In 2014, I debuted a blog post that was centered around ideas and strategies teachers should try and implement in their classroom. As technology changes at a rapid pace, the blog needed some updating. So in 2018, I put out an update to it adding a couple of features and removing some that had aged out. Well, a lot has changed since I wrote that article in 2018.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the face of education and how we deliver instruction. While a few items from the original list remain, the introduction to remote and virtual learning into our lexicon means that we have some new tools and strategies to deploy during this upcoming school year.
Before I share the list, let me just say I know this list is a bit ambitious. Educators are fatigued after this last year and half and learning new things isn’t necessarily tops on the list for anyone. That said, through adversity and change, innovation arises. Most of the items on this list are free or “freemium” but some do cost money. This post is much like whenever I deliver professional learning; My goal isn’t for a teacher to try EVERYTHING but instead pick one or two ideas that they can implement in their classroom this coming school year.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the list.
1. Practice Self-Care and Mindfulness
Self-care with educators had been an issue prior the pandemic. Now after 18 months of stress, Delta variants, and life pressure, we need to take care of ourselves more than ever. It’s near impossible to teach (and learn) when your body and mind are filled with anxiety. We need to take breaks in our life and find creative ways to handle stress. Going for a walk, listening to a podcast, binge-watching a show, or simply disconnecting from the world for a moment can help recharge your battery. In the classroom, while we feel the pressure to “catch up” from time lost and cram in content, we should also make time for our students to practice mindfulness. Take a minute or two everyday to play some light music, dim the lights, and have your students practice being present and mindful. They (and you) have been through a lot.
2. Host an Online Debate
Something that our students (and society) desperately need is the ability to debate in a variety of ways, especially online. With the recent political climate in our country, more than ever we have to teach students how to have critical discourse online without falling prey to name-calling or inflammatory language. Choosing “Polite Over Politics” is a mantra we could use. Using tools like Padlet or SeeSaw, you can create a “walled garden” of sorts for your students to have an online debate from topics as intense as “who has a harder job: a doctor or a lawyer” to “which is better: thin crust or thick crust pizza.” I also like doing this as an analog activity by asking students to choose a side of the room based on whether they love or hate it. Regardless of topic, the point is to model how to interact, make a point with facts, and concede when necessary.
3. Create an Infographic to Share Information
Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there (like Canva) to help with this but my favorite is Keynote. (now with built- in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)
4. Design a Virtual World
The virtual field trip became the only kind of field trip for many of our students this past school year. There are many places for students to travel and consume virtually online, but how about turning kids into creators of virtual worlds? Instead of having a student do a presentation on a slide show, have them use a tool like CoSpaces to design a virtual world that is interactive and encourages other students to interact with it. Not feeling too high tech? Print out a free grid from a tool called Panoform and have student color it and upload it create an analog virtual world.
5. Clone Yourself with Screen Recording
While screen recording isn’t anything new, for many teachers, they relied on it during the pandemic. The Flipped Classroom has been a thing in education for more than a decade, but in some ways the pandemic really shed light on how powerful it can be for teaching and learning. Recording instructions and concepts using a screen recording tool like Loom or Screencastify allows for students to watch instructions at their own time and pace. Use a tool like Mote to make sure students hear your voice when giving feedback or making comments on students’ digital work. For a classroom teacher, you are essentially cloning yourself by putting recorded instructions, lectures, and feedback online and then working with students on deeper learning face to face.
6. Use a Digital Whiteboard to Demonstrate a Concept
Another tool that has been a big hit during remote learning is the digital whiteboard. Teachers have been instructing with the use of a visual board since the early days of the chalkboard. With a digital whiteboard tool (here are a few I’ve reviewed in the past), not only can teachers use it to demonstrate a concept, they can also record it for later viewing. Having students do this with a tool like Explain Everything or Google’s Jamboard also helps teachers understand the thinking of students when they solve problems, tell a story, or brainstorm an idea.
7. Reflect and Capture Long-Term Growth
With online learning and even in-person learning, creating time to for students to reflect on their work can be a challenge. Trying to track long-term growth can be even more of a challenge. Both reflection and seeing long-term growth for students are extremely impactful. Students that take time to reflect and internalize what they’ve learned have better recollection and retention of information. You can use tools like Google Sites and Book Creator to create a space for reflection over time. One tool I’ve used for many years with students of all ages that does this well is Bulb. Their platform is free for teachers and is built to be a long-form reflection portfolio of sorts that students can take with them after they leave our institution.
8. Showcase a Science Concept with Stop Motion
Science can be a very visual curriculum, yet we sometimes teach it using a textbook with some still images. Using a stop motion tool or app like iMotion, have your students demonstrate a scientific concept by using paper, clay or even legos. The student captures the concept while also adding narration to help exhibit the information. When the student becomes the teacher, they also recall much more of the content than they would have consuming it.
9. Record a Student News Cast About History
Some subject areas may seem “dry” or not that engaging for students. For those not excited to learn about history, we need to create ways for them to understand history and also the impact the past has on the present. Using a green screen tool like DoInk, have students create a news cast discussing what they understand about a particular historical event. They can write a script, create costumes and backgrounds, then record and upload to a FlipGrid page for others to enjoy.
10. Embed Computer Science in Your Curriculum
Coding is in many ways as important as learning a world language. Not every kid will grow up to be a coder or programmer, but having a little bit of coding knowledge can help students design solutions to problems that haven’t been solved yet. As a tech guy, even I find some computer science courses to be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For the teacher looking for more of a self-paced, student-led online curriculum, I’ve really been impressed with the work options that a company like Rex Academy puts out there. Courses on cyber security to “How to Be A YouTuber” have built-in challenges and steps that a teacher can facilitate without having a degree in CS or fancy, powerful computers.
11. Encourage Productive Struggle
The process of effortful learning that develops grit and creative problem-solving is what happens as a result of having “productive struggle” in your classroom. People that create video games understand that there is a sweet spot when it comes to a game being too easy or too hard. In our classrooms, we need to create a similar atmosphere where students find learning to be challenging at time. When students face problems they don’t immediately know how to solve (like on a new assessment), we don’t want them to give up. As teachers, we model this by trying new things and overcoming challenges (like the internet going down or technology not working). Our words matter as students will mimic our frustration and lack of grit when we give up too easily on trying something different.
12. Gamify Assessments to Increase Engagement
Speaking of games, assessment doesn’t always have to be a boring pencil and paper test. There are a long list of formative assessment tools out there that teachers can use in a synchronous learning environment that gamify the test. A tool like Blooket which took the education world by storm last year allow students to create some ownership with their avatar before engaging in the assessment. Gimkit also does this by re-creating popular video games like AmongUs in a format that also reviews understanding and knowledge. flippity.net is one of my favorite free tools that uses a Google spreadsheet to create a variety of games like bingo or a game show to review content with an entire class.
13. Use Something Other Than Google Slides
Productive struggle can be time-consuming for teachers and often times, we fall back to tools we know rather than learn something new. Google Slides has been the go-to tool for many teachers when it comes to students demonstrating their understanding. But why do we limit it to just one medium? Students can use a wide array of tools to demonstrate a concept including many mentioned here like #3, #4, #8, and #9. In the end, remember that the tool isn’t the most important part of the learning. Student demonstrating their understanding is.
14. Teach a Class Outside in Nature
Schools purchase amazingly flexible furniture to allow for more movement and choice when it comes to the classroom environment. While I love all of that and how it helps with learning, the most flexible learning environment isn’t in schools, it’s right outside their doors. Another thing we learned during the pandemic is that we can teach and learn spread out in nature just as good as we can in the classroom. Many of you reading this may not be able to do this every day, but on days with good weather, why not take your class outside to work on an activity and get some much needed Vitamin D?
15. Make Digital Workflow Work for You
The quick adjustment for many teachers to a blended or remote learning environment meant navigating a system to get work submitted and distributed efficiently. Most rely on a Learning Management System (LMS) to help assist with digital workflow but there are additional tools that teachers can use to help not only get students where they need to be online but also to keep them on task. Classlink has been a leader in creating digital dashboards for students that only require a Single Sign-on (SSO) to log into a variety of district tools. Once students get where they need to be, use a tool like NetRef to manage which sites you want students to have access to and more importantly, see how much time they are spending engaged with the content.
16. Celebrate Failure with the Nailed IT! Challenge
As I mentioned with productive struggle, students learn when overcoming challenges. We need to create an atmosphere where failure is accepted and even celebrated. Taking a risk in isolation can be intimidating to a student, but if the entire class is trying something together and embracing failure, it turns into a great teachable moment. This past year, Tana Ruder approached myself and colleague Dr. Adam Phyall with the idea of doing a “Nailed IT” challenge based on the popular Netflix series that finds everyday people trying to recreate desserts and failing epically. This session (which we debuted at ISTE 2020) was an instant hit. Essentially we built the session around a simple concept – Design something in a short period of time and then reflect on how you did and acknowledge what parts you struggled with. The results can be hysterical, but also impactful on the attitude of your students towards failure.
17. Construct a Robot Using Everyday Items
We don’t always need expensive robotic technology to make something fun and creative for our students. Companies like Trashbots encourage students to use every day items like popsicle sticks, straws, and soda cans to create and program a robot to complete a challenge. This not only teaches students the importance of recycling and sustainability, but it covertly gives them some basic programming knowledge while also teaching a subject-specific concept.
18. Diversify Our Instructional Delivery Models
As my good friend from down under Brett Salakas recently shared with me, we need to diversify our instructional delivery models. For the last several decades, we’ve relied heavily on one method of instructional delivery – stand and deliver to an in-person environment. In March of 2020, that was all thrown asunder. We quickly learned terms like ‘hybrid’ and ‘asynchronous’ as we tried to learn new strategies for reaching our students. Rather than abandon these when things “return to normal” we should embrace the different ways students learn by keeping some diversity in the medium in which we deliver instruction. One method I think we should keep and expand on is the idea of asynchronous projects and instruction. Using whiteboard tools (#6) and screen recording (#5) along with new digital workflow methods (#15), there’s no reason students couldn’t learn at home at their own pace from time to time. Have we seen the end of the snow day?
19. Discuss Race, Equity, and Social Justice
Critical Race Theory or Culturally-Responsive Teaching have unfortunately both become politicized beyond the point of their intent (see #2). However, the truth is, we need to teach kids how to think critically in the present and future. Some of that is gained by also thinking critically about our past. Our country was founded on certain ideals and those have evolved as we have evolved. It would be disingenuous of a teacher to ignore the world happening around us when discussing history and current events. The challenge is to create age-appropriate talking points and discussions to teach students about race, equity, and the role it plays in our lives. But the most important thing to discuss is the thing that makes us most human…empathy.
20. Connect with Colleagues Outside Your Campus
As schools have been locked down and teachers forced to teach remotely, it’s easy to fall into a feeling of isolation. However, schools and districts I’ve been working with have reported just the opposite. Sure, teachers couldn’t be together in the same room, but they were able to connect more online. Large districts with multiple campuses reported seeing much more collaboration amongst peers from other campuses than ever before. Social media (TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) continues to be a great place to learn and connect as well, but I’m hoping this uptick in cross-district collaboration continues as we shift to more in-person learning.
21. Let Students Drive Their Own Learning
I’ve ended everyone one of these posts with the same final point. I do this not out of laziness, but because I feel like it’s the most important point. All of the other items on this list can really affect learning in different ways but not as much as allowing students to have a voice and choice in how they demonstrate understanding. Giving students different modalities and mediums (#13) to demonstrate that they know and understand a concept is a powerful part of their learning. Letting them reflect (#7) and see their long-term growth creates life-long learners. Designing an environment that promotes risk-taking (#16) and consumption of information in different formats (#18) cultivates creativity within you students. And lastly, acknowledging their social and emotional state (#1) as well as their background (#19) encourages the most important step before learning can truly begin….connection.
Carl Hooker is an educational consultant and public speaker. He’s published 6 books on mobile learning as well as an online course on Remote Learning. He works with districts all over the country to help with their technology integration and high quality blended learning. For more information about Carl and his work, check out his website: https://CarlHooker.com