicate with teachers since we are not speaking face to face. I also hate the tech issues that can happen since they get in the way of learning.

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  22. online school is great in the aspect that we are in the comfort of our homes. when i think about it, i see many bad things. some teachers are not understanding and force students to keep their camera on when they don't even know their home situation, some students are not comfortable having their camera on, or other reasons that are usually not the teachers' business. online classes are hard for some students because some need the face to face interaction to actually learn. with school being online, teachers think that students have all the time in the world to do the countless amounts of assignments, but, yet again, they don't realize that some students have other responsibilities in their lives. think about it. why are we taking online classes? the pandemic, correct. and because of this, some students have to help take care of of siblings since their parents are trying to support their families. you can argue that not all students have this problem, but some do and the school has to empathize with all their students and not just some.

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  23. We are already at home learning for hours so why do we have homework? Shouldn’t it be the teachers job to make sure we know everything? At this point homework isnt about "seeing if your grasping the concept" its just about completion. They say that they want to support us in this hard times and they give us hours of homework. Its already hard to focus on the screen and they expect us to take even more time out of our free time to complete hours and hours of homework its absolutely ridiculous.

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    1. When I was in high school, I remember that some teachers didn't bother to check the homework. Then, what I did is that I just kinda made it look like I did it. ... OK, I probably shouldn't admit that, but I did it.

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  24. I don't hate online school that much, but when it comes to health sitting in front of our screens for extended periods of time without any movement is not healthy imo. But I feel that it is easier than normal school and there is less pressure

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  25. I like the in-class writing where we write a response to the prompt and read each others' responses. It's always interesting to learn about other experiences and new things about another person.

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    1. We could do that more. I do it a lot with the freshmen, and less with the juniors. I think the juniors could get a lot out of it too...

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  26. A negative that I believe exists is the asking questions part of online school. Students need to ask questions in order to learn and I believe with this new online school format it makes it harder for students to ask questions and teachers giving immediate feedback. Instead you would have to email your teacher and wait for a response. This is especially a problem in math where questions make a up a big portion of the learning procedure.

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  27. Overall, online learning has allowed me to learn self-guiding lessons or studying and many teachers have helped me in support block. However, after spending hours online most of the time I feel discouraged or unmotivated to open my laptop and continue to do homework. Most teachers have high expectations and give out lots of homework and tests but never take into consideration the stress levels of their students.

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    1. It might be generational. Stress levels rarely were talked about back in the day, so maybe teachers aren't used to considering them — even with themselves. ... Maybe.

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  28. Personally, I think adjusted to online school pretty well. However, the only problem I struggle with is our workload (as juniors). On top of daily homework assignment, quizzes, and tests, I also have to worry about acing the AP tests and the SAT/ACT despite being in a pandemic. Although this stresses me out, there are some teachers who look out for my mental health and workload.

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  29. I believe in most cases the interactive questions and assignments via online platforms such as padlet are working well. While one thing I believe that the asynch day being for assignments or quizzes is not working well for me because, it tends to get overwhelming when all my classes assign something to be due Wednesday and you're only given that day to do it. So I would believe asynch days would be better utilized as catch up or study days so we can go over all the new material we are being taught in the past two days rather than spend time on busy work or new material.

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  30. I'm overall pretty happy with online learning, I'm still struggling with trying to divide my work properly because I have a horrible time management but I believe I can fix this issue. I feel like once I get over that, everything will just become much simpler, hopefully.

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  31. I believe that nothing really is working for as of now. I empathize with the teachers that are trying their absolute hardest to make this work of us, I know that feeling of also trying my best during this situation. But for me, even if months have passed since the first day of school, I still hate online school and vehemently hope that we could go back as soon as possible. Everyday, I feel as if I'm overloaded with so much work and I feel as if I can't even improve my situation as my problem with procrastination has only increased. Deadlines coming up, assignments due, I'm always aware of them only at the last second because I always prioritize anything that comes up first that I usually ignore other things. My whole concentration in class is absolutely diminished and I feel as if I'm not even learning anything, as my home can not be a substitute to the classroom environment and the focus it can comes from differentiating the place of work and rest. I absolutely hate online learning because of my inability to adapt, which is just incredibly frustrating to me.

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    1. "Nothing really is working." That sounds a little too much. I like to say this: Always beware of absolutes. :-)

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  32. I think nothing about online school really works. To me online school just acts as a reminder for how much I took school for granted. My motivation has been at an all time low and its certainly, because my classroom is literally 3 feet away from my bed. Something else that really bothers me about online school is it vulnerability to cheating, a lot of people I know adhere to it and feels its normal; A friend of mine even tried to convince me the the teachers actually want you to cheat. Overall, I hate it and can't wait for actual school to start.

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  33. While I believe that I have made the most out of online learning, I understand that the situation is far from optimal for most. Online school can be desensitizing and fill students with a lack of motivation.

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  34. One thing that does not work with this online school is the amount of homework we receive. Even though it's nice doing online school at home, which is the good part, I end up having so much stress because of the constant workload. Especially as I have 7 classes, even getting homework from half of them seems like too much work for me. The teachers usually say that it is because we need to makeup the time we are missing in actual school, but it doesn't even help me learn because I am just trying to get everything completed on time.

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  35. Online school in my opinion isn't too terrible but it is definitely not my favorite. Like everything else though there are pros and cons. With online it allows students to learn at the comfort of their own home and sort of at their own pace but that's really about it. Besides that online makes it harder for students to understand certain topics like math because they cant get help from the teacher right there an then. Instead they would have to ask in front of the whole class which seems more uncomfortable than like before you could go to the teacher on your own. Along with that, since we entered a whole new school year on online we aren't able to actually meet the teachers and other students which makes it a bit more awkward especially when it comes to breakout rooms. Another thing is being on a computer screen for 5/6 hours a day which can be mentally draining and there's no aspect of walking around school, or being active in a way which can be unhealthy. It all really feels like busy work.

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  36. There are many pros and cons to online learning. One major pro for me, is that because of online learning, I am able to have much more free time to do my hobbies, improve my wellbeing, etc. When we actually go to school, we leave in the morning and come home around 3, or later for those who have sports and that leaves a couple hours to do your homework, eat, watch some TV and go to sleep. Now with online school, I can read more books, go on runs, spend quality time with my family, and many more. One con is that the learning can be difficult for both teacher and student. However, it has gotten a lot better as everyone is getting used to it.

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  37. One think that’s not working great are the group projects in our classes. Think about it, in a normal setting we see each other everyday and we’re all trapped within a few square foot room so we’re bound to talk or communicate or have eye contact with our classmates and we’ll naturally get to know some of them during the course of the class. However, in an online setting all we see are their faces and we likely never talked to most of the class because our mics are always off so casual conversations are non existent. Therefore we don’t really form any new friendly relationships with anyone so when it comes to group projects we’re lucky if we have a friend in the class but if we don’t we have to work with someone we don’t know at all and has never seen or heard not even in class because we’re behind a screen. Then we have to figure out a way to communicate which would probably be through texting on Instagram but in a normal school setting we can actually talk to each other and issued get solved faster when you don’t need to wait on someone to check their phone which could be hours or even days. Along with that after a project you can like or despise your partner but you at least know them and are able to talk to them like normal humans as opposed to just finishing the project online and never having a real conversation with them ever again. Schoolwork is not fun most of the time but a group project can be a chance to communicate and maybe joke around with other people or just to know more people in general. Now we don’t get the chance to do that, it’s all just work and none of us are just casually talking like human beings talk to each other. I think it takes the bit of fun in schoolwork away and only leaves the awkward and stressful part intact. I know teachers might appreciate not having to quiet students down every 10 minutes in class now but to us that means we don’t get to socialize with anyone the way we normally would in school and to be honest that’s a huge portion of what makes school not so dreadful and now we don’t have that so it’s literally school without all the fun parts but with double the work and eyeball stress. At this point I’m not sure if my essay of a comment makes any sense so apologize if it looks and reads like gibberish.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! Group projects are hard enough, and I can see how the remote element makes it even harder. I rarely see any teaching on how to be a helpful or productive group member. ... Also, Google "Groupthink." That happens a lot in groups.

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  38. In online school, the things that are working for me is that I don't really mind the zoom meetings and the google meets. I kind of like seeing my teachers and peers, it feels like we are in a "normal" classroom again. Something that doesn't work for me is breakout rooms. Most of the time, everyone is on mute and has their camera off, so it is pretty awkward.

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  39. I actually really enjoy online learning. I feel that it is a less stressful way of school life. For example, we don't have to get up as early anymore, we can have more sleep. And since we only have around three classes a day then we have more wiggle room to do our work. Cons of online learning is the fact that you can't do hands on activities like you would at school and it is harder to learn in some of the classes because they were made for in class learning like art or language classes. You can't go to a teacher for extra help, and if you do it is online which makes it harder for someone to learn if they don't understand, especially visual learners. You also can't see your friends anymore. Other than that I enjoy the online school life.

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    1. My hope when school returns to in person, whenever that will be, is that we learn from this experience and improve in-person school.

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  40. I think online school has it's benefits and down sides. The teachers allow us to take tests using our notes in class most of the time however they give excessive amounts of work sometimes. The excessive amount of homework we get is also hard to complete since I am unmotivated to go open my laptop most of the time. When giving us group projects, it is also very awkward when we have to go into breakout rooms. This makes it hard to work together and get things done.

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  41. Online School isn't the best way of schooling in my opinion. Some pros of Online school are the benefits of having more than half to day to do whatever I want. Having online school means I have 3 classes a day, thus allowing me to get out at 12:07 almost everyday. With more than 6 hours left of the day I have the ability to get my homework done and do other things such as sports and games. The downfall of the online schooling is the fact that I barely get to interact with new people. Going into high school, there are many new people in my classes, but without going to school, I don't get to meet new people.

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  42. Online school has its ups and downs. Some days are good some days are just okay. The motivation level that has been left during online school is really lacking. It's hard to stay motivated and focus on work when you are surrounded by your home. Your home is like a comfort place. The homework seems like a hassle now a days. It feels like its no longer for learning and instead something that we are just tryna get done before 11:59 pm. Group projects and activities are a bit of a struggle but it depends who you're with. Some days are good and you feel focused for school. Overall I'm okay with online school, but sometimes it's not the best.

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  43. One thing that does not work with online school are the break out rooms. Most of the time nobody talks or everyone just awkwardly stares at each other. Some things I do like is being able to turn our cameras off and having short breaks between classes.

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  44. One thing that is hard to do in online school is communicating with teachers. It isn't always easy to be upfront with the teacher and ask questions. It feels like a different atmosphere when asking questions and feels like you are speaking in front of the crowd. Also, when emailing teachers, some teachers don't respond back which irritates me to the extreme.

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    1. My daughter says the same thing about teachers not emailing back. That would annoy me too.

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  45. One thing i do not enjoy is breakout rooms. Teachers are trying to give us a "social hour" or a time to meet new people. But, this is not the same as irl. It gets really awkward and right when you enter usually no one responds when you ask something, and it goes cam off mic off for the entire time. I don't think that the teachers understand that socialization right now is barely correlating with class. In class, there is barely a chance you will make any friends, and that it is not the same as being irl, where you can talk in between, before periods, breaks, knowing who is in your class, etc. I also have to teach myself most things, because teachers do not teach to let us grasp the info good enough other than an ameba sisters video, busy work, and class is over. Especially math, I cant learn anything without searching a Brian McLogan video.

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  46. I really don't mind online learning at all but there is just one thing that doesn't work out. That is just having some wifi issues. It gets really annoying when you start lagging and then you keep on getting kicked out of the meetings many times. I really don't lag as much as I used to, but I still do sometimes and the lag gets really bad. There might even be a situation where your wifi might be down for a couple of days and you can't even get on the meetings.

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  47. I find it difficult to meet and get to know others personally, it's sort of hard to make any new friends and ask other students for help. But once we do break out rooms, most students just either awkwardly stare at each other, or just turn their cameras off. Also, if you try to make conversations with them, they reply with short answers and immediately mute themselves again. It's irritating, because it feels like you're dragging them along.

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  48. I don't know what I like better online school, or school in person. There's a lot of pros and cons to that answer, but right now let me tell you about how my online school life is going during this pandemic. To be honest i think i'm getting too much homework from my math and korean teacher, she gives so much and there is never a day when I don't have any. Breakout room are actually kinda of fun, until you get in one and nobody talks and they are just staring to see who will talk first. I actually really like how we get Wednesday off but the only bad part is that we still have to wake up to join 10 min homeroom.

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  49. I think that online school has given me more freedom in what I choose to do during my time in school, because it has given me more time where I am on my own and this can either be good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes this freedom gives me more time to finish up on my homework, ask teachers extra questions for help during the support block, and gives me a break to rest between classes. However, many times this freedom leads to me having a tendency to procrastinate on school work that I have due thinking that I have plenty of time. It also causes me to be more susceptible to distractions during class or when doing homework. Overall there are many benefits and drawbacks from working online.

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  50. With online school, I have found myself to have less time than I would have thought for other things not related to school. The combined workload of all of my classes has been extremely stressful. There hasn't been much time for me to have time for myself, due to the amount of homework I have on top of extracurriculars I do outside of school. Other than the workload, I find myself enjoying online school. I can wake up later for class, which counteracts the sleep I lose the night before from studying or schoolwork. Overall, online school has been fine for me, but there has been some stress.

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  51. I enjoy being able to have my camera off at times. I feel like we all need a break from putting on a face for the camera.

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    1. I agree with that. I find it draining to have the camera on, especially when I find myself in lectures with no chance of interaction.

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  52. Everything in this classroom is fine, but perhaps mix up the breakout room participants a bit more. I feel like we can get to know each other more if there are always one or two different people each time we do a breakout room.

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  53. In online school, I think that we have more time for school work, but less time to do extracurricular things. School always ends at 2 and depending on the day, homework and studying is done around 1 - 4 hours, which takes lots of time out of our day and takes away most of the sunlight we can have on walks and hikes. I think online school also really encourages procrastination among lazy students due to the lack of social communication between the teacher and the student. As I said, however, online school is really helpful for students like me. Oftentimes, I do my homework within class, meaning I usually have to be sly about doing so unless the teacher willingly gives us time to work. In online school, less is usually given as classwork and more is given as homework, which gives me a head start on the homework every single day. All in all, online school has its good and bad perks depending on the personality of the student and teacher.

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  54. I love the writing prompts on fridays and how we can interact with each other without breakout rooms. If there was a way to make it more anonymous to other students, I think students would participate and describe even more than we do now. The way you do classes, which allow us to enjoy our learning, keeps me entertained and interested. I don't love online school, but if we could have breakout rooms with people who would actually speak, I would enjoy it more.

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  55. Having longer classes are not my favorite. This is because the classes are so long I start to feel bored or as if I've been in this class for hours. After a while of sitting in a class I start to dose off and not pay attention to what the teacher is saying which could be problem. I have tried to get more sleep and see how that could be a factor in why I'm dosing off but it doesn't seem to help. Although I understand it is because we have less classes it tends to make me feel exhausted after school.

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    1. I too am exhausted each day at 2 pm. I think doing all the interactions via Zoom must contribute to that. I often have to do a 20-minute power nap at the end of each school day.

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  56. I enjoy having the opportunity to receive input on my assignments which will benefit my writing. I also enjoy having my camera off, especially due to the fact that our cameras are required for the majority of our classes. I do find myself disliking breakout rooms. It is beneficial to talk with new classmates, however I find it easier to work on my own. I also dislike when teachers put their students on the spot. I feel like it'll be comfortable to allow their students to thoroughly think about their answers.

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  57. Thanks so much for a nice Post......

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