Back to School 2020

My newly organized remote office space

It’s that time of year again! Going “back to school” this year has a different look and feel because of the pandemic. Many school districts made painstaking decisions to either start school online, in-person, or in a hybrid due to the safety precautions based on the number of Covid-19 cases in their areas. I have been reading or listening to many stories of leaders, teachers, and families filled with anxiety, anger, frustration, and most of all sadness because the children will be missing the experiences they’ve had previously or a completely new experience if they are just starting school. I took a summer break for the last couple of months to give myself permission to pause and reflect before jumping back into supporting families and educators in these new learning space for this school year. As schools prepare for different instructional schedules, I am sharing a few of the lessons I learned this summer while working with students remotely.

Lesson 1: Less is still more

Time flies when you’re having fun and when you’re teaching online. I learned as I worked with students and teachers online that what I usually planned for a one-hour in-person lesson took a lot longer to complete in a one-hour live, online or synchronous session. I had to plan sessions with students to get to the heart or purpose of the session more quickly. During my student sessions, we usually had just enough time to explore and discuss one or two problems or play a couple of games before we had to wrap up the session with directions for asynchronous tasks to complete on their own. I limited online sessions to 30 minutes for younger students and 60 minutes for older students. If I met for longer times, I definitely incorporated breaks.

Lesson 2: Keep it simple, ya’ll

This is one of the first things I learned from Dr. Mike Flynn, during one of his “Online Facilitator Training” sessions this summer. Mike taught me how to engage an audience quickly as possible in the sessions by turning on the camera and microphone to greet them and encourage them to get to know other participants.

I also learned to plan online lessons that would get and keep learners engaged with simple tasks where they could use materials around the house to share their thinking. Learners could show me their work on camera or by sending me pictures that I could share on screen. They would explain their thinking in chat or using the mic in case they weren’t comfortable on camera. Two of my favorite platforms I learned to use this summer were Zoom and Google Meets. Both platforms had easy navigation buttons for turning on audio, camera, and chat (if needed). I could quickly introduce tasks in 5-10 minutes during online sessions which gave learners more time to explore the problem, share their thinking, and ask questions.

Student work sample

Lesson 3: Just do it

Learning new digital tools seemed daunting at first. I found it really helpful to practice using the new tools with my colleagues and my nephew. I would hop online and practice navigating Zoom and Google Meets or I would add a new digital tool to my online lesson. One of my new learnings was using Google Docs, Google slides, and even a new app called Jamboard to give learners a space to solve math tasks and share strategies with me. I could use the tools with whole and small groups. The practice sessions helped me see what works, what didn’t work and make any necessary changes.

Besides learning more about ways to teach online, one of of my favorite things this summer was watching Some Good News with John Krasinski to share good news that was happening in the world. I would like to hear (read) and share good news about Back to School this year in the same spirit so tell me what’s good so far for you and your learners in the comments or with me on Twitter.

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