Not to state the obvious, but education is in a time of dynamic change. This change will affect not just this school year, but long into the future of what education may be for our children and grandchildren. It is important, then, to rethink how administrators, teachers, and parents/guardians prepare for each school year so that students can still meet, or exceed, learning goals and objectives. Beyond what can be seen on paper, education also supports a child’s need to experience, explore, and apply learning to real-life now and in the future. To do this successfully, teachers who are now dealing with a virtual classroom environment must adjust their teaching practices. Why? Because remote learning requires specific skills such as conducting classes using video conferencing, sharing content in different ways, and providing feedback on student assignments and projects.
Eons ago, when I was in elementary school, we did a unit on fossils and their importance on understanding how prehistoric plants and animals lived. I was fascinated and for a brief moment in 4th grade, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I would stare at all of the pictures of the different fossils and dream about going on a true-blue dig and discover something cool like a fossil from a mammoth or saber tooth tiger. Of course, I never did become a paleontologist instead choosing to teach because that feeling of excitement when I learned something new was one I wanted all young learners to experience. But I do wonder if my teacher had the technology to make different fossils for closer study maybe I would have chosen the paleontology path.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many states, a number of districts are opting for total remote learning for the fall (for specific districts, click the link Education Week School Districts’ Reopening Plans). What does this mean for parents who have young ones starting school for the first time? If the anxiety about starting school in person during a worldwide pandemic wasn’t enough, the prospect of starting totally online can be overwhelming. Often, parents see entering school (PreK – K levels) as an opportunity for their children to learn social skills, understand rules and routines, and set a foundation of basic skills that will prepare them for the next 12 years of learning.
Do a quick search of the internet, and you are sure to find a variety of articles on using an interactive flat panel to boost student engagement. Really, flat panels are geared towards educators – large screen with touch technology that begs for interactivity to showcase its features. Most ‘Top 10 Teacher Tips’ will include increase classroom collaboration, take a virtual fieldtrip, prepare for assessments, and gamify for learning new concepts. But when schools closed in the spring, this awesome tech sat lonely in many classrooms. With the debate still going about the learning environment for the new school year (as of this writing, many districts have opted to start the Fall totally virtual), educators may ask, “But what about my panel?”
Although generally thought of as only possible in the physical classroom where teachers can observe and guide student exploration and interaction, STEAM learning is possible with distance teaching. How?
As more and more school districts are making decisions about schools reopening and how learning will take place, an approach that is being considered is blended learning. It is doubtful that many have not already heard of blended learning so let’s refer to its simplest form – bricks and clicks learning (‘bricks’ is face-to-face learning in a physical classroom; ‘clicks’ is online learning in a virtual classroom). Most teachers and students have experience using desktops, laptops, and/or tablets to do things such as research information or take state tests. So, bricks and clicks is familiar and in some cases a whole school initiative.
When I look back at my time in the classroom, memories that most often pop up are seeing and hearing my students work together to finish a project. Many times, they were in groups of three or four busily drawing, coloring, writing, talking. For the life of me, I can barely remember the projects themselves, but I can remember the chatter, laughing, arguing, and smiles when the project was finished. I used to feel like, this is learning! Many teachers have probably experienced and felt that same sense of excitement and accomplishment. When we see our students fully engaged and involved in a project, it reveals their interests and connection to the topic. You will likely see many ‘aha’ moments.
Raise your hand if professional development days before the new school year are your absolute favorite? Hands still wrapped around that cup of coffee? I thought so. Even as one who used to plan and facilitate PD days, motivation for setting up the classroom outweighed the desire to review the previous year’s assessment results and goals for this year. Yes, that should be evaluated and discussed, but the anticipation of having a class full of new learners and personalities is much more exciting! This school year, many teachers are still waiting to find out how teaching and learning will happen – physical classroom, virtual classroom, blend of both? As we wait with bated breath, what teacher PD options are available for online learning?
If you have young ones at home, you’ve probably heard something similar to this more than once, “It’s summer break! I don’t need to read!” Yep, for most of our children, summer break is just that … BREAK – a break from getting up early, a break from reading and writing, a break from homework. But you and I know that a total break can lead to a ‘break’ in learning progress. The term ‘summer slide’ is not new to most of us – the loss of hard-earned skills achieved during the school year. This loss can make returning to school much more challenging, especially if peers are on pace. Really, the goal of continuing to read over the summer will help our children retain literacy skills, build comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary skills, and feel more confident and successful overall. Besides that, reading is the foundation for learning in all other subjects (yes, you do have to read in math!). Just reading a few books during the summer can make all the difference!