I tried to record this morning’s instructional video last night before going to bed and had to bail because I was finding myself entirely incapable of explaining adding and subtracting negative numbers in a way that made sense. Like, even to me. So I went to bed and tried to get up early to finish it.
And failed, because I slept for shit last night, and I’ve spent most of the day just sort of gazing into the middle distance.
I have nothing intelligent to say tonight. Have a woodworking video as penance.
You may not know this about me: my first semester in college, I was enrolled in an Arabic class. I took Arabic out of pure intellectual curiosity, nothing more; at the time it wasn’t really part of any long-term plan of study or anything like that, it was just as far away as I could get from the languages I’d been offered in high school and it sounded neat. I lasted about three weeks, maybe; it turns out that despite being an excellent student, high school had not taught me to study, and as it happens mastering the Arabic alphabet, which not only has a handful of letters with no English equivalent but where each letter looks different depending on its position in the word– letters that start or end a word look different from letters in the middle, and the primary and final positions look different from each other as well– was more complicated than I could handle at the time. I would eventually fill my language requirement with Hebrew, which isn’t quite as complicated as Arabic, but that was the class that finally taught me to buckle down and study.
I have two big academic failures in my life: Arabic and calculus, and I still want to achieve at least a working knowledge of both before I die. I took calculus my senior year in high school but a bad case of senior burnout combined with a math teacher who was, inexplicably, one of the best math teachers I’d ever had for sophomore Geometry but was utterly unable to reach me for senior Calculus meant that as soon as I was admitted to IU and fulfilled all of my graduation requirements I dropped the class and took an independent study period of Spanish.
Stick a pin in that; we’re gonna take a left turn for a couple of paragraphs.
I’ve never particularly considered myself a weeb– a lifetime of aversion to any sort of Japanese animation not involving Hiyao Miyazaki will kind of nip that in the bud– and while it’s not entirely accurate it’s fair to suggest that the presence of a Japanese voice track on really any form of entertainment is an indicator that I may not be into it. That said, I’ve spent approximately six thousand hours since March playing Nioh and Nioh 2, both Japanese-with-English-subtitles and very loosely based on sixteenth-century Japanese history, and I have sunk a similarly obsessive amount of time into Ghost of Tsushima in the last couple of weeks, which is based on the (real) invasion of Tsushima island by the Mongols in 1274.
And god help me if this hasn’t woken up a previously-nonexistent desire to learn more about Japan.
I keep trying to find a decent English biography of Oda Nobunaga, who appears in both of the Nioh games, and I’m discovering, after spending half of my waking hours listening to people speaking Japanese for five months, a certain interest in learning to at least fumble my way through speaking Japanese. I’m not even sure where to start with that; there are apps and such, but anything reputable is way more money than I’m willing to invest. There are probably some reputable textbooks out there, but I haven’t taken the time to look for them yet.
Which, depending on whether this desire sticks around once I get past these few games, will add another complicated long-term intellectual goal to my list. I feel like I probably ought to get started on at least one of these at some point, right? Which one would you start with, at gunpoint if necessary? 🙂
Truth is, I’m posting this video mostly because I’m listening to this song right now and the line fuckshit is finished today is really resonating with me for some reason. I mean, it’s not, fuckshit is just the way life is now, but I appreciate optimism when I encounter it.
I’ve spent most of the day with a book in front of me; I did all of my office hours and responded to my email and all that but apparently today’s lesson clicked with the 25% of my students who looked at it, since grades were pretty good on the assignment. For the first time this week, tomorrow’s video is stolen from elsewhere on the internet, though, because I have to DM tonight and I don’t really feel the need to record my own video when I just did one on this yesterday. Maybe for the handful of them who didn’t get it hearing it from a different source will click, I dunno.
Also speaking of reading:
This book is the second in a series and occupied most of my morning in between those emails and video conferences. Luckily for me, morning office hours were sparsely attended, so I sat there and read while waiting for students to log in. You may recall that its predecessor Foundryside was, uh, a book I rather enjoyed, and the sequel is absolutely up to the standard of the first if not better– this is in the top 2 or 3 for the year so far. It’s fast-paced and complicated and heartbreaking and a masterclass in how to write a fascinating magic system. You should go pick both of them up.
Plus, God, that cover.
6:15 PM, Wednesday April 29: 1,036,652 confirmed cases, and 60,475 American deaths.
It is possible that I have lost my shit, to some degree or another.
I am pretty certain that if I record another damn YouTube video about math tonight my organs will shut down out of spite and I will die. And I had another ten kids (about a quarter of the total number of kids who did today’s assignment, which is about a quarter of the total number of students I have) get zeroes on today’s assignment despite carefully going over each problem they were given in today’s video.
And I have no way of knowing– I have my suspicions, of course, but I have no way of knowing– which of those ten or so kids just went through and clicked several answers at random because they didn’t give a shit or whether the way I’m trying to teach them just doesn’t work, and the lack of feedback from the kids that is inherent to “distance learning” is just fucking with my head do a degree that I’m not even sure I can describe. I cannot do my job like this. My job involves people, not computer screens.
I can’t do it tonight. So I’ve declared– officially, on my Google Classroom page, mind you, where I post all of my assignments– that tomorrow is a mental health day and they are to take the 20-30 minutes they are supposed to be spending on my class and do something that they find relaxing instead. Because fuck it, nobody’s paying attention and no one is going to tell me I can’t.
Right now this is my new Facebook profile picture, but I felt like it was necessary to share it here too. Sushi hates me so much, it’s adorable.
The kids appear to be having massive difficulties with the assignment I gave them today. I’ve tried to move on a bit from endless review into new material (effectively the entire fourth quarter has been distance learning, so none of the stuff that is supposed to be covered in the last 25% of the year has been taught yet) and something that probably should have occurred to me earlier occurred to me today.
When I’m teaching in a regular classroom setting, if I notice my first couple of groups having trouble with a specific aspect of something or simply not understanding the way I’m teaching it, or a common mistake I wasn’t expecting, I can adjust throughout the day. If kids in 3rd and 4th hour are frequently making the same kind of error, you can bet that 6th and 7th hour are going to hear me specifically address that type of mistake before I turn the kids loose on whatever their assignment was for that day. And in e-learning, not only do I not really have a way to adjust from class to class, but the vast majority of the time I can’t even tell what mistakes they’re making. This could be fixed somewhat if I adjusted how I was instructing– I’ve been defaulting to mostly multiple-choice assignments in a Google form that can grade itself– but it’s difficult to imagine what I could be doing that would let me see their thinking as they’re making mistakes. I mean, sure, I could ask— I could give them a problem, then they answer it, and then maybe explain in a text box how they solved it, but I know my kids well enough to know that that’s not actually going to be as helpful as it sounds like it could be. I’ve only got about 30-40% of my kids even doing the work on a day-to-day basis, it’s tough enough to get them to watch the instructional videos that are showing them how to do the stuff in the first place, and I have no way of telling whether a kid who got a terrible score on an assignment got a terrible score because he doesn’t understand what he’s doing or because he simply logged on and answered “C” for everything– which I suspect at least a couple of my kids are doing.
I need to figure out a way to get this material to teach itself, effectively– because while there’s less than a month of school left, and maybe only 15 days of actual instruction, there is no way that we don’t lose a substantial chunk of next year to this as well, and when that happens I want to be prepared.
If you’re wondering what I mean by “teach itself,” read this excellent article about how– this is not a joke– the first level of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers teaches you how to play it. That game is a masterclass of tutorial design; I just need to figure out a way to apply that style of learning to math.
It’ll be easy, I’m sure.
6:52 PM, Wednesday (God, is it Wednesday? Is that right?) April 22nd: 837,947 confirmed cases and 46,560 Americans dead. That is a pretty staggering increase in the 31 hours since I last posted.