I’ll always remember March 2nd, and not just because it’s Dr. Seuss’s birthday or Texas Independence Day. I’ll remember March 2nd because on March 2, 2020, everything as I knew it changed.
I was living in Jakarta, and while the world grappled with the effects of Covid-19, we were content to continue with life as normal, as if we were invincible. No masks, no social distancing, no restrictions.
Well…that was until March 2nd. March 2nd was the day Indonesia announced their first confirmed case. It was the day one of our teachers was hospitalized because she was suspected to have Covid-19 (spoiler alert: she tested positive and recovered a month later). It was the day we began what was supposed to be a 14-day quarantine period, one that turned out to be 80 days for me. It was also the day we decided to move to online learning.
As I sit here, safe in my home in Jeju, happy that we now have all students back on campus every day (as of yesterday) after a few months of 2/3 of our students on campus and 1/3 online, I can’t help but think of my colleagues and students back in Jakarta. They went online a year ago and have never went back to face to face school. That’s a whole year of online learning. A whole year of working from home. A whole year of isolation. My heart breaks for them. As tough as I am, I don’t know if I could have made it. I think it might have broken me by now.
I commend them for sticking with it and doing so well in spite of the rotten circumstances they’ve had to endure. I know it’s a long shot, but I sure hope they get to return to some sort of normalcy before the year ends. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have only ever met your students online.
Hang in there ACG! I’m sending you my love and support…you’ve got this!
After a week off for term break, our virtual school resumed today. My work day began at 7:00am and finished a little after 9:00pm. To be honest, I’m tired and ready for bed, but more than anything, I’m thankful for the busyness of today. After nine days off, the days had started to run together, and by the end of the week, I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. While this is a less than ideal situation, and I would 100% rather be in the classroom, I grateful for the routine of my virtual school day. I was excited to chat with my students again today, and while many of them were tired today from a week of staying up late and playing, I can tell they were glad to be back, too.
After our first three weeks of virtual school, we reflected as a leadership team, taking into account student, parent, and staff feedback about their experiences with online learning, and made some adjustments for this last term of school. We realized that it was unrealistic to expect primary students to attend virtual school all day like they would at real school. We scaled back the expectations, and now students have four homeroom learning days and one single-subject day. This means that on the four homeroom days, students take part in one lesson each of literacy, math, unit of inquiry, and PE per day. This is in addition to a morning message video, which may be pre-recorded or done as a morning meeting on ZOOM. We all do one ZOOM class meeting per homeroom day.
On their single-subject days, students have one lesson each of art, music, PE, library, Bahasa Indonesia or Mandarin, and Religion or Indonesian Studies. On the single-subject days, the homeroom teacher has time to plan and prep lessons for the rest of the week and give student feedback, as the only requirement is to post a morning message video and the daily learning overview with the students’ schedule. My single-subject day is on Wednesday, which is perfect for me. I can prep for Monday’s and Tuesday’s lessons on Sunday, and Thursday’s and Friday’s lessons on Wednesday. It’ll be nice to have a bit of a breather in the middle of the week, too. I hope that this new schedule is helpful for the students and that they no longer feel overwhelmed with everything they have to do.
Another change we’ve made is to be more mindful of screen time. We’ve encouraged teachers to assign more offline activities during virtual school so that they are not online all day. I know how being on a screen all day affects me, so I can’t imagine how the students must feel!
How’s virtual school going for you? Have you made any changes?
Today is Day 24 of quarantining at home, and apart from a 3-hour trip to the dentist on Day 18, I haven’t left my house. I’m not married, no kids, no pets, and no roommates, so it’s been a pretty lonely three weeks. Other than my video chats and phone calls with family, friends, colleagues, and students, I don’t get much interaction with others. I’m trying to check my privilege, as I realize I have a comfortable home, working electricity and plumbing, consistent Internet, enough food, and I don’t have to worry about money, which I know many people in the world don’t have at this time, but today I’m feeling the effects of isolation.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my 3+ weeks of quarantine:
The hair on my legs seems to have stopped growing. I haven’t shaved my legs since I went into lockdown, and by looking at them, you wouldn’t really know. I’m way past the prickly stage, too.
I’m not a self-motivated person at home. Despite all the advice on the internet touting, “You have all the time in the world, you should do all the things you’ve always said you never have time for! There’s no excuse now,” I seem to find an excuse.
My attention span, which if I’m being honest was already wavering (I blame the constant interruptions of modern society for that one), is down to a few minutes at a time. I have started 9 books. Nine. And I haven’t finished one yet. Now, I’m a multiple-books-at-a-time person by nature, but this is overboard. I can’t even watch a TV show all the way through in one sitting. What is going on?
At first, I was excited about cooking and was eating way too much food because, hello, what else have I got to do?, but now all the food in the house is boring. I eat when my stomach is growling, but it’s all pretty blah. Well, except for the fresh-out-of-the-oven bread slathered in butter, but I can’t eat that every day, can I?
I crave routine and structure, and I need to leave my house to have a sense of normalcy. I’m not a work-from-home person. Guess I can throw away those dreams of becoming a travel blogger.
My moods fluctuate from really happy to complete boredom or frustration. Yesterday I was so full of energy, and today, nothing. It’s a dice roll each day I wake up.
I am hoping that things get easier next week when virtual school starts back up again, as the school day will give me a routine to follow. What have you learned while in quarantine?
I’m not really sure how to feel right now. I found out today that our school closure would be extended, which if I’m being honest, is what I wanted. I was terrified to go back to school next Monday, and quite frankly, I was prepared to refuse to go should the school decide to open. But when I envisioned the school closure extending, I was thinking we’d push it back another month or so, just until it was safe to return. I wasn’t prepared to hear that we would most likely close for the remainder of the school year.
I made the decision a couple of days ago that I would stay in Indonesia, rather than relocate to Texas right now, figuring that it’s safer for me to remain in quarantine here instead of traveling through several airports and spending many hours on an airplane. I am at peace with that decision. While I’m comfortable with the routine of virtual school, I’m not happy about doing it for two and a half more months. However, the realness of what’s happening is starting to sink in.
I won’t get to say goodbye to my students in person. I won’t get to have a going away party before I move away for good. I won’t get to see our 2020 graduates walk the stage. I won’t get to celebrate with my students after their PYP Exhibition (and I now have to figure out how to do a completely virtual Exhibition). I won’t get to hug my colleagues and say a proper goodbye. I won’t get to say thank you and goodbye in person to the parents who have been so supportive of me over the past three years. I won’t get to laugh with students out on the playground again. I won’t get to hand out another Learner Profile of the Month award. I won’t get to see our students perform at the Primary Concert or Swimming Carnival. I won’t get to spend time with my friends before they’re gone (many have already left or will leave soon). I won’t get to have our pizza, movie, and bonfire night at school with my students (and I promised them we would do this). I don’t get to celebrate my Year 6 students’ transition into Secondary.
I won’t get closure. I’ll just work until June 12th online and then leave. That’s it. This chapter of my life will end abruptly, and then it’ll be gone. I don’t think I’m okay with this.
Spring Break, Quarantine Edition began today. I was able to catch up with so many of my favorite people throughout the day. This is definitely a perk of being in isolation…you have time to talk to people without being too busy. Silver lining!
My morning started off in Texas with Lisa, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew, Randi and Logan, where I got to hear about how their week off from school has been going. Lisa’s a teacher, too, so she has the tough job of teaching online while homeschooling 2 young children. I can’t imagine how she’s going to do all that and stay sane!
Next up in Vietnam was Michelle, whose birthday is today. It’s such a bummer that she doesn’t get to properly celebrate it now, but she is getting together with a small group of friends later tonight. We commiserated about online school and how much we miss having our kids in the classroom and debated whether it was safer to go back to the states or stay abroad. The verdict was it was probably safer to stay rather than braving the trek home.
Late morning took me to Canada to see Shaggers, who also just finished her first week of online learning, and like me, is on Spring Break. With both her and her husband teaching, Marlowe (their 4 year old daughter) is struggling to understand why her parents are preoccupied and not able to devote all their attention to her while they’re home. They’ve been working on an alternating schedule to make sure she gets what she needs. I imagine that’s a tricky line to walk. Of course, we also talked about Marlowe, her budding writer!
This afternoon I got to catch up with Annie, my temporary roommate, who moved back to her place once the self-quarantine went into effect. While we are both glad we have a week off from school, we both plan to take advantage of the week to get ahead for the next week of virtual school. We also weighed the pros and cons of going back home during this uncertain time. The verdict’s still out.
After Annie, Vanessa was on deck. Since we usually chat on and off during school days, it was weird to not talk to her all day. We briefly chatted about her fun family day spent in PJs, where they watched movies, ate yummy food, and played Monopoly. Everyone is glad for a brain break from school!
Wendi, my friend I originally worked with in Albania and who now works with me here in Jakarta, called to talk through whether it’s best to stay put or go back home. She’s got more to consider, with a baby and a dog, but no matter the reasons we came up with, there was no clear answer. She’s going to sleep on it tonight.
Rounding out tonight was my parents in Texas. We discussed whether or not I should come home (sensing a pattern?), but again, there was no clear decision. I have to weigh up whether it’s safer to stay here, where I am quarantined in my house, or risk the airports, airplanes, and long lines once I arrive, plus the 14-day quarantine in a hotel once I am stateside. I’m likely to catch it on the way home, but the medical care is better at home, I’d be near my family, and I’d be guaranteed to get out of Indonesia. Who knows if/when flights in and out will be shut down…with so many unknowns, there’s no easy answer. Our conversation ended on a positive note, where we talked about non-Coronavirus topics, which was pleasant.
I never thought we’d make it, but Friday finally came! Today was an even more TGIF moment, as it was the start of our spring break. While this is not the week off I had planned (so long Australia, hello self-isolation in Jakarta!), I am so thankful for this week of respite. After 3 weeks of virtual school, and 11 straight weeks of school without a day off since winter break, it’s much-needed!
Just like the last day of term in real school, we had some fun today! We met as a class this afternoon on ZOOM to have a check-in. We chatted (usually all at the same time) about whatever we wanted, shared how it was going, talked about what we missed about not being together, asked each other questions, showed off our pets (a kitty, a dog, and a hedgehog!), told jokes, sang our favorite song from camp, and laughed a lot. I was reminded of how much I love this group of students. We all needed a bit of fun and to take a step back from the demands of school.
Following our ZOOM meeting, we continued chatting in Teams, sharing funny videos and memes. Here are some of our favorite videos:
My friend and colleague Vanessa is a mentor for one of my students in his Exhibition, and after their meeting, she called to ask me how she could support him, but I was on the other line with a student, so she left a voicemail. The voicemail on Teams has a feature where it sends the voicemail and a written version of their message using their text-to-speech feature. Vanessa is British, so her accent didn’t entirely translate to the written version. As I listened to the message, I was following along/reading ahead on the written version. I laughed so hard at this…
“I said, what are you struggling with what can I help you with? He said his grandma and so I’m more than happy to support him with his grandma…”
I was so confused! The message said he was struggling with his grandma, but she said he was struggling with his grammar! I immediately called her back to tell her what happened, and we were cry-laughing about it. We needed that laugh today!
This evening, after school was a distant memory, several of my colleagues and I got together for a virtual happy hour on ZOOM! It was nice to see everyone and talk about things other than school (although school creeped into the conversation a few times…we are teachers, after all). Lots of laughs and silliness was the perfect start to this week off!
Hope I can continue to see the fun in virtual school and self-isolation…it’s going to be a while! 🙂
Today marked Day 16 of self-quarantine. Sixteen days that I’ve been cooped up in my house. When the decision was made on March 2nd that our entire community would go into self-quarantine and begin virtual school, I was in shock. That shock turned to bitterness and resentment a few days in, grumpy and frustrated to be a prisoner trapped in my own home. By about day 5 or 6, I was downright depressed at the fact that I couldn’t leave my own home. However, once I passed the first week mark, I had accepted it. While I dreamed of freedom, looking forward to waking up on March 17th and getting to go out to dinner with friends, drink a hot chocolate at Starbucks with a good book, or just do a bit of walking around in the mall, the closer it got to my freedom, the less excited I became.
In the days leading up to my day of freedom, talk of social distancing and staying at home to not only protect yourself but vulnerable populations began to emerge. Reflecting on the what-ifs, I came to the decision that I would continue to remain indoors and in isolation. My newfound acceptance made the decision that much easier.
But today I had to leave my house. I didn’t want to, and it certainly wasn’t for something fun like a dinner date or to hang out at the coffee shop. My teeth had been really sore for several days, and I needed to go to the dentist. I feared that my wisdom teeth might be coming in and pushing on my other teeth. If you’ve ever had tooth pain, you know it’s not something that can easily be ignored. So I made the appointment.
When it was time to go, the nerves set in. Why am I so nervous to leave my house? It’s not that big of a deal. But the number of cases here in Indonesia has been increasing at a rapid rate. And the President said yesterday that he’s intentionally withholding information from the public about the actual number of cases and deaths so as not to create panic. My worry about catching the virus was heightened.
I debated over whether I should taxi or Go-Jek it. Which is the safer option? Is it literally touching the person who’s driving me but being in the open air or sitting in a confined space and breathing the same air as the taxi driver? I opted for the Go-Jek, but wore my pollution mask just in case. Armed with hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and tissues, I headed out.
The first thing I noticed was the ease in which we were able to drive. The usual bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go, weave-in-and-out, drive-up-on-the-curb-just-to-get-ahead traffic was a thing of the past. Clearly the message to stay home had reached a large number of people. What would normally have taken an hour to drive (yet it’s only about 7km away) took about 20 minutes.
As I walked into the office tower, I was acutely aware of my surroundings and my actions. Don’t touch your face. But my nose itches. Don’t do it, Jennifer. You haven’t washed your hands since you left home. I walked slower to avoid walking near someone else, trying to keep at least 1 meter distance between me and other people. Having a bit of extra time to kill, I popped down to the ATM. Using my sleeve as a glove, I typed in my PIN. The change in withdrawal limit from 3,000,000 (about $200) to 1,000,000 (about $65) meant I had to make many additional withdrawals. Sanitizing my hands, I headed upstairs.
After my dentist visit, where I learned that I have two impacted wisdom teeth (oh, joy!), I stopped at the grocery store nearby to pick up a few things. My temperature was taken upon entry. As I wandered around the store, my fellow shoppers and I avoided one another like the plague, the unwritten rule being that only one person was allowed per aisle. After checking out and applying more sanitizer, I headed home.
Once back home, I breathed a sign of relief. While I had my first taste of freedom today, all I wanted was the comfort of my little bubble. I don’t think I’ll be going out any time soon.
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.
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.
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!
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!