School at Home

Way back a lifetime ago, meaning a few weeks ago, Vermont’s governor gave a Friday press conference saying schools would not be closed. There was not a need right then, but the situation could change and the administration would continue to assess what needed to be done to address the coronavirus’s spread. The following Monday he gave another press conference closing schools until April 6th. A week later, on March 26th, the governor ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

School is not out, mind you. Students and staff are not going to school but they are trying to keep the business of school moving forward. At first the idea was just to “maintain learning,” to make sure students didn’t forget everything by the time school started back up again. Now, however, the idea is to keep teaching, and learning, and generally doing school.

This, of course, has not been a simple task. At my son’s high school every student gets a Chromebook, so they all have a device to connect with others. My son logs in and connects with his advisory at least once per week. They check in, using Google Hangouts, give each other advice and share stories and maybe even get some ideas about how to generally do school. They vent a little and they reassure each other. At other times he gets online for actual “classes.” This does not look like a typical in-person class but might include a lesson or review or help with an assignment that was posted to their online classroom page.

My daughter had been away at school, far from Vermont. She came home early for her March break. Once that break ended she stayed home. Her school is closed as well. They are trying to hold more formal classes online. Sometimes those classes are 90 minutes. That is a long time to focus when meeting on Zoom, especially for challenging high school subjects.

Yesterday my daughter was in her room, online for pre-calculus class. In the middle of it she texted “lots of algebra” and the above photo. Pre-calculus is not an easy class. It requires paying attention and, for most students, asking questions. That is all upside down in this online classroom, especially for a teacher who does not have a lot of experience teaching online and had little time to prepare for that shift. That photo exemplifies the challenge.

Students everywhere are making it work as best they can, but many are just not logging on, and many simply can’t. We are lucky. Our kids are responsible, for the most part, and we have reliable internet access in a safe home. Not only do we have plenty to eat, but I am cooking more than ever now that I am not commuting to and from work. This is a game changer for education on all levels. School will never be the same, and no one knows yet what that means.

My children are not going back to school this year. Will they be in school in the fall? If so, what will that look like? What will this mean for graduation requirements, or for college admissions? Or for the future of higher education? Students ask “When will things get back to normal?” but, sadly for them, they won’t.

We will get through this, of course, and we will all be changed, and good things will come from this very bad time. As the head of my daughter’s school said in an online town meeting, “This stinks.” Unlike the virtual whiteboard in pre-calculus class, everyone with any connection to education understands that.

Now That’s a Good Price

For a while I sold lots of stuff on eBay. It was fun to see what I could get for things I no longer wanted. Some of them I found to be useless and they sold anyway. One man’s junk is another’s treasure and all that. I had fun trying to figure out just how to sell stuff. What starting bid price made sense? Should I offer free shipping? How many pictures did I need to include? What was important to include in the description?

I learned that two things sell items the most often: offer a puny staring bid and offer free shipping. This is not always easy to do. I sometimes didn’t care what something sold for; I wanted to get rid of it and get something for it. But other times I couldn’t bear to get a couple bucks for something that was worth much more. Even so, that low price seems too much to resist for some people, or so it seems. If the bid price is too high, it may not sell at all. If the shipping price is too high, it may not sell. So even though it seems crazy to offer something for a low price, it typically pays off.

I had one bad experience where I actually lost money by selling something on eBay. I don’t remember what it was–some item of baby clothing or a cassette tape or who knows what. It sold for $1.99 and I had offered a flat rate for shipping, another couple bucks. The buyer, however, had an APO box. I had never mailed anything to an APO box before and I did not realize that, because of the razor wire and guard dogs that secure them or something, it costs way more to mail to an APO box than your standard address. I think I paid $14 to mail some small item. That hurt.

Today, after a gap of over a year, I decided to sell a printer we got a while ago but never opened. We got a free one by accident–they shipped us two when we only ordered one and then told us just to keep it. I did a few minutes of research and then posted it for sale with a 10-day auction. When you sell an item on eBay, if you are not familiar with the process, they try to be helpful. They offered a stock photo of the printer so I didn’t have to take one myself. And they also offered this tip about choosing a starting bid, copied and pasted verbatim:

Items like yours that sold successfully have an average starting price of $1,217.00 and an average sold price of $4,943.00.

Now I can’t say I know that much about computer printers. I mean, I hear they may have rare earth elements in them, maybe even some gold. But $1,217? Is eBay trying to waste my time here or what? I can’t deny that getting close to $5,000 for an item I got for free would be a grand thing, but my guess is that this fantasy is going to hang out with Alice down the rabbit hole for, well, forever.  I’m hoping I can get 50 bucks for this thing. I probably couldn’t get 100 times that price if I tried to sell it to the military.

Here is the listing if you are looking for a good printer (seriously, we use the same one and it is a gem). Feel free to offer the low price of $1,217. Do that and I will ship it overnight at no extra charge.

 

Paperless

I have made the switch, for the most part. When I pay bills, I don’t write many checks. I still pay my mortgage with a paper check, but that is the last one I’ve got. Electric bill, insurance, phone bill, they all get sent electronically. I was paying some bills tonight and I couldn’t figure out why I got a paper insurance bill, in the mail, when I also got an email. This has been happening for a while and I have checked my account a few times to make sure I signed up the right way. I did. Tonight I figured it out.

Our insurance bill is primarily in my spouse’s name, although we both are, of course, responsible for paying it. So she needs to change her account to request electronic statements. All I had to do was look at the bill. Duh. We’ll get that switched up right quick.

It is pretty liberating to simply not get so much mail. So much of it just gets tossed. I save statements out of some sense of obligation. But who goes back and looks at old insurance bills or bank statements? Maybe if I owned a business or something I would, but even so, my first instinct would be to look at my online account. I do look at my electric bills on line, to compare them and see how we are doing with our current usage. I don’t save those bills. I am not planning to save much anymore. Paper paper paper. It clutters the closets. I don’t need it.

I also try to cut down on catalogs. When we get one I know we don’t want I send them an email telling them not to “sell or rent” my name and to remove me from the mailing list. I don’t want mail from them and I also don’t want mail from the people to whom they want to sell my contact information. Enough already. I pretty much hate to get catalogs that get dumped right into the recycling bin. Junk, that’s what it is. If I want your catalog I will ask for it thank you very much.

So less paper is what I am after. I am hoping that cutting down on all the mail will mean fewer visits to the transfer station. That would be a plus. I could spend less time there, and less money. Paperless is for me.

Holiday Cards

I spent a good chunk of time today creating a holiday card.  We used to buy a box of cards and write something interesting inside and then send them to family and friends.  We never went with the photo cards where we had to drop off the negative and then pick up the cards a few days later.   It just never seemed worth the effort.

Now, however, one can simply upload digital photographs to a handy web site, choose from a variety of card layouts with multiple photos, pay by credit card, and wait for them to come in the mail.  That is what I spent my time on today.  What took the biggest bit of time was selecting the photos.  We have lots of photos but few fit the criteria.

The photos had to:

  • Have good composition, meaning they had to be good photographs in general
  • Contain a mix of seasons (not all from the summer, not all from the winter)
  • Show each of us at least once, with a preference for the children
  • Not show any of us in every photo

I think I did well.  I went with four photos, rather than nine to keep a balanced square.  That would have taken even longer.  I clicked the “purchase” button and they should be here soon.  Then we need to write personal notes and addresses and send them off.

I look forward to getting cards as well as sending them.  My parents used to hang them along a doorway, then along the wall when that was filled.  It was a part of the holidays I enjoyed and remember.  We always hear from someone we have not seen or heard from on a while.  It seems the one time of year when being in touch happens for many people.

We might have gone with e-cards, to save paper and greenhouse gases, and money for that matter.  But they just don’t feel the same.  You can’t hang an e-card on the wall or read it as you walk back from the mailbox in the snow.  The children can’t line up e-cards on the floor and sort them.  It is a conscious choice to send paper cards.  It is worth it.  Holiday cards are a part of the season and I look forward to them.  Even thinking about hearing from friends and family makes me smile.  With the cold and snow lately, I say bring on the holidays.