Saturday, April 25, 2020

5 Tips for Supporting Caregivers During Remote Learning

I’ve always considered my students’ parents as my best allies and teammates when teaching my students. Now that we are teaching remotely, that’s more true than ever.

Our students have a new learning environment and different support than they are used to. There are new expectations for both students and their parents.

Suddenly caregivers have been given the role of co-teacher, tutor, and interventionist. I can understand how overwhelming that must feel, especially because families have so many other factors to consider including work schedules or the recent loss of employment, device availability, English proficiency, and the trauma we are all experiencing through this pandemic.

What can we do to support our students’ caregivers during this tough time?

Encourage Caregivers 

I’m sure many parents are feeling frustrated and unsure of how to support their children when learning at home. A quick post or email telling parents you appreciate all they are doing can go a long way in encouraging parents.

Give Grace

This isn’t the time to crack down on due dates and essay length. Everyone is trying to navigate this new situation and we should give grace, both to parents and to ourselves. When there is a situation, start with, “How are you doing?” or “What can I do to make learning at home better for you?” I have found these questions helps to remind parents that I’m part of their team and I care more about my students and their families than on-time assignments.

Share Resources  

Providing teaching videos for students is critical right now. We can also support parents by providing a resource now and then just for them. Why not make or share a video with a few tips for reading comprehension or a refresher for long division? This can help to build confidence for parents and also make their life just a little easier as they support learning from home. 

Consider Time

Consider the amount of caregiver support required for lessons you create and be kind. Parents may be helping multiple children learn at home, and we all know how challenging that can be.

Consider Resources

Consider the amount of screen-time needed to complete lessons. Many families are sharing devices for multiple children and parents working from home. When possible, provide work for your students that they can complete offline.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Balancing Consistency and Choice

About two years ago I set a personal goal to improve my blended learning teaching by designing online learning experiences that empower students. I wanted to help my students own their learning and make decisions for themselves. It resulted in offering students choices in: 
  • which materials to learn from
  • how much scaffolding they need
  • pacing their lessons to ensure growth
  • self-assessment and reflection 
  • final project format, audience, and topic 

I’ve been reflecting on promoting student agency this way in the classroom and considering how to continue to foster independence while my students are learning from home. 

I’ve had numerous conversations around the topic of balancing consistency and choice as I’ve been working with educators in my building to plan remote lessons. Consistency for students and parents helps to prevent confusion and frustration, but creating lessons that follow the same learning path with the same tools can cause students to lose motivation and interest. 

So, how can we balance consistency and student choice in order to create engaging learning opportunities? 

Consider consistency when making choices involving:
  • Platform for delivering content and turning in work
  • Schedule for posting work each day
  • Means of communication to students and parents
  • Clear directions
  • Central location for troubleshooting resources

When designing learning opportunities to promote student choice, it’s all about firm goals and flexible means. Set goals with and for your students, and then give them choices:
  • multiple formats to access the learning 
  • continual opportunities and support for self-assessment
  • options for demonstrating their learning 

While I enjoy designing ways for students to creatively demonstrate their learning, I don’t think this is the time for introducing a ton of new tools that they have no prior experience with. This will lead to confusion and frustration for both students and parents. Instead, consider how you can use familiar tools in different ways so that students can have choice. 

Earlier this year, I created choice boards for my students to use in response to our reading lessons. Most of the choices use common Google tools in different ways. To foster independence, I also created animated gifs reminding students how to do tasks like inserting an image, highlighting text, creating a text box, etc. I plan to re-purpose some of these choice boards during our distance learning. 

You can access, copy, and use the choice boards, templates, and my gif library using the links below. For each activity template, click the link for each choice for an additional template. Zoom out on each slide to see directions and tips.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

How to Prevent Hours of Tech Support During eLearning

As I prepare to create digital lessons for my students to learn at home, I am thinking back to all the small lessons I taught in class on problem-solving technical issues. From the beginning of the school year, I taught and reinforced a few basic problem-solving tips when working on their Chromebooks so that students were comfortable working independently. 

But what happens when students are asked to do tasks at home...even if they are the same types of tasks that you have done a hundred times at school? They forget how, and then I have LOTS of messages from students and parents. That leads to providing remote tech support for my students...for hours. 

3 tips to cut down your time providing remote tech support:

1.   Stick to what they know

It’s been encouraging to see many companies and individuals providing their resources for free. In this time of uncertainty, it’s great to see everyone chipping in to make learning meaningful for our students! There are lots of great resources like read alouds and doodle time with authors. Those activities that simply link to Youtube are great if you want to incorporate them into the lessons you are creating. 

When considering all the free apps and resources, though, I want to caution you: look before you leap!

Premade “everything you need for online learning” packets and digital lessons seem easy, but your students may not be familiar with the format, content, or tech tools used in those resources. That can lead to frustration for students and more tech support for you. If you choose to use something like this, consider how you can structure your learning activities to be familiar for your students.

If you are requiring students to use new apps or create accounts, those programs may not protect student privacy. From data collection to recording student meetings, check privacy settings carefully, and use district-approved applications if possible. 

2.   Use Gif directions

How many times do you show your students how to access a website or resource in your classroom before they begin working? If you are like me, it’s often. A few months ago I began creating gif directions for my students to follow, and it helped my students work independently. 
Here is my full collection of Gifs. Feel free to use whatever is helpful to you! 

I’ve also created a quick screencast video showing you how I make these. It’s super quick and simple! 

3.   Screencast! 

For longer directions or a daily briefing, consider making a short screencast video. Don’t worry too much about having a script and making no mistakes. It doesn’t have to be a Hollywood production, just be you! Your students will like hearing your voice! Screencastify and Screencast-O-Matic are both great tools to use. 

Providing familiar work and tools to support at-home troubleshooting can not only save you time, but it can also help to make eLearning a positive experience for students and parents too. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Passion Projects and Basic Animation

Last school year I was amazed by my students as we learned together using passion projects. Here is what I wrote reflecting on the power of learning this way:

One of the reasons I love passion projects is because my students love them. There is real purpose behind reading, freedom for creativity, and students have the opportunity to publish their work for a large audience. They have so much to offer the world, not just later as adults but right now. Passion projects show students what they are capable of, and sometimes the greatest change we can make is inside of ourselves.

This year we began our first passion project together in November (long before Coronavirus was a concern). My students chose the topic: what causes people to get sick? Like last year, we used the LAUNCH design process to guide our research and project planning. 

Once our research was done, my students decided they wanted to make an informational video for others focused around health and sickness. Specifically, they wanted to create an animated video using their own artwork. 

I had never tried this type of project before, so I touched base with Manuel Herrera (@manuelherrera33), innovation coordinator and all-around great educator. He shared so many great ideas about transferring sketches to digital formats and creating basic animations. 

Here is how we accomplished our task:

We made a storyboard to map out our video. Students worked in pairs to draw, animate, and write a script for their part of our video. Student groups presented their plans to the class and received feedback to make our message clear. 

Creating digital art:
Students started with a sketch of the basic elements they wanted in their part of the video. I took a picture of each sketch and uploaded it to a Google folder. Student groups accessed their photo, inserted it into Google Drawings, and then used the tools there to trace over the objects. My students had not used Google Drawings before, so I created a couple of screencast videos (shape tool, polyline tool) they could refer back to. I've found supporting my students this way helps them build confidence in working independently.  

Animating art
Once students had their digital art, they followed this process:
  • Save the image as a PNG
  • Move the art a tiny bit
  • Save the image as a PNG
  • Move the art a tiny bit
  • Repeat
  • Upload all the screenshots to a shared Google folder

The general idea is similar to a paper flip book, so when all the screenshots are put together it creates a type of basic animation. I also created a screencast example for this part of our project for students to refer back to. 

Creating our video
I used Adobe Spark to compile all student screenshots into one project. Unfortunately, Adobe Spark only allows you to narrate slide by slide and each slide was only a second long. We needed another way to record our narration, so we used Screencast-o-Matic to create one fluid reading.

Reflecting on our project
Overall, this passion project left my students excited about the project they had created. They shared the video with their parents, and some students even began making paper flip books at home. 

After each round of passion projects, I like to debrief with my class. We talk about what we learned, what we would do differently next time, and what we feel proud of. One student made a comment that sums up my excitement behind this type of work. He said, “I didn’t know I could do that!” I love helping students realize their potential and greatness! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Empathy Drives Design

One reason I love supporting my students through the design process, both with our new morning procedure and through passion projects, is because my students learn to think and care so far beyond themselves.

When I think about providing design opportunities in my classroom, I think about those moments when my students realize there is a problem they want to address or an opportunity to improve the current situation. When we design for other people, empathy is key to a good design. We recognize that another person or group has a need and we are moved to understand the issue and help in some way.

Two of our latest design projects connected directly to our reading unit focused around diversity. My students grew in empathy after reading a selection from Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, a story about a young girl with cerebral palsy and her struggle to communicate with her teacher.

A group of students from the high school came to teach us more about the diverse ways they communicate. Upon seeing my students’ genuine curiosity and care about this topic, our high school cadet teacher told us about his brother who is also a fourth-grader. He explained how his brother is very much like each student in my class, except for his inability to communicate through speech. 

I waited quietly, hoping someone would suggest a design, and of course, my students didn’t disappoint. “Mrs. Moore, why don’t we design something so that he can communicate better, like the character in the story?” Her idea was met with excitement and so many initial ideas. My students were motivated by this project because it had the potential to immediately make a positive impact on someone else’s life. I loved watching the process as my students continually came back to considering the specific wants and needs of their new friend.

Eventually, we were able to create a communication board, and my students were so excited. They had created real work for a real-world problem for a real audience...all started by empathy.

A week later, my students began a project focused around researching inclusive playgrounds. When they realized that students with some physical disabilities would not be able to play on parts of our playground, they began designing. From their empathy, they created designs for various playground equipment and wrote letters to convince our principal that we need an inclusive playground.

My students have taught me so much this year as we have incorporated design into our daily schedule. I’ve learned the importance of offering opportunities to create and express new ideas. I’ve also been reminded that our students can solve real problems when given time and resources to do so.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Incorporating Daily Design

At the beginning of this school year, I reflected on this question posed in George Couros’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset. Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?

One part of our daily routine that I would dislike as a student is our morning procedure. So I changed it. A lot.

In past years, my students would quietly enter the classroom, unpack, get materials ready for the day, and start on the day’s morning work review while quietly eating breakfast.

It was quiet, calm, and all about compliance. That bothered me. I expected my students to enter and start work immediately. As an adult, my morning routine includes greeting my coworkers and thinking through my day.

Why were my expectations for my students so different?

So I completely threw out our morning work. I wanted to use our morning routine to set the pace for the day, so I needed something collaborative and creative. I also wanted to create a way to help my students transition from home to school, so our new routine needed to be motivating and exciting.

I decided to create morning design challenges. Now instead of compliance, it’s all about innovation, collaboration, and creative thinking. It’s not quiet or calm, and my students and I love it!

In an ideal week, student teams follow this pattern:

  • Monday: Discuss the needs of the intended audience. Independently sketch ideas.
  • Tuesday: Share ideas and sketch a final plan.
  • Wednesday: Create a prototype.
  • Thursday: Consider the needs of the intended audience, make improvements.
  • Friday: Share the prototype with the class.

Here are a few of the challenges I’ve given my students recently:

Create art to improve our playground or learning garden

Create a game for a child in a hospital

Design something to make watering crops easier

Improve a paper airplane design

Our classroom is much more lively in the morning, and my students enter with excitement about their tasks. We have had many opportunities to build communication and cooperation while learning about compromise and the value of out-of-the-box ideas. The tone in our classroom is positive and creative, allowing my students time to mentally shift into a great mindset to learn with. I can’t wait to see what they design next!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Would you want to be a learner in your classroom?

This summer I had the pleasure of reading George Couros’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset, and it was wonderful! It was as if the author took my heart and passion for teaching and wrapped it up in his book. It left me inspired and reflective of my teaching practices. As the new school year is beginning, I’m continuing to consider a key question posed in the book:

Would you want to be a learner in your classroom?

This question made me pause to consider my own needs as a learner. Sure, I could sit in just about any classroom and comply by taking notes, completing assignments, and taking tests... but is that what I want for my learning experience? Not really.

As a learner, I value choice, inspiration, laughter, community, tasks with true purpose, and opportunities to express my creativity. I believe that our classrooms should be full of the curiosity and wonder that comes so naturally to children.

Unfortunately, we have lost that somewhere along the way- valuing compliance over curiosity and individuality. Perhaps we hold expectations for our students that we ourselves would dislike and find difficult to meet.

During our very first day of school, I asked my students about their ideal classroom. Their responses are captured in this word art.

Over the past three years I’ve made many changes to my classroom that I would love as a student. I plan to continue implementing these changes and expanding these aspects of my classroom:

Gamification with Classcraft
Avatars, point scoring, leveling up, collaboration, community building, and so much more. Classcraft has helped to transform my classroom community....and it’s so much fun!
Students explore their interests and help to direct their own learning while creating some pretty amazing projects. 
Students spend independent time learning online in connection with small group instruction. 
Students take on quite a bit of responsibility to self-assess and direct their own learning.

As the school year starts, what changes do I need to make in my classroom to ensure the learning experience I value so highly is also available for my learners? From implementing a new curriculum to seating charts and classroom procedures, I’m beginning to consider these decisions from a student’s perspective more than ever to ensure a student-centered classroom.

One area of my classroom that I would dislike as a student is our morning procedure. Of course, procedures help things run more smoothly, but my previous expectation of entering the classroom quietly and starting work right away with little social interaction is something I want to get away from. As an adult, I enjoy greeting my colleagues in the morning and catching up with them briefly. I’m currently searching for new ideas for this part of our day, and I welcome your suggestions!