This pandemic has either left us in a state of disillusionment or a state of seeking opportunity. I hope that teacher hold the mindset that with any state we are in there are opportunities to learn more. In mid-March, teachers throughout the nation seek refuge in our own homes from the COVID-19 only giving us our screens, a small window, for teaching and learning. Even within that small frame, I believe that rich learning and “aha” moments can happen. But before I share out, I hold these conditions and mindsets as I approach teaching as my goal is to engineer sustainable teaching practices so that learning flows and protocols are established in a distance learning environment while I strive to take care of myself in the process.
Past March 16th, the day we left the physical classroom, we had very little time to think about what learning is going to look like. In addition to figuring out what was going to happen during the next two months, I knew I had to adapt existing learning experiences to the distance learning world as well as adapt a flow of procedures and routines. I had to add a virtual space where we met on zoom, determine who is participating and who isn’t, make spaces where feedback is read and responded to, make rubric more explicit and related to objective of the learning quest, make weekly video announcements and emailing them out to students and parents, and more. I know some strategies are more effective than others but they needed to be executed in some form to start with. In order to determine if it works, I needed to try them out/
Science of Learning At The Core Of Our Teaching Craft
As we are shifting our approach to the distance learning environment, we want to keep the science of learning at the core of our teaching craft. According to the Dean of Impact, there are a number of principals that I will be holding during distance learning.
- Students learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know.
- Practice is essential to learning new facts, but not all practice is equivalent.
- Effective feedback is often essential to acquiring new knowledge and skills.
- Self determined motivation (instrinsic) leads to better long term outcomes that controlled motivation (extrinsic).
- Students will be more motivated and successful in environments when they believes they belong and are accepted in those environments.
We don’t know everything in designing instruction for the distance learning world. It’s new, uncomfortable, and exciting. Expect inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, and mistakes to happen. Expect aha moment for things that work. Having that fail forward mindset means that you are going to be courageous to try it out anyways, collect data on what worked and didn’t work, and improve on it for the next time.
Use What You Have
There is no need to recreate the wheel. I have 8 years worth of material on my learning managements system that has been evolved each year. My goal is to evaluate my learning resources and adapt it to our distance learning sessions.
Priortize To Save Your Sanity
For me, home is my sanctuary for rest. When teaching happens at home, we blur the space for rest and work. If the space is being occupied for both work and my personal activities, we have to prioritize our time within that space to save our sanity. In the time for work, I list out the 3 things that I’ll be doing that day and make sure they are accomplished by the end of the day. Those 3 tasks are high leverage tasks. I set my time limit for work and I followed it religiously.
Change Your Teaching Environment
During the our emergency distance learning sessions, I taught in my bedroom. Not a good idea when the bed it less that 6 feet away from you. I had to find ways to change the setting of my teaching environment. During a PD I facilitated, I decided to teach in my backyard and stand while I facilitate the meeting. There was new sense of energy because of the fresh air, the natural lighting, the greens in the backyard, and blood flow because I’m standing up. Try different environments out and see what works for you.
Depth Over Breadth
If you plan to teach every single bullet point on the standards list, it’s not going to happen or it’s not going to happen well. The priority in distance learning is to make sure that students accomplish a limited set of outcomes and to understand them well and with depth. Our goal is for them to construct mental model of understanding. When construction of understanding takes place, more time is consume. So there is compromise between time and the depth of understanding. I prefer having a limited set of outcomes and having students learn them well vs. a big list of outcomes and students learning them on the shallow level and eventually forgetting them.
Teacher as Coach – Student As Worker
Because we met out classes two times a week, the students to set goal for their learning, create action plan on what they will be doing for the week to reach the goal, and execute their action plan. My role is to facilitate this goal setting session during the limited times we have, model the big picture concept and develop experiences where my students can explore the concept, practice the skills, and assess themselves. My other role is to provide feedback to high level assessments. The goal is make sure student progress and growth is at the center of your strategy.
Evaluation of What Was Built
Based on those mindsets, there were a number of features I built into the the distance learning structures.
Restructuring the Innovator’s Hub
In restructure the the Innovator’s Hub, I had to ask myself, if my parent’s were to navigate the Innovator’s Hub, would they know where to go and what to do with minimal help. There are a number of feature I improved by having instructions presented through video, having a choice board of resources that students can explore, a rubric for every mission, boss battle, and reflection, an area where I can type my feedback and where students can respond to the feedback, a specific area where students can click to meet on zoom, creating YouTube playlist for instructions, and a weekly announcement video.
Templated instructional structures create a sense of consistency so that student know what the goals are for the mission, how to do the mission given resources and examples, a rubric, and instructions of how to submit the instructions in .
Making sure instruction was presented in more than one modality was an effective feature. Though making and editing my video did burn my out at the end, students utilize the video tutorial but they didn’t utilized the weekly video announcements as much as I expected. What I need to work on is making sure any video is no longer than 5 minutes of their time.
Feedback and Dialogue
The area of feedback and questions was another feature that worked really well. I also left an area where student gave messages. I found that more effective than email as I can track the conversations easily. What was more effective than the message was a forum where student ask the questions and fellow students and I responded. I didn’t set a strong culture for that, but that was something I want to pursue for the Fall. This way students can see the messages posted by their peers and the responses I gave to the students just in case they had the same exact questions.
For every mission, there is an area where I typed in feedback. What I didn’t implement was an area where student can self assess and respond to feedback which would of been more powerful. I will have to figure out how students can respond to the feedback I give them. You can check out an example of how I gave feedback at this blog post — Workshop the Work In Progress.
Opportunities For Offline Learning
Most of my instruction didn’t require a significant time on Zoom. Zoom had a specific role. I used Zoom for checking in with students, modeling a project, synchronous exploration, coaching, and community building. The learning that they did didn’t require them to be online the majority of the time unless, they needed reference something or ask a question on the forum. For most part, they were building and designing. The question was how did I get materials to student homes. I sent a message out on materials they needed and then I pack them up, mailed/delivered it out. And guess what . . . rollercoasters and rube goldberg machines were built in our STEAM Innovation class.
Emphasis on Personalization
Though there is an objective that I want everyone to reach, the are more than a singular way of a reaching that objective. I designed assessments so that students can develop prototypes their own way to solve something but the challenge is providing them the resources and feedback to reach that goal as everyone has a distinct way of getting to the goal. Below are two different ways in which student built their roller-coaster yet they both received different support.
Julianna is a student who accessed office hour a lot and needed help learning how to fold and put together her coaster. She is one who keep asking, “Am I doing this right?” constantly. I have to constantly reaffirm that she could make a rollercoaster that works.
On the other hand, Doris used the resources and tutorial on my website and she only asked one question on how to make a loop. Other than that she was self sufficient in her process.
Though they have different looking coaster and though they had different ways I support them, they both met the outcome of the project.
Looking Forward to Fall 2020
Fall Semester is around the corner and there is still some work to make this Fall Semester manageable and sustainable. Realize issues will come up as we go along but this is what I’ve been thinking about so far.
Simple and Explicit Navigation/UI System
My goal is to make sure that my website is easy to navigate and that certain learning modules are hidden and others are emphasized. My other goal is to make a tutorial video on how to navigate my website for new users and guests.
Continue the Production of Instructional Videos
My goal is to make sure that all missions has an instructional video to model how to do the assignment. This process does take long as I have a lot of missions to make videos for but this will lessen my work by making students refer back to the video for additional assistance.
Partnerships with Families
This pandemic pushed me to calling families every Thursday and Friday on a routine basis. Out of my whole teaching career, this is the most I’ve been calling home not for the purposes of behavior or what the student hasn’t been doing but for the purposes of making sure they have personal connection. From asking “How are you holding up? What supports you need?” to more casual conversation with student around games they been playing and activities they’ve been engaging themselves in outside of school. Knowing the students and families well is key in how we frame our relationship with them and how we frame our instruction. They want to know that you are empathetic to their conditions, listening, and willing to take action in making sure we are engaging our students the best we can.
Because of the hands on nature of STEAM, students need to build and design with manipulatives. That part of the learning is necessary. I need to make a list of items for each project. Mailing out supplies to students home got a little pricey so I have to look at hands on projects that students will be doing for the fall semester, pack up the necessary tools and supplies, and hand deliver them.
Coding class and Legends class will be needing computers for the coding and animation work. So most of my time is figuring out who has Windows Based Computers at home. For those who don’t have one, I will have to customize it and then delivering to students who need them for the fall into the spring. In the meantime, I have August to the end of October to prep all of that up for student in those classes.
Re- Prioritizing How I Use Technology For Teaching and Learning
|Third Party Apps
(Flipgrid, Padlet, Google Apps, Blogger)
|Zoom will be used for instructional coaching, facilitating experiences, modeling projects, and community building.
|Moodle is used to contain the instructions, experiences, and assessments so that students can reference them.
Moodle will be used for our main communication hub between students, parents, and teacher.
|Third Party App will be used so that students demonstrate and reflect on their learning.
The Spring semester was full of unknowns but it informed us on how to prep us up for the Fall Semester. The Fall Semester is full of unknowns. Whatever you read from above are not the silver bullet, but they are strategies that hopefully you can takeaway in solving this distance learning puzzle.