The past 18 – 24 months has been an exercise in building the plane as we are flying it. We had no other options because the Covid pandemic forced the nation and largely the world into virtual learning. What did we learn from the experience?
Making Lemonade from Lemons
Many districts have wanted to increase their technology use and didn’t know how to finance it. Now that the nation has gone 1:1, how will we move forward? Will the millions of dollars we spent on hardware be wasted? Will the devices and hardware sit unused at the back of classrooms, or will we embrace the opportunities that 1:1 affords us?
For now, these are the top 10 things I learned from our forced virtual learning experience. Will we handle it better not if, but when we have a hurricane, tornado, snow day, or outbreak? Now is the time to coach teachers to prepare for well-thought-out technology integration.
Here are the top10 lessons I learned from virtual teaching:
- Owning and collecting knowledge is no longer a superpower. The Internet provides more knowledge than anyone could ever use in a lifetime and is searchable in seconds.
- Our tests and assessments are largely based on recall and students can easily google the answers.
- Completing work does not equal learning. Learners must prove mastery.
- Relationships are the foundation for most classroom learning. Sense of belonging drives much success. That goes for teachers on a team, too.
- Empathy and learner profiles are powerful in reaching learners and getting them to take risks. That includes teachers who are learning daily.
- All work and no play makes kids not want to show up. Including fun activities increases learning.
- Student engagement and interaction need to be at the top of our activities list.
- Collaboration is a skill that we must teach, practice, and nurture.
- Reflection is worth the time it requires.
- Teachers have the same needs as students. Treat them as humans not robots.
I’m hoping to have the opportunity to blog about each one of these items. Each needs to be unpacked fully to make sure we do more than just see the problems. What will you DO about each of the items? If you are looking for ideas and support, consider scheduling a call with us.
If you would like to add to the list, please add your thoughts to the comments below. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, I’d love to hear from you.
Saving time is the number one priority in most teachers’ minds. If we can save a few clicks on a task we do repeatedly throughout the day, and you multiple that by 180-190 days, that’s a lot of time saved. As a teacher and incurable efficiency seeker, I turn to Google Chrome for extensions for time saving opportunities. There are plenty of extensions upon which, as an educator, I have become completely dependent. Here are my top 5:
- Talk & Comment (leave a digital audio comment anywhere)
- Print Friendly & PDF
- Google Docs Quick Create
Read on for details and steps for success!
UPDATE: Screencastify just added the MOST AWESOME features, so I had to move it into the #1 spot for increasing productivity and time saving! More to come on Screencastify additions in another blog. Stay tuned!
#1 Time Saving and Productivity Extension: Screencastify
My top teacher extension is Screencastify. As the name implies, this extension enables screencasting from your device. The power of this extension is in the speedy way you can record a mini-lesson for students to watch either remotely or in person at a station. Once recorded, these mini-lessons can be shared with other teachers, and if you divide and conquer, just think how much time you would save! 🤩🤩🤩
This extension automatically saves all videos you create to your Google Drive and has export options for animated GIFs and mp4 for iPad viewing. It has automatic upload-to YouTube or Google Classroom features, so you can begin building your training library right from this extension.
Microsoft Districts Can Use It, Too
If you are a Microsoft District, you can still create videos in a free @gmail.com account and share the link from your Drive. You don’t have to worry about YouTube being blocked when you host the video in your Google Drive. Teachers can also download the video and upload it to OneDrive or any LMS you use such as OTUS, Schoology, Canvas, Teams, etc.
The Free Version is AWESOME!
As you can see in this screenshot, the free version of Screencastify offers up to 5 minutes of video with an unlimited number of videos. This is ideal because most recommendations for training video length supports less than 5 minutes. That might force some of us to be more concise, and that’s a good thing.
Screencastify offers browser tab, desktop, and webcam shots. It also allows your webcam shot to float over your screenshot with the ability to move it around, close it, and open it at will. There are drawing tools for easy screen labeling and annotation, and it’s just an all around powerful tool for teachers and students alike.
There is also a vibrant editor within Screencastify for all free and premium users. The editor has tools to cut, crop, zoom, blur, and add text to your video. I use Screencastify for all of my training videos. For under $50/year, I went premium because the ROI (return on investment) is worth it for me. If I were still in the classroom, I’m pretty sure I’d stick with free.
UPDATE: Screencastify has added embedded questions in your videos for student engagement and tracking for formative assessment. Check back for a full blog and video showing the new features.
#2 Teacher and Student Extension: Talk & Comment
With the onset of personalized and self-paced, asynchronous learning, teachers and students have a need to communicate asynchronously. Remote learning maybe seemed like a novelty in the beginning, but it quickly led to text fatigue, and some early or struggling readers and writers were at a loss. I also can’t even begin to think how hard it must be for the Pre-K – 2 teachers to teach and assess reading skills!
Talk & Comment to the rescue! Talk & Comment is Chrome extension that enables teachers and students to click the microphone icon, record an audio file, click a button to auto-copy the link, and paste it anywhere pasting is possible. The most popular place to place it is in any Google app comment. When you do this, it pastes as an actual audio file that is click-and-play no matter whether you are in Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Classroom. However, when outside Google, it pastes the link anywhere, and the user need only click the link to hear the audio file.
Think about how easy feedback and collaboration can be for all learners with this new handy tool. It can be used as an asynchronous conversation tool.
How to Use the Extension
Step 1: install the extension.
Step 2: click the microphone icon on the right edge of your Chrome browser to begin the recording.
Step 3: click the green check on the pop-out toolbar to stop the recording
Step 4: listen to the recording before sharing it
Step 5: the link automatically copies to your clipboard, so all you have to do is paste it (control + v or right click and choose copy). Even the littles can handle this.
Step 6: Paste your link.
- When you paste it in a non-comment area, it looks like this:
- https://talkandcomment.com/p/018b4799c8b15e54c0d80aa3 (voice note)
- When you paste it in a Google comment, this is what it looks like:
Notes to Know:
- This extension does not save the audio file indefinitely. Each file is saved for 90 days.
- Only use this extension for temporary notes.
- For permanent audio files for student portfolios and such, I recommend vocaroo.com.
How concerned are you by the ads that show up on websites that you want to share with your students? Because you cannot predict what will show up, there is always the chance that something inappropriate or just distracting will pop up.
Are you tired of creating lessons with links to sites that change or are broken over time? Well, struggle no more. In just a few clicks, this super friendly teacher extension turns any webpage into a PDF with full credit to the source and without any of the ads. You can download the PDF and share it out with students via a hyperlink in any file or LMS you choose.
How’s that for time saving?
How to Use the Extension
Step 1: Install the Print Friendly & PDF extension HERE.
Step 2: Go to the website you want your students to read.
Step 3: Click the Print Friendly & PDF extension
Step 4: Use the top toolbar to …
- Modify text size
- Modify picture size
- Undo actions
Step 5: Use the yellow highlight over sections to delete parts you don’t want.
Step 6: Use the top toolbar to choose which format you want to export it in: PDF, print, email.
Step 7: Follow each format’s respective directions.
Voila! You have a lesson in an instant! Students can annotate this document easily using the next extension on the list. Check out #4: Kami PDF Annotator.
This Chrome extension just might end up being the number one time saving productivity extension for teachers and students. It turns any digital PFD into an annotatable document. The free version is robust enough to meet your basic needs, and the paid version is off-the-charts useful.
Kami functions seamlessly with Google Drive, OneDrive, and your hard drive. The free tools include highlight, comments, and text boxes as well as free draw, shapes, and eraser. If you saved a webpage as a PDF with Print Friendly & PDF above, Kami gives the students the tools they need to annotate and mark it up. Also, worksheets that you scan as a PDF can now be completed digitally. I don’t condone all worksheets on devices, but worksheets do have a place for practice and review, so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, right?
For students to be able to use Kami, each would have to have the extension installed. If you have a Google console, these can usually be pushed out and installed by your IT Department saving you the time and effort. If not, check out this video showing parents how to install the extension.
If you or your school does decide to purchase the paid version, you get a dictionary, text to speech, equations tools, images insert, and digital signature features. They are always improving, so check out their website at kamiapp.com.
With two clicks, Google Docs Quick Create lets you create a new, blank file for the following apps: Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, and Forms in a new tab! It is a time saver and doesn’t create it over existing work on an open tab. It opens a new tab for you AND starts a new blank file! It shrinks 4 steps into 2 and stops you from starting a new file over an existing tab.
Without this extension, you have4 steps to get a new, blank file:
- click a new tab,
- go to your apps launcher (waffle),
- locate the app you need,
- click on it,
With this extension, you have two steps to get a new, blank file:
- click the extension
- choose your app.
Done! Just like that. This app works great for teachers and students alike, so share it with your students to save them time as well.
With your school or district approval, consider sharing these extensions with your students to empower them to create freely and professionally! As a Google district, your IT Department can add the extensions across the board remotely, so the students and teachers don’t have to jump through hoops to install the extension. (Another time saver for everyone!)
So that’s it for my top 5 time saving extensions for teachers. Please, use the comments section below to share your top power extension for teachers. Let me know what you think of the extensions on my list, and share your successes or failures with us. If your teachers or admins could use some remote or on-site training for increased efficiency, check out our Google training opportunities.
Is There a Way to Track Student Progress?
It’s that time of year again; high-stakes testing season is upon us. Teachers are stressed, worried that their students will not perform well even though they all worked hard all year, perhaps harder this year than any other. As teachers, you want to be able to track student progress, but how do you do that? Plenty of software programs have figured out how to track student progress, but how can we as teachers in the classroom do it? Well, now that students have devices, I might have a tool to help you lower the stress and know what your students know whether you are in person or remote.
Student trackers are becoming more popular for many reasons: they increase student agency, encourage goal setting and reflection, make transparent what used to be nebulous, remove the “extra-credit factor” that skews grades, help teachers know where students need support, provide reasons to celebrate, and help students and teachers see which skills have been mastered. All that in one tool? Yes!
Student progress trackers do not have to be complex. In fact, the simpler your system of assessment and grading the better. There are two things you must do to make this work: 1) adjust your assessments to be sectioned off by standard and skill, and 2) create your tracker to mirror what is being assessed. The reverse is also true. You can create your student progress tracker first and then create your assessment sections to mirror the tracker.
I recommend a spreadsheet for tracking over a word processing document because it has infinite columns and rows, and you can turn text and merge cells. You can also have multiple sheets inside one workbook that can be linked to one another. If you are intimidated by spreadsheets, don’t worry. You can get a copy of some sample trackers below.
How Do I Set Up a Student Progress Tracker?
As I have been working with high school teachers, my examples will be for Grades 9-12; however, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to adapt the tracker for any grade.
Below are two examples of a biology student progress tracker. The first has the standards across the top, and the second has the standards down the left side. Notice row 1 lists the domain, row 2 lists the standard below each domain, column A lists student names, and the intersecting boxes will report mastery once it has been met.
Horizontal Biology Student Progress Tracker
Vertical Biology Student Progress Tracker
What is essential is that you determine in advance what is required to show mastery. This should be documented for all to refer to as needed. When a student fulfills the requirements, he/she can add an emoji to a digital tracker or a sticker to a wall tracker.
To learn more about how to use the tracker, check out this post I wrote “What is a student tracker and how do I use it?”
If you would like a student progress tracker template, choose from these:
Biology Student Progress Tracker
Algebra 1 Student Progress Tracker
English 2 Student Progress Tracker
US History and Constitution Student Progress Tracker
It’s the end of May, and the school year is officially over. Ahhhhhhh. Thank goodness. I don’t know if I would have survived another week with my 15-year-old son. In my previous post, the teacher in me was talking. The schedule I created was for someone in authority to present to students. Sadly, I forgot how little authority parents hold with their teens. Anyone else have the same experience? Anyone? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments section.
As it turns out, the schedule I offered in How to Manage Remote Learning Part 1: Make a Schedule was a panacea, a utopia, a dream. Here’s what I assumed would happen. I assumed my son would go to bed at a reasonable hour and not treat this at-home learning like it was summer break. I assumed he’d get out of bed when I woke him up. I assumed my son had some semblance of organizational skills. I assumed my son cared about learning and school. I assumed my son would work hard because he didn’t want to disappoint his parents the way I did for my parents. What’s that phrase about making assumptions? When you assume you make an ass out of u and me. (Shout out to the Bad News Bears.)
Well, it’s not the 80’s anymore. My son informed me that he was on summer break, that none of his friends was going to do any of the work, that the school couldn’t fail everyone, and that he doesn’t care about learning. Wow. How could I know absolutely nothing about my 4th child?
In reflecting upon the experience, here is my takeaway: Our students need more guidance from their teachers. As a former teacher, I am not happy to put more pressure and more tasks on the plates of teachers; however, I do believe teachers are the only ones who have the connections and the authority to help our kids.
My recommendation is to create a homeroom or advisory period if one does not exist. This period would be used strictly for relationship building and remote learning study skills. It is so true that students don’t care what you know until they know you care. Our children are struggling with a lack of social time, and they cannot know their remote or virtual classmates if the teachers do not take time to help them kids meet and get to know one another. In addition to knowing one another, they need to get to know their teachers and the teacher them.
Once there is a sense of community among this advisory group, I would field questions among my students and ask them what they are struggling with. Then, I would allow the students to share out their answers for one another. Students know best what works for students their age. I imagine peer recommendations would be most positively accepted by teens and other ages.
Questions that I would present:
- How many hours do students your age need per science and doctors to stay healthy and on your game?
- When would you consider too late to go to bed?
- How do you feel when you only get 4 hours of rest vs. 6, 7, or 8 hours of rest?
- How are your eating habits?
- How much are you exercising? Do you feel better or worse when you exercise more/less? What does your body need?
- What schedule is working well for some of you?
- What learning environment works best for you? If your friend were struggling, what would you recommend s/he try?
- What are some habits you developed that served you well? What are some habits that didn’t serve you well?
These are just a few items that I have tried to discuss with my 15 year old. If I were still in the classroom, these are some items I would make sure to discuss with my students. Empowering students now is even more important than ever as our students are forced into independence.
We are all edupreneurs today. As we develop ideas, we try them out and have to iterate over and over again until we find a working system. Please, share your successes and failures in the comments section. Sometimes, sharing failures can help us save time, so don’t be afraid to share them as well.
If your teachers could use a remote training on how to achieve these recommendations, please give us a call. We are ready to help.
Thanks folks. Stay safe. Vote. Wear a mask to protect yourself as well as others.
Only second to the medical community that is on the front lines during this COVID-19 pandemic, admins, teachers, parents, and students are today’s heroes. In less than a week’s notice, teachers, parents, and students have moved to homeschooling and online learning. While many companies are generously offering online tools, this might be putting the cart before the horse. If students are only working on schoolwork and digital software, they will quickly tire of it and revolt.
An important point to consider as we adapt to what could be our collective new normal is that people, especially children, seek structure.
As much as we like to think lack of structure is relaxing, long term lack of structure is actually more stressful.
According to AhaParenting.com ,
Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively manage themselves and their environments.
According to UpWorthy.com,
Children need routine and predictability in order to feel safe. This is especially important during a time of crisis.
Try to create a schedule, so everyone in the house has some expectation of normalcy. During this time, your children of all ages will want to know something is predictable. A schedule can create the element of predictability no matter how small.
Below are some sample schedules for you to read through. You can try them as-is or create your own based on the elements here. Please, make sure you have movement, fun, socializing, choice, reflection, and learning.
Sample Elementary Student Homeschooling Schedule:
- 8-8:30 am wake, dress, brush teeth
- 8:30 – 9 Breakfast
- 9 – 9:30 Plan for the day. Discuss the schedule for the day, so kids know what to expect. Let them know you are going to try it out and ask for their feedback at the end of each block or at the end of the day, so they should be thinking about what they liked and what they would like to change.
- 9:30 – 10:30 Exercise: play outside, ride bikes with parents, walk dog, play wii dance or wii sports, download an exercise app if it is raining or too cold to go outside
- 10:30 – 11:30 Thinking Time: Do some school work if there is any. This can be paper and pencil work or online work. If there is not any structured work, download brain or memory games apps such as concentration, puzzles, memorize the 50 states and their capitals, word finds, crossword puzzles, etc.
- 11:30 – 12:30 Lunch: Help make and eat lunch. No electronics during this time. No iPads or phones or TV.
- 12:30 – 1:30 Playtime of choice: play inside or outside. Board games, card games, coloring, manipulatives, crafts, swing set, running around, etc. Remember, only to play with family in the house and not anyone outside the house. If parents are the only other people in the house, be your child’s playmate. You won’t regret it.
- 1:30 – 2 Personal connection: Feeling a sense of belonging and friendship is very important. Kids want to know their friends and family are safe. They worry. If you have Internet or phone access, call or have an online video call with friends and or family. If you do not have electronic access, write cards or letters to friends, and have them do the same for you. Then mail them and wait for yours to arrive. Pen pals are till just as exciting as they were 20 years ago.
- 2 – 3 School Time: electronics are okay now. This can be elearning software, iPad apps, or educational TV or YouTube videos. Just make sure you are monitoring the topics. If you are not sure where to go, check out Common Sense Media for approved apps and sites for learning.
- 3-4:30 Personal Choice: It is important for children to have some autonomy in their day. Let them choose how they want to spend the last block of their day.
- 4:30 – 5 Reflection and Feedback – check in with your child and discuss how the day went. What went well? What did you like? Where did you feel successful? Where did you feel pride in accomplishment? Discuss whether the schedule worked and how it might be improved.
Sample Middle and High School Homeschooling Schedule:
Because middle and high school students are older, they seek autonomy and deserve the opportunity to start trying out their organizational and decision-making skills. Being a real adult is not age-based; being an adult is based on decision-making skills. Our children and students deserve to make choices in a safe zone. This is the perfect opportunity to let them make choices, live them out, and reflect on whether they would make the same choice again. I’ll be blogging more about that in the future.
- Prior to 9 am – Pre-Learning Time: let them know waking, showering, dressing, working out, and eating need to be fully completed beforehand just as if they were at school. Let them decide what they will do before 9 am.
- 9 – 9:15 am – Reflect: think about pre-school choices and how things went. Ask students to plan out tomorrow’s pre-school activities now.
- 9:15 – 9:30 Get organized: Spend the first 15 minutes discussing tasks to complete that day, order they want to complete them in, and expected completion time. Share the overall schedule for the day now, so they can fill in blocks with subjects or activities.
- 9:30 – 9:45 Set Goals with built-in, self-created rewards if they meet their goals. It is important they they set the celebration to make it intrinsic. If they are not ready for this, consider offering an extrinsic reward like 15 extra minutes of self-choice time during the day.
- 9:45-10 Set up your space: choose the best learning space for you. Bedrooms are not recommended unless your child has proven in the past that they can get work done and not goof off. I have three teens at home. One chose the dining room table. Another chose the kitchen island. The third chose the living room sofa.
- 10-11:30 Quiet time to work on assigned school work in the order they chose in the “Get Organized” slot earlier. This is a super-focus time when everyone needs to work quietly.
- 11:30 – 11:45 Reflect and Celebrate: Have kids report out on what their goal was and whether they met their goal. Celebrate with high fives, happy dance, or whatever else is fun and spontaneous. Ask kids how they feel when they meet their goal.
- 11:45 – 1 Lunch and Socializing: Lunch equals friends and socializing for most kids. Encourage yours to FaceTime or call his/her friends. iPhones can make group calls and group FaceTimes. Android phones can do Google hangouts with one or many people. Encourage your child to socialize during this time. It is incredibly important that they stay connected with their friends and social network.
- 1-1:30 Movement: A full stomach can make anyone sleepy. Encourage your child to get outside and move. Kick a soccer ball around, shoot some hoops, go for a bike ride or a jog. Anything to get the blood pumping to their brain. This increases their attention span and mental capacity.
- 1:30 – 3 Quiet time and work. This can be electronic software, Kahn Academy, school-assigned computer work, reading, etc.
- 3:00 – 4:00 Personal Choice: Allow students to relax how they choose. This could be video games, reading, biking, playing an instrument, listening to music, drawing, etc. This is more of a creation time than consumption. Encourage your child to make something as much as possible. Don’t force them to do anything, though. Let them choose.
- 4:00 – 4:30 Reflection: check in with your child and discuss how the day went. What went well? What did you like? Where did you feel successful? Where did you feel pride in accomplishment? Discuss whether the schedule worked and how it might be improved. Listen to their feedback, and try to incorporate it into future days’ schedules. Each time you make a change, be sure to ask how you will measure its success. Reflect on whether to keep the change.
These are merely samples of items to include in your homeschooling schedule during this unpredictable time. Make it work for you and your children. Remember, learning is supposed to be enjoyable, exciting, and social. Do you best to include all of those things. Some structure is needed to provide a sense of normalcy and allow students some predictability in their day. Consider using shorter learning times in the beginning and increasing them as you all settle in and build your endurance. Attack it the way a triathlon athlete would. Plan, practice, and increase your activity as you go.
Please, leave some comments to share what is working and not working for you. If this plan can be improved, leave some feedback.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Anjelou
If you have tried station rotation as a blended learning activity and felt less than impressed by your collaboration station, you are not alone. Of over 25 K-12 teachers who were exposed to station rotation and tried it out in their classes, only 2 said the collaboration station went well. Students didn’t know how to talk to one another; they didn’t know how to get started; they didn’t know x… they didn’t know y…they didn’t know z.
What do we do when students don’t know how to do something? Do we force them into it and let them figure it out? Of course not. We give them time to learn it and practice it. When we are confident they will be able to apply the skill with success, only then should we put students in a situation to apply the skill on their own.
What is Collaborative Learning?
According to the Global Development Research Center, “Collaborative learning is an educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. Collaborative learning is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act in which the participants talk among themselves. It is through the talk that learning occurs.”
Further, “Collaborative Learning is a relationship among learners that requires positive interdependence (a sense of sink or swim together), individual accountability (each of us has to contribute and learn), interpersonal skills (communication, trust, leadership, decision making, and conflict resolution), face-to-face promotive interaction, and processing (reflecting on how well the team is functioning and how to function even better).”
According to Hari Srinivas, “Collaborative learning is not simply a synonym for students working in groups. A learning exercise only qualifies as Collaborative Learning to the extent that the listed elements (below) are present.”
- Positive interdependence. Team members are obliged to rely on one another to achieve the goal. If any team members fail to do their part, everyone suffers consequences.
- Individual accountability. All students in a group are held accountable for doing their share of the work and for mastery of all of the material to be learned.
- Face-to-face promotive interaction. Although some of the group work may be parcelled out and done individually, some must be done interactively, with group members providing one another with feedback, challenging one another’s conclusions and reasoning, and perhaps most importantly, teaching and encouraging one another.
- Appropriate use of collaborative skills. Students are encouraged and helped to develop and practice trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict management skills.
- Group processing. Team members set group goals, periodically assess what they are doing well as a team, and identify changes they will make to function more effectively in the future.
Is a Collaboration Station Necessary?
Ted Panitz lists 44 Benefits of Collaborative Learning.
The collaboration station serves many purposes:
- It is more engaging to work with a partner than to work alone,
- Technology has dampened social skills and has encouraged people to live alone in their own worlds
- Collaboration is one of the top 4 skills employers are looking for.
How To Teach Collaboration
Collaboration is a desired soft skill for good reason. It is important to real teamwork, powerful discussion, and inclusivity. Knowing how to disagree with someone without making them feel rejected is a skill that many people don’t have innately. Sharing new vocabulary, modeling the skill, and practicing the new skill are necessary.
Click here for Hints for Better Learning Groups from the University of Texas, Teaching Resource Center (Srinivas).
Srinivas, Hsrinivas@gdrc.org Hari. “GDRC | The Global Development Research Center.” GDRC | The Global Development Research Center. Web. 25 May 2017.