No matter where your school falls geographically, philosophically, or academically you might be able to relate to the discussion that is now happening in hallways, classrooms, and meeting rooms about the COVID-19 outbreak. What would we do if we had to close school due to a pandemic, natural disaster, or other situation for an extended period of time?
A silver lining to the anxious energy that is increasing in the States around Coronavirus is the preparation time we have as we sit, watch, and wait while other parts of the world battle against the virus’ spread. As school decision makers frantically assess, some of us are preparing ourselves to deliver on a promise as tech professionals in education.
Our promise has been that if schools and tax payers and investors were willing to deep dive into the 1:1 learning atmosphere, we’d in turn provide meaningful education no matter the time or place. This promise in the wake of viruses and words like Pandemic is at its core the implementation of E-Learning and Snow Day Kits and now Continuing Education Plans in light of extended school closures.
In a webinar with the CDC and the Maine Department of Education this morning, when discussing potential closure plans it was said that, “we (the state) do not expect anyone to conduct school online. That is not an expectation – but if it is a task you (as a school) are open to attempt in a situation of need, we support it”.
I’ve been making a game plan for this for weeks. And even in just thinking about what we would need and how we would move forward I’ve learned a lot about how my school specifically can learn from this situation. So this is what I’ve come to, and what I’ve realized through this process.
1. We should Check on Students’ Home Technology Resources Throughout the Year, not just in Light of Closures.
After talking to my boss we established a first step for continuing education in light of a closing – and in my meeting this morning the DOE agreed with our first step as well. Double check the number of students with WiFi at home as it stands today. In our school we provide a school iPad for every student that they take home, a small number (15/1500) leave their devices at school for various reasons so that requires preparation too. Maybe as a school you’d be providing devices only to those who don’t have them at home, the variables are different but the step is the same.
As we had this discussion I thought, as a teacher, this is important to know in general. With no home WiFi, students may be forced to download digital textbooks, pdf’s, or set up working offline in Google Drive in order to succeed with daily homework. Additional barriers can be put between them and their learning. But how much energy do we currently promote towards continuing our equitable access to technology as the year goes on? Homework in the form of research projects may be a problem without WiFi – so as a teacher do you regularly supplement that practice with resources that can be downloaded before leaving school? The need for this question stretches beyond school emergencies and into our daily teaching strategies. Have you asked kids lately where they stand? If their situation has changed? Do you adequately supplement material?
2. Our Learning Platforms are Not Being Utilized to their Full Intention, but it’s Not Too Late
Does my Learning Platform Compliment all Modes of Learning? What ways do I not use it that I could for home learning and for the future?
Next we felt the need to establish a readiness guide around who does what where when it comes to online learning and content delivery. Our school believes in an autonomous tech choice so teachers get to pick their own learning management systems and tech tools. In most recent years I see Google Classroom as the predominant tool since we don’t invest in school wide access to platforms like Canvas or Schoology.
For us I’m thinking we are going to push everyone in the direction of GC so we can include integrations for home learning like Google Calendar, Drive, and our GMail accounts, but also the recent Enterprise Features of Google Meetings made free for schools in light of the Pandemic threat.
For your buildings the answer may look different, but this concept should be thought of and discussed with staff in preparation of a closure. Specifically – does your platform support not only reviewing at home, turning work in from home, but also receiving instruction from home? Which tools allow you to conference, share presentations, speak live, chat, and more? And how can we use them during our regularly scheduled classes?
If your current platform doesn’t, do you have the skills and tools to App Smash in order to fill the gaps. Let’s say you use Nearpod, you’ll be pumped to know that you can still do so from afar, and make sure all of your students are on the same page (literally). You might post the Nearpod Link to your website or a Shared Google Calendar for kids to join at a specific time from home, and then assign it as homework for those that don’t or can’t view it on time. That’s App Smashing for success as a teacher. Why don’t we do more of it every other day?
3.) Streamlining and Chunking Content and Skill Goals Makes for Best Practice
When having to get straight to the point to plan digital lessons you may find yourself reviewing standards or goals you hadn’t looked at in some time. The question of “What do my kids need to know?” allows us to set goals that are filled with less busy work and more practical application of our course in general.
Even your existing order and timeline may be evaluated when you have to consider, what was I going to get out of my students, or help them to learn in the next two weeks? How can I do this with them from afar? You may scrap the Lecture and for a Class Discussion and use Google Classroom’s Question feature to do so. Maybe you have them create a presentation
Not only may this help you get a better of understanding of exactly what students need to display to demonstrate learning, but it may help you think of new “ways in” to teach in terms of best practice.
4.) Instead of reinventing the wheel, how can I supplement materials that inform instruction and are flexible for students?
So the thought of filming yourself or live streaming to your students makes you have secondhand embarrassment, no big deal. The sound of my own voice definitely gives me the chills. So, what can you do to supplement instruction from home without making hours of your own video content? Slideshows? Khan Academy? Youtube videos? Edpuzzle that ties it all together and assesses while they watch a video? The options are endless but time is limited to prepare, so what can you learn, or what do you know that will prepare you to make these instructional decisions.
Why aren’t we doing this daily? I always say that we provide much more of these materials for Math review or to learn Photosynthesis, but when writing an essay us English teachers almost never think – could I provide them a video to help them remember what makes a great essay, or conveys the writing process? Maybe your “homework” is on the lighter end because you disagree with the concept, there are school rules around it, or other – so now you have to provide at home content to hesitant learners like never before. Other people can provide better edited, more intriguing content than I can and it already exists out there! Supplementing a text for a video isn’t a bad thing, especially when we are re-examining how we are teaching for a new situation.
#5) There are still Brick and Mortar Barriers to be Broken that can Help our Students Learn Better Every Single Day
I can remember the first time I hyped up a lesson in my English class enough that a student who had planned a vacation with their family asked if they could Facetime in while she missed it. The kids thought it was so cool when I answered her call and she participated in discussions from a far. I shouldn’t have been surprised that every other kid didn’t follow suit on other learning days when they stayed home sick or had long weekend trips.
We allow the time limits and constraints of our classroom to excuse us from potentially scary new expectations for kids. We extend due dates after snow days or don’t hold kids accountable for learning that was only provided online because it’s easier and it comes with less potential issues. If we can plan to shut down entire schools due to this pandemic, why can’t we remind kids that with the resources at their fingertips learning should be constant?