Teaching is a wonderful yet demanding task when students are physically present in a classroom. But it’s a whole other level of challenge when they’re learning from home. Online learning or virtual instruction has been available since the beginning of the Internet. This model has primarily been used by colleges, universities, and corporations. However, in recent months due to school closures many teachers have been offering their classes remotely.
There are strategies educators can use to not only deal with this new situation, but also transform the education model to inspire students. This article outlines factors to consider when teaching in a virtual classroom and provides links to helpful resources to support learning.
Design Meaningful Lessons to Engage Learners
A challenge to remote learning is designing lessons that spark student interest. Often it can seem like school has become one boring worksheet after another. To overcome this hurdle engage students with real world connections. Design lessons that pose authentic problems and offer topics to which students can personally relate. As they investigate these issues and propose solutions, students are more involved and motivated.
Project-based learning is the essence of all TechnoKids materials. At first glance, this instructional approach may seem too difficult to implement using a remote learning model. However, each TechnoKids technology project includes lessons that have step-by-step instructions with illustrations that explain how to complete a task. Resources such as sample files, provide examples of completed work. As well, templates jump start creativity. TechnoKids makes it easy to support learners as they complete meaningful tasks from home.
Empower students with challenges to explore real world issues in your virtual classroom. Hook student interest with role playing. As they recognize relevance, students are inspired to learn. Two projects that are an ideal fit for middle or high school students are:
- TechnoWonderland: Students become marketing executives for an amusement park. They solve a variety of challenges as they develop technology skills.
- TechnoTravel: Students play the role of a travel agent. They construct a travel advertisement to promote a weekend getaway.
Provide Activities for Multiple Devices
Another hurdle to overcome when lesson planning for a virtual classroom is access to technology. At school, typically the hardware is standardized so that everyone has the same device. However, when working from home, students have a variety of devices.
Teaching in an online classroom is similar to a BYOD program. Students could have desktop computers, laptops, or tablets such as Chromebooks or iPads. Or perhaps, they only have access to smart phones. As well, the operating system varies. It could be Windows, Mac, or Android.
Curriculum should allow students to achieve success using any hardware configuration. The challenge is to offer assignments or projects that are open-ended enough to be successfully completed using any computing device.
TechnoKids projects will work with a wide-range of hardware and software. Teachers can download multiple versions of the same lesson from TechnoHub. Assignments are available for Google Apps, Microsoft Office Online, Office 2019, Office 2016, or Office 2013. This allows teachers to provide instruction that will work on any device. Everyone in the class can be learning the same thing, using different technology. Two popular projects that are ideal for remote learning are:
- TechnoToon is a fun digital story-telling project. Students can create their animated cartoon using a browser such as Chrome or Safari and Google Apps, or Microsoft Edge and Office Online, or a desktop version of Microsoft Office. There are many options.
- TechnoNewsletter has students create a fan club publication. They can use Google Docs, Microsoft Word Online, or Microsoft Word 2019, 2016, or 2013.
A further challenge to teaching remotely can be meeting the needs of all learners. Not all students are the same. Each has unique abilities. A child may have a learning disability or English as a second language. This requires teachers to modify tasks to accommodate individual needs. This can be done ahead of time, as part of curriculum planning, but is often done in the moment – which can be difficult when teaching virtually.
In a school setting, when a child raises their hand, the teacher can provide assistance immediately. The educator can assess the student’s needs and then apply a different approach to explain a concept or adjust expectations. This personalizes learning.
Moreover, when students are working from home, visual cues that show frustration are no longer present. This prevents the teacher from instantly making the necessary modifications to meet the needs of the learner.
When learning remotely, one way to accommodate all learners is to use lessons that have activities with varying degrees of difficulty. All children receive the same assignment. However, students can select from a list of choices. This allows them to complete the task that suits their ability.
TechnoKids projects provide a range of tasks that support all learners. One project that offers a wide-range of activities to differentiate instruction is TechnoCode:
- TechnoCode sparks an interest in computer science. Students create games, puzzles, mazes, animations, stories and more using Scratch 3. Teachers and/or students can pick and choose activities. Younger students may just complete the first three sessions. Middle school grades can continue on to the computational thinking challenges of Sessions 4 to 6. Assignments include challenges with varying degrees of difficulty.
Provide a Flexible Pace
Another consideration when teaching remotely is scheduling the pace of instruction. Students may not have access to devices throughout the day, as parents or siblings could be using the technology. This restricts the ability to complete assignments in a timely fashion.
Be accommodating in setting timelines and goals. Ideally, activities should be flexible and allow each student to progress at their own pace. There are great resources that allow teachers to personalize learning. OneNote and Google Classroom let you set assignments for individual students. You can pick and choose what and when to give to each student according to their needs and progress. TechnoKids offers support and step-by-step instructions on how to set up a Google Classroom or Class Notebook.
TechnoKids projects are ideal for self-paced learning. Two projects that students will enjoy are:
- TechnoBookmaking has a collection of templates to publish a tiny picture book, a flip flap story, a riddle book, an accordion book, and many more. Mix and match! Complete as many as you want, in any order you want.
- TechnoRestaurateur has students take the role of an entrepreneur developing a new franchise. Depending on which learning objectives teachers select, they can choose and omit assignments. For example, if spreadsheet skills are important, include all of the calculation and graphing activities and leave out the floor plan and logo designs.
Host Class Discussions that are Interactive
Class discussions are an integral part of the learning process. Students can express ideas, ask questions, gain knowledge, and develop a fresh perspective. When instruction is delivered online, instead of in-person, the experience is somewhat different. However, technology provides unique ways for students to communicate with one another.
Face-to face instruction using online tools such as Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams allows everyone to connect. The etiquette requires that only one person can talk at a time, or else it is difficult to hear. Although, this is the case in the regular classroom, it is even more important in a virtual setting.
To keep everyone actively involved in the discussion, teachers can ask questions that are responded to using the built-in chat feature. This gives everyone a chance to share their ideas. You can ensure that students know that their perspective and individual viewpoints are valued by posting emoticons to individual comments. For example, a thumbs-up, smiley face, or animated sun are some ways to respond to contributions.
Another way to invite others to share their opinion is to offer polls. By keeping instruction interactive you can verify that everyone is participating. Moreover, this will help students to feel part of the conversation, which makes them less likely to tune out.
Another way to engage learners is to share your screen. This allows you to demonstrate a concept or clarify a misunderstanding. If using a TechnoKids project, it is a simple way to show the steps to complete an assignment. For example
- In TechnoBudget, students budget for a shopping spree. They organize the items using a spreadsheet. By sharing your screen you can demonstrate how to create formulas and graph data. In addition, you could have students justify their purchasing decisions in a lively online discussion.
- In TechnoMap, students produce an interactive map. There are significant differences between creating a map using Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, and PowerPoint Online. A virtual discussion is a great way to clarify the task, help students select a version, and answer questions. You can model sample maps by sharing your screen.
Invite Student Input and Welcome Personal Choice
Since online learning can be alienating to some learners, inviting student input is more important than ever. Students enjoy having choice. They like their opinions and interests to matter. For many, it gives them a feeling of empowerment. It also is motivating, because the assigned task is personally meaningful.
To simplify teaching in a virtual classroom, have students complete the same assignment. However, let them choose their topic. Everyone is learning the identical skills, but with different content.
Most TechnoKids projects allow students to pick a topic, area of personal interest, or unique and creative focus.
- In TechnoEarth, students become environmental stewards. Each student picks a topic of personal, local, or international concern. Then they design an interactive infographic to create a powerful call to action.
- In TechnoSite, students build a website. They choose their own areas of interest as the topics for the web pages.
Collaborate with Others
What students are missing most when they aren’t in a classroom is social interaction. Compensate by assigning work that requires students to work with others. Their level of engagement will grow, as will the essential skills of effective communication and accountability.
Many TechnoKids projects make use of the collaboration tools available through technology.
- TechnoDebate has students work with a partner to take opposing positions on a controversial issue. They work together to prepare an animated slideshow to support each side, respond to arguments with a rebuttal, and answer audience questions online.
- TechnoQuestionnaire invites students to design questions to research opinions of a sample group of their classmates on an authentic issue. They analyze the results and present their findings to their peers.
Provide Self Assessment Tools
Working remotely can make some learners disengage. To encourage fundamental personal skills such as responsibility, self-direction, and self-confidence, include tools that allow students to measure their own progress. As students rate themselves, they develop critical thinking and problem-solving techniques. These tools can be checklists, rubrics, journals, or marking criteria. They help students consider what they have learned and how to do better.
TechnoKids projects all include a variety of assessment resources for both teacher and student. Most student workbooks have checklists both at the end of the project and often throughout each stage, such as a research outline or a planning organizer.
- TechnoTurtle uses the Python Turtle Library to teach basic programming and ignite an interest in computer science. Each session has Review Questions. Students complete a variety of checklists as they create a Mad Lib and a Carnival Game. They reflect on their learning by answering questions for a coding journal.
- TechnoAdvertise has students play the role of an advertising executive design a variety of publications. They review checklists for a product catalog and advertising flyer before they submit work for evaluation. Marking sheets for the five publications are provided for self-evaluation as well as teacher assessment.
Turn Learning into a Game and Celebrate Achievements
Gamification, the use of game-like concepts, can be used to stimulate learning, celebrate successes, and simply add fun to curriculum. Teachers know the value of stars, progress bars, and any type of positive reinforcement. As adults, we collect loyalty points to get rewards such as coffee, groceries, or travel miles. In the absence of a personal touch, certificates and badges given online can remind students that they are progressing and that their efforts are recognized.
TechnoKids projects reward students for their efforts. Every title includes a certificate of completion and a parent letter outlining technology learning objectives that have been achieved. As well, projects include many encouragements for students and strategies to add fun to schoolwork.
- TechnoInternet is a series of lessons that teach Internet safety, search strategies, digital citizenship, and more. Included in the resources is a map on which students can track the places they have visited: e-Library, e-Playground, e-Media Center, and more. When finished, they receive an Internet Citizenship Card.
- TechnoTrivia teaches students to build a quiz with a variety of questions, an answer key, and feedback. Planning, research, communication, and analysis skills are developed through a fun, game-like activity.