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?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity, time management, and scheduling. Working from home has never been a strong suit of mine. Whenever I need to get a lot of work done on the weekends, I always have to work somewhere else…school, a cafe, Starbucks. If I don’t, I am so distracted by things at home that I just procrastinate all day until I stress myself out and end up staying up late on Sunday night and then don’t even get half of my list done!
What started me thinking about time management was my students’ reflections on virtual school last week. All but one said the hardest part of online learning was time management and managing distractions. Same for me, guys. To help them learn more time management techniques, I went on a deep dive on YouTube, because let’s be honest, I’m not the model for this skill! I found 2 really good videos (here and here) for them and they’ve been using the new techniques to create a daily to-do list and schedule each morning, which they submit to Seesaw. I’ve seen improvements this week in their ability to submit assignments in a timely manner. If we are still online after spring break, I’ll tackle the distractions element!
While researching for my students, I came across a YouTuber named Amy who is a time management, scheduling, morning routine, and productivity expert. I’ve watched way too many of her videos this week! With tomorrow being our last day of virtual school before a much-deserved week off, I’ve been reflecting on how I will improve how I approach the planning and execution of virtual school and how I will take some time for myself on my isolated spring break. Here’s what I’ve planned so far.
Things to do during Spring Break
Daily: -Exercise -Blog/Slice -Read -Skincare routine -Sleep well
Fun: -Puzzles! -Try new recipes -Catch up on my shows -Movies and popcorn -Coloring books
Organize: -Clean out closets -Cook and freeze meals -Create a daily schedule for Spring Break -Create a daily schedule for virtual school (if it continues after next week) -Decide what to pack/move and what to donate
Work: -Plan ahead for the next week -Film all lessons for the next week -Student feedback -Catch up on curriculum work -Brainstorm how to do an entirely online PYP Exhibition (if it comes to that)
I’m hopeful for next week and want to be productive, not succumb to binge-watching Netflix every day, because we all know how easy that would be!
This video from Amy is sooo helpful and applicable now! Anyone struggling with working from home should watch it. She gives great tips!
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!
More and more schools announced closures over the weekend; even my sister-in-law’s school in Small Town, Texas has announced that they will extend Spring Break by another week, at least. The Governor of Jakarta stepped up this weekend and announced that all schools in the city must close for two weeks beginning tomorrow, and they must offer online learning. For us, nothing changes, as we aren’t planning to open until 30 March anyway, but I am glad that the government is taking this situation seriously and putting measures in place (finally!) to reduce the spread of the virus.
With these closures, many of us are left scrambling to figure our how we are going to teach online, a concept new to the vast majority of us. I’m definitely not an expert by any means, but I have been doing it for the better part of two weeks, so here’s my advice and observations. I hope that they are helpful to you.
What they don’t tell you about virtual school is that it’s WAY HARDER than real school. As in you can work 12+ hour days and still feel woefully behind. The pressures you now face are overwhelming, to say the least. You are learning so much, so fast, but there’s no time to process that new learning or consolidate it before you are asked to implement it. It’s pretty much a crash-course PD, where you are constantly adapting and trouble-shooting and finding new ways of doing the same things you would do in the classroom. One thing I’ve learned is that something that would typically take a few minutes in the classroom can take 30+ minutes to accomplish online, especially when you’re trying to remotely support young students on how to use the new online tools.
In addition to the pace of learning and insurmountable tasks you now have on your plate, most of us have to contend with self-quarantine and isolation from others. Extended time alone, a dramatic increase in screen time, and a decrease in movement result in exhaustion. You will expend an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy throughout the day, and most likely you will do so on far less sleep than you are accustomed to, at least at first. Your patience will be put to the test, and your emotions are likely to bubble over from time to time. It’s all normal and expected. Be easy on yourself and know that it does get better.
Schedules and Routines
All of this is to say, you need to look after yourself and your family. Setting a schedule for everyone will help establish routines and cut down on chaos. Set boundaries for yourself. If you don’t, you’ll never step away. There will always be another notification, Seesaw post to approve, email to answer, text message to respond to, video chat to answer, etc. Take regular breaks throughout the day and set a start and end time for your days. Allot some time on the weekends to get your work done and get ahead for the next week, but take time out to rest and spend time with your family.
Get Some Sleep!
My biggest hurdle is not getting enough sleep. As I said, there’s always more to do and the guilt of not getting it all done is real. I’ve found myself staying up late most nights working, often not getting to bed until 11:00-12:00. The lack of sleep means I’m less effective during the day, meaning I have to stay up late that night to catch up. It’s a vicious cycle. Learn from me. Set a bedtime and keep it. Another thing is that you can’t just work right up until you are going to bed, because staring at a computer screen messes with your brain, and you’ll be so wired you won’t get to sleep. Try to put some distance between the end of work and your bedtime, such as a shower, cup of herbal tea, and some reading (in a real book!).
Connection and Collaboration
Virtual school is lonely and isolating. It’s a strange concept; you are connected digitally all day, yet you don’t feel a real sense of connection. One way to combat this is to reach out to your colleagues and friends throughout the day. Message one another in your school’s online platform (ours is Microsoft Teams), call a friend or family member on the phone during a break or in the evening, video chat with your students and colleagues, take a walk outside (but keep some distance between you and others). Reach out to other online communities you have. Do whatever you can do to establish and/or maintain that sense of community.
Collaborating is key to making virtual school a success for others. We cannot do it alone. We need to share what’s working and what’s not, ask for help when we need it, and share new ideas and resources we come across. When we do this, we all win, and more importantly, so do our students. At my school, we have taken the consistent approach across all classes in the Primary school. When we find something that is a good idea, we all implement it. This cuts down on comparisons between classes (and complaints) when it comes to parents.
We have a ‘Virtual School’ channel in MS Teams where we all load ideas and suggestions for virtual school. It’s a feed of ideas that we can all revisit when we have time.
We also have a Primary group chat on WhatsApp where we collaborate, ask for feedback, discuss concerns or issues, send announcements, and share links with one another.
Our students feel the same way, too. They crave connection and miss their friends and the daily interactions they have with their teachers. Reach out to them on video chats to help them feel some sense of normalcy. Listen to one of my students’ reflection on the week. You can hear how much she misses the connection with her friends that she has at school.
I’ve already touched on some aspects of self-care, such as getting enough sleep and setting boundaries. Another aspect to consider is eating healthily, ensuring that you have a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Being at home and under a huge amount of stress has led to me eating more snack foods and desserts, which only leave me feeling even more sluggish. I’m working on eating healthier. Drink lots of water all day. A plus to working from home means you get to go to the bathroom whenever you want! So drink water with wild abandon.
Move your body several times during the day. It’s sooooo easy to get stuck in your chair, hunched over the computer all day, but you’ll be paying for it later. Take a walk outside for a few minutes on your breaks or after school. Do a yoga YouTube video when you wake up. Play the Wii with your kids after lunch. Whatever you can do to move, do it.
Take some time away from screens. Do something you enjoy offline, such as reading, knitting, working on a puzzle, coloring, cooking a meal, trying a new recipe, listening to music, dancing around your living room, taking a bath, taking a nap, playing a board game, etc. Whatever it is that you enjoy, spend time doing that. You are no good to anyone if you’re run down.
I came across a *FREE* PD on Designing Online Learning this morning and I’ve signed up. The PD runs from 23-30 March. The catch is you have to sign up by Sunday at 7pm ET if you want to take advantage of this offer!
I still have lots more to share…so there will be a Part 3 tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Hi everyone! There’s a FREE online PD course, Designing for Online Learning, that will run from 23-30 March. They say it’s about a 45-60 minute/day commitment. Normally the course is $150 USD, but it’s free to all educators who register by Sunday 7pm ET, until it’s full. I just registered! Go to this website if you are interested:
Many people around the world, myself included, have found themselves in an unusual situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down our schools with little to no warning. We are now tasked with teaching virtually which, for the majority of us, is a completely foreign and intimidating task. We have probably been asked to do this with no training or time to prepare.
For those of you who are in this situation, I am sure you feel lost or unsure if you’re doing the right thing. This is a normal feeling. If you are focusing on what’s best for kids, you’re doing it right. You’ll find your groove, learn what works for you and your students, and find successes. It just might not feel like that right now. Be easy on yourself. I know you have high standards and expectations, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take it one step at a time. Reach out to colleagues, both at your school and abroad. We are all in this together!
I’m new at this, having completed Day 8 of virtual school on Friday, and I’m still learning and improving each day, but here is some advice that might help you as you navigate this new way of teaching.
First and foremost, we have to think of the impact this change is going to have on students. There are many aspects of student wellbeing to consider.
Our students are not used to learning at home, and we need to be mindful of the limitations that some of them may have. Some may not have access to a device or a consistent internet connection. Some may not have an adult to help them with their assignments at home. Some may not have books or basic supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, and art materials. Some may have learning differences, such as a special need or limited English, that will prevent them from accessing the lessons and assignments. We must prepare ourselves for the fact that some of our students will fall behind. Think about ways to support your students through this. Is there a way to loan a school device to them during the school closure? What about sending home extra library books or student packs of materials? Can you set up 1-on-1 video chat sessions with them to re-teach a concept or check in on them to see how they’re doing? How will you differentiate learning for your students? A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
Movement Every Day
Students typically have opportunities to exercise each day at school, whether this is through PE lessons or recess. When quarantined at home, they will likely not get as much exercise. Assigning daily PE lessons (minimum of 30 minutes/day) in the form of good quality exercise videos is a good way to ensure they burn off some of their pent-up energy. Providing a variety of exercise options each day of the week will ensure they aren’t bored. They could dance on Monday, do yoga on Tuesday, cardio and strength training on Wednesday, etc.
Screen time is also a consideration. We all know the research that says it’s important to limit screen time for kids. Teaching virtually puts students in front of a screen for an extended amount of time each day. We need to be mindful of the time we are expecting students to be in front of a screen each day and how long each stretch of time online will be. Consider the students’ ages when deciding on how much screen time to expect. One way to reduce the amount of screen time is to break up the learning throughout the day, scheduling in brain breaks, time for movement, etc. Another way is to assign offline activities, such as ongoing projects, science experiments that can be done with household items, hands-on math activities, art activities, free reading and free writing.
Another consideration is the workload for students. What might take 30 minutes to do in the classroom can take some students an hour to do at home. What I’ve learned is that less really is more. I started out assigning way too much, only to realize it wasn’t working. Since pulling back, I’ve seen improvements in students’ motivation and ability to complete the daily tasks. We can’t forget that our students are learning in a new environment, with many distractions they aren’t used to, and to expect them to do the same amount of work at home that they do at school is unrealistic. Asking for reflections from students and parents has helped me gauge whether my expectations for students were appropriate. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as surveys, 1-on-1 conversations on video conference calls, or having them create video reflections with given questions.
Connection/Sense of Community
Making the move to online teaching allows students and teachers to connect digitally, but we must not forget the need for real connection. Students will watch your video lessons and then complete work independently at home. Most likely they’ll submit their work via an online learning management system, such as Seesaw, and you will comment on it. These connections are sterile and do not replace the daily interactions we have with our students at school. They miss their friends. They miss you. How can you connect with your students? Using an online tool, such as ZOOM, that allows you to connect your entire class is a good way to keep the sense of community alive. You could read a story aloud, have a morning meeting, or teach a mini-lesson. Alternatively, you can chat 1-on-1 using video conference tools, such as Skype, ZOOM, or Microsoft Teams, to form those connections with individual students.
There’s so much more advice to give about staff wellbeing, virtual learning tools, organization and structure of your day, etc., but given the length of this post, I’ll wait until tomorrow to continue my advice. Please comment below if you have any questions or want me to include anything in my next advice post. Best of luck!