New World: Week 1
We've technically been off for three weeks but this was week one of the new world of online teaching. The first week we were off I left my students with a project to complete. It didn't require any instruction from me as it was something we'd done a few times. The next week was our official Spring Break. This week though, I dove in head first into online instruction. Here's how it went!
I had about 35 kids show up Monday out of my 130. I held class at 9 AM on Google Meet. I purposefully chose the "early" start time (it's when our school usually starts) to start to get my kids back on a proper sleep schedule. I've been getting emails from plenty of them after midnight. Yikes.
The room was easy to set up and most kids were able to join without issue. I posted a link to the room on our class webpage (which we'd been using all year) along wit some instructions such as muting microphones. I had only a couple kids who had mics on when they popped in and a quick reminder was all it took.
For the lesson I used PearDeck (also for the first time.) It too worked fantastically. We did a virtual tour of China using 360cities.net. Students were highly engaged. Many asked questions in the text chat as we went through it. Nearly all put in relevant answers on the PearDeck question slides. This was a brand new lesson that I had been planning for class for awhile. I figured it would work well enough online (and plus I had nothing to compare it to since I'd never done it before!) It turned out far better than I could have imagined. At the end of the hour - which flew by fastest than any other hour in the last 3 three minus the ones where I was asleep - many kids reacted with disappointment that we were out of time.
What I learned: Interaction is absolutely key to making this work. Just posting assignments, no matter how fun, just isn't going to cut it. Our kids crave our attention. PearDeck is an awesome way to make it interactive. The way it allows the teacher to display students answers makes it feel far more like a "real" classroom.
We had a small attendance bump up to 40 kids. The Google Meet once again worked great. I had a pre-show running with some Disney trivia that I've used in my Teach with Magic Live shows. I'd love to have something like this daily to have the energy flowing right away as kids are logging in. I'm not sure what to do to keep it fresh every day but it's something I'll be working on.
I did another new lesson. My biggest worry in this new world is frankly not that my kids won't learn social studies, it's that they'll fall behind in math. So, I designed a lesson to inject some basic math practice into social studies. We discussed the various numbers behind China's great accomplishments like the amount of material used to build The Great Wall and the height of the locks in the Grand Canal. We then did comparisons to other measurements like "How many 'yous' could be made out of the Great Wall?" It wasn't calculus, but it was real world math and it was great to see them figuring things out.
The lesson probably would have been best delivered through PearDeck but I didn't have time to get it set up. So, I just made a Google Slide deck and left blanks where I wanted kids to fill in answers. They each made a copy of the doc and filled in their own as we worked through it together. At the end they could easily turn it in by sharing the doc with me. Again, the hour flew by.
What I learned: As much as I enjoyed PearDeck, just using a simple Slides deck made the set up time much faster and the grading much easier. I'll still use PearDeck when appropriate but most of the time I'll just use the Slides deck.
I did another robo-call to parents and students Tuesday night reminding them about the chat. This got us our highest attendance with 55 kids coming Wednesday. For March 32nd (none of my kids noticed...) we did our own version of a March Madness tournament using Chinese accomplishments. I made a bracket in Google Slides and created polls for each round on strawpoll.me. My only question was whether my kids would have access or if the site would be blocked. They made copies of the Slides file and I had a few of the early arrivals test strawpoll. It worked!
Adding the simple interaction of live polling made the experience unique. It didn't function any differently than asking kids to raise their hands to show their opinion but that simple act isn't so simple in the virtual world. Strawpoll is extremely simple, fast and easy. We have a polling system built into our LMS but Strawpoll was faster and easier. I highly recommend trying it.
The lesson ended about 15 minutes early and I decided to just leave the chat open until 10 anyway. I told the kids they could stick around and turn on their mics for awhile. About 20 kids stayed and we just talked about life (mostly anime and video games.) It was great to see and hear them. I'll be doing this whenever we have extra time.
What I learned: Seriously, making this work is all about interaction, and today I learned it doesn't need to all be academic. I also learned that Google Meet rooms don't close when I leave. I have to disconnect each student still in there at closing time.
After being off Thursday for a staff meeting I wasn't sure how much attendance I'd get Friday. While we didn't hit our Wednesday peak we still have close to 50 kids. We did another shared Google Slides activity where we built a videogame style tech tree based on China's 3 most important inventions. It went well though I didn't estimate time properly and it took longer than expected.
Then we had our first problem. We tried Kahoot. I immediately saw that someone was running a bot. I thought I had removed it and our first few questions were fine. Then the bots reset and the game crashed. I reset the game. Made it clear that I was doing this for them and the same thing happened again. I shut it down. It was a real bummer because the kids wanted to play. Apparently this a common problem with Kahoot. I reached out to them about how to handle it but they have not responded.
It was an unfortunate down note on which to end the week. Everything else went so well that I don't want to let one silly kids ruin my opinion on the week. I'll make adjustments and make it work.
I left the room open a few more minutes and let the kids chat. Then I deleted the room link from our class page and removed the remaining students one by one to make sure the room closed. I honestly don't care if kids talk to each other. It's not like we stop them when they are face to face. Still, I know it's a concern for some adults so I'll play along and close it out.
What I learned: Use Gimkit next time!
Overall, it was a great week. I felt great after each session except Friday. Friday also started weird as I went into my classroom and saw it untouched from 3 weeks ago - including the "See you in 3 weeks!" message one of my kids left me on the board. Ouch. The kids clearly were ready to have something break up their boredom. Everything was review so it made for an easy week. Next week I'm getting into a whole new civilization so we'll see how that goes!
We're an incredibly important part of helping our kids through this new world and I'm happy to help you in any way I can. Don't hesitate to ask.
Keep the magic alive!