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Top 5 Things Teachers Need to Know About Distance Learning

Does anyone else feel like their whole world just flipped upside down? A few weeks ago, I was teaching project-based learning lessons with my students in my classroom, and suddenly, we’re all working harder than ever trying to teach meaningful lessons from a computer screen. I’d do anything to be back in the classroom with my students one more time, but this is our new normal, and we’re doing the best we can.

If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you are looking for some tips and tricks for distance learning. I’ve been using education technology and online learning platforms for years, and have some ideas I’d like to share.

Hi, and welcome to EdTech Classroom.

I am so happy you’re here. During difficult times like these, teachers need to collaborate to come up with creative, meaningful ways to teach our students remotely.

Before we dive into details about the top 5 things teachers need to know about distance learning, I want you to first…

Take a deep breath. You are trying your best. You are an incredible teacher. And you are not alone.

Now, let’s take a look at the 5 things teachers need to know about distance learning.

1. Students need social-emotional support.

Now more than ever, particularly at the elementary level, students need connection and community. As teachers, we are emotional support systems for our students during difficult times. It is so important that our students are feeling loved, supported, and safe.

The idea of talking about this widespread pandemic with your students might be overwhelming, but I’d encourage you to NOT be afraid to talk with your students about coronavirus. Psychologists at the Child Mind Institute actually argue that not talking about something can make kids worry more. With the added confusion of distance learning, our students, and especially our youngest learners, might be having some “big feelings” right now.

One way that you can help children cope with this situation is by creating weekly (or even daily) social emotional activities with your students. I like to have SEL check-ins throughout the week. Some ideas include:

  • Rose, Bud, and Thorn: During Morning Meeting, I might have my students share a rose, bud, and thorn from their weeks. This is a great way to check-in and gauge how the class is feeling as a whole.
  • Peaks and Valleys: I’ve always been a big fan of the “peaks and valleys” activity. At the end of the week, I’ll ask my students to share a “peak” and a “valley,” or a high and a low. They’ll share these with me using an interactive notebook I created. You can check it out here.
  • How can I support you?: I also like to provide students with an opportunity to reach out for help. I’ll send them a Google Form through Google Classroom where they can share how I can support them during this remote learning period. This gives even my quietest students a platform to share their voice.

2. Student privacy and online safety is critical.

Phishing, hacking, and issues like Zoombombing are at an all time high, especially in the education community. Just like we protect our students’ physical safety at school, we need to help keep them secure online. If you are using video-conferencing platforms (particularly Zoom), the following features are a must:

  • Enable the Waiting Room: This feature forces everyone who tries to join your meeting to enter a “waiting room” before entering. This means that you have to specifically approve participants before they can access your space. Some hackers can still get past this step, but I’d recommend adding it because it gives an extra layer of protection. Check out directions here.
  • Disable Join Before Host: For most Zoom users, this is automatically turned off, but it’s always a good idea to double-check. By disabling this feature, you are blocking anyone from entering the Zoom meeting before you, the host.
  • Enable Screen-Sharing for Host Only: Prevent participants from screen-sharing.
  • Avoid using your Personal Meeting ID: While this isn’t always ideal, especially for younger students, try to avoid using your Personal Meeting ID on Zoom. Instead, follow these directions to schedule meetings with unique IDs.
  • DO NOT SHARE YOUR ZOOM MEETING ID ON SOCIAL MEDIA: I have seen a number of teachers on Instagram posting screenshots of their students on Zoom. In these images, the Zoom Meeting ID has been on full display. In sharing this number online, you’re giving people full access to your Zoom meetings.

3. Screen-free activities are so important.

Screen-time has been a hot topic in education for years now. It’s particularly important to be considering right now, as we transition to remote learning. I have been using the following “formula” when creating my daily lesson plans:

For every activity that involves a screen, I’ll also create a screen-free lesson.

For example, with my youngest students, I might have them use a coding app, like Kodable, in the morning. I’ll follow up this activity with a STEM maker challenge or time for them to work on their Genius Hour Projects. I also have created a mega-list of 100 screen-free activities for elementary students. You’re welcome to share these activities with your students.

4. Now is a perfect time to explore passion projects and PBL.

Have you ever wanted to try something like Genius Hour or a Design Thinking project in your classroom? Or, are you already a project-based learning expert? Either way, now is the PERFECT time to allow students to pursue their own self-guided projects.

If you aren’t quite sure what Genius Hour is, you can read more about it here. Many schools have shifted to this standards-aligned Genius Hour model, where students spend 20% of their time at school authoring their own learning experiences. Since this period of remote learning started, I’ve been a big fan of doing Genius Hour with my students. I love this project-based learning lesson in particular because it allows students to explore their own personal interests, while still meeting state standards.

Interested in starting your own Genius Hour? Do it! If you’re looking for some guidance or a model, I’ve created this no prep, interactive notebook that guides students through the entire process. You can check it out here.

5. At the end of the day, technology is just a tool.

If you haven’t already, you’re going to hear advice from everyone on “the right way” to teach remotely. Guess what? Only you know what is best for your students. While people like me will try our best to give you remote learning tips and tricks, you ultimately know what is right for you and your classroom. At the end of the day, technology is just a tool. It’s a way you can connect with your students. The teaching comes from you.

You inspire them. You motivate them. You support them. That’s what matters.

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