Tuesday, June 9, 2020

3 Reflections and Considerations For Teaching and Learning In 2020

In March 2020 nearly the entire world’s education systems were thrown into the unknown when the COVID-19 Global Pandemic shuttered schools and teaching and learning moved to remote means. Still to this day in many parts of the world schools are shut down for the foreseeable future.

There is hope however.

In places like Canada, Denmark and Southeast Asia schools are opening back up and students heading back to the classroom. To call it a traditional space wouldn’t be accurate. Many new health and safety measures like physical distancing and mask are the order of the day.

What school will look like in locations around the US still remains to be seen. Some states are releasing guidance as to how to open safely while others aren’t taking any chances and will continue remote learning in the new school year.

There is much to reflect upon here at the end of School Year 2019-2020. And there is much to think about going into the Fall 2020. Here are 3 Reflections for the end of the school year and how we can take those as considerations into the next regardless if learning is face-to-face or remote or both.

3 Reflections and Considerations For Teaching and Learning In 2020


  • Reflection: How was my classroom community prepared when the move to remote learning was done? How did I maintain a sense of community when we were forced to be separated? What did I learn? 
  • Consideration: How will what I learned in remote learning help me to build better communities and relationships both with my students and among my students? How does the current climate of social action shining a spotlight on social justice play a role in my community next year? 

As we look at all that we accomplished this year and begin to think about next it’s important to consider the communities we build in our classrooms. Many educators I’ve spoken to said the number one thing that helped them transition to remote learning wasn’t devices or apps. It was the fact they had strong relationships and communities already in place. There was already a sense that everyone could do this together.

Moving forward, it will be even more important to build these communities and connections not only among the students we teach but with the wider community as well. Students and teachers alike are hurting right now. And we can’t shy away from the injustices that plague our communities and school systems. Kids need spaces to talk about these events, their experiences and know that the adults in their lives will fight for them.

What kind of community will you create?

Social-Emotional and Mental Health

  • Reflection: The pandemic has caused much of the education system to finally consider the emotional, social and mental health of students. What did you do? What steps did you take to ensure students and parents were ok in forced isolation? How did you take care of your own self during this time?
  • Consideration: Building off the need to create communities, how can you make classrooms safe places for students? What awareness can you raise with staff members and administration to focus on the mental well-being of all students and parents? How will you make time to ensure each student is well both emotionally and mentally but also make time for yourself? 

Let’s be honest. Quarantine isn’t fun. We might think that being at home for an extended period of time is like a vacation but after a few days it’s definitely not. And this upheaval in our lives and the lives of our students and parents put a great deal of stress on all of us. I saw it in my own daughters everyday. All they wanted to do was see their friends. They wanted a sense of normalcy. I am one of the lucky ones. Both my daughters' teachers put learning aside at the beginning and for 2 weeks at the start just called every day to talk to them. 30 mins to an hour in some cases. Just to see how they were doing. I got calls too from the school. Asking how I was holding up. It made the isolation feel less isolating.

This focus on social-emotional and mental well-being is a cornerstone of educating the Whole Child. An exclusive focus on content and standards only builds compliant, non-thinking adults. Social-Emotional and Mental wellbeing can go hand-in-hand with content. It’s not just important for our students but for our parents and ourselves as well. Regardless of what school looks like a near constant consideration of the social-emotional development and mental wellbeing of students, staff, parents, community members and ourselves is a must!

How will you keep your students, parents and yourself emotionally and mentally well?

Teaching and Learning

  • Reflection: While we may have been somewhat unprepared for the sudden move to remote learning we did our best to ensure students were learning. How did you know students were learning? What strategies did you use that worked well? What didn’t work so well? Are students prepared for next school year? 
  • Consideration: Learning in Fall 2020 will be different from the beginning of every other school year because of how the last one completed. How will you determine where students are? What methods will you use to meet the needs of each student regardless of where school is or what it looks like? 

2020 might go down as the year that teaching and learning changed at a fundamental level. Or it might not. That choice is up to us. Teaching remotely is vastly different from teaching in a traditional classroom. While they had good intentions many teachers and leaders made poor choices when it came to moving to remote learning in attempting to replicate the classroom in a virtual space. Requiring face-to-face video meetings every day or requiring teachers to be online for the same amount of time they would be at school each day. Again, good intentions, poor execution.

We are at a crossroads in education when it comes to teaching and learning. We can keep going down the traditional path, one that has served inequality and injustices since schooling began. Or we can chart a new course. One that puts students in the driver seat and allows them time and space to empathize, create authentically, and uses these pervasive technologies for good rather than regurgitation. One where differentiation is the norm. One where students have the flexibility to explore their world, examine the topics that are meaningful to them. One where teaching and learning finally looks like it should in the 21st century.

How will teaching and learning be different for you next year?

Monday, May 18, 2020

5 End of the Year #RemoteLearning Celebration Ideas

This school year has been anything but normal.

Many educators have settled into a grove of creating the best learning experiences they can for their students while still providing some meaning during distance learning. But as the days turn longer and the weather turns warmer, it’s time to begin thinking about how to celebrate all that has been accomplished.

It might not seem like there is much to celebrate but there truly is. You and your students survived. You made it through what can only be described as the most challenging school year in decades. And while there were bumps in the road and challenges to overcome you did just that.

When schools met in person, the end of the year was filled with many activities to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. Any while we are at a distance there are still ways that we can celebrate and reflect, it might just look a little different.

Here are 5 ways to celebrate the end of the Distance Learning School Year.

Write A Letter To Your Future Self-While many have been sharing what life in lockdown and quarantine has been like through the use of social media, once we are a year or more down the road it can be hard to remember exactly what all this was like. Writing a letter to your future self can be a great way to capture what is happening right now and revisiting it later. (It’s also a great way to work on literacy and grammar skills too for our littlest learners.)

Futureme.org is a great and easy to use site that allows you to do just this and it doesn’t require a log in. Simply head over to the page and start writing. Then you tell it when you want the letter to return to you; 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years, or even a specific date. Drop in an email address. (If the kids don’t have one they could use their parents) and you’re done. It’s free to use, however there are paid plans for educators that give you a few more options and it’s only $20 bucks a year.

Want a no tech option? Pen and paper are still the way to go after all these centuries. Have the students write the letter and mail them to the school. Once you are back, stash them a way and send them next year. Or the students themselves could write them and hide them and leave a reminder on the fridge to check that special spot on a date of their choosing.

Virtual Class Parties-A lot of students and teachers have added video meetings to their daily routines. These can be a great way to connect with everyone if even only briefly. As the end of the year approaches, consider using the video for more than just teaching and learning.

Give everyone the opportunity to share. These are just ideas:

  • Sibling
  • Pet
  • Favorite Book
  • Favorite Toy
  • Something They Are Proud Of

Virtual Class Games-Believe it or not you can play games over video. My friend Nick has been doing virtual game days for his friends and families children for a few weeks now and it’s a blast! Make a theme. Questions all about disney, kid movies, sports, whatever it is. Then put those questions in a Quizizz. Then get everyone together and play!

Scavenger Hunt-It might seem like a scavenger hunt can’t be done on video but guess what? It can! I got this idea from the Bon Appetit YouTube Channel. All their chefs are cooking from home and they went head to head to find weird and wacky items and ingredients in their kitchens.

Create a list ahead of time of some off the wall things you want the kids to find. (You don’t have to make it a race, although for older kids that could be fun to watch!)

  • A CD, the older the better. Or a record (Do kids know what those are?)
  • The oldest thing in their home
  • Something you haven’t used in a year
  • Create a wacky outfit

End of Year Video-A video compilation is another creative way to end the school year. You could use Flipgrid and give each student an opportunity to record a brief video on their thoughts and feelings about this school and share what they learned or what they hope for the future. I like Flipgrid for this because kids can choose if they want to use video or just audio.

You could also get parents involved. Send them a list of questions and have them briefly interview their student but secretly. Then share them with everyone.

No video? No problem. Use pictures. Animoto is great for this! Upload your photos, choose your transitions and sound track and you’ve got a professional video to share privately with just families or publicly on social media.

Monday, April 20, 2020

10 #RemoteLearning Ideas...No #Edtech Required

Remote Learning...

What the we as the the collective group of educators need to realize is that no matter how well we plan lessons and learning in virtual environments it just won't be enough for our most vulnerable learners. Nor will it meet the differentiated needs of our students with special needs.

Instead of focusing on the Edtech tools and ways to keep learning going (which is a valiant effort) let's instead look at the (perhaps more important) non-edtech ways to encourage learning and creativity during these times of isolation.

Here are 10 Remote Learning Ideas that require no technology. A few you might need to download instructions or a worksheet. But the vast majority only things you already have around your home, some space to move and time.

10 Remote Learning Ideas, No Edtech Required

Read- Reading is foundational to all learning. At the top of any learning list should be taking time to read. Adults and kids should be reading daily. 15-30 mins is all you need to keep your brain flexible and moving. And it's a great family activity. It can be challenging if you don't have any books at home. See if your kids school is letting you check any out or look up where a Little Free Library is closest to you.

Writing and Reflection- Writing is reading too. Keeping a journal of what is happening every day during these times will be a fascinating way to look back upon. Sure, you might be sharing on social media every day but social media comes and goes. Paper will stick around for a long while after they are gone. Writing, like reading keeps the mind malleable. So keep a journal, record your thoughts, or even just write a story.

Living History Project- For many kids they may not realize they are living in a historic moment that is unfolding before their eyes. A great thing for kids to do that requires zero technology is to interview themselves and their family members in their home about what is happening. If possible you could take this a step further and interview family members in another location over the phone. This could be part of a larger project where kids interview family members about other times in their history and compare what it was like then to now. The Living History Project is a way for kids to understand where their family has been and make a deeper connection to those stories that might be lost forever if we don't capture them. If you need ideas StoryCorp can help.

Learn an Offline Skill- During this period of physical distancing I have been occupying my time learning to be a better cook. (Thanks BA!) It was always something I wanted to do with my daughters but never had the time because of my traveling. Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill you always wanted.

Learn To Code...Yep, Code- Coding involves a great deal of mathematics, logical and algorithmic thinking. And you might think coding is an exclusively online activity. However, it doesn't have to be. Code.org has an awesome collection of coding fundamentals that require no technology. (It does require internet access to get to the lessons, however). The basics learned, while fundamental to coding and can be used far beyond it.

Explore Nature- Being stuck inside can be a drag. (It is a good idea thought. We all need to stay healthy!) In the northern hemisphere we are undergoing a change into spring. And with it brings a whole host of changes. Get out in the backyard, front yard or where ever close to home to see what is changing. Record how many insects you find. Chart the growth of plants each day to see which ones grow the fastest. If you have a camera, take pictures of all the birds you see. Get out and explore nature around you!

Practice Mindfulness- It's important during these times when schools are closed and physical distancing is the norm that we keep mental health top of mind. Kids can feel the stress of the adults in their lives. Mindfulness can be a way to relieve some of that stress while building mental toughness. There are loads of apps that teach guided meditation but you don't really need any of those. Sitting quietly and comfortably for 10, even 5 mins a day while focusing on deep, rhythmic breathing can help bring focus to the mind while providing a center for the rest of the day.

Become A Maker- We traditionally think of makerspaces as places filled with lathes and 3D printers. Being a maker is exploring the edges of your creativity. But you don't need any fancy equipment to make. Have some LEGOs? The LEGO IDEAs page has 1000's of community submitted projects. Have an old appliance just collecting dust? Take it apart and see if you can put it back together or make it into something new. Even using paper and a pair of scissors. See if you can cut a piece of paper to make a hole big enough you can walk through. Being a maker isn't about the space. It's about the problems you try to solve.

Exercise- Not only do we have to keep our mental health in check, our bodies need attention too. You don't need a home gym or any equipment to get into an exercise routine you can stick too. Jog in place, sit ups, push ups, stretch, Yoga, there are lots of ways to get your heart pumping. And you can incorporate math too by charting your progress over time. Challenge yourself to do more than you did the day before.

Become A Scientist- As a former science teacher I have been filling my daughters' time with lots of science activities we can do a home. All of the things we have been doing (that you can do as well) don't require any skills or knowledge of science and all you need are things you probably have in your cabinets. Kids can work on their predicting and observation skills while completing many of these activities. This website is one I use a lot and has loads of ideas. None require any technology!

Monday, April 13, 2020

4 Considerations For #RemoteLearning

Odds are your students (and if you are like me, your own children) are learning at home currently due to the outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe. Every state in the U.S. and countless other countries have closed schools to help flatten the curve of infection.

According to Education Week:

21 states and 3 U.S. territories have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year. School closures due to coronavirus have impacted at least 124,000 U.S. public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students. There are at least 98,000 public schools and at least 34,000 private schools in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Those schools educate almost 50.8 million public school students and 5.8 million private school students.

These closures have put enormous pressure on leaders, educators, students and parents to take the traditional academic year and attempt to finish completely remotely, in many cases online.

In this rush to get devices to students, curriculums digitized and schedules adjusted there are wildly different practices in place for remote learning along with a plethora of ideas (good and not so good) circulating on social media.

Recently I spent looking at tweets, reading Facebook posts and blog posts and came to the conclusion that there is a great deal out there that tells educators what not to do. But very little in what to do that is based in sound pedagogy and decisions that serve the best interests of kids and teachers alike.

Take a breath. Everyone. Educators. Leaders. Teachers. Students. Parents. We all just need to remember this is new for all of us. This amount of remote learning hasn't been tried on this scale at all, perhaps ever. So many are doing the best can with what they have. There is no one singular way to ensure that kids are learning (sustainably) in a remote learning environment. Much of the research has been done at the HigherEd level and while comparisons can be made, there aren't a set of standards or rules that can guide K12 effectively.

That said there are some considerations that need to be made in these Remote Learning circumstances.

Here are 4 Considerations For Remote Learning

1) Keep The Focus On Equity-Many schools, including my own kids, rushed to get devices and hotspots into the hands of students as soon as they could because the plan is to use digital tools, online resources and LMS' to keep the learning going. While this is a valiant effort, the reality is that in many places this isn't possible. The move to remote learning has not erased decades of inequality issues that plague much of the U.S.

The first thing to recognize is that each one of us is living out this pandemic differently. Some are struggling with the disease itself while others are coping with unemployment, empty shelves of food or a lack of child care. The last thing we need to do is rush to replicate the school day online and punish students who can not meet there.

It's time to be creative with how student and parents are going to navigate this new reality of remote learning. It doesn't mean give up. It doesn't mean to pile on either. It means to be selective in the policies that are put in place and always keep equity at the top of the list.

2) Remote Learning Doesn't Equal Online Learning-With this push to try and "level the playing field" much of the content delivered today is being put online, or technology is being used to ease the burden of trying to create virtual or remote learning lessons. What is playing out in many parts of the U.S. is a an attempt to replicate the school day online.

Imagine sitting in a 6 hour virtual meeting with colleagues. (Just the thought gives me anxiety.) This is what is happening to some students. We have to be selective in the the learning that we give to students more than ever before. And the learning doesn't have to be all digitally based. Kids now have a great deal more time to explore their world. PBL and Design Thinking activities require very little, if any technology and can help students dig deeper into concepts than completing a digitized worksheet ever would.

3) Flexibility-With schedules thrown into chaos, and our understanding that we are all living this pandemic differently, flexibility needs to be the name of this game. As we've said before nothing is standard about this remote learning. With many parents working from home, and some households with more than one child and not enough technology to go around we have to be flexible in how remote learning takes place.

While attempts should be made to get students together for brief (no more than 15 minutes just to do check ins, not actual teaching) we have to realize some will be able to make it an others won't. This extends to the work that students do as well. Work can be assigned at the beginning of the week and due at the end of the week or the beginning of the next. The expectation that this non-traditional learning will suddenly make expectations realistic is ludicrous. Maintain flexibility in what students do and learn and educators themselves need to be flexible to adapt and change.

4) Remote Learning Doesn't Mean Staying At A Distance-If I never hear the term "social distancing" again it won't be too soon. In many places there are rules and regulations about how far people need to stay away from each other so we all don't spread the disease. It should be called physical distancing because we still need to remain social, and that goes for learning too.

There are so many tools that educators and kids can use to stay in touch. I laid out in previous post about how to communicate and stay in touch during remote learning. The takeaway is, if you can do face-to-face time, do it. But don't use all of it for direct instruction. Use it for personal check ins and staying positive. If you can't do face-to-face time, use the phone, email, any other way and reach out and stay connected to students and other colleagues as well. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

4 Communication Tips For #RemoteLearning Educators

This is the third in a series of posts I am doing while many of us are facing an unprecedented time of isolation. The first was about reducing stress and anxiety and the second about building community, even at a distance. If you have an idea for something you want me to talk about, academic or not, let me know on Twitter, @web20classroom

This is an incredibly difficult time. Most educators are being thrust into the world of remote teaching with little to no preparation or guidance. All are doing the best they can navigating these waters and attempting to provide learning in a meaningful and effective way. 

It doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. 

With many educators teaching remotely it can be a challenge to keep lines of communication open with students and parents. While digital tools have brought us closer together than in any age in history this time can still feel isolating and communications disjointed and random because we simply do not know how to do well. 

The parents I talk to (myself included) are extremely frustrated at the nature of communication during this crisis. Some educators and districts are doing an exemplary job (and they should be applauded). However, many parents believe communication is haphazard at best and it leaves them confused and frustrated. 

Here are 4 easy things for Educators and Leaders to remember when communicating in this age of Remote Learning. 

Pick A Channel And Use It-We have lots of technology at our disposal. From simple emails and LMS notifications to phone calls and video chats there are a plethora of channels to use to communicate with students. It's important that the messages get to the most recipients in the fastest way possible. Even when we were in the classroom it was a challenge for parents and students to know where information was coming from because it was coming from so many places. Now that we are in this unique situation of forced remote learning it's important that the communications coming from the teacher, school and district are in expected places. 

Teachers need to be on the same page when it comes to communications. This is where Leadership really need to take charge. School Administrators need to pick a channel (email, social media, etc) and decide that is what everyone is going to do. Because of the nature of the work that is happening it may mean that a multichannel approach is used (such as an email and social media post like my daughters first grade teacher is doing), however it doesn't mean that the messaging has to be in one place for one teacher and another for others. In my own situation my daughters have to check no less that 5 places for all the information and in the end, something will be missed. 

Clear and Consistent Messaging-Piggybacking off a single-channel approach it's important to have clear and consistent messaging. When no one is on the same page, messages are coming in using a variety of methods and those messages contradict each other it only frustrates students and parents. Educators and leaders have to ensure that the messages they are sending work together with each other. 

One example I've had direct experience with is a colleague explained to me their grade levels and departments have set up a group chat and shared document to share what they are having their students do each week. They also have invited their elective teachers to be apart of the planning. These virtual PLC meetings are open ended but it allows them to all be on the same page with what they are telling their parents and students and the messages that ultimately go out are clear with expectations and everyone knows when to expect them. 

Regular Cadence-Not only is the channel and the clarity of the messaging important, the cadence is as well. The greatest pain point for parents and students with communications is the inconsistency in when communications should be expected. The longer the wait, the more information has to be packed in and it's easy to miss something. Sending a daily or weekly note can be a great way to not only stay in touch but remind everyone what's happening or what's expected. 

Even if there is nothing new, these notes can serve as a reminder that while the situation isn't normal, we are all still connected an in this together. They can be little opportunities to continue to build community. 

Set Aside Time For Non-Learning Communications-If there is one thing I have been saying from the start of all this forced remote teaching is has been we have to put mental health first. Being in forced isolation when each student's (and teacher's) world has been turned upside down can be very hard on our mental stability. That is why it's important to set aside times for non-learning and non-administrative communications. 

As I laid out in my Building Community Even At A Distance post, not everything we do during this time can or should be "business as normal" because it isn't. Kids and adults alike need chances to laugh and talk and share together. Try to set aside time, on video if you can, to get everyone together just to share and reflect together. Tell stories, make jokes, but no work talk. No expectations for topics, no forced requirements to even be there. Just open office hours for sharing. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

6 Ways To Build Community...Even From A Distance

This is the second in a series of videos I want to do while many of us are facing an unprecedented time of isolation. The first was about reducing stress and anxiety. If you have an idea for something you want me to talk about, academic or not, let me know on Twitter, @web20classroom

Millions of students and teachers find themselves thrust into a world of unknowns. Just a few short weeks ago kids were waking up and heading to their classroom to learn and grow in a community of learners. Now many of them are isolated at home, far from their classmates and their teacher. 

Building community is an important aspect of school culture not just now but overall. And while we may be behind computer screens trying to navigate this new world of distance and virtual learning, there are still things we can do to help kids feel a part of classroom and school community. 

And now it's more important than ever. 

More Ideas To Build Community Even From A Distance

Weekly School Email Blasts from the Principal and/or Teacher: This helps keep everyone in the loop and informed. This can be just for parents and students and another for just staff as well. Even better, record a video and post it to a school Facebook page or Twitter account.

Reflect and Share Together: Especially now we might just need to talk it out. Provide a space for kids (and adults) to share their thoughts and feelings. And it doesn't have to be about the current situation. It can be about anything. Something new learned, a new app or website, or what the dog did that day. These conversations can be text based or through asynchronous video or live. Whatever way you do it provide a platform and set aside time to just reflect. 

School-Wide Virtual Meetings: These can be done once a week and don't have to last long. And remember you can do them a few times that day to meet everyone's schedule or record them to post later. 

PLC Meetings: Yes, PLC Meetings. Teachers need the chance to check in with each other. Set aside time to meet and plan, virtually or over the phone. And don't spend all the time talking about the pains of this new reality. Talk about how you are surviving and the fun things you are doing as well. 

Celebrations: Just because many, many of us are stuck at home or in isolation, doesn't mean that life doesn't carry on. Make celebrations even more important now. Birthdays, especially with kids can be celebrated by having everyone record a video message on a Flipgrid or posted to the Google Classroom group. Staff too could do this for each other. 

There are loads more ideas in the video, but what ideas do you have? How are you building community from a distance? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

6 Tips For Beating Stress During #Covid19

This is the first in a series of videos I want to do while many of us are facing an unprecedented time of isolation. If you have an idea for something you want me to talk about, academic or not, let me know on Twitter, @web20classroom

Over the last the several days many adults and kids have had their world turned upside down with the closure of school and recommended social distancing to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus. For myself, in just a matter of 3 days I went from a calendar full of travel and events to isolation in my home. Even my own daughters had school on a Friday to no school for 2 weeks to not knowing when they would return, all in the course of a few hours.

These changes can and are causing a great deal of stress and anxiety that I am hearing and feeling personally.

So I began to think, what can we do, together, to help ourselves and each other to reduce anxiety and stress during this time.

Here are some links to explore mentioned in the video.

A journal could be a simple sheet of paper or an old notebook. It doesn't have to be anything special. If you are looking for some guided journaling here are some ideas.

Home Exercise Routines

Meditation and Mindfulness