10 Tools to Make Remote Teaching Easier

 

Now that most schools around the country have started remote learning, teachers are starting to realize that  teaching with a school-issued laptop might not be enough to cut it. Having all your students on a Zoom call while managing your Google Slides can fill up your screen quickly. In my recent virtual PD sessions with schools I’ve been “pulling back the curtain” to show staff how my workstation has evolved to optimize virtual teaching and learning. This article highlights those tools and techniques that I’ve found have had an impact on engaging students but also made my remote teaching life much easier. As teachers don’t have unlimited funds, I’ve listed these in order of personal preference and given some pricing examples when applicable.

1. Large monitor 

This is my number one item by a mile when it comes to virtual teaching. You have to have some decent screen real estate in order to use all the great learning tools available to you easily. I know some people prefer having dual monitors, but as many laptops don’t have the ability to support two screens without major adaptors, I would say find a large scale monitor that can plug into your laptop to either mirror the screen or extend it. This will allow you to have your students on a grid view while sharing part of your screen with them as well. As you’ll see in the example below, it’s almost impossible to do all of this while on a 11″ screen. Here are four different monitors that aren’t going to break the bank but will help you optimize screen real estate: (Note: Make sure the monitor will work with your laptop before purchasing)

LG UltraWide 29″ – Sam’s Club – $189

Samsung 32″ Curved – Walmart – $199

LG 32″ Class FHD – Costco – $179

AOC 32″ Curved frameless – Amazon – $199

2. Screen share a window instead of full-screen

If you have a larger screen, you’ll want to put it to good use. Whenever I’m in a Zoom or Meet session, I use either Keynote or Google Slides to present as both tools come with built-in “play slideshow in window” settings versus presenting in full screen. Why is that important? Once you present in full screen, it becomes harder to manage the video call controls and any other items you might want to push out. Here’s a look at my screen during a recent virtual training:

An example of my screen during a recent virtual PD

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. Not only am I sharing my slides, but behind the scenes I’m doing a few other things to keep the students engaged like pushing out polls or brainstorming walls. I even have some little virtual “sticky notes” as reminders for myself that the students can’t see. Whenever I’m in this view on Zoom, I just click “New Share” to toggle between windows easily and not having to turn off screen share.

3. Interactive presentation tool

Sharing your screen is the first step, but there will be times when you’ll want your students to interact with you in some ways. You can drop links to various tools in the video chat or LMS of choice, but to cut down on transition times, you can keep students in the same place with you by using an interactive presentation tool like Nearpod or Pear Deck. I use these tools with almost all of my remote presentations now as it keeps the virtual attendees following along with me. I can continue to screen share my slides while also moving them along in another window. This can be challenging for students with a small device as they might not be able to have 2 windows open at once. In those instances, I have the students minimize the Zoom window so they can hear my voice and follow along. Because you can embed links in the Nearpod, I push out polls, Padlet walls, and even virtual bingo cards with little to no disruption or time spent on transition.

4. High Quality Microphone 

I’m listing microphone before camera for a reason. Having high quality audio is so much more important than having a high quality video (not to mention the bandwidth pull on your internet). I know your laptop or headphones might have a microphone already, but spending a little bit on a better quality mic will help you not only with your synchronous video classes, but will help you sound great while recording asynchronous audio instructions. Microphones range wildly in price and you do get what you pay for. Here are a few including the top one which I own:

Blue Yeti USB Mic – Walmart – $114

Rode NT-USB Studio Quality – Amazon – $179

ATR2100x-USB – B&H Photo – $99

5. Sharing computer audio

Even thought teaching remotely isn’t as personal as teaching in-person, you still want to try and create an atmosphere for your students as they join the call. Playing audio out of your speakers and into your microphone can sound choppy. If you are using Zoom (or Teams for PC), you can share your internal computer audio for high quality sound. In order to do this, you have to share your screen (I usually have a welcome screen up when students join) and then check the box that says “Share computer sound”. (see below)

Create some thematic playlists or just have some light background jazz playing as they enter or as they are on breaks throughout the class. Music can set the tone for the day!

6. Powered Docking Station 

Unless you are using a desktop PC or iMac, you’ll need to get a docking station for your laptop to make this all work. Depending on your computer, you might need adapters to plug everything in and while that might work temporarily, it’ll draw on your power supply even when plugged in.

I recently did a  full-day training and virtual Keynote but didn’t have my powered docking station as I was isolating away from my house at the time. I had all the things mentioned in this article plugged into my MacBook Pro. As the day went on, I didn’t notice but my MBPro was slowly running out of charge (even though it was plugged in). Turns out, I was running so much off the machine, it couldn’t keep up and by the time my afternoon keynote started, my entire system started to melt-down. (FYI – most laptops will slow down their operating system when battery gets below 5%!)

I learned my lesson that day and now don’t go anywhere without my Belkin USB-C Express Dock. I’ve tried other models, but since this one is powered, it doesn’t slow down any of my systems and really is the magic to tying in all the other components of my remote teaching workstation.

7. Web camera 

Most laptops come with built-in web cameras, but sometimes you might need a camera that you can move around easily and isn’t attached to your computer. Luckily there are some cost-effective USB options out there that will do the trick. Here’s just a few that you could use including the first one which is the one I own:

Logitech C920e Webcam – Amazon – $116

NexiGo 1080P HD Webcam – Amazon – $39

Lenovo 500 FHD Webcam – Lenovo – $69

8. Ring Light 

As we get further down the list, these last few items I would list as “nice to have” but certainly not necessary. You could use some lamps around your house to create better lighting for your video calls. In general, you’ll want to avoid background light (like a window behind you) to avoid being washed out. If you have a little extra in your budget, you could also purchase a fairly inexpensive ring light. I purchased this model which also happens to work with my webcam mentioned above and has a variety of built in brightness and color settings. Stay tuned for my next make-up tutorial on Youtube! (I wouldn’t do that to y’all)

9. Additional Keyboard & track pad

At this point, my laptop really just acts as the hub and operating system. When I plug it into my Belkin dock, the lid stays closed. In order to do that, I bought an extra keyboard and magic trackpad to plug into my dock. I prefer the hardwired keyboard vs. bluetooth just because it’s one less thing to charge. The great thing is,  when I go back on the road to do public speaking or back into the physical classroom to teach, I can just unplug my laptop quickly and take it with me. When I get back, I plug it into my dock and everything automagically connects.

10. Standing Desk 

“Zoom-butt” is real. If you are in and out of remote classes all day, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to stand up. You don’t have to buy a top of the line standing desk for this either. Sometimes you just need a stack of books or a counter top to set your computer on. As I assembled all of the items above, I found that having a milk crate for my monitor wasn’t doing the trick, so I decided to do some research and find the right adjustable standing desk for me. Here are a few I came across including the first one that I ended up purchasing:

Bekant Desk Sit/Stand – IKEA – $449

Flexispot Electric Height Adjustable Desk – Amazon – $279

Flash Furniture Sit-Down/Stand-Up Desk – Office Depot – $259

Summary

The items on this list took me months to accumulate and several hundred remote teaching sessions to master. While having my ideal set-up did hurt my wallet some, it eased the stress and agony of teaching remotely from my laptop daily. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what works best for you this year. My hope is that a couple of the tips and tools mentioned in this article will help make your remote teaching easier which in turn will keep your students engaged and excited to learn from you every day.

Here’s a look at my completed station:

 

 

25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting

Now that we have all been thrust into the world of online learning, we have to figure out ways as educators to engage our students when they are online. Some of the first things schools did when shifting to remote learning was to hold regular video meetings with their students. These can vary based on the ages of the students and the frequency of when a teacher interacts with their students, but most teachers realized quickly that they can’t use the same behavioral strategies (like proximity) that they use in a physical classroom. This can lead to a lack of student engagement and involvement in what is trying to be taught regardless of age.

These 25 strategies listed here are not meant to take the place of deeper learning. That kind of learning is generally better when done with a mix of asynchronous learning. That said, in order to get our students to that deeper state of learning with greater depth of knowledge (DOK) levels, we need to make sure they are engaged when we have synchronous conversations and discussions. Some of these strategies take little set-up while others might take more time and energy to make them really successful. The purpose of these tools is to draw students into the lesson/activity and make them engaged and looking forward to your next virtual class meeting.

While there are a lot of video meeting solutions out there, I’m going to focus many of the tools around the Zoom platform as it has some of the best interactive features and seems to be the most widely accepted in K-12 schools across the country. However, as many of these strategies can be used with any video platform or device, I only focused on Zoom-centric ideas on the first 5 strategies, the rest you can use on any platform. Also, kids (especially teenagers) can say and do that darnedest things, especially when being remotely hidden behind a screen. As you would with the physical classroom, I would strongly encourage teachers discuss norms when it comes to interacting over video chat with their students prior to any of these strategies.

Here are 25 strategies to engage students on your next Zoom meeting:

1. Share your screen 

I’m going to start out with one of the basics. While you may be doing many of your chats with just video, don’t forget that you have the ability to share part or all of your screen with your students. This can be something as simple as sharing a question of the day to an entire slide show. If you have a slideshow that you’ve already created for use in your classroom, don’t recreate the wheel, just launch it on your share screen and use built in Zoom tools like ‘raise hand’ or the chat room to have a floating backchannel as you go through your slides. One bit of advice, check what items you have on your desktop and in your “favorites” bar of an internet browser before you share that with your students. There’s nothing more embarrassing than you students seeing your latest beach pic or maybe your bookmark for you favorite drink recipe.

2. Use the Whiteboard feature

Of course, if you don’t want to share your screen you can always use the built-in whiteboard feature that comes with Zoom. This feature can take some getting used to, especially if you are using a mouse or trackpad. To use it, simply go to share your screen and choose “whiteboard”. A little tip – if you have tablet like an iPad, install the Zoom app and then join the meeting with your iPad as well. This works better for drawing especially if you have a nice stylus or Apple Pencil. (just be careful you have one of the devices muted to avoid echoes) Of course, as you get more comfortable with Zoom and student expectations, let your students also use the whiteboard feature to share their understanding. If you are not using Zoom, a tool like Classroomscreen.com has a bevy of tools including a whiteboard if you share your screen with your students.

3. Enable the Annotation Features

Another feature that you could use when sharing slides, photos, or websites is the annotation tools. You’ll want to check your account settings to make sure these features are enabled by default. Having these tools enabled, you’ll be able write over any image, highlight certain features of a website, and make the viewing experience for your students much more interactive.

4. Create breakout rooms for collaboration

My favorite of all the Zoom features for learning is the ability to create breakout rooms for your students. Unlike whiteboard and annotation features, the ability to create breakout rooms are not enabled by default. You’ll want to go into your account settings to enable this ability before using it with your students. Once enabled, you can have Zoom either automatically or manually assign students into rooms. Even if it’s automatically assigning, you can swap students out depending on group dynamics (note: it helps to have your students put their name on their Zoom login). You can even rename the rooms depending on group names or topics before assigning certain students to each room. The great thing about these rooms is that it can create a more collaborative setting than the large whole-group zoom experience. As the moderator you can float around and join rooms to check in on the discussion, post an announcement to all rooms, or even place a time limit on them. Once you ask students to rejoin the whole group and end the breakouts, they’ll have 60-seconds to wrap-up their discussion and rejoin. A powerful way to enable collaboration remotely! Check out the video below for a quick how-to:

5. Virtual backgrounds can be more than just fun

If you’ve been in any Zoom meeting the past couple of months, you’ve probably seen all sorts of crazy and fun virtual backgrounds. These can be hilarious but also distracting so some educators have disabled this feature for their group meetings. However, there could be some productive uses of these virtual backgrounds. Some examples of using virtual backgrounds might be re-enacting moments in history with the appropriate backdrop, selecting a geographic landmark they might be studying or “visiting” virtually, or just having students select either a solid green or red background to quickly show if they agree or disagree with a topic (hint: use Grid view for this). No matter the reason, virtual backgrounds can be much more than everyone acting like they are a character from The Office.

6. Play “I Spy” Backgrounds

If you really want your students to focus on everyone in the classroom, play a game of “I Spy” backgrounds. You can do this either with or without virtual backgrounds, but in essence you are describing things that you notice in the background of someone’s zoom call. Students then quickly have to search all the attendees and see which student’s background is being described. A fun, 5-minute way to get students hooked into their next Zoom meeting.

7. Scavenger Hunts

Probably one of the most popular games to play with students is a virtual scavenger hunt. The premise is simple, you have a list of items and then ask students to run through their house or apartment attempting to find the items and show them on the screen. A quick word of advice on this is to be sure you are not picking exact objects for them to find like “a toy cell phone”. Rather, create a category that could involve all sorts of different objects that qualify like “an object with numbers on it.”  This will reveal a lot of different interpretations of the clue as well as not limiting what students can find around them. You could also use software like Eventzee or Goosechase to do a virtual scavenger hunt throughout the day or week where students capture items you’ve identified with their camera.

8. Live Quiz or Trivia

Last week, I got to host a virtual trivia night via Zoom. We had over 150 people during the event that drew lots of positive feedback for keeping them engaged while also doing something fun during this stressful time. I used a pro-level software called Crowdpurr to run my event, but I could just as easily do something similar using a tool like Kahoot! or Quizziz. These quizzes or trivia can either be done live or student-paced. Having the scores decrease as time dwindles down on each question also prevents students from “googling” the answers as it will affect their score. Check out the latest “Challenge” feature within Kahoot to create more of a self-paced challenge for your students that might have limited access to technology or can’t participate synchronously.

9. Survey your students

In the classroom, we use the classic “raise your hand” to gather feedback from students. In Zoom, it’s no different as there is a “Raise hand” button available to students, but some savvy teachers have also figured out that the chat room can act as an impromptu survey as long as it involves brief responses. For better tracking, you could always use a tools like Nearpod, Polleverywhere, or Peardeck to gather feedback via a second screen or browser tab. Playing a game like “would you rather” would work well to test this out before using it more in-depth in later lessons.

10. Brainstorming ideas 

Gathering feedback in polls is one way to interact with students, but you could also use a shared collaborative space like a Padlet or Ziteboard to have students discuss and brainstorm ideas on shared spaces. You could also combine this with the breakout rooms (#4 from above) to have each group brainstorm a topic while you navigate from board to board. A tip here is to create the “walls” or spaces for the students to collaborate on so that you have a live link to what they are working on. Once you’ve split them into groups, share your link to each group to work on.

11. Interactive presentations

Yes, you can share your screen and even your slides with your students via a tool like Google Slides, Keynote or Powerpoint. But since you have them live, why not use a tool like Nearpod to actually guide them through the learning with you. Ideally, this would work best with two screens, but since everything these days is web-based you could guide them through the presentation on one screen while they follow along to your voice on the other. Doing this on an iPad? Share the join code with your students and then have them switch to the Nearpod app while leaving the Zoom app open in the background so they can hear your voice while following along. Of course, one of the best parts of using a tool like Nearpod is all the extra features like Virtual field trips, 3D models, Microsoft Sway, collaborative boards and more. One thing I’ve tried that worked well was embedding a PollEverywhere poll within my Nearpod. That way students didn’t have to jump out of the app ever.

12. Embrace the pause

Silence can be awkward in the classroom. It’s even more awkward when you are looking at more than two dozen teenagers on the screen. That said, it’s important to let students pause and reflect throughout the lesson. Using a countdown timer either on a slide, video or on a tool like ClassroomScreen.com helps students know when they should break from their pause or reflection. As I will mention on my next point, students need breaks from lengthy instruction throughout their day whether they be on a screen or not. If you are hosting a 50-minute lesson online, build in a 5 minute break for students to stretch or get a glass of water to keep their brain active.

13. Brainbreaks

Taking breaks throughout a lengthy lesson are important whether it be for a reflective pause or just an opportunity to stretch. Using tools like GoNoodle, teachers can lead a virtual dance party in their remote classroom to get the kids up and moving. One word of advice here, if you are playing a video through your system speakers, make sure you don’t have headphones on or adjust the audio source in Zoom by clicking on the up-carrot symbol next to “Mute” to change your selection of audio output. (see image on the right)

14. Reveal your answer

With everything being digital, it’s also nice to take a break from digital as you already have a Zoom meeting occupying the students’ screens. There are a wide variety of analog strategies you could use with your students by using paper and pencil. One might be sharing a math problem on your screen while students work out the results. Then, countdown and have them reveal their answers to their cameras at the same time. I’ve also seen teachers have success doing a “directed drawing” by pointing their webcam or phone camera down to a sheet a paper while they give instruction and then have students share their creations at the end.

15. Box of Lies

A big struggle with online learning via video is keeping students focus and attention, especially to the finer details. The game “Box of Lies” was made popular by Jimmy Fallon (video below) and would be a creative way to see if students are paying attention. The premise would be that the teacher or student has an object out of camera view and then has to describe the object. You could do this with all sorts of other ideas from historical figures to using descriptive words in another language.

 

16. Monster drawing

Taking that directed drawing from #14 to the next level by doing a Monster drawing. In this activity, a teacher or student read aloud descriptions of their drawing but don’t let other students see it. They have listen for information like “my monster has a rectangle body” or “my monster has 5 eyes, one of them is big and in the middle” to figure out the drawing. This helps kids both with descriptive words but also with listening and translating. In the end, have students show their creations on the screen to see who got closest to the description. This activity could be used in other areas as well such as re-creating a story character or describing a graph in math.

17. Organize projects online

Distance learning doesn’t just have to be about kids filling out digital worksheets or playing online learning games. Students can still do long-term projects either individually or in groups even though they final results may be different than what was done traditionally in the classroom. Using online project management and productivity tools like Trello, MeisterTask or ClickUp can help students struggling with organization and timelines. Coupling those tools with video meeting check-ins can help kids learn how to collaborate and complete a project online over a length of time.

18. Breakout a Digital BreakOut EDU

BreakoutEDU has always been one of my favorite ways to engage students of all ages by creating a series of clues and challenges that the students have to uncover. For the last couple of years they’ve been offering Digital BreakOutEDU as an online version of their platform. Teachers could leverage the “breakout” room feature of Zoom with a Digital BreakOutEDU and have teams solve the challenges within a certain timeframe. The great thing about their platform is they have already done most of the heavy lifting in creating the BreakOuts for you based on subject and age level. You can also check out this “Build Your Own” resource if you don’t have the funds to purchase a subscription.

19. Who’s who?

A fun non-tech game to play is “Who’s who?”.  In this game, students privately message the teacher some facts about themselves and then the teacher reveals the clues. Students then write down their guesses as to who the person is based on the clues. This could also be turned into “Two truths and a lie” fairly easily. Other adaptations could be students sending clues about historical figures, book characters, etc. that the class has to figure out.

20. Play BINGO

Who doesn’t love a good game of BINGO? While this isn’t the classic game with numbers, balls, and clever calls, it is using the set-up of Bingo as a way to review facts, geographical locations, scientific terms, or even mathematical applications. Using the Flippity.net BINGO tool, you create what goes in the squares and then you read out the clues while students fill out their own digital square or by printing a game card. Flippity actually lets you send out the cards via link or QR code as kids can fill in their cards digitally. Then when it’s over, have them share their screen and review their answers to see who wins!

21. Host a Game Show

Amongst some of the other Flippity.net tools is the classic Jeopardy-like game show. A great way to review information for a unit or novel study, you can fill in the back-end answers using a Google spreadsheet and then share your screen with the game board. Students can play individually, or you could pre-assign teams and then send them to breakout rooms to discuss what they think the answer might be.

22. Story Progression

You remember the “telephone game” or maybe the game “one-word stories”? This is a similar concept where you start the story and have random students add the next line. A story could start with “Once upon a time….” and then you could select the student by unmuting their mic. By doing it randomly rather than in a specific order, you cause all students to be thinking of a response rather than just waiting until their turn. Mix it up with story recaps or historical fiction to see what they come up with.

23. Autodraw Slam

For those of us that are not budding artists or struggle with drawing with a mouse, I’ve long been a fan of Autodraw.com. This web-based application has you draw out a shape as close as you can while the AI guesses what it might be. When you see an object that is close to what you are drawing, you select it to place into your drawing. One fun thing I’ve tried with this is having students draw their favorite movie scene and then putting the picture on a Padlet wall for everyone to guess the movie.

24. Digital Flashcards

Flashcards can be pretty boring, especially if you are just using them yourself to practice terms, definitions or maybe even a foreign language. Now that we are remote, it becomes even more challenging to find a partner or group to practice with. Using tools like Fishbowl and Quizlet Live can be leveraged to create fun and energizing ways to have kids practice their terms either as a group or in breakout rooms.

25. Polygraph Questions

One of the hidden nuggets I always love showing teachers is the Polygraph feature contained within the free, web-based math app called Desmos. This tool acts creates a “Guess who?” like game where 2 students are randomly paired up via a join code you share with them on the screen. You create the cards and student A choses one of the items to be their “mystery item”. As you can upload any image, the mystery item could be a person, place, thing, word, math problem, etc. Then student B has to ask yes or no questions and decide which items they can eliminate. Polygraph creates a private loop between the students and the teacher can see the questions and guesses that each student is making to better check for understanding.

Additional Resources:

While most of these activities I either have done with students or teachers (both live and online), there are hundreds of other resources and games out there available to use freely with your students as you teach remotely. Here are two that I’ll give shout-outs to as I found them while writing this post:

TCEA Tech Notes – Zoom Games – This post came out while I was writing this post and contains many other games like the scavenger hunt and Pictionary that teachers could benefit from using.

Quarantine Games – This google doc compiled by @ihartnia has pages of board games, card games, and other things that you can play online.

I hope you enjoy my list and please feel free to share any other games or ideas you have in the comments below. Here’s an infographic with all 25 of the strategies (ironically) on a Zoom call. 🙂

Stay safe and stay sane!

 

Re-Imaging Teacher Prep in Light of #COVID19

Editor’s note: COVID19 has allowed some opportunities that may not have been available without.  With a little extra time we, ( James Kapptie & Carl Hooker), came up with a plan to do a shared blog.  While isolated in Wyoming and Texas the topic and discussion was created.  We hope that as with all great blog posts that you join and add to our discussion.

Re-imaging teacher prep in light of #COVID19

What are the biggest new requirements for teacher prep as a result of COVID19?

 

CH: I’ve been lucky enough to guest lecture several college teacher prep courses over the years. One thing that stood out to me is that lack of development on educational technology. College students generally “get” technology when it comes to games, social media, and learning a platform quickly, but generally, they struggle with when it comes to thoughtful integration of technology for learning. I think this pandemic has shined a bright spotlight on those deficits that start at teacher prep and continue somewhat through professional learning once they are with a district. 

JK: I would totally agree with Carl that teachers in general miss some of the technology integration logic. We all are very similar to our students.  I am always amazed when students struggle with learning something and it never crosses their mind to “google” it.  We all are guilty of using youtube to assist us in some ways but don’t think of it as a place to help school learning. Maybe the spotlight will shine not only on the lack of prep to use the technological tools we have, but will also force us to look at what it is we want students to learn.  I always like a good analogy, imagine sending mechanic students out to work on cars without showing them how different tools are needed for different parts.

CH: I like that analogy and it’s so true! It’s one thing to have the knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily equal understanding.

 

How should teacher prep approach working with parents as a result of COVID19?

 

CH: I think this should be addressed regardless of this crisis. As a parent of three elementary aged children, I’ve always felt like having some consistency when it comes to communication home is needed. Now more than ever, that communication needs to be not only consistent, but also clarify instructions for those of us trying to teach our students at home. Teachers have relied heavily on verbal instructions and then follow-ups for checking with understanding. Now they are sending home information in packets or weekly choice boards that have some limited instructions that can be confusing for both parents and students. While we need to give teachers some grace as they are ultimately doing educational triage on their lessons, I think this could be refined more in the future. 

JK:  The point of “teachers doing triage on their lessons” is well stated.  Teacher prep courses need to have parent “practicums” if you will.  Teaching teachers how to ask the right questions so that they can build an effective team with parents is no easy task.   Most teachers become well versed at communicating  in the controlled environment with kids but communication with adults is not usually a topic we work into teacher prep.  Learning to talk to adults and asking them how we can make this work better is a great starting point. 

CH: I also think giving them some basic expectations about sending home a list of tools and apps being used along with login information would be a great start to opening up those channels of communication when it comes to learning. Too many times that communication is about poor behavior but how great would it be to get a message from your child’s teacher giving you some additional learning strategies or tools to use at home?

 

What should school Administrators look for in new hires as a result of COVID19?

 

JK: I think school administrators should consider a few things in their new hires.  First, applications need to include technology “application” examples from candidates.  Show me a tool and how it has been used.  The tool that they model will not be nearly as insightful, as the chance to see their process.  This gives administrators and hiring teams a chance to see what level they are taking the learning to and how technology is offering something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  Second, give them an opportunity to pick a tool and explain how they could use it to take learning across the DOK levels.  We need to see teachers committing to getting far deeper than just substituting technology for what we already do.  Writing in a Google doc is no more impressive than on paper…unless that online document takes the learning somewhere that would be nearly impossible without it. 

CH: You hit the nail on the head there. Just trouble-shooting a google doc is one thing, but actually diving deeper into pedagogical practices and reasoning is another. One thing I implemented as an administrator when hiring Educational Technologists is something I called “The Gauntlet”. The idea was to mimic the issues and interactions the position might encounter on any given day. Applicants went through a series of challenges that involved presenting to a group, solving technical issues, supporting parents and administrators, and coaching grade level teams. It was a lot of work and a full day for each of the applicants, but my theory was that it was easy to hire people but harder to fire them. Why not start by coming up with a more in-depth process to hire high quality people that is more than just the traditional group interview (which really favors people that interview well)

HR departments have needed to rethink their hiring practices for decades, but this pandemic has really highlighted the deficits some of our teachers have as they enter the profession. 

JK:  Love the “Gauntlet” idea.  We can’t look to improve schools if we are not willing to look at new ways to assess candidates.   The analogy  that comes to mind is those solid rubber tires on the first cars would really work that well today, so why are we hiring so similar to how we did thirty or forty years ago?

 

 

How does professional development adapt for teachers as a result of COVID19?

 

CH: This is an area that I could spend hours discussing. As an administrator that ran professional development in a school district, I always tried to figure out different ways for our teachers to learn other than physically being in a building for several hours a day in the summer. I love the conference experience when done right, but that might not be an option now, at least physically in the same space. Much like learning with the students, there should be synchronous and asynchronous options available for our teachers. Synchronous options could be an online discussion via video conference or participating in a live webinar. Asynchronous options could be book studies, twitter chats, and other projects that can involve much more virtual collaboration.

JK: Well said Carl!  Professional development, moving forward should highlight the idea of “modeling” what learning can look like.  The PD can be meaningful and meet educators where they physically are.  There will always be an avenue for in person group learning but we can make the learning opportunities more cost effective and time appropriate so that more educators can take part.  If we have more educators involved it will hopefully help the needed ideas for improving education more quickly adopted.

CH: I’m excited to see what comes out as a result of this and have already started developing some of my own “Remote Professional Learning” packages for schools to use this summer and fall. It doesn’t just have to be sit-n-get in front of a computer screen. 

 

What are some things we can do, once back in the classroom, to better prepare students of all ages for learning online?

 

JK: This is a great question.  I feel like schools need to incorporate this “new” hybrid mindset into our culture.  Schools need to make sure classrooms are connecting to places outside the school building.  Model what connected learning should look like.  Schools and communities need to be addressing the inequity that has become apparent during this crisis.  Plans to address making sure students have connecting tools but also that there is a connection.  Schools having busses with hotspots is great for the moment but we must come up with better ways to provide infrastructure when students are not in the building.  This planning can help us address summer learning loss, snow days or weather issues, family vacations, medical emergencies and if there is a recurrence of  COVID19.  The term “new normal”  means we have to address how we can create quality educational opportunities when we aren’t in school.

CH: I think the inequity of access is a major issue. Schools are applying bandages to this now, but it needs a long-term fix. I also think we could benefit by sending home more blended learning activities instead of digital homework. Too often I see busy work coming home that could be done with or without technology. We have been preaching the 4 C’s for years and see it in our physical classrooms but not so much when it comes to online learning. This will come with growth, training and understanding of what high quality online learning looks like for kids of all ages.

JK:  Creating high quality online learning will take education companies to help create simple to use tools that are more than just recording devices.

 

Thank you Carl, your perspective is thoughtful and important.  I appreciate you joining me on this adventure.

Thank you James for reaching out! We have a long way to go, but with connection and collaboration we can make the future even brighter. 

 

James Kapptie is a 20 year classroom veteran. His experience includes Middle and High School, Administration, Technology Director, Education speaker and consultant, and Computer Science and “Purposeful Technology” Evangelist based out of Cheyenne, Wyoming. You can follow him on twitter @jpk38 and more of his work at his blog: https://ourchildrenarecalling.blogspot.com/

 

I Miss the Crowds

This post is not easy for me to write. Let me start with that.

But I feel like I have to write it. Both for my own therapy and also for the chance that maybe one person in the world will read it and know they are not alone.

This is not my usual blog. No pictures, funny videos, or 80’s references. Just my words. Thank you for reading it and for not judging me by the words on this page.

I am a social creature.

I know some people say that they are extroverts, but I’m truly a person that gets energy from crowds. I love crowds so much that one month ago, in the wake of SXSW getting cancelled, I ponied up my own money to host an event with those educators stuck in town.

Yes, it was a risky move. Yes, I got lucky that none of the 100 or so people from various countries in attendance was sick. But for me, it was absolutely exhilarating. I loved playing host, interacting with people from different parts of the world, and discussing how to help education during this troubling time.

That was a month ago. It seems like a year ago.

Since then, I’ve tried to stay preoccupied with house chores, helping teach the girls, creating content to help others, and walking the dog. My god, I’ve walked the dog more than she ever wanted to be walked.

I do all of this to keep my mind from traveling to a dark place.

You see, I quit my “day job” last summer to become a full-time public speaker and consultant. I know, bad timing. I’ve been able to do some work as a virtual consultant and writer, but I truly do miss the crowds. And I don’t see them coming back anytime soon.

So, without that social energy my heart craves, my mind starts traveling to dark places.

The mental health aspect of this Coronavirus pandemic is something that should not be understated. I’m lucky that I have a house and loving family. I know that. I appreciate that every day. Yes, we are worried like many others when it comes to finances, but we aren’t worrying about our next meal like many others.

But that doesn’t stop my mind from thinking the worst.

Depression is like the virus that’s causing this in that it’s an invisible disease. It invades the mind and doesn’t make any sense to the person it’s attacking. One moment, the sun is out, then the next moment a dark cloud appears.

My energy is draining. I miss the crowds.

Zoom happy hours, playing online poker with friends, and waving at neighbors I’ve never seen when we are out walking are nice. They are all temporary upticks of joy, but they are not the crowds.

Going Pokemon hunting with the kids is fun. It’s a nice distraction, but it’s not a room full of educators eager to learn, listen and laugh alongside me.

People that know me probably think of me as ‘fun-loving’ and light-hearted. People that really know me also know that I can sometimes push people and their thinking. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing that very thing. Pushing people on Facebook to think and ask questions about what was happening and how we were all handling it. Part of it was to gain understanding and part of it was because I needed to believe that there was a way out of this.

That completely backfired. People that I know and love got pissed at me for asking questions and pushing a bit. I don’t blame them. We are all unsure and scared about what is happening.

I handle uncomfortable situations with humor. Always have and always will. It’s both a defense mechanism and a way to diffuse intense situations. That might work well in person, but not so much on a Facebook feed. After a few days of having this backfire on me, I realized Facebook was not helping me. I had a love/hate relationship with it. It kept me connected socially, but it also depressed me with every graph or grim report I saw posted. It was time to delete Facebook and take a break.

Call it practicing “social media distancing” for lack of a better phrase.

So where do we go from here? There’s glimmers of hope in the news, but honestly, I’m not watching any more. The other day someone posted a rant on Nextdoor about someone going to the store for a gallon of paint. They tore the guy to pieces over it. I thought in my head, what if that gallon of paint represented a project to keep his mind occupied? What if it was that or relapse into a bad drinking habit? Or depression? Or suicide? I know we are all very sensitive and scared right now at the immediate threat facing all of us, but let’s not forget to have some empathy.

And I don’t mean empathy in the “I’ll go get my older neighbors some toilet paper” or “I’m applauding the health care workers”. These are things we should be doing on a normal basis. I’m talking about empathy for the friend or family member that might be in rough spot mentally, but is going to great lengths to hide it.

My kids don’t notice how I’m feeling. I hide it well and try to keep them laughing, but they can tell something is off. My wife is much more perceptive and she’s known me for over 20 years. She can tell the stress is building in me while she has her own stresses protecting the family from this virus. She doesn’t want any of us leaving the house, but also knows me well enough to know, I have to get out to stay somewhat sane. I’ve adapted and only done so when we need something. I wear a mask, wash my hands, and clean off anything I purchase. I figure being inconvenienced by a mask and cleaning off a bit is well worth the trip out of the house. That said, I hope this gets over soon.

I miss the handshakes.

I miss the hugs.

I miss the crowds.

For those of you out there also traveling to dark places from time to time through this, know that you are not alone. You have a friend out there who knows what you are going through. And one day, I hope we’ll meet up and share a laugh over all of this.

Because without laughter, this can get pretty damn depressing.

Stay safe.

Stay sane.

 

A Beginner’s Toolkit for Teaching Remotely

As the world has suddenly been sent into self-isolation, many schools are trying to figure out what to do next. Some are opting for extended Spring Break, while others are trying to figure out ways to continue learning from home. This pandemic and subsequent shut down of social interaction has shed light on some major issues when it comes to connectivity in our students’ homes. Those with internet may have limited access to a device as well as there may only be one smartphone that a family has access to.

Knowing all of those underlying issues exist in many of your schools, there are many schools moving forward with the idea of “remote learning” or eLearning. For a classroom teacher that has been trained in the day-to-day operation of being in a physical classroom, a virtual classroom presents many different opportunities and challenges besides the lack of access mentioned above. As you might imagine, teaching the exact same way you would in a face-to-face environment is a bit like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I’m offering up this beginner’s toolkit as a start for a teacher just now getting started. I’m not focusing on a grade level or subject area with this guide, but rather a set of tools, resources, questions, and ideas you’ll want to have in your virtual toolkit.

Consistent Communication

I’m starting with this before we dive into content and strategies. All of the other stuff is just noise if you don’t have a consistent method of communication with parents and students. Email is probably the most basic and universally accepted but could be cumbersome if you are teaching multiple subjects and students each day. Having apps that act as text messages like Bloomz and remind could also work.

As a way to streamline communication, many districts use Learning Management System (LMS) tools like Canvas, Schoology, Seesaw or Google Classroom as way to communicate and distribute work to students. If you are in a school district that does not have an LMS tool in place, I’d highly recommend either Google Classroom or Seesaw as a simple way to set up a remote classroom for your students.

Here are some tutorials you could use to get those set up:

Seesaw for Home Learning (Video)

Quick Start Guide to Google Classroom (Website)

No matter what you do or what tool you use, be sure to be consistent. Whether you are sending out the weekly work every Monday at 9am or checking in daily, be sure you are consistent and available for support. Which brings me to my next tip

Support Your Learners

Many students are confused, stressed, or excited by the prospect of being out of school for an extended period of time. Their parents are also under a lot of stress during this time and may have lost work or are struggling to work remotely while being self-quarantined with their entire family. Life and learning at home will look very different for each of your students depending on their situation and you no longer have the consistency provided in a single classroom environment. Just like communication, I listed this section prior to getting into content and strategies because supporting your students is much more important than turning in a digital worksheet. If you do nothing else during this time away than consistently communicate and support your students with periodic check-ins, know that you will have helped with their social-emotional well-being if nothing else.

Sending short videos saying hello, leaving a voice mail, or even sending a letter to their home can be a way to check in and make them aware that you care about them and their well-being during this turbulent time.

Virtual Office Hours

As part of those check in with students, some teachers have set up “virtual office hours”.  These can be in the form of brief 1-on-1 chats with students or possibly checking in with the whole group during your regularly scheduled class time. Many companies have stepped up to the plate and offered up free services for video conferencing for schools. Business video conferencing companies like Zoom and Webex are offering free versions or expanded basic versions for all schools. For Zoom you have to fill out this brief school information form and for Webex you can just download the app to get started. One thing to be cautious of is that many of the business versions of online video chat software are not COPPA-compliant (meaning kids under 13 shouldn’t use them.

For those of you teaching younger students, you could use a tool like Google Hangouts Meet (if you are GSuite school) or Microsoft Teams (if you are an Office 365 school). If these options aren’t available to you, here’s a list of kid-friendly video chat apps you might consider as well.

A couple of notes of advice from video chat experts:

  1. Keep the chats short. This isn’t the time for an hour long lecture. Figure on about 15-20 minutes of time to share any information you might normally do in a one-hour class.
  2. Have a script or set of questions to keep things on point. This can be as simple as asking students how they are doing to more academic questions.

Content Delivery and Retrieval

I saved this until later in this post as I know it’s probably the first thing many teachers are thinking about but also the most complex to deal with based on many of the items above. Before I list a few ideas, I have noticed that depending on the state you are in, academic work may or may not be counted on for a grade. You’ll want to follow whatever guidelines your school or district provides when it comes to grading. That said, many families are hoping or some direction and ideas when it comes to at-home learning. The two most common approaches when it comes to delivering content and work for students are these:

  1. Synchronous method: Teachers and students gather virtually in an online space during the time of their actual class period. So if you have Pre-AP Algebra from 9:30-10:20 normally, that’s when students would log in to work with the teacher. While this most resembles the actual school day, it’s also wrought with issues like students not being able to get connected, tech issues, or what to do when a student is “absent” and misses the virtual session. Recording these in Google Hangout Meet might be one option for later viewing, but just know the backend issues that can arise when doing this the first few times.
  2. Asynchronous method: This has by far been the most popular method for remote learning. Much like online university classes, assignments are handed out daily or weekly for students to complete. Teachers can record themselves using Screencastify for PCs, Quicktime for Mac, and the built-in screen recorder for iPad or iPhone. Then these videos can be uploaded and distributed via your communication method of choice (see item #1) along with any other materials you want to attach.

Collection of materials can be tricky without an LMS. Without a full-blown LMS you could ask students to gather their work in a folder or even in a virtual folder in Google Drive. One clever idea that was shared with me from a teacher in Illinois was using an ePortfolio system like Bulb for students to document their learning. Using Bulb, students of all ages can document their learning in a series of collections. Check out this 3rd grade and high school example for ideas.

Another tool that I’ve always loved for digital learning is Nearpod. This morning they released this Google Doc with a rough schedule of what a day of at-home learning might look like. What I love about their approach is that they focus a lot on building those SEL skills like meditation for middle school kids or goal-setting for elementary students. They even have lessons in Spanish! Ideally your school would have a Nearpod account, but if not, they do offer a limited set of tools or free.

Using FlipGrid is a great way to have a virtual, asynchronous class discussion around a multitude of topics. From virtual book clubs to selecting and sharing a variety of topics in their Disco Library, this web-based tool can work on any device and allows students an opportunity to see each other more often, even if it is not face-to-face.

Also, having a running Google Doc shared with your students could work in terms of sending them ideas or a daily to-do list much like the one Nearpod shared above. Collection becomes a little trickier without Google Classroom, but having Google folders set up to “turn in” work could be a work around.

I am working on a list of resources for teachers that are more based on grade levels and ages, but as this post is just a beginner’s guide, I’m just sharing the above tools that could be used regardless of age and subject.

The Power of Reflection

“We do not learn from experience….we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

Reflection is a powerful ally to learning. One thing I always struggled with until late in my teaching career was allowing kids the time to reflect on what they had learned and accomplished. Reflection coupled with goal-setting can help with productivity as well as a student’s confidence to achieve a goal. One of the best examples of this that could totally be done at home is the design and building of a Rube Goldberg machine. Using available utensils and tools, the student creates a device with multiple moving parts and then predicts how successful it will be and how many attempts it might take. (here’s one example by a young man named Audri)

Taking time to reflect on their day and the process of what they are learning would be a great use of time at home. Reflections can be done in a physical journal, in a Google doc, on a FlipGrid, using a tool like Book Creator, or captured in a Bulb ePortfolio. No matter what subject or age you teach, try and encourage your students to document and reflect on what life is like in this crazy new normal.

I hope that the above areas help you get started on your journey as a teacher who works remotely. Remember to take care of yourself too during this time away and take time to reflect, share, and breathe. I’ll be sharing more tools and resources in a separate post.

If your school or district needs help, I’m available for virtual consulting. Click here if you’d like more information or need some assistance in your school or district.

 

 

Because Nothing Can Stop the Learning! An #AltSXSWedu Recap

Last Friday was an upsetting day. The conference I had attended for the past 10 years (SXSWedu) announced it was cancelling along with the larger SXSW that often brings thousands of people to Austin and over $356 million dollars in revenue to the city. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I was frustrated. I realize that being frustrated at something like a conference cancellation is extremely small in the scope of what is happening around the world, but I’m just being honest. This event was the most diverse conferences I have attended, and selfishly, I looked forward to growing global collaborations and connections as well as the sharing of ideas for learning.

That night, I agreed to meet my friends downtown at their new bar, called Idle Hands, on Rainey Street here in Austin. When I arrived the mood was somber. The service staff were depressed. Uber drivers, stage crew, bands, waiters, bartenders, valets, food trucks and more make a significant amount of their income from the SXSW event and all the subsidiary events that happen before and after it takes place. In the case of one of the bartenders I spoke with, he makes almost half of his yearly income in the span of just a few weeks because of it.

While this was happening, I pulled out my phone to look at see what the reactions were on Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. The responses ranged from “thank god they cancelled it” to those that were now stuck here because of the late cancellation. Many of these people were from overseas.

People like Ryan King from China and Tracy Mehoke from Wisconsin (by way of Abu Dhabi) were here in Austin and now wondering what to do with themselves. Others like Krista Vaught from Florida and Vitor Bruno from Brazil were educators in a similar predicament of having already arrived here and literally collecting their baggage when the announcement came out. These people began to find each other through various social platforms and quickly formed an “EdUnconference” Slack channel as a way to connect and try and coordinate some meet-ups around Austin.

While this was happening, an idea started to rise up in my mind. We have all of these brilliant minds trapped in Austin, but no way for them all to gather. I’ve hosted educational conferences for years in Austin and around the world. While those events take months to plan, I didn’t have that kind of time. I had 72 hours.

I also needed a place. Enter Idle Hands. Like many bars in Austin, their space had been rented out for SXSW, but those sponsors had since dropped out leaving a fully-stocked event space with complete with service staff but missing an important thing….people. I pitched them the idea of hosting “an alternate event” to SXSWedu. They were all for it and excited to help out. The owners of Ranch Hand, a local food truck that had taken up residence in the kitchen of Idle Hands said, “We have nothing to do and would love to have some people to serve!”

I immediately put the news out on Twitter that night.

Within minutes Krista reached out and told me about the Slack channel. Magic started to happen. On Saturday, I got up and bought a domain and built a website out for AltSXSWedu.com. I threw together a quick form for presenters to submit ideas (so quick that I left off the field for people to enter a presentation title!) and an Eventbrite page for people to get their free tickets. By mid-day Sunday we had 20 submissions with over 50 people that were listed as attendees and I started to think…this might actually happen.

On Monday, I met up with Krista and Tracy for the first time in person. We started going over the logistics of what the 2-day event would look like and how we could utilize the space (a former house converted into a bar) to facilitate discussions and learning. I’m the type of person that thinks and creates better collaboratively and having these two share and bounce ideas off of was amazing. Krista agreed to lead the opening session with an activity called “Collaborating with Strangers” and Tracy was going to MC some “Flash Talks” – quick, 5-minute talks with no slides, for anyone that wanted to get up and speak. We had poetry, topic mixers, round-tables, and immersive experiences. Late Monday night some signage was put together and name badges were created.

First attendees begin to arrive on Tuesday morning of AltSXSWedu

I reached out to some local vendors like Bulb, Kahoot, Squarecap, Firia Labs and Brainpop to cover items like waters, coffee and snacks for attendees. I contacted good friend Humberto Perez to see if his band MariaBloom and another band could play both days to wrap up the event. All of this happened in less than 48 hours. My INCREDIBLE wife, Renee, who always is so supportive of my crazy creative ideas, was by my side for the next two days helping run registration, logistics and answer questions.

Then Tuesday morning arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. As people started to arrive, I grabbed my portable speaker and started blaring some Stevie Ray Vaughn to welcome our international guests to the event. The learning could not be stopped!

Photo credit: @MissJShields1

In all, over 120 people would attend and over 30 sessions were shared either face to face or virtually. Using my daughter’s portable karaoke speaker, I kicked off the event by telling everyone that they were not attendees….they were organizers.

We shared ideas.

We invented the #AltHandShake (photo left)

We argued about educational strategies and theories.

We collaborated on how to address the rapid shift to online learning that was about to take place.

We learned.

As the event wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon, I was physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally fulfilled. I made connections and learned ideas that I rarely do at a large conference. This event COULD NOT have happened without the support of the amazing companies like those mentioned above and amazing people like Ryan, Tracy, Krista, Renee, Anne, Jami, Humberto, Vitor, Meghdut, Pauline, Anna, Claudio, Carolyn, Al, Nikki, Rebecca, Sarathi, Maru, Suzanne, Reyna, and many, many more that made this event happen.

Minds from all over the world, brought together because of a virus, showing me that learning can’t be stopped even when the world around us is facing uncertainty.

I will cherish the new connections I made, the things I learned and the memories I made for the rest of my life.

Press:

We did have a few news agencies come by to see what we were up to. If you’re interested in hearing more, here are links to their stories about AltSXSWedu:

CBS Austin –  Group organizes alternate version of SXSWEdu conference

KXAN Austin – Educators in Austin for SXSW rally to form 2-day AltSXSWedu

EdSurge – SXSWEdu is Called Off. But the Sessions and Parties Are Still Happening

Photo Credit: @meghamind_7

 

 

How Prepared is Your School for a Long-Term Pandemic?

It’s been interesting to watch the world react to the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the “Coronavirus”. In the age of social media and instant notifications on our mobile devices, it’s made this pandemic seem like the worst on record when in fact, it’s not even close. That said, as with any disaster or pandemic, there comes an increased awareness to how schools and districts respond to it. Many schools are on alert, creating plans and awaiting guidance. While others, like this school in Seattle, are shutting down as a precaution.

Last week I posted the question of how schools prepared for a long-term closure using Facebook, Twitter, and group texts as ways to crowd-source responses.  Those responses varied from “packets, we’ll just give them lots of packets” to “we’ll use Google Classroom to hand out assignments.”  Neither of these responses are inherently good or bad, but it does open the door to a slew of questions schools and districts need to be asking themselves when it comes to continuing the learning even when the building is closed to students.

This post is a cumulation of those responses crowd-sourced from school administrators across the globe. As every district is different, it’s impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to long-term closure. However, I do hope these questions can help guide you as you see what kind of plan you have in place should the unfortunate happen. Being from Texas, I know that weather can cause long-term closure as well (see Hurricane Harvey). For the purposes of the following questions, I’m going to assume that it’s a pandemic and that it’s affecting the entire community and surrounding districts. I will also post some ideas and solutions that were shared with me in the hopes of sparking an idea for your school or community.

1. How will you deliver learning to your students?

I purposefully put “learning” instead of “content” as too often times we default to what we know. Learning online looks a lot different than learning in a physical classroom. Some mentioned using LMS platforms like Schoology or Google Classroom to deliver the learning to their students but this assumes that A) they have devices and B) they have internet access (see next question). Also, most of the responses pertained to students in grades 6 and up. Some had some measures for 3-5 students while most had no plans for online learning when it came to K-2 students.

Ideas/Solutions: As mentioned, using LMS platforms seemed to be the most common response to this question, with Google Classroom being mentioned the most. Sometimes these can be online assignments, digital worksheets, or journal prompts. Some mentioned using live chats, YouTube, and Google Hangouts as a way to supplement the learning, including having “office hours” where teachers take 10-15 minutes to check in virtually with each of their students. A couple of districts mentioned their teachers creating lessons on Nearpod and using the “student-paced” option to send work home as it tracks their answers and allows them to upload work. Andrew Wallace from South Portland Maine Schools shared another creative solution. In his district, they send home a “one page cheat sheet” with passwords and usernames for online resources like Newsela, Tumble Books, Overdrive, and BrainPop (which already has a new lesson on the CoronaVirus – see below) In Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Kyle Berger deploys a Classlink portal for all teachers, parents and students to access resources. Of course, this all still assumes that all kids have devices and internet at home which leads me to my second question.

2. How many of your students DO NOT have online access at home and how do you deliver learning to them?

This is a question many schools may already know the answer to. Online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Bright Bytes can help collect this data (ironically, you have to be online to take the survey) or you could collect this information during school registration. Regardless of how you collect it, you’ll likely have a percentage of students without access that you’ll have to plan for.

Ideas/Solutions: There were a WIDE variety of ideas and solutions for this question. Bonnie Blan from Southwest Christian School was able to leverage discounted internet access for families in need using Kajeet and the BroadbandNow initiative. Others mentioned giving out hotspots as it would be likely that students wouldn’t be able to go to places like McDonald’s or Starbucks during a quarantine (although some adults might risk it for coffee :). With either of these solutions, you would need to set these up well before disaster strikes, but I like that schools are solving this issue regardless. In general, the responses from educators seemed to indicate that you should be prepared to have some analog mixed with digital. Writing in journals and reading are easy enough for ELA, but having prompts for writing helps. Some schools mentioned having students check out extra books out of the library just in case.

3. How prepared are staff and what is their role?

Like Jennifer mentioned, setting up a bunch of brand new tools during a stressful time like a long-term closure wouldn’t be wise. Staff will be worried about their own families as well as their students. Anything that is implemented would either need to be put in place before hand or easily deliverable to a teacher’s existing curriculum and instruction. While not ideal, this could mean just sending home paper or digital worksheets, but even that can be a challenge.

Ideas/Solutions: Having a plan in place with deliverables to staff would be a smart thing to create and have on hand regardless of a global pandemic. These can range from having some one-page step-sets that show teachers how to deliver a variety of content on your LMS of choice to an internal website with a range of ideas for online learning. Schools can leverage tools like Microsoft Teams as a way to collaborate or have conversations or create Padlet walls that students can post ideas on. Any and all solutions should be web-based, device agnostic and able to work on a smartphone as that may be the only online access they have.

One bit of advice from Jennifer Pearson, a Tech Coordinator who works at the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen in China – “There should be a plan. The plan should be consistent and NOT introduce a bunch of new techy tools.”

4. Are these days recognized by your state or country as actual instructional days?

As you might imagine, each state and country has different rules around this. Here in Texas, we count instructional days based on the actual amount of minutes our students are physically in school. While there might be exemptions made, currently those days won’t count and schools would presumably have to extend the school year to make up for the loss of days and weeks while shut down which would likely push through the end of June. While I think learning should still continue even if your state or country doesn’t recognize it officially, this brings about many other questions, including contract lengths of your professional teaching staff.

Ideas/Solutions: Some states, like Illinois, recognizes a handful of “eLearning Days” that can often times come about due to poor weather. These days are counted as official instructional days and were recognized by the state, which means no make-up days at the end of the year. Phil Hintz from Gurnee D56 in the Chicago area was a part of a handful of districts that ran the pilot for eLearning days starting in 2016. While not a solution for weeks of closure, the framework they built was around giving students windows of time to complete assignments and using Title 1 funds to get those without access Kajeet Hotspots. Here’s a video of his school’s experience with eLearning day.

5. What role do other “non-classroom” professionals play?

In an average school building there are many professional, salaried staff working along side the classroom teachers. Some of these teach special area subjects like art, music and PE. Others include counselors, nurses, and campus administration. While the majority of the interaction of students will come from the teacher in an eLearning concept, these staff still have a role to play.

Ideas/Solutions: Principals are the go to source for school-to-home communication. They should be posting updates regularly to both parents but also to staff and help identify families that might not have online access at home. They also have to set expectations for teaching staff in making sure online instruction is consistent. Special area teachers should continue to serve students and provide instruction whether it be having students post a video of them doing push-ups on a FlipGrid or capture their art and reflect using a digital portfolio tool like Bulb. Counselors and nurses can provide support to families in need either through one-on-one at home visits or through online video chat tools.

6. What about itinerant and paraprofessional staff?

Those professional staff on salary can rest easy knowing that they are still getting their paycheck every month, even if the school is closed. Sure they may have to work some extra days, but they aren’t clocking in to work an hourly job. Custodians, administrative assistants, cafeteria workers and teacher aides don’t have that luxury. For them, a shut down could be a devastating hit to them financially if they aren’t working.

Ideas/Solutions: There are still roles for many of these staff to play even if the building is closed, but they may be very different compared to the normal school day. Custodial staff should do a deep cleaning of the building and prepare it for the eventual return of students. Admin assistants can help connect teachers with students and vice versa as they have access to parent contact information. Cafeteria workers can help provide and deliver meals to those families in need. Teacher aides can use tools like Google Hangouts to meet with those students they serve and check in or assist on the work that they have to do at home. In some cases, while human contact in masse is to be avoided, they can also make one-on-one home visits like the counselors and nurses. While the building may be closed, there is still plenty of work to be done and these staff are vital to keeping things running efficiently as well as helping our students with special needs.

In summary, there is a LOT to consider before shutting a school down for a few days or even a few weeks. The questions above are just the tip of the iceberg, but they come from a multitude of librarians, teachers, and administrators across the world that genuinely care about keeping the progress of learning happening despite the closure of a physical building.

What plans does your school or district have in place? Please post your ideas and solutions in the comments section below. If I’ve learned anything from this post, it’s that we all are better when we work and collaborate on ideas together.

It’s Not All Black and White: A Conversation Around Equity

“People have one thing in common; they are all different.” – Philosopher Robert Zend

Last summer, Adam Phyall and I were engaged in an interesting conversation. This isn’t uncommon as anyone that knows us knows we can debate and discuss just about anything under the sun, but this time it was different. For one, we weren’t at a conference or a school building. We were “tubing” down a river in central Texas (a favorite past-time of ours down here). I throw that in not as a non sequitur, but to mention that we were both out of our normal “professional” environments which enabled some freedom in what turned into a highly engaging discussion around equity. During our 3 hours down the river we discussed our backgrounds. Where we came from. How we were raised. What we each had to overcome and what kind of supports we had. How we raise our children and how we find and cultivate “our crew” of friends.

We discussed race openly and honestly. This included conversations that might be uncomfortable for some, but with our years of friendship and genuine empathy, it was absolutely captivating.  We wondered – how do we help students understand the differences in race and culture in a way that is productive? Too often uncomfortable conversations are avoided or left to HR personnel that come in and talk to staff about equity in the hopes it makes its way into the classroom. Not knowing how to proceed on that front, we stuck a pin in the conversation until a later date.

That later date was a month later. I was about to take the stage at the GAMEIS conference in Savannah when Adam came in to chat. We sat in the front row and re-engaged in the conversation from a month before, albeit in a much more formal setting now. As we went back and forth, we weren’t aware that more and more people began to seat around us and listen in to our discussion. They were both “highly engaged and intellectually stimulated” (their quote, not mine) at not only our content but how we addressed what they admitted was a hard topic to tackle with honesty. At one point near the end of the conversation, Adam remarked, “We should just do this as a session.”

Image courtesy of Rick Bough @rbough

Our opportunity would arrive just a few weeks later. As we are both national advisors for Future Ready Schools, there was an opportunity to present our idea at the February TCEA conference in Austin. Future Ready Schools not only tackles the issues of technology, budget, privacy, and curriculum, but is also an organization that champions opportunities to solve issues of inequity in schools across the country. Adam and I had our opportunity to formalize what started as an informal discussion and turn it into an interactive conversation around equity.

On February 3rd, we walked into our session with both excitement and un-easiness as to how our conversation would be accepted. To ramp up the talk, we decided to wear coordinating t-shirts of “Ebony” for me and “Ivory” for him. As it was a Monday morning session in a week-long conference focused on technology tools, we weren’t sure how many people to expect around the topic. We were pleased to see so many show up ready to engage and discuss the truth about stereotypes we make regularly in our schools and how to use student backgrounds as a way to better inform our instruction rather than pass judgment on their character.

During one of the segments, we asked the audience to list what words we use in education that could lead unintended stereotypes. While Adam and I brainstormed a few, they came up with an overwhelming amount as you can see in the screen shot below:

We also discussed recent cases in Texas and New Jersey of students being asked to change their appearance and what other cultural assumptions we might be making in schools. Technology also has a part to play in this discussion. As was witnessed at the conference, eSports is making a HUGE splash across many high schools throughout the country. Those students on eSports teams can practice in school but many also practice at home on $3000+ computer gaming systems.  That immediately eliminates many of our lower-economic students from participating, a talking point many in the crowd hadn’t immediately considered.

While I won’t go through every point of the talk, our main goal was not to tell them how to solve every issue of inequity, but rather to make them think and reflect on their current situations. Neither of us represent an entire race. We only represent a viewpoint of two educators that have lived somewhat mirrored lives only from opposite identities when it comes to race. We listed the following three questions for audience members to reflect on:

At the end, we attempted to summarize our unique viewpoints with passion and emotion in 3 minute co-poetry slam titled “Ebony and Ivory”. After the talk ended, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support and interest from the audience. Many commented on the fact that these were the conversations we needed to be having regularly in schools. What kinds of conversations are you having at your school around equity and race? Too often times, these conversations are not conversations at all. They are a set of bullet points on a powerpoint at the beginning of the year staff orientation or a required video that staff watch along with blood-born pathogens so that schools can “check the box” on equity training.

We had definitely touched on a nerve while at the same time stretching both of us out of comfort zones when it comes to presenting. We’re not sure where this goes next but we do have some plans on how to engage students more in this conversation at the classroom level (stay tuned). We also hope to expand this session to more events in the future, as we feel this is a conversation that needs to take place in district offices and classrooms across the country.

Interested in having Adam and Carl come to your district or event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

The Power of an Outside Voice – A Reflection on Professional Learning

I spent the past 21 years in education as a teacher and administrator. During that time I spent a great deal of my efforts on bringing high quality professional learning to our staff and community. In many cases, the professional learning events we provided would have not been possible without the help and support of an amazing team of educational technologists and coaches. While surveys and reviews of our work was always very positive, I started to learn during my career that sometimes, teachers need a change of voice and perspective to inspire them.

In 2011, I remember Dean Shareski being in Austin for a TEC-SIG event. I’d followed Dean on twitter like thousands of other educators and had been a part of his highly engaging conference sessions. When our librarian (Carolyn Foote – a superstar in her own right) told me that Dean was willing to come in a day early and do some training with staff, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Dean spent the entire day at Westlake High School training teachers on digital literacy, creativity and the importance of building a good network. While these were all things that Carolyn and I had been preaching to staff for years, there was something magical that happened when Dean said it. The staff lit up with ideas and began to come to us inspired to try new things.

As I left that day, I remembered two things that have stuck with me and are now the driving force in my new career as an educational consultant and speaker:

  1. Timing is everything when it comes to having a culture ready to try new things along with the tools and support with which to implement the change.
  2. Having an outside voice validate and align with your beliefs while also inspiring staff is a powerful catalyst to implementing campus and district-wide change.

Dean on stage at ISTE with me during his 2018 poetry slam

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Dean better as well as many other educators that travel the world making an impact on education through story-telling, resource-sharing, and idea-inspiring professional learning. As someone who now does this for a living, I hold that responsibility with the upmost importance. A district is putting their trust in me to not only align with their vision, but also inspire their staff to grow, innovate and learn.

Flash forward to the fall of 2018.

Our district had run several extremely successful professional learning events with iPadpalooza and LearnFestATX. These events brought in speakers and ideas from all over the world. Our staff were exposed to some of the greatest minds and most passionate educators I had ever met. As we were gearing up for our 2018 Professional Learning Conference (an internal-only event required of all staff to attend at the beginning of the school year), we debated who to bring in as a keynote speaker. In the past we had brought in a mixed bag of speakers. Some were inspirational (like Angela Maiers) and others were not as well received for a variety of reasons.

When we surveyed the staff the number one reason why they didn’t respond well to certain speakers, the top reason was a lack of authenticity. They felt as they were being sold an idea that either they weren’t ready for or felt like they didn’t have the support for (see my reason #1 above on timing). One staff member even wrote in her review of a particular speaker that she felt like she was “listening to a used car salesman”. Those reviews and the feelings of staff have greatly affected the way I do things when handed a microphone and a stage, but also really put the pressure on me and my team to bring in the best speaker possible. One that was authentic and would inspire as well as someone who truly cared about being on stage and sharing their story.

Tom Murray on stage during our 2018 PLC event

Enter Tom Murray. I’d gotten to know Tom over the years through my work with his organization Future Ready Schools. He and I share similar beliefs and approaches when it comes to making the most of your opportunity on stage in front of a school staff. As we are friends, I didn’t want to introduce him as I felt like that could affect perceptions of the staff (“oh, it’s one of Carl’s friends), and wanted to see how they would take him without any background. One of the trademark moments of many of Tom’s talks is a part where he talks about “misunderstood song lyrics” and how what we communicate can sometimes be misread. While I’ve seen him do it a bunch of times, it culminates with the crowd singing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer with extreme enthusiasm.

Knowing my staff as well as I thought I did, I bet Tom back stage that there was NO WAY the staff would respond to this. Needless to say, I completely lost my bet. Not only did they respond to him, his message, and his story, when the Bon Jovi part came, they stood up and sang. And not just the next lyric, they sang the ENTIRE SONG!(See below) Later, I came on stage as Tom received one of the first standing ovations I can ever remember our staff giving.  I told the crowd that he was my friend, but if he didn’t do well, I was going to claim I didn’t know him :).

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Tom, Dean, Angela, and others have spent thousands of hours working on their craft as orators of information. They truly embrace the opportunity to share with staff from all over the world. They provide an authentic and different voice that schools need when the timing is right. This blog isn’t necessarily a tribute to them, but more of a reflection of an “awakening” I had while being in their presence as well as the many amazing speakers we had hosted over the years.

Having someone who agrees with your vision and can effectively articulate your message is a powerful thing. If the timing is right and the staff is ready to hear the message, brining in the right outside voice can have a positive impact on your learning culture for years to come. And most importantly, as teachers take ownership of that message, it will ultimately impact the learning of thousands of kids in classrooms in your school.

School districts spend millions on technology and flexible furniture, but the hardest thing to change is pedagogy and culture. Do not feel like you have to do it all by yourself. Bring in authentic voices to help you light a fire behind your vision and use them as a catalyst for the change your striving for.

I for one am glad we did with Dean, Tom and Angela. Their impact and support over the years is still with me and I will forever be grateful to them for both inspiring me and seeing the power of this work.

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Interested in bringing Carl in as an outside voice for your next event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

My TCEA 2020 Manifesto

This year marks the 22nd year that I’ll be attending the TCEA conference. For those of you joining me at the event this year, I thought it might be nice to share a few ideas on how to make the best of your TCEA experience.  I created this “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.

If you are a first-time or veteran TCEA-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.

If you are with a group, create a back channel

Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. At my previous district, I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. If you aren’t comfortable with Slack, using a running Google doc or a Wakelet board would be another way to collaborate and share resources. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #TCEA2020 hashtag, but using a private back channel can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.

Download the app

Once on site, you’ll want to make sure you have a mobile version of the schedule. You can grab the giant paper notebook schedule if you prefer, but lugging that thing around can be cumbersome and you won’t know when sessions cancel at the last minute. Create an account and save sessions you’ll want to attend on the app. There’s also a social feed, a map, and a few other goodies located in the app. Be sure to upload a profile picture so you aren’t just a walking silhouette. 😉

Events

TCEA has several vendor-sponsored events that happen each evening of the week (especially Tuesday-Thursday). While it’s nice to have free food and beverages, I’ve found that these events are where I make the best professional connections. Sharing stories about our successes and failures over a malted, fermented beverage can be quite the bonding experience after all. The Exhibit hall opens at 3pm on Tuesday this year, so be sure to visit some of the vendor booths and see what is going on in terms of evening events and the tons of amazing giveaways they seem to always have. Also, check your email, as many VIP or after hours events may get lost in your spam.

Scheduling Quirks

TCEA doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 50-minute talks to 90-minute hands-on to 2-hour poster sessions and even half and full-day workshops. When you are locating your favorite sessions in the app, be sure to pay attention to the start and end times as many overlap.  Also, note that this year, TCEA has a dedicated time slot for the Exhibit hall (2:00-3:00) on Wednesday and Thursday, so that will likely be when it is most packed.

Sessions that intrigue me

I’m lucky enough to have 5 sessions accepted this year, but as they are spread out throughout the week, I’ll likely get a chance to check out many more sessions than I normally do (see my session list at the bottom of this post). Here are a handful of the sessions I’m intrigued with by day:

Monday – 

Fake News, Alternative Facts – Jennifer LaGarde

Empowered by What You See – Kasey Hutchinson & Adam Phyall

Making OER SMART – Leo Brehm & Bruce Umpstead

Tuesday – 

Curating Virtual Reality w/Spark – Monica Burns

Esports Immersive Experiences

Future Ready Culture: Creating Equity through Empathy – Brianna Hodges

Wednesday – 

Digital Wellness: Engagement Toolkit – Lisa Johnson & Chris Hanson

Educated by Design – Rabbi Michael Cohen

Creative Story Telling with Spark – Claudio Zavala Jr

Thursday – 

Personal & Authentic – Tom Murray

Let’s Bring Literacy to Life with Making – Shannon Miller

Infographics: Not Just Posters, 25 Creative uses – Rachelle Poth

Friday – 

Top Apps and Practices for Busy Administrators – Leslie Fisher

Create Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality – Jaime Donally

Takeaways and Reflections

Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.

Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (shout out to Lisa Johnson @techchef4u for these)

  1. What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
  2. What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
  3. What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
  4. Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
  5. Who are the top people that engaged you?
  6. What are the top resources you found most impactful?
  7. What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
  8. How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?

While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending TCEA allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.  Learning doesn’t happen in isolation.

For me personally, my barometer of success is fairly low. If I walk away every day and have both learned something new and met a new colleague, I consider the day a success. I hope you all have many successes next week and please come by and see me either at my sessions or somewhere in between!