Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Technological Delight

Looking through my recent blog posts, I discovered that this past year was the year I blogged the least.  I also discovered that exactly one year ago today, I posted about my new job.   I was surprised to read it today and see that what I predicted the job would be a year ago turned out to be exactly what it is.

In case this is your first day on my blog, after 20 years teaching French, I left the classroom in June 2016 to take a position in the technology department.  The title is ridiculously long, so suffice it to say I'm the assistant director of technology.  I run around our district helping teachers integrate technology into their everyday lives and I spend a lot of time putting out fires, wiping away tears and coaxing people into the 21st century.

I knew before I took the job that we have some serious techno phobes in the classroom but it is staggering how much people resent, fear or just don't care about technology.  And I really do understand both arguments:  we need to prepare kids to be self sufficient in a heavily tech centered world but we also need to let them play, be kids and keep their eyes off of screens that seem to be everywhere we look.  There's a fine balance that I try to help everyone figure out, while I try to figure out that balance for myself!

The more time I spend with teachers, the more I am fascinated by how teachers learn what they need to know to function with students, but how they get there is mind boggling.  Here are some examples that make my hair curl and will hopefully make you laugh because you either know someone like this or you are that person!:

Scene 1:
Me:  What broswer are you using when your gradebook unexpectedly quits and you can't get in?
Teacher:  Oh, I don't use a browser.
Me:  Yes you do, it's how you check your email.
Teacher:  No, I just click that thing on my desktop and it goes to my email.
Me:   (very deep sigh, long exhale)  When you click on that "thing on the desktop"  is it a lower case e or a fox running around a globe?

Scene 2:
Teacher:  (furious email to me in all caps)  I can't get into my gradebook, no matter what I do.  Can you tell me my password?  I don't know why YOU PEOPLE make us do these grades on line.
Me:  I can't see your password, but I can give you some hints and ask the director to help  if that doesn't work.  Your password is usually the same as your gmail password but you must have a capital letter.  Most people use the first letter of their password as the capital.
Teacher:  Ok, I'll try in the 4.3 minutes I have before my next class.

later that day

Teacher:  No, I've tried every password I have and I've tried a capital at the beginning of each and they won't work.
Me:  Well, I can't reset your password but let's see what the director can find out.


Me:  Can I call you so we can talk about your password?
Teacher:  Yes, when it rains bananas at midnight, I should be available.
Me:  I can't send your password via email, so I'll try calling.

three days later 

Me:  Hi, so it turns out, your password is actually the opposite of what most people have.  You have a lowercase for the first letter and the rest is in all caps.
Teacher:  Well who the hell did that?? I wouldn't do that!
Me:  You had CAPS LOCK on when you set your password.
Teacher:  No, that's not possible.  I NEVER do that.
Me:  Yep, that's the only answer.

Scene 3:
Me in the classroom because a teacher has described something that I have to see in person to believe:  Ok, so do what you normally do when you get that weird message you talked about.
Teacher:  Yes, so I click here and then I do this and then I click here and then I open this, and then I scroll down and click this one and then I open it and when I type in this grade, I get this message.
Me:  Did you know that you can save yourself about 4 steps by just clicking here?
Teacher:  Oh, well, it's easier for me to do what I just showed you.

Scene 4:
Me in the classroom of a teacher who needs me to show her something in person because all of the pictures I've sent with the big red circles on the one thing she needs to click make no sense:  So, when you get to that screen, see that little arrow on the top right?  No, not that one, that one there.  No, below that.  No, right where my finger is pointing.  Not that one.  Right here under my finger. (she Xs out of her browser)  Oh, well, now I know you didn't mean to close it, no, it's ok, really, now open that whole thing back up and again and I'll show you again.  When do you have kids coming? Oh, 20 minutes?  Ok, open it up, click here...  (20 minutes later...)  Yes, THAT ARROW RIGHT THERE WHERE MY FINGER IS.

Scene 5:
Teacher in the classroom where I was just dropping something off and trying to run away:  While you're here, can I show you something weird that I can't really explain over email?
Me:  Sure.

20 minutes later I've been shown 5 things that are dreadfully wrong with this world and I've heard a dissertation about the horrors of using technology in the classroom and why do we in the technology office make everyone do these things that they don't want to do?

Scene 6:
Me in a classroom to show students how to save to google drive from their ipads:  Ok, great, does your SMARTBOARD work?
I hadn't even noticed that there is a cart blocking the board and a row of desks blocking the cart so the board isn't even accessible.
Teacher:  Oh, I don't know.
Me:  (I just died a little.)  Well, let's turn it on and see what happens.  BINGO, it works! 

I turn around to look at the class and trip over a desk that I didn't know was there.  This room is so filled with stuff and with kids, I may not make it out alive.   I show them how to do something and hands go up.  15 minutes later, I've navigated to the first child whose hand was up needing help.  I look at the teacher as I trip my way to the next student.

Teacher:  Oh, next year I'm going to be so organized!

The above scenarios are all real and happen all the time.  Especially the "I don't use a browser" one. 

This job is fun and sometimes funny because of things like this.  There are days when I'm sure if I had to speak to a person face to face I'd have to shake them to death, but email is often the best and quickest solution for everyone involved. 

The hardest part of my year was when the gradebook program had a major disaster and I put out fires for a month, with no solution in sight and the company acting like were the only school district suffering from what was clearly their issue.  And even that wasn't really such a big deal.

I schedule most of my days the way I want, with some meetings that aren't flexible, once in a while.  I can usually dash out to a school to help someone on the spot and some days, I know ahead of time what I need to do so I can make the rounds in an orderly fashion.  I spend a lot of time exploring apps so I know what they do and there are many things that I know I need to figure out but I could only do so many things the first year. 

I got to teach a graduate course, which was a new experience and probably worthy of its own post.  Teachers are not easy to teach because they are so busy doing other things instead of listening!

My extra days were all in before June 30th, so I was able to finish when the teachers finish and take some time off this summer.  I will go back in August for some things I have to do, but I will still be on pseudo vacation for most of August.  Without having to think about how I want to arrange my classroom and how many classes I will have and which families are still going to be up my butt all year.

In another post, I will talk about what it was like to be out of the classroom after being in one for so long.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Preppy the Whale

I would hardly say that I lean toward preppy clothing choices, but the resurgence of pastels in clothing thanks to Vineyard Vines is not something I'm disappointed to see.  While I remember someone giving me no end of grief in 8th grade because I liked pastels (I think she was goth before there was goth and I just didn't know it) I do enjoy pale pinks, greens and blues.

I came upon the Preppy the Whale picture and immediately imagined it in pastels.  And as I searched instagram for pictures, I saw that I was not alone.  Many pictures are of a pink whale held near a Vineyard Vines sign, with the navy and white stripes that are symbolic of the brand.

K-ster's cousin had a baby a few months ago and I thought this would be the perfect pattern and style for them.  The father is from Bermuda, so I of course imagine that all he wears is pastels (don't judge me) and since she is from the Cape, the whales are a nice reminder of home.

The pattern is from Elizabeth Hartman and it's worth a look at her site even if whales aren't your thing.  My favorite part of this pattern is that is isn't paper pieced.  It's so precise that even a not so precise quilter like myself got fantastic points out of it that actually matched.  I even got almost every point on the tails, which is magical for me.  I usually lose points on triangles once I put blocks together.

If her other patterns are as precise as this one, I would highly recommend you try them.

The actual pattern suggests a layout of the finished whales that scrambled my brain, so I added my own sashing around each whale.  This made the blocks approximately 9x13. with 3 inch wide sashes.  I say approximately because it depends on how you put the sashing on each block.

I didn't know how many whales I would make because it was kind of a figure it out as I went thing because adding my own sashing meant measurements that weren't predetermined.  I knew I wanted to go with the pastel on navy idea, and I stuck with just blues and greens.

The whales take VERY little fabric and this entire quilt was made without buying any fabric.  I had to scrimp with the navy on the last couple of blocks but that was because of poor planning.

I originally though 2 columns of 5 would be enough but it really wasn't.  I added another column of 5 and then thought 1 more row would make the right size.  Because I can't count when I'm near my sewing machines, I ended up making 4 more whales instead of 3.

I know I want to make myself a new school bag with this whale on it, but my extra whale was blue and I don't really want a blue one.  I've seen quilt backs that have pieces sewn into them, but given the haphazard way I pin baste and quilt my quilts, I figured if I tried to center the whale on the back, I'd end up with it in a corner, twisted and crooked.

Surprise, surprise, it remained where I put it and when I look at the quilting, it's not bad.  Nothing folded and nothing is too skewed.

Trying to do the math to figure out how to get a strip in there with the whale in the middle took some finagling but I'm really happy with that.

I thought I'd use my new Bernina Cotton and Steel 350 to do all of the quilting but I didn't realize it didn't come with any feet I can use for free motion quilting and my feet for my old Bernina 1001 won't work on it.  I really want to try something new with free motion quilting and the wavy stitch that I use most of the time when I quilt, so I pulled out my old machine and set it to work.

I free motion quilted the whales in a pale green and I did my famous wavy stitch on the navy, with navy.

It made for a lot of starting and stopping but I think I'm over my fear of not knowing how to stop and start the thread.   I really like the effect.  Next time, I would not quilt in between the tail and the body because it's a little weird looking, but I did it consistently so I might have gotten away with it this time.  The green here is my favorite in the whole quilt.

For the border, I used the same fabrics I used for the whales, cut at random lengths.  The backing was a great fabric because it's busy, so if there are quilting mishaps, only the most savvy quilter will see them.  The binding is a fabric I didn't use in the quilt because I found it in my mother's stash after everything was done.  I really like the color and I think it ties it all together.

I'm fairly new to free motion quilting and I've always been so afraid to do it because of the fabric rippling or folding on the back.  Maybe because I use a million basting pins, or maybe because I don't think about it too hard, or maybe it's just luck, but it seems to be working lately.  It's a lot easier than wrestling a whole quilt through my machine, as you can see here.

I was so pleased with how this quilted and how quickly it went, I've already laid out and basted a quilt top I made a while back that I've been dreading quilting.  It's red and white, so what I will use for thread and how I will go about it is my current fascination.

Linking here: