Growing up, my dad spent lots of time in the garage working on things — his 1972 Ford Pinto (understandably), my brother’s bikes, and making small items for our home. The garage was his makerspace and he used it to design, plan, and follow through on his creative ideas. Later, my brother used the garage as his makerspace. These days makerspaces are moving out of the garages of hobbyists to classrooms and schools for our students to engage in interactive experiences that spark imaginations.
Many teachers are struggling with how to address STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics in this time of social-distancing and remote-learning. Even for schools that are meeting in person, many of the hands-on lesson plans that teachers might have previously utilized are incredibly challenging under distancing and cleanliness guidelines. After all, who really has time to sanitize every block in a base-ten-blocks set between students? No one.
When I was in first grade – back when teachers used chalkboards and ditto machines – playing a game in class was the BEST! In SoCal, it was unusual to have rainy days but when it happened our teacher would have us play Heads-Up, Seven Up during indoor recess. I can remember hoping someone would put my thumb down so that I could guess the mystery person at the end of the round. We would play this game the entire time and groan aloud when recess was over. Playing that game was a welcome break from the months of circle time lessons and worksheets. Did I learn anything from playing Heads-Up? I didn’t think so at the time but looking back with my “teacher eye," there was communication, engagement, and reasoning involved. Of course, I doubt learning those skills was intentional but it taught me two important things when I stepped into my teacher shoes: 1) children will remember the experience of a fun and engaging game, and 2) children can learn concepts and skills, solve problems, think critically, collaborate, follow rules, communicate thinking, etc. while playing a game!
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?
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.
Today, you’re facilitating your weekly online lesson and the focus is transition words. As usual, your ‘regulars’ are doing what they do best – answering questions, participating in discussion, and sharing examples. Your quieter ones are sending you chat messages when they have questions or are confused. Who you’re not hearing much from are your English Language Learners, or ELLs. They are on camera, smiling through the lessons, even raising a ‘thumbs up’ when you ask the class if everyone understands. But you’re having doubts about how well they are comprehending. You can’t easily stand next to their desks and check work. Your aide isn’t there to do a double-check or ask a question in the native language to ensure understanding. What can you do to help your ELLs in a virtual classroom?