Surviving Distance Learning while on Stay Home, Work Safe orders

Two weeks ago, I wrote my second post about the novel coronavirus that leads to COVID-19. As I predicted, that was not my last post on the subject. At the time of my last post, my kids Spring Break had been extended by one week. Later that week, the school district announced the schools would close through April 3. And now that date is April 24.

While there was no learning the week after Spring Break, the teachers and staff at our school jumped into action. One of the first things our local schools did was ensure that students were taking care of. Some students rely on the schools for meals, so our cafeteria staffs put to-go breakfast and lunch packages served with milk or juice. These were available to any student under 19 whether they normally received a free lunch. The awesome lunch staff in our district served over 60,000 meals that week from the parking lot of 32 of our local elementary schools and quickly expanded the program to include weekend snack packs. This past week they served 170,000+ meals and this is just in our school district. Counselors were also made available to the students through the phone or conferencing with Zoom. What a way to make sure the kids physical and emotional needs were met.

As for the educational part, our teachers just had a few days to prepare for “distance learning.” While staff hurried to prepare laptops students could borrow, the teachers set up Google Classrooms and prepared videos, PowerPoint slide shows or informational documents for the students to learn the material and then assignments to ensure their understanding. They also had to create paper packets for those students who didn’t have internet access.

Distance Learning puts a lot of pressure on all of us – parents, students and teachers. As parents, we have to partially be the teacher – more so if you kids are younger. Not only do we have to help them understand the topics/assignments, we have to learn to manipulate the tools they are provided for learning such as how to turn in an assignment on Google Classroom or make sure the sound and video are working for a Zoom conference.

Students at our middle school were thrown off as they no longer were attending their 8 classes each day. With online learning, they can pick and choose which class they want to do first. Each class is only going over one topic for the week but there is the reading material or watching video as well as questions and projects that are due at the end of the week. They can attend online tutoring and can email their teachers, but it just isn’t quite the same as being there in person.

And as I said before, the teachers are throwing this together quickly. They are testing out new ways to get the information to their students and then test their knowledge. Some assignments are done on Google Forms or you upload a document or photo in the Google Classroom. They must make sure their students (180 to 210) are all having their questions answered and needs met. That’s no easy task when you no longer see them daily.

This virus has thrown our lives in turmoil, but I think we are doing well. The kids will adapt to distance learning for the next four weeks. And hopefully, they will get to finish off the rest of the year back at school.

Taking part of the #AtoZChallenge

April is almost upon us, and that means Spring….or for those of us who blog, it is time for the A to Z blogging challenge.

For those of you, who haven’t heard about it, the A to Z challenge is a challenge for bloggers to post every day in April (except Sundays). Every day (Monday through Saturday) is matched with a letter of the alphabet. On the first day, you write about a topic that begins with A, the next day B and so on.

Now the organizers suggest you come up with a theme to help you get through the challenge. My first year (2014), I didn’t pick a theme. The next year, I did a theme of TV shows followed by characters in 2016, antagonists in 2017, songs about magic in 2018 and finally character flaws in 2019.

The key is to pick something that you will be able to find something for each letter. There are some hard letters – Q, X and Z in particular.

As a fantasy author, I like to connect my topics to something related to writing (characters/antagonists) or fantasy (magic). This year, I have chosen to write about daily comic strips. I may be dating myself but I grew up reading the daily “funnies.”  There are a lot of good choices out there.

Those of you who want to know more about the challenge or to sign up, click here. And you can look for my A to Z challenge posts about Comic Strips beginning April 1st.

Coronavirus pandemic causes people to behave crazy

Two weeks ago, I wrote about talking to my daughter about the Coronavirus threat and why she should not be worried. And while I thought that would be my only post on this topic, the world has gone crazy. Now we have Disney World, the NBA, festivals and production of dozens of TV shows and movies closing down. We have city, state and national declarations of emergencies. And we have people going crazy stocking up on bottled water, Clorox wipes and toilet paper as well as ransacking grocery store shelves leaving them bare of canned goods, meat, eggs and milk.

The rest of the world may be running around like the world is coming to an end, but not us. As I said two weeks ago, we are not concerned about the virus.

Since my first post, we have celebrated Lexie’s birthday. We typically do something with her friends the weekend before her birthday. This year, we ordered pizza for her and her best friend and did some science experiments at home before going to the movie theatre to see Onward. (Great movie from Pixar/Disney) This was our kickoff for the kids’ Spring Break from school. Tuesday, we went to Six Flags Fiesta Texas and enjoyed short lines for all the rides as fear of the virus kept away the normal hectic Spring Break crowd.

Thursday of Spring Break was Lexie’s birthday, and we celebrated by going out to a restaurant owned by Lexie’s best friend’s parents. It is a Japanese Steakhouse where they cook on your table. The restaurant was not busy at all, though I am not sure if that is because we went early on a weekday or because people are avoiding eating out and/or restaurants with Chinese or Japanese workers. It was a great meal.

And then the next day, everything changed. San Antonio’s mayor made an emergency declaration. The city postponed Fiesta, a 10-day celebration that brings in $340 million to the city, that would have run in April. But the news that mattered most was the mayor banned public gathering of groups over 500. This caused our school district to cancel school for the next week, which is the current length of the ban.

I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it to happen, but it still wasn’t something I wanted. Yes, I know the reasoning behind the closures – to delay the spread of the virus. A surge of sick people needing medical attention would test the limits of our hospitals. But it is hard to see everything close when the virus doesn’t seem as catastrophic as the media is making it out to be. Of course, the numbers are definitely off since testing has been low in the United States. More people probably have it than are being reported. The good news is that if there are more unaccounted for cases of the virus, the death rate should be going down.

As of my writing, there is only two cases of COVID-19 here in San Antonio. Both are travel-based. One had traveled to Japan recently while the other came from a trip to California which has been hit harder with the virus. In the U.S., there are 1629 cases with 41 deaths, half of which come from one nursing home. There are roughly 327 million people in the United States. The number of those affected by the virus (even if it is much larger than reported) does not make sense with the amount of society’s panic.

Yes, we need to take precaution (stay home if we are sick and wash our hands often) but it doesn’t explain the fights over TP and bottled water. Or explain the hordes descending on the grocery store to buy every loaf of bread or canned vegetable.

Luckily, I bought my groceries – doing a little extra stocking up – a day before the crazy people started shopping.

I’m not saying my kids won’t enjoy another week off from school though they do realize that they may be making up these days in June. I’m just wishing that people would stop over-reacting. You can be concerned and even prepared without going overboard. There is no shortage of supplies or food. And even if you are quarantined, there are ways to get these items to your house. You will not starve.

I hope this is my last post on COVID-19, but I am not holding my breath. With all the closures and the people who are now not getting a paycheck, I expect there will be economic and financial repercussions from these events that will far outlast the virus. So we will see if I post again on this topic. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe and healthy while we wait for this crazy time to pass.

Technology changes since my daughter’s birth

Lexie turns 12 this week. Two weeks ago, we were watching an old episode of Phineas and Ferb, the Disney Channel cartoon, when Lexie mentioned the characters were using antiquated items. Specifically, she was commenting about a character using the flip-style cellphone.

My first thought that this wasn’t antiquated. It wasn’t that long ago that flip phones were “normal,” before they were replaced by the smartphone. Ok, so this was mid-2000s which is when the cartoon show in question came out. Even though Phineas and Ferb ran for 8 years (2007 to 2015) – the technology shown in the show didn’t advance.

But Lexie’s comment of “antiquated” had me thinking about how much has changed in the 12 years since she was born.

Obviously, cellphones and tablets have come along way. When Barrack Obama was elected in 2008 (the year Lexie was born), he relied on his Blackberry, the favored communication device of the business and political world. The iPhone was just a few months old having been released in June of 2007 and many thought it might just be a passing fad. Boy were they wrong. Not only has iPhone taken off, but now most cellphones are smart phones which is like having a mini-computer in your pocket and allows the user to work remotely – or work all the time, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Cellphone cameras have replaced regular cameras. Gone now are the digital cameras and video cameras. They have all been replaced with our cellphones. Even movies are being shot on smartphones by prominent directors.

Online shopping is up while shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is down. Heck, we even now store our information, photos and personal documents on cloud-based systems such as Dropbox, Flickr and Google Docs.

Social media also has grown leaps and bounds in the past 12 years. In 2008, Facebook had 100 million users (compared to 2.5 billion today) and Twitter was just starting. Now we have Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook Live. YouTube which was just a few years old in 2008 has grown to 31 million channels with 5 billion videos watched daily. People find out about news on social media. Of course, you have to watch out for the fake news or misinformation spread by these same sources.

Gone now are the days of GPS devices. Now the units are built in our cars or we use apps for our directions. Our use of cabs is down as now we call on someone else to drive us though Uber and Lyft.

When Lexie was little, we were still buying DVDs. But now gone are most places to rent those. But we do still have Redbox, where I just rented two DVDs for this past weekend. Even Netflix has changed from a DVD subscription service that began in 2007 to one of the larger streaming services (though they still offer the DVD rentals).

It now is all about streaming services which are offered by companies such as Amazon, Disney/Hulu, Sling, Netflix and YouTube. These services offer movies as well as TV shows. Now we watch what we want to watch when we want to watch it.

There are plenty of other changes that I don’t have the time to list all the changes in the past 12 years. I did find this article on Washington Post that shows what technology you grew up with and you can customize your experience by selecting your birth year. Check it out here. And as for Lexie, let’s just see how many changes are in the next ten to twelve years. I’m sure it will be just as astonishing.