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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.

 

 

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2017

Every year I embark on an expedition to either look brilliant or embarrass myself. (Let’s be honest, that’s more like every day in my life) Since 2013 I’ve set out to make a series of predictions, mostly in the Ed Tech world, that are bold. Now, let’s look at the definition of “bold” below before we get started.

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-3-33-51-pmWhile all of these certainly can be applied, I’m going to focus on the final definition and say that some of these predictions stretch the usual limits of conventional thought or action. Last year for example, I predicted that schools would start to implement self-driving buses.  As crazy as this may sound, about a month after the prediction, a company in Perth, Australia, began to pilot the self-driving bus in their community.  It’s only a matter of time before schools use them right?

You get the idea. Some of these are crazy, others actually just make sense, and some I just wish would happen.  So, with that in mind and stressing that this is a “no judgement” zone, let’s proceed:

A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language

The immersive dual-language movement has been going on for decades. Why not treat coding as a foreign language? If we really believe that we are preparing kids for a global society, then why not teach them a language many of them will find useful later in life? This does not mean that learning an actual foreign language is any less important, it’s just that we should probably start to value coding and programming on that same level in schools. One sign that this would become a reality would be if a school district actually gave a language credit to those learning to program and code. Talk about taking “hour of code” to the next level!

The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union

I’m not even touching the political side of this, but instead, let’s focus on the medium to which our future president will use to communicate the State of the Union with the masses. I get the feeling that Twitter will not be enough for him in the future. I mean, either they’ll have to change their limit of 140 characters (not likely) or he’ll choose a different way of communicating. Enter SnapChat! What a great way to make a bold statement and then have it disappear (sort of) just a few seconds later. Does this sound all that crazy considering where we are today with social media, politics and the recent election?

The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza

iplza-logo-2017-pokemon

iPadpalooza 2017: “Learning on the GO”

Every year, iPadpalooza tries to center our attention around a certain theme. Last year we let the “Learning be with us” via a Star Wars-focused theme centered around looking into the future. This year, we take the PokemonGo phenomenon and flip it on its head with our “Learning on the GO” theme. I mean, what good is it to have all of these mobile devices in schools when kids are forced to sit in desks in rows learning the same traditional content the same traditional way? During this year’s event, there will be a whole lotta shakin’ going on with sessions centered around the theme and even a new type of session called a “Walk n’ Talk” where attendees will actually walk around the campus with a presenter sharing an idea. You’ll want to have a good pair of walking shoes before you join us this summer!

Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education

Speaking of PokemonGO, it’s only a matter of time before someone invents an app that has some of the same addictive…er…engaging pieces of the widely popular Niantic app. I know there already is a PokemonEdu Facebook group and Twitter hashtag centered around using the characters from the app in an edu setting, but I’m talking something bigger here.

Imagine it.  As a teacher, you have access to a platform that allows you to upload little learning nuggets into a platform.  Students then actually get up and physically leave the classroom to discover these learning nuggets. Working in teams, they put the nuggets together and get certain badges for completing certain challenges. There could even be time limits, based on the class schedule, so you don’t just have kids wandering the halls all day. It’s like taking the APPmazing Race to a whole other level….hmmmmm….

Data actually gets sexy

I’m always reading stuff about “Big Data” and hearing about some fancy things happening with the IBM Watson project, but in truth, I find data to be extremely boring in its traditional, spreadsheet-focused format. I equate it to going and getting a physical. You don’t want to do it, but you need to if you really want to improve your health. Let’s face it, unless you are an accountant or testing coordinator, you’d rather find something else to do with your time rather than pouring over hundreds of color-coded graphs.

But this year, I think that will change. Now, I’m cheating a little bit here as I’ve been privy to a new program (called CatchOn) that actually puts usage data in a simple, clean, fantasy-football-like format. Gone are the days of me logging into different programs to look up usage statistics and figure out the ROI of a particular program. In this not-so-distant future, we’ll actually be able to see everything that’s being used on a district or school level right on our phone and then adjust accordingly. As someone who delivers professional learning in my district, being able to see this data instantly and beautifully would be powerful in steering what we need to help train teachers on or what we need to get rid of. Now that would be sexy (and save us money)!

Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom

Virtual Paper Football!

Virtual Paper Football!

For the past couple of years, there have been several one-off ideas of using some sort of mixed reality in the classroom. Maybe it’s virtual through programs like Google Expeditions or Nearpod VR, or maybe it’s augmented like using the Aurasma app to see hidden things (something I attempted to do with my book series). Either way, mixing realities can provide a powerful way to engage students into certain content areas and up until now, it’s largely been seen as a niche or fun side activity. As witnessed by this recent Kickstarter called the ZapBox, it’s not too hard to see a future where the holograms actually do pop up on the desk so you can interact with them. Now, if only they can invent a way to create virtual versions of those paper footballs that I used to flick across the classroom.

VR-Enhanced Movies!

Piggy backing on the VR concept and expanding into pop culture, I see hollywood grabbing onto the VR the concept and expanding it to the viewer. Now, as someone attending a VR-enhanced movie, you put on the VR goggles, much like you do now with 3D glasses, and are instantly in the middle of the movie. You look around at all the characters around you and actually sit in the middle of the room where the action is taking place. Imagine sitting in a car from Fast and Furious 15 as it launches out of a plane and lands on a boat! Or imagine sitting in the living room during Halloween Part 13 and instead of yelling at the screen for the actor to turn around, you can actually turn around as the killer approaches? Doing it in a movie theater gives everyone the same shared experience and you could even make movies more “Choose your own adventure-like” where half the audience goes down one hallway and the rest go down the other. Sound crazy or genius? I’m not sure where I fall on this yet, but hope it happens.

The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank

With devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa really taking off in the consumer market, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that we would soon see an educational version of these tools. I think it should be called something like “Frank”. Frank would be like a fact-checking teacher’s assistant that all the students could also use. “Frank, when was the battle of 1812?” or “What is Bohr’s law?” or maybe “What is my teacher’s favorite treat?”  All of these could be useful in saving time in the classroom and help dive into even deeper learning and higher Bloom’s level thinking. However, I imagine it might also come with a lot of new classroom management issues.  But hey, for every challenge comes an opportunity, right Frank?

I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!

Yes, I know this was on last year’s predictions, but I sort of had that whole Mobile Learning Mindset book series to finish first. With that series finally complete, I’m ready to embark on a new journey. I’ve got a lot of good ideas for a tech-centered children’s book that will definitely be some sort of mixed reality book too. It might even come with it’s own pair of VR goggles attached on the back. Like a virtual pop-up book of sorts. Now, if only I can find a publisher willing to take a risk….

There you have it.  A few bold and bolder predictions that may happen this year. What do you think? What do you predict? Add your comments below and maybe together, we can make the future a better place for learning too!

Happy New Year!