Lessons in Virtual Teaching

Berklee Online & FLX Fitclub

Last winter my son was a high school sophomore. He is interested in saxophone performance studies in college and his career goal is to be a woodwind doubler on Broadway. He and I sat down and started to look at online college class options before the pandemic even hit. We looked at the information for Berklee Online and watched examples of the classes. They give you a great window into the course by releasing part of a module for you to get a solid idea of the style. This includes a sample video lesson, as well as the other materials. He made a plan for a possible summer class after assessing just how busy he was with high school.

Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly he was not so busy and thought, “I’m gonna give this a go.” This turned out to be the absolute BEST decision ever for more reasons than one.

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Jamboard for Review & Teams

This post shares our experiences with using Jamboard for group work!

Getting Started

There was an assignment. It consisted of just a few problems and students were working in small groups for it. I enjoyed looking at the different techniques and styles the kids had for solving the problems. With Jamboard you can see their creativity come out. Do they draw on the board? Insert pictures? Add colors and fun text or keep it simple? Do they show a lot of work or just a little? Everyone has a different style.

One pair really made my day. They did the math part and then they added a page at the end – a collage that just showed how much fun they had together. They were collaborating in a breakout room on a Google Meet. One student was in person 2 days a week and the other learning fully virtually. I like Jamboard because it makes it easy to collaborate together. Here is their mini topic Jamboard.

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Pandemic Teaching – 1 year later

A year ago tomorrow marks what was our last day in a normal classroom. On Wednesday March 11th 2020, I was arranging for a teacher to observe my class. I was her mentor and we were searching for a mutually agreeable time. I suggested the next day. It wasn’t the best day but I just had a feeling it was going to be our last chance. I said, “I think it is going to be the last opportunity.” She did come and it was. We had a normal lesson that day on the 12th and our planned (and slightly modified version) of Pi Day on Friday the 13th. In this post I’ll share the journey to now through this very crazy year. View posts below that show the entire journey through this.

You have a year

We started this fall virtually due to construction in our building. I yelled from the rooftops about this wonderful opportunity we’d been given. We had several extra weeks to let the 5th and 6th grade classes work out all the kinks before we came back to the building. All things considered I had enjoyed my journey with my students last spring. We gathered for our not required online classes and that not required part somehow made them feel special. We had a little virtual awards ceremony at the end of the year. We shared stories and we learned math.

But the fall felt different. I didn’t know the kids yet and just a few weeks in I started to feel like I was a cop instead of a teacher. Most of my days were good, but I admit that I started thinking about what other fields I could pivot to. I gave myself a year to find a new career. My husband asked me occasionally what my plan was for that. Of course I didn’t actually do anything about it because I love teaching and knew I really didn’t want to switch careers.

Beautiful things are happening

At a team meeting last month I blurted out, “so many beautiful things are happening in the classroom!” I’ll share just a few of them. I’ve always struggled with tutoring. It can be awkward to look over someone’s shoulder to see their steps. It is hard for the student to focus on what I’m doing on their paper. There’s something just inherently a little weird about it for me. I think screen sharing, online whiteboards and breakout rooms are incredible. We can collaborate real time, focus only on voice, use multiple colors and more. Jamboard has brought our kids at home and at school together in ways that I never could have imagined. I like so much of what is happening collaboratively right now.

Learning to yell

When we first went back to our hybrid in the fall I bought an amplification device to use because I was so worried that my voice wouldn’t carry. I used it for months but hated wearing it. The kids could hear me but I couldn’t move my head passionately, I got feedback from it when I got too close to the board and I just felt weird. I hated wearing a mask and yelling through it and even with that I didn’t feel like anyone could hear me. One day when I was in my temporary space a floor up due to short term construction my friend from down the hall commented that she was exhausted from yelling all day. As I sat in my classroom listening to her voice carry down the hallway, I thought, “You know you could talk a little louder if you tried harder.” So, I stopped wearing the amplification system and started yelling more. Note that for me yelling is probably speaking just loud enough that a kid can actually hear me so there’s that, but I am happier!

“Virtual students I lost you!”

As I worked with my class last week I had so many tabs open that I briefly lost my virtual students. I shouted, “I lost you” to the virtual kids and one student laughed saying, “that would have sounded INSANE a year ago.” A year ago I had never used Google Meet and only used Explain Everything to record my classes each day. A year ago, my students were all in one room and each class had 15-20 students. A year ago I worked with all students in the same space every day. A year ago my comment WOULD have been insane.

Collaboration during Covid

I am SO proud of my students for their ability to collaborate across the distance. I’ve been able to watch my husband collaborate with people across the home/work divide for over two decades in his work from home journey. He even hosts a weekly Twitter chat about working from home and wrote a book about his experiences prior to the start of the pandemic. This year I got to experience it and teach students to do the same. There are new skills that kids need for this.

Just a few include: willingness to talk to a screen, no fear of others listening to them both in the room and out there in another space, understanding of how to share a screen, navigate into and out of breakout rooms, talk from several feet away and more. It feels weird but once you get used to it, it isn’t all that weird at all. It heightens other senses and increases your focus. It makes a teacher and student really lean into what is important.

Groups

Typically my classroom is arranged in groups of 4 with kids facing each other. They stay in these groups for 5 weeks, allowing students to settle into their team. This year has been different. I remember my first few days with the rows of kids 6 feet apart looking at me to give the information. I remember trying to parse out how we could collaborate from 6 feet apart. I felt sad about our situation. Now, in March we’ve settled in. I realized that just because we’re not together in person that it doesn’t mean we can’t have these 5 week groups. Those skills in working together strengthen when you have to stay together for a bit. I’m seeing that develop across the distance now. It’s well known that the best way to learn something is to be tasked with teaching it. In the group, kids have the opportunity to help each other strengthen skills as they collaborate.

Study Hall Miracles

I wish I had grabbed pictures from this day, but I’ll paint a picture instead. About two weeks ago, several students who are not assigned to my study hall all came in to work on math. It was a mix of Algebra kids and Math 8 kids in to get help and/or to collaborate with their group. I sat at my desk and set up the Algebra class meet so that two groups could get into the meet and join breakout rooms. That allowed the groups to collaborate with the kids at home (note that kids are not required to attend study hall on their virtual days). The coolest things happened that period. Math 8 students were working together in the room and I was bouncing around giving help. The Algebra students were working on a team Jamboard and I was interacting with one team in a Google Meet breakout room giving help by sharing my screen. That group had one student in the room on the meet, another at home on the meet and one student not on the meet but on the Jamboard. We could watch his pen moving on the board as we were talking. Another Algebra group with one student in the room was collaborating in a breakout room and I heard, “one of you should take a picture of your work and put it in the Jamboard because that’s more efficient than me writing on the Jamboard.” That’s a cool feature of Jamboard. You can write on the page but you can also add an image of your work on paper. I think what struck me most from this day was again how much more effective it was to work with the team virtually by screen sharing than it would have been to hover over the 3 of them in person. They were free to focus fully on the math vs any distraction the physical experience offered.

Next steps from here

We’re heading out of this pandemic back to “normal” times or at least toward normal. Where do we go from here? What is in store for us? I know that I want to keep as much as we can of the good from this time. Our students are more responsible, prepared, better at following school rules, grateful and even mature. They are also sad, lonely and disappointed in many ways. I look forward to restoring everyone’s mental health and continuing our gratitude. We are and will continue to be resilient. Public school is a gift of education and for so many it has become a chore. I think this year has highlighted just how essential it is in so many ways.

I know that I’ve loved not waiting at the copy machine for printouts or having everything done and ready at home except the copies. I love that the kids can take their Chrome books home and that on any given day I can expect all but one or two kids to have remembered to charge them at home. I miss the shared calculators, cute little bins of shared supplies at our table groups and the lively collaboration that is all happening in class. I can’t wait to have that back. I don’t miss the kids having to take down chairs and put them up in the morning. I don’t miss bells. We removed them during Covid because our grade 5/6 is on a different schedule than 7/8 and guess what – as long as our clocks work this situation works beautifully!

I hope next year we can celebrate Pi Day again!!

Virtual Learning: Cameras

After 8 months of mostly virtual learning, I find myself wanting to capture some of my thoughts and experiences about camera use in a virtual classroom setting. This has truly been a journey that I’ve varied my position on during the COVID learning situation.

March (cameras – whatever works for you)

We found ourselves plunged into working from home from a situation where we didn’t use technology very much in our classroom. I had been recording and posting my lectures and materials in Google Classroom every day, but the intent was simply for students to have access if they were absent. Our use of this tech was limited to substitute plans and those daily recordings. Enter the pandemic and in our sudden forced time at home we were expected to “deliver content” but not to necessarily hold synchronous classes. If we did have a class the expectation was that it was not required and that we record it so that students could watch later if they were unable to attend.

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Using Jamboard for Math

Last year my son’s Chemistry teacher created a lot of assignments in Jamboard. He proudly showed me his work. At the time my Algebra kids were humming along with taking pictures of their work on paper. I was intrigued by his projects though and offered up the option to them to give it a try. The class agreed that it was too challenging to write on and it worked just fine to take pictures.

Math 8 was a different story. When I opened it up to them they were mixed. Some students preferred the format and others were really frustrated by it. Our school was using Google Classroom at the time and classroom played very well with my iPad. I could pull their pictures into it, mark them up and grade easily. It didn’t play nicely with Jamboard. So, last spring I offered Jamboard alternatives to students who wanted to use them but stuck with mostly traditional pictures of work.

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November Virtual – Week 1

As our school pivoted to virtual, our 8th graders got settled into the new, temporary routine! Here are some updates for parents (and kids) and anyone else who happens across this about our first week learning from home.

What can you do?

I’ll kick this post off with a few things you can do to support your child in virtual learning and then share about our week.

  1. Establish a consistent work space, ideally at a table or desk. Bedrooms are very comfortable but sometimes too comfortable for focusing.
  2. Establish a consistent bedtime and wake-up routine just like with brick and mortar school.
  3. Check in with your child about how the day went after each day. Check out Brightspace with your child so you can support work.
  4. Consider having a fun goal for the week and a reward. In my family it is as simple as the week ending and getting one night of take-out. Something to look forward to at week’s end is really great. For kids struggling with work, treating it as a reward for completion could be something to consider.
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Shifts of Functions Project

This year during our virtual learning time, I took a project that I usually offer for extra credit and made it a class assignment. I decided that with the time we were all spending at home because there are no sports, in person social gatherings, concerts or opportunities to be out and about that it was the perfect time for kids to get to dive into a creative project. Algebra students had just finished studying shifts of functions, and we culminated that experience with a project.

The details

The project was a creative one. It had a simple goal: You will create an original piece of work using graphs from many “families of functions” as characters in your story. My hope for you in this project is that it is FUN, CREATIVE, and that it brings you JOY! Formats permitted include: poster, book or booklet, digital document, mixed media. The story required 6 pages or scenes and may be any genre. Ideas for topics include: How to book, original children’s storybook, existing children’s storybook, recipe book, current events, Anime or sports.

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Recording LIVE math classes

After an 8 day journey I finally figured out how to record my live classes with Google Hangouts. Now, let’s be clear that this is not a huge feat if you are teaching something that can be done solely with a computer. My problem is that I need to use my iPad to share my screen using Explain Everything. I have figured out a few things in this process that make me ultimately happy that Google Hangouts won’t let you record a live meeting from an iPad. Read on to hear the journey.

The quick history

We have been asked to hold daily office hours to answer student questions and of course we’re responsible for teaching our students. Initially I chose to do this by recording a video every morning and posting it. However, after just a few days I missed my kids and I needed the feedback sooner. I wanted to be able to answer their questions in the moment and I wanted to make sure I was delivering instruction at a level and pace they could manage. These things are both better accomplished with a LIVE class. I also wanted to record the class. I asked my accelerated Algebra students to attend live classes for 4 days so I could work out the kinks with them. Our first 7 days are chronicled here, with day 8 below.

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Week 1: Student thoughts about online learning

It’s been a week of this so I reached out to my students. What do they think? Are there aspects they like about online learning? What is challenging? I posted this to my 80+ students and received responses from several. I appreciate these varied responses.

I feel like I don’t really like it because I wake up and there is like already a lot of notifications on stuff to do and like I have to do things with my family and stuff so to balance so much work and house/ family things is hard. Also, with todays delta math it’s kinda frustrating me because it says that I am getting them wrong and then I go to submit the same answer again and then it says its still wrong when it’s literally the same thing.

I wish there were fewer notifications in Google. It is overwhelming. I know it is hard to be a student and see all these notifications because it is hard to be a teacher and get all the notifications too. I wish Google had a lovely calendar view of posts. They have a calendar view but it isn’t really good enough in my opinion. I want a true calendar grid that can persist at the top of the feed and show all assignments on the day they are assigned with all the necessary info. I created a version of this for my students in my classroom website (password protected) and gave the link in the top of my feed but it is still another place for them to navigate to. Delta math is a great program that we use, but it does have its limitations and that largely comes with entry of problems. Like any computer program it can only accept what it expected to see, so if a student makes a small rounding error or submits the answer in a slightly different way than the computer wants it, it will say no.

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It’s a wrap: Week 1 of online learning done!

A little over a week ago when school shut down abruptly for a month, I felt a mix of fear and anxiety. In the mix of this I also felt pretty prepared to tackle school online. I’ve already been recording my classes and posting them daily. Just a month prior I had a student start to poke fun of teachers and their tech ability and he paused, “actually you are the most tech savvy teacher I’ve ever had.” This comment made me smile. I try really hard to integrate tech in a seamless way into the classroom and this 8th grader noticed.

What I’ve learned and tried

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