I’m back for another installment of advice for virtual learning. If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, you might want to start there. Part 1 gives tips for Student Wellbeing and Part 2 delves into Staff Wellbeing.
Virtual Learning Tools
Before I launch into my recommendations for virtual learning tools, let me let you in on a little secret. I’m no expert in technology. There are
probably definitely a million more blogs for you to get great ideas from, but in an effort to get you started, here are the tools I’ve been using the past 2 weeks with my students that I’ve found to be the most helpful.
An invaluable tool for our school during this period has been Seesaw. Seesaw is an app that students already use in the classroom to document learning, which serves as an online portfolio with photos, videos, and work samples. Students can also complete tasks set by the teacher in the ‘Activities’ tab. Parents are connected to their child’s account, and just like Instagram, they get a notification whenever a new item is posted so they can like and comment.
Since this is a tool we have been using for a couple of years at my school, it made it very easy to transition to this platform when we started online learning. Students’ and parents’ familiarity with the app helped ease the anxiety of learning online (a little bit, anyway). Check out the quick tour of Seesaw below.
If you haven’t tried FlipGrid yet, try it now! No, seriously, I’ll wait. I was fortunate that I had already introduced FlipGrid in the classroom as part of tuning in to our Exhibition, so my students were familiar with how to access it and create videos, but if you haven’t tried it, I’m confident that your students can pick it up quickly, as it’s rather intuitive (and let’s face it, they are way better at technology than us anyway). Students are highly engaged when creating videos and certainly enjoy sharing their learning this way!
FlipGrid is basically an app or website that allows students to create videos of various lengths (you set the time limit, with a maximum of 5 minutes) about any topic you set. You can create different ‘grids’ for different topics. So far I’ve created grids for International Day, where students made cultural videos to share with the class after we missed out on the event due to the school closure, and a few grids connected to our Exhibition (Action ideas, weekly reflections, UN Sustainable Development Goals). What I love about it is that students can customize the videos with stickers, text, photos, inserting clips of other videos, etc. They can also pause the video as many times as they want while filming, which is different than when recording traditional videos on the iPad or on PhotoBooth.
Once the students post a video on the grid, everyone in the class can view the videos and create video responses. All videos are secure on FlipGrid’s site and students have to enter a ‘Flip Code’ and an ID number to access the videos, which makes me feel relieved that not just anybody can access them. You, as the teacher, have control to delete, hide, or download videos. Teachers can also give feedback to the student using a rubric and/or written comments, in addition to video feedback, which I use often.
Here’s an example of an introduction video for FlipGrid, where you let the students know what the video they will create should be about.
I don’t want to share a video with my students’ faces, but here’s a FlipGrid one of my students made when reflecting on last week’s virtual school experience.
FlipGrid has shared tips for Remote Learning on their website.
ZOOM is a video conferencing tool that allows up to 100 participants at a time, so you can have all of your students online at the same time. I’m fairly new to this tool, as I only held my first class ZOOM meeting today, but it’s fairly easy to figure out. I suggest you first try it out with some colleagues, as I did with my staff last Friday. We played around for half an hour and left feeling confident to try it with our classes today. The students were so excited to see everyone again and enjoyed chatting all at once. The ‘Mute All’ feature came in handy for that! 😉 I’m going to try this out tomorrow to hold a class discussion about our collaborative performance for Exhibition and later this week for a live read aloud. We created essential agreements for how we will use it. I suggest you do, too. The video below is a tutorial for how to set it up.
Padlet is a virtual way to collaborate and share ideas. Padlet is one of those tools that has been introduced at many professional development workshops I’ve attended, and I’ve always thought it was cool, but I never seem to find time to try it when I go back to school. Last week I used it for the first time in virtual school. I wanted students to share their ideas for their math component for Exhibition, but thought that having them post their ideas for everyone to see would work best since those students who were less confident could see some other ideas before having to decide on their own. I then gave them feedback in the form of questions to help them strengthen and improve their ideas. The downside is that students can’t sign in without email addresses, so all posts come up with ‘Anonymous.’ Just try to remind them to include their name in their post.
A tool that we already make use of at our school is Microsoft Teams, which is a messaging, video conferencing, and file sharing system. While I much prefer to use the Google Suite, I’m getting used to using Teams. I had not yet used it with my students prior to the school closure, but when we closed, I quickly got them set up on it so that we could have one-on-one meetings and chat easily, two features that Seesaw doesn’t offer. We ran into difficulties setting it up remotely, so if you are still at school, I recommend setting up all technology tools with students prior to the closure (if you can). As with anything new, we are having some teething issues, such as students messaging too much in the group chat or annoying one another with incessant chatting in the private messages, but they are learning. Again, create essential agreements from the outset. I had to backtrack and create them, as I didn’t think of that at first!
Many of us are familiar with BrainPOP, a popular source of informative videos presented in bite-sized chunks. During our school closure, I’ve used it as a tool to reteach concepts I’d already taught in class that students still need practice with, such as citing sources, researching, and note-taking skills. With my students in the middle of their PYP Exhibition, they are all researching their topics at the moment.
My school doesn’t have a subscription to BrainPOP, but BrainPOP has generously offered free access to all schools that are closed due to COVID-19. I suggest you sign up for a free account. I signed up for one account for my school, and we are all using the same username and password. Click on the screenshot below to sign up.
Kahoot! is another tool I’m sure you are familiar with, as most of us have created fun quizzes to use in the classroom as a review for a test. I am going to use Kahoot! for my math lesson tomorrow to have them practice mean, median, mode, and range. I’ve never tried it individually (there’s no time limit and you can see how they performed later), but I think they will enjoy it. Kahoot! is another company who has offered their service free to schools who are closed due to COVID-19. For a free account, head to the homepage and click “Learn More” in the yellow banner at the top. It’s a great resource, loaded with tons of teacher-created content!
Weebly is a free website-creation site and app. I love using Weebly because it’s easy for students. You simply drag and drop the items that you want (headings, text, images, videos, etc.) and rearrange them however you want. Weebly is a tool we had already been using in class since each student is responsible for creating a website to document their Exhibition process. If you are looking for an ongoing project, would like students to learn how to create a website, or perhaps you are looking for a way to share lessons with students during virtual school, I think you should check out Weebly.
Loom and Screencastify
Two great programmes for creating tutorials, teaching using slides, or reading aloud from books online are Loom and Screencastify. They both work similarly, giving you the option to record your screen, with the option to include a video of you in the corner of the screen, however, I prefer Loom because it has more free options. With Screencastify you are limited to creating 5-minute videos on the free version, but with Loom, you can create much longer videos (at least 20 minutes, I’ve found), adjust the size of the webcam video, and move the video anywhere you want on the screen. Both are easy to install, as they are simple Chrome extensions.
Here’s a Loom video tutorial I made for my teachers to show them how to schedule a meeting on ZOOM.
Free Online Books
Many of us already use EPIC in our classrooms, and while the app is free at school, but not at home, what I’ve discovered is that it’s free at school due to it being free during school hours, which means students can access EPIC books at home, Monday-Friday 8.00am-3.00pm. So get those kids reading!
Another website for books is Open Library, a website with thousands upon thousands of free books. If you want to read a book aloud but you don’t have a physical copy, use Loom to record your screen and read a book from Open Library!
Suggested Further Reading/Additional Resources
I didn’t get time to give advice about creating a daily schedule/organizing your day and parent wellbeing and support, so I’ll have to do that next time! If there’s anything else you’d like me to share, or if you have an idea that works for you, please comment below. Thanks for reading!