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. 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.