The past couple of months have been a challenging time in education and the world. For educators, the challenge was making the shift to remote instruction and trying to find the right balance and tools to best meet our students’ needs. The sudden shift to remote learning came without much warning and left little time for us to prepare ourselves or our students.
I know that at the beginning of the school closures, I struggled with knowing how to best deliver instruction for my students, how to support families, and create connections for our “classroom.” It was and still is a challenge, however for different reasons. There has been so much support available for educators, students, and their families that we are getting through. We’ve come this far and now the challenge is to make time to reflect and plan. What can we learn from this experience and what steps do we need to take next? What positives can we take from our experience as we plan for the summer and the upcoming school year?
New ideas and risk-taking
Not only did we have to determine how to teach, but we had to also build our own technology skills and sift through many resources to find something to meet our students needs as well as our own. Regardless of experience teaching or learning in an online environment, it was overwhelming for all when we started.
One thing that is clear, educators took the opportunity to push themselves to try new things, even though confidence may have been lacking and uncertainties existed, we embraced an opportunity. It wasn’t easy to prepare, and I realized after a few weeks of trying that I couldn’t teach the same way in the virtual space. It was too much for students and for me to try to do so many different things and after reflecting on some of the activities and materials that we had been relying on, I decided it was my chance to create more engaging experiences for my students.
In conversations within educator communities and after gathering feedback from my students, it seemed like the perfect time to try new digital tools, explore virtual learning spaces to foster connections with one another, and bring in methods and strategies that promoted more choice in learning. With so many digital tools and resources available, we must always focus on pedagogy first and then decide how to best leverage the tools available to us to provide more for students as they prepare for the future. While we know there are endless benefits to using technology to enhance learning (blended learning, personalized learning, facilitating global collaborations, and building future ready skills), we must be intentional about planning meaningful and authentic ways for our students to connect and build their presence in the virtual space. During remote learning, I tried to bring in more ways to promote student choice, foster the development of digital citizenship skills, and extend learning to meet students’ interests and needs.
What types of learning opportunities should we explore?
When considering the options available, I recommend choosing methods and tools that can not only be used for educational purposes, but that could be good for families for fun and learning too.
STEM is always a good choice because it offers something for all students. The opportunity to engage in learning that promotes the development of creativity, critical thinking, real-world experiences and also help students to develop leadership and SEL skills will promote student engagement and increase achievement. There are many possibilities available to explore, checking out the resources through Defined Learning and especially as we look toward a break over the summer, embrace some new ideas like those suggested by Dr. Jacie Maslyk. It is also a good experience for families to try some STEM challenges together too, to help connect the learning that is happening in schools.
Sharing a story
Sketchnoting is not only a fun activity, but one that can be applied in many ways for learning. Especially for visual learners, sketchnoting is helpful for retaining the content. Even students who are not fans of drawing enjoy the opportunity to engage in something that is fun and different. Whether using digital tools to create sketchnotes or drawing by hand and then sharing in the virtual space, it pushes them to analyze concepts or text, to create, attach more meaning to the content as they decide how to demonstrate learning. An added benefit is that they can also learn from the sketches of their peers.
Infographics are another way to build digital skills as well as provide students with a more authentic way to demonstrate learning. In my classes, whether sharing results from PBL, creating a timeline of events, explaining a process, providing instructions, or analyzing data, students have the opportunity to build essential skills. They also develop other vital skills such as learning about design and how to create a visually engaging presentation that highlights key points, sorts data, and also builds digital citizenship skills.
Independent and e-Learning
Performance tasks and PBL work well for remote learning, especially when students do not all have access to the same materials. PBLhas been a good option for my students to explore their own interests and learn about current events related to the pandemic. It can also be a good opportunity to engage families in learning about something together. Through Defined Learning, teachers can provide valuable learning experiences for students through the e-learning projects for different grade levels that help students to develop future ready skills including Entrepreneurship and Architecture. These resources provide additional materials for students to explore and create innovative ways to show learning.
Another option for this time is place-based learning. When students have an opportunity to engage more in the content they are learning through real-world experiences, it leads to more meaningful and authentic learning. As we look at the world around us, there are possibilities for collaboration with the school community, local businesses and organizations that enable students to apply their knowledge and build their skills in more personalized ways.