Thursday, March 12, 2020

Distance Learning: Strategies for Wellness

I’ll cut to the chase so-to-speak in this post. If your school has closed (or is poised to close) due to COVID-19 then you’ll want to keep a couple of things in mind: our students’ physical and emotional health. The activities below are aimed at fostering physical and social activity. At the end of this post, for those rainy days, see some apps that kids can have fun with while being creative, thoughtful, and should bring a smile! Do you have an idea? Please leave them in the Comments box.

Before I continue:

1. Consider enrolling on one of these two free online courses:

2. Look at these resources put together by a couple of people using crowdsourcing to help. (there is overlap):

Get Outside!
These activities are a blend of online and offline activity, with the central focus on well-being while we’re doing distance learning. While your school may be closed, it’s not necessarily unsafe to go outside! Exercise and fresh air will foster better learning. Here are some outdoor activities to consider, though they require a smartphone:

Bioblitz/Nature Walk. Have your students walk around their local park with a smartphone. Take photos of leaves, trees, bugs, and other stuff. Get them to upload the images to Google Forms with the File Upload option. (rather than a question) You can require a comment if you want more thought put into it. No park? Why not have them photograph things in their local area and share their neighbourhood? Perhaps they’ll discover something new! Turn the photos into a class slide show. Give an “Explorer Award” for the most unique thing found in your town! (from Wes Warner @I_teach_ICT)

The Amazing Race/Scavenger Hunt. Get them moving around the neighbourhood with a quest to find a list of things, with a smartphone. As with the previous suggestion, get them to upload the images to Google Forms with the File Upload option. (rather than a question) You can require a comment if you want more thought put into it. To make it an Amazing race, set the time limit or do it within the time of your online class to get them outside. Perhaps kids who live close to each other can work in teams. Either way, they get outside, move around, and take breaks from their screens.

Get Dancing with Flipgrid! Join South Korea-based Technology Coach Sean Forde in this great Flipgrid topic to get your students dancing away! (from South Korea based technology coach Sean Forde @sean4d; check out his #WorldReadAlouds initiative)

Geocaching. There are free geocaching apps out there. Create your own geocaching activity or provide your students with a suitable app and get them to make their own to share later on! (from China-based Early Years Educator Kevin O’Shea @MadForMaple and host of the Making Better Teachers podcast) *I admittedly haven’t created a geocaching lesson, but have done geocaching - it’s fun. After a bit of looking around it seems the Groundspeak Inc. app Geocaching® is a well-rated app. 

See the Beauty. Get up from your studying, put on some shoes and a jacket and go for a 5-10 minute walk around your house.  While you're walking keep an eye out for things you find neat, different or just plain beautiful.  When you find something you like, snap a photo of the thing and when you're done with your walk upload it to a Google Form.  Your subject doesn't have to be extravagant or unique.  It might be small or ordinary, but something that draws your eye regardless. (from Nagoya International School, Japan colleague, and well-being specialist Joe Peavy)

Video Challenge. Have students get outside. Tell them to take a walk around and observe their neighbourhood in a different way, thinking of a theme. Get them to create a video about their neighbourhood. There are several video editors out there, some now (such as online editor WeVideo) are free for schools affected by COVID-19. Perhaps a PE teacher could have them demonstrate warm-up skills, or how to do a layout in basketball or take a penalty kick in soccer/football? A Science teacher could ask that they use an app to learn about and introduce local flora, with video. Perhaps they can recite a piece of literature or poetry in a park. Dump the videos in a Google Drive folder. Videos could be uploaded to Flipgrid, too. (even better because they can view each others’ videos and reply with another video, providing an opportunity for social engagement) Just get them outside! (note: WeVideo and Screencastify are offering free premium accounts for schools affected by COVID-19; in the case of Screencastify contact their sales team:

Driveway Art. (ok, graffiti) If your students have access to coloured chalk, get them to go to a safe paved area and create a piece of art. Snap a photo and submit it via Google Forms or upload to a Google Drive folder.

Tracking Walking or Jogging. Some of your students are into fitness already, perhaps. Encourage them to get outside and track their time for a run. This could be used later to teach making charts and graphs.

Seesaw Activities. Get some ideas from Kevin O’Shea starting with this Twitter link.

*Note: If you’re collecting photos in any of the activities above try creating a photo mosaic. It could be a nice class artifact when everyone returns to school!

Connect With Your Friends, Family & Nature!
Foster pen-pals. This may be a great time to leverage video or text-based apps for connecting with friends and family all over the world (for classwork, perhaps have students working in Geography, Social Studies, Reading and Writing). (from Japan-based teacher Melissa Uchiyama)

Using Video To Assess State of Mind. Video responses posted on tools such as Seesaw and Flipgrid can also give you a look into how the kids are feeling. (from Kathy Kampa, Japan-based Early Years Music & Dance Teacher; check her website for great resources on Magic Time Kids)

Forest Bathing. (known as shinrinyoku in Japan) In connection to sharing the planet and being 'balanced' students create a video on Seesaw to share their ideas of how they can reconnect to nature, even if they're stuck inside. This gets them thinking about ways to be mindful of the planet and their health. They can demonstrate how to meditate and/or do yoga techniques. Also, see this Seesaw activity. (from Japan-based PYP Teacher Matt Eisenhaur) 

Phone a Friend. Don't Text, No Snaps, No Tik least for a minute. Now that we are all spread out over the city, it can be tough to get our daily words in. This challenge is to call your friend.  You can use your phone, Facetime or Skype, but you need to be speaking live with someone.  If you have video capability, Great!  But you don't need to see someone, just to be able to hear and speak directly to them! But what do we talk about?  Who do we talk to?

Step 1 - Gratitude List. Make a list of names of people you normally talk to at lunch or break.  Then on a sheet of paper make two columns.  Write their names on one half of the paper, and on the other column fill in with things you like to talk to them about (music, video games, food, feelings, etc) and at least one reason you are grateful that they are your friend.

Step 2 - Contact! Now select one of those names and either facetime them, call them on the phone or if you are near them meet for lunch at a park and have a talk.

Step 3 - Record. Once you've talked with your friend fill in a teacher-made Google Form.
(from Joe Peavy, Wellbeing Teacher)

Snacks!  Who doesn't love SNACKS?
If we are what we eat, how does our snacking life play into our bigger life? When we get hungry we don't always make great choices or do great learning. SO, how do we plan out and set up some good study snacks? Read this article with some great snack ideas, and come up with something you have in your house that might fit in with these ideas:

Now, before you wolf down all of those tasty apple slices or a cup of high protein Greek yogurt, snap a picture and upload it to a Google Form and answer the question on it. (you’ll have to make a form and think of a suitable question for your students - Google Forms allows a file attachment of up to 1GB)

(from Joe Peavy, Wellbeing Teacher)

Brain Breaks
Giving students activities to step away from traditional school work settles and resets the mind.

Read. For parents, check out Epic! Digital Library. Free for educators.

Walk Your Dog (from Alec Hara)

Break out that musical instrument. It’s a good time to learn.

Encourage kids to write in a journal. A good way to share thoughts privately and get things off your mind.

Fun Apps That Bring a Smile

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Distance Learning Under Pressure: Getting Your School Ready in a Short Time

For many out there, school closure due to the recent spread of COVID-19 has been on for weeks. My own school in Japan has just closed for a week, with a few short days to get our community prepared for distance learning with care, confidence, and professionalism. Considering that this may happen elsewhere I thought I would share this experience with some expertise from an experienced educator who has taught via distance learning, Sarah Sutter (@edueyeview), Next Vista for Learning, and a little research. Hopefully, we will learn from this and have plans in place in the future.

I’ll post some tools later, but this post is about best practices to consider. It should not be considered authoritative but rather some food for thought. My overarching suggestion is: keep it simple.

Empathy for Everyone, Especially Students
Your plan has to have the situation of students in mind first.
  • Some may be nervous as to why the school is closed and will need emotional support. Others will be impacted by being away from their friends and “cooped up” at home. Guide your teachers in resisting the urge to give more work to “catch up” if some days have been missed - this is stressful.
  • Consult with your counselors and well-being faculty to provide suggestions that help the community maintain a healthy social-emotional balance. There also needs to be a plan for EAL and SEN students, who may have heightened stress from not having face-to-face, in-person contact with adults they trust. 
Everyone else is important, too.
  • Parents may have several children across two or three divisions in a school. It’s possible they are navigating several learning management systems (LMS). Don’t add anything new, as this can create stress and/or confusion. 
  • Staff tend to be the ones dealing with mailing lists, attendance, first-receivers of questions. They will be extremely busy. (and without them, our schools don’t function!) Show them our appreciation. 
  • Teachers inevitably have a range of skills using technology and comfort levels to match. It can be extremely stressful for some. Appropriate support for faculty as they dive headfirst into e-learning will reduce stress and help faculty come together. 
Getting Set Up for E-learning
If possible, take a few days to train and consult with faculty and staff, while giving students time off of lessons. This is vital for a smooth rollout. Keep students and parents informed of the plan as it evolves, and as appropriate. No surprises.
  • Assess the Capabilities of Staff. This requires staff to be honest, and leaders to be non-judgemental. If learning with technology was so important before, then the entire faculty would have already been prepared for this. Approach staff who have tech skills but may not be IT staff to share expertise - they’ll be happy to share!
  • Choose Your Platforms. This is not the time to introduce a new platform. Go with what the community knows. Well-known ones may include: Google Suite for Education, Microsoft 365 Education, Powerschool, ManageBac, Blackboard, Moodle, Seesaw.
  • Choose your video platform. Google Hangouts Meet, Zoom, Skype in the Classroom. Stick with what your community knows. All of these have an invite feature. (Google, for example, dos this in the Meet app or through Google Calendar)
  • Prepare Contact/Mailing Lists. Ideally, someone has set each teacher up with mailing lists for each individual class. You’ll need it to invite students to online meetings and for any other messaging from their teachers.  
  • Prepare Your Faculty. Be sure to have a plan in place for: taking attendance (our school is calling it “engagement”, in which we flag students not engaged over a couple of classes); managing screen time; appropriate homework, if any; establishing a balance of formats for activities and lessons - some “live” lessons and some check-ins with independent work; methods for ensuring student accountability.
Envisioning Lesson Structure(s)
As with on-campus teaching, the grade level you teach will determine how to approach this. Younger students will likely need a daily plan in which parents/family members help them at home. “Chunking” work is a good approach at all levels. For older students, this is an approach I and come colleagues are taking, keeping in mind that every lesson doesn’t have to be a “live” lesson:
  • A brief welcome and taking of attendance via conference call (it’s best to have group norms have been established beforehand or early); also keep in mind you may want to do a temperature check (I chose on the first day to have students choose an emoji from to express how they’re feeling)
  • Explanation of the activity and the lesson. Keep it to one activity. Chunk work in small bits. Encourage students to leverage peers to help with understanding. (you should have it in a written space, but also could record the explanation to help with understanding, allowing students to work at their own pace)
  • Provide opportunities for face-to-face time (the “human” element”) by which students break into smaller online groups to work. They’ll likely choose Facetime, WeChat, or other tools to communicate - this will provide comfort while they use tools they know. 
  • Closure. Student accountability can be made with exit tickets or submissions of demonstrations of learning and/or engagement. It could be submitting photos of work, work submitted via Google Classroom, Drive, or other platforms, comments in online forums. 
Recording Tutorial Videos
There are a large number of tools to record tutorials, activity explanations, etc. (here is one list) Many already exist on YouTube (see the learning channel or teachers channel), Khan Academy, Vimeo, and other video hosting platforms. You can make your own with tools like:
Activity and Assessment Ideas
  • A student portfolio with tools such as Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, Wix
  • Google Docs or Forms - quizzes, tests, or assignments
  • Online forums where students respond to a prompt (I'll have a separate post on this)
  • Creation of a video/screencast where the student demonstrates understanding of a concept or problem (there are free screencasting apps)
  • A creative piece of work with image tools such as Google Earth Projects, Google My Maps, Sutori, Thinglink
  • Collaborate with group members on a presentation (Google Slides for the presentation, and Google Hangouts / Google Hangouts Meet for the planning)
  • Podcasting (see the Anchor app, which allows you to do this VERY easily with a smartphone)
  • Buncee
  • Book Creator
There is clearly more to e-learning, but the next posts will have practical tools for teachers such as tutorials on creating tutorials and online discussion forums!

For a really good, detailed narrative, check out Next Vista for Learning by educator, author, humanitarian, Rushton Hurley.