Tag: collaboration

Remote Learning A-Z: Z is for Zoom

Remote Learning A-Z: Z is for Zoom

In a matter of months, the pandemic has made Zoom one of our primary means of communication for work, school, and even happy hours. I mean, you know it’s getting real when even Hogwarts is using it for remote learning.

In preparation for this post I conducted a research-validated, longitudinal study on the effects of Zoom from the student perspective. (More accurately, I sent a mass email to all my friends and begged them to respond). In this email, I asked kids what their teacher does on Zoom that they like, do not like, and wish for or would change.

Not surprisingly, the student opinions were illuminating! Also as expected, the feedback about Zoom varied with grade level. Here are some common threads:

Games and Routines Win

From TK to High School, students appreciated a predictable daily routine. From our intern’s post about remote learning, even college students feel this way.

Daily activities like a morning warm-up, Calendar, and games are big hits with students. One first grader specifically called out games like Simon Says, Mystery Kid, and Charades as her favorite thing.

TAKEAWAY

Think about ways to set daily or weekly routines, and infuse a little fun into some of your regular activities. Check out our Yay! post for ideas on little ways to celebrate with kids remotely, and How are you doing? post for ideas on checking in with students.

More Breaks and More Snacks!

Even students are feeling the fatigue from too much onscreen time. Many students appreciated when teachers notice the wiggles setting in and give students a quick break.

In all student surveys I’ve given and reviewed over the years, it really all just comes down to snacks. As educators we have to just accept it: snacks are paramount. All of our young learners would like more time to eat their snacks and their lunch.

TAKEAWAY

Being online all the time is exhausting. Work in brief breaks off screen, as well as breaks to stretch, breathe, and jump around together. Try some of these stretches from Web MD. (And you’ll never hear me arguing about time for snacks.)

To Mute or Not to Mute?

Most students did not like the tyrannical power of the teacher to mute and unmute.

While the teacher in me defaults to saying: “Those are the breaks,” it does give us educators a little food for thought. In a traditional classroom, students talk to each other all the time. They ask questions, turn and talk, discuss, and make comments. In a Zoom environment, the chatter is far more distracting than in a classroom, leaving students without those little moments to dialogue with their peers.

TAKEAWAY

Class management over Zoom is different from face-to-face instruction. Consider the systems and expectations you have in place to maintain mutual respect and still allow for discussion and sharing of ideas. Talk with your students about problems and brainstorm solutions together.

Zoom Cameras: On or Off?

For younger students (who primarily always have their cameras on) this didn’t come up. With older students, the camera preference varied, though some preferred when everyone’s camera is on.

Video conferencing does hinder our ability to read the physical and social cues we used to in a classroom. When cameras are on, at least we get more information about student wellness and attentiveness than a name on a black screen.

On the other hand, read our intern’s opinion on this. She reminds us there are many legitimate reasons students may not want to be on camera, and that we should be respectful of that.

TAKEAWAY

For secondary students, consider a compromise to hard and fast camera rules. Even better, discuss this issue with students and come up with a solution together.

Breakout Rooms are a Bummer

The biggest complaint from secondary students was their overwhelming dislike of the Zoom breakout rooms, which were repeatedly described as “awkward,” “horrible,” and “unproductive.”

Many students reported sitting in silence in these rooms for the first few minutes before resorting to hastily dividing up the work, turning off cameras, and then hoping everyone did their part.

Argh…this is the exact opposite of what we want from groupwork!

As educators, it makes perfect sense to use breakouts for small group instruction and collaboration activities. However, student feedback makes it clear our classroom structures don’t always translate well to remote learning. Today, students haven’t established the connections they would have formed in a traditional classroom. In addition, teachers are unable to circulate as before during collaborative time to observe, facilitate, and redirect.

I can’t imagine teaching without small groups, but I recognize the struggle for our students is real. So consider some of these takeaways to make breakout rooms more effective and less painful:

TAKEAWAYS

  • Kids need explicit instruction: presenting the assignment and sending kids off in groups doesn’t always work over Zoom. Students need modeling and guidance on your expectations for working in a remote group. Consider collecting feedback from your own students and defining these norms together. This article from Forbes is about ground rules for remote business teams, but still has a lot of applicable advice.
  • Roles might make things less awkward: I’ve never been a big fan of group roles jobs like Timekeeper and Notetaker. However, in the Zoom environment, I’m reconsidering. Until students are more comfortable, it may also help to provide them with a defined structure: task, time frame, deliverable, facilitator. For teens, where everything is a profound embarrassment, having set parameters can dissipate some of the awkwardness.
  • Consider group size: One student commented he felt breakout rooms work better when only two students are together. Until students feel more comfortable, perhaps rotating partners won’t be quite as awkward or intimidating. You might even consider some collaboration activities solely focused on connecting with others. See our post on Interviews for more ideas.
  • Timing is important: Several students mentioned breakout rooms lasted far too long, reporting the longer they went on, the more counterproductive they became. Overall, it seems smaller chunks of breakout time are better.
  • It always comes down to the design: I believe I’ve now said this in four separate posts: In a true collaborative task, the task itself cannot be completed without the thinking and work of everyone on the team. Make sure your activities require group thinking, discussion, and analysis and not merely proximity. Tasks that students can slice into four equal parts and never interact are not collaboration. (And if that hasn’t convinced you, additional rants on collaboration are available for you here.)

Ask Your Students about Zoom

If you got this far, you might have discovered a common theme running through this post. If you’re thinking about making changes to your Zoom world, think about making them with your students. I highly suggest posing these three questions to your own class and problem solving the results together!

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Remote Learning A-Z: W is for Working Together

Remote Learning A-Z: W is for Working Together

Working together is even more important than it used to be. We have been on this Fall Remote Learning adventure for almost two months. With a teacher spouse and a distance learning son, I’ve seen it from all perspectives. I am continually impressed with the effort and perseverance of all Derek’s teachers. I am also appreciative of the kindness and support my husband is receiving from the families of his students.

Is the Honeymoon Ending?

My son’s teachers are trying so hard to provide engaging content. Even so, I’m seeing the fatigue of remote learning set in with my son. Every teacher I know is finding their groove, yet also feeling the strain of continually revamping even the simplest activities. Parents with kids of all ages are finding some of the initial Honeymoon feelings have worn off.

As a school and as a nation, we are all in this together. So let’s figure out ways to help each other make the best of it! below are tips for working together remotely.

Assume Positive Intent

This is a generally sound mindset in most any situation. I think we’re all a bit on edge today. Even so, it’s important to remember we don’t know all situations, and everyone is doing the very best job they can.

Take a look at the post from our intern, Emeline Tu. Among other things, she does an excellent job in reminding all of us to approach this situation with empathy.

Communicate

As a former school administrator, one lesson I learned was that even if you think you’ve communicated often and clearly, you haven’t. Never assume that because you posted an announcement once or said it over a video meeting that anyone heard it (or will remember it).

Set a Communication Schedule

One strategy for ensuring consistent and clear communication is to have a schedule. Set a routine, communicate that routing, and then keep to it. As a teacher I created many systems that ended up being more maintenance than useful. So take it from me, remember to keep it simple (see below). Don’t create an overly demanding or complicated routine you will regret having to keep up in a few weeks.

Involve Students

Consider involving students in writing or recording updates for parents. Here’s a sample newsletter on a Google Doc, with more explanation in our Collaboration post.

Speak Up

Now that we aren’t physically together, we lose out on the little social moments we used to have at drop off and pick up. It’s more important than ever for teachers to communicate succinctly, clearly, and often. And parents, don’t let things sit until they grow into a problem. For some addition ideas, read this Edutopia article: 12 Conversation Starters on What Parents Want You to Know. It is from 2013, but still great ideas for communication applicable to remote learning.

Keep it Simple

We are all overwhelmed with the amount of links, emails, and texts from multiple sources. Think about families with multiple children, from primary students who need more support with daily class activities, to secondary students who need to juggle the assignments and systems of multiple classrooms daily.

Two Streamlining Tips

Having a central place for all your links, announcements, and assignments helps your families wade through all the information. See our post on Links for ideas on how to keep your virtual information organized for students and parents.

Try this formula for each day: What We’re Learning, Ask Your Child, and How You Can Help. Post it in a continuous slide presentation so people can look back at it as needed.

Ask for Feedback

I’ve seen this in so many environments: the most persistent voices will often get the most attention. The unfortunate byproduct is we often don’t get the full picture of a situation: a few loud voices seem to represent the whole.

Teachers, frequent feedback from students and parents is one way to get off that hamster wheel. You will be surprised at all the things going well, as pick up a few tips for tweaks to make.

Our Exit Tickets are a quick and easy way to check in each day.

Ask for feedback from all your families regularly, and you will soon find it isn’t intimidating. Send out a simple Google Form survey monthly or weekly to take a pulse of your entire class. Approach your survey positively, keeping in mind the goal is working together more productively. Ask questions from the perspective of students’ needs and social-emotional health. Ask how you can improve, but don’t forget to ask what is going well, too!

Give Feedback

How many times have you looked up reviews on websites like Yelp and Amazon? How many times have you written a review yourself, either positive or negative? People in general tend to only give feedback when it’s astoundingly negative.

Positive Feedback Goes a Long Way

Don’t fall into the Yelp trap with your classroom community! Parents, your two-sentence email of encouragement or thanks goes a long way in supporting your teacher’s efforts. And teachers, taking some time to appreciate each student goes exponentially further in building connections and inclusivity. See this post for more information.

Parents, when giving feedback, approach it positive, solutions-focused mindset. Also temper expectations: some things we wish are unrealistic in a remote environment with a large class load. Teachers may not respond immediately, since they are teaching online all day. Also remember, while your child’s teacher is your direct conduit to the school, they have far less control over the policies and laws governing wider district decisions.

Forge Connections

My good friend has a daughter in first grade. The other day she said to her mother, “It’s hard to make friends on Zoom.” Ugh!

This is not true only for our youngest learners. Working together (student to student) is also a challenge right now. Remote students are missing many daily, physical interactions that used to be the norm.

Build in Time to Connect

While content instruction is always front and center, think about little ways to build in connection time among students. When students feel more connected to you and to each other, their learning benefits.

Check out our post on Interviews for ideas to forge meaningful connections between school, home, and each other. Consider ways for students to ask questions of each other to get to know their classmates. In our Interviews, we include over fifty silly questions you can ask your class. Students can also ask the questions of each other. Try one today!

Take Advantage of Tech

Even though remote learning is a challenge, there are some perks inherent in technology that teachers can use to their advantage.

Some posts you may find helpful:

Now that many lessons are being recorded, take advantage and post those videos for review. Read more about using video here. All learners benefit from hearing something more than once, and parents welcome videos they can review for support. Another perk – you might escape the, “That’s not how my teacher said to do it!” lament. (Parents, don’t feel badly about this: I have advanced degrees in education and this happens to me frequently.)

Work Together, Stay Positive

The most powerful strategy for student success and well-being is a connected team that is working together. We hope these tips help you forge virtual connections with your school community!

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Remote Learning A-Z: K is for KWL Charts

Remote Learning A-Z: K is for KWL Charts

KWL Charts (What We Know, Want to Know, and Learned) have been around since long before I was a teacher…and when I was teaching my coolest technology in the classroom was my overhead projector! KWL Charts are still a standby because they activate prior knowledge, elicit questions, and allow students to reflect on their learning.

KWLs have evolved over the decades, though, even gaining a few letters here and there.

K-W-L Variations

If you do a search, there are quite a few variations of good old KWL. Here are some of my favorites:

  • KWHL: The H stands for How can we find out? Love that.
  • KWHLAQ: It’s a mouthful, but this one adds two things at the end that I also love: What action will I take? and What new questions do I have?
  • KWLS: The S stands for: What strategies did I use for this?

A Virtual Tool for KWLs

There are a lot of tools that can be used for KWL charts. Programs like Google Docs and Google Jamboard are easy ways to work in real time on these brainstorms together. Here is one you may not know about.

Ideaboardz is a great little tool for class brainstorms and KWL charting. It’s free, easy to create, and has some cool features that other programs like it don’t have. Also, did I mention it’s free?

How to Create an Ideaboardz

Create a Board

Go to the Ideaboardz site and click Create my own IdeaBoard. Give your board a name, description, and select a format. There are a few pre-made sections, or you can choose up to ten.

I chose four sections, one for each in KHWL.

Tell them you are not a robot, then click Create.

Grab the Link

Copy the link in your browser and send it to your students.

That’s it!

They can start brainstorming immediately by clicking on the green plus sign.

Vote, Delete, or Edit

When you click on a sticky, you can edit, vote for it, or delete it. It’s important to note that ANYONE can do that, even if you weren’t the author. Thus, it’s pretty important to set some ground rules with your students before starting a board.

Combine Like Ideas

This is one of the features I love most about Ideaboardz. In a brainstorm (especially a virtual one with your whole class at the same time) we know there will be many similar ideas.

All you need to do to combine stickies is to drag one on top of another. You will be asked if you’re sure, then the two are one!

For a little extra critical thinking and comprehension, ask your students read through everyone’s ideas and see where some can be combined. Not sure about what a sticky means? What an opportunity to ask clarifying questions!

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Remote Learning A-Z: J is for Jamboard

Remote Learning A-Z: J is for Jamboard

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Google Jamboard is one of the lesser-known apps available in Google Suite. The Jamboard is a nifty online, collaborative whiteboard. It is simple and user-friendly, so it’s quick for students and teachers to learn. Because it’s part of Google, it also integrates with Google Classroom. Jamboards are great visual tool for brainstorming, organizing a host of ideas,mindmapping, and storyboarding. I think of it like a virtual sticky-note board that lets me move everything around and never runs out of room.

How to Create a Jamboard

Find Your Jamboard

From your Google Drive, click New -> More and then select Google Jamboard.

Now you have a blank canvas (called a frame) to create!

Notice at the top that you can keep adding more and more frames to the same board. It’s possible to have your whole class on one Jamboard, with a frame for each student.

Jamboard Tools

There are some cool tools to select along the sidebar: pens and markers, text boxes, sticky notes (my favorite), and the ability to add images, animation, and shapes. There is even a laser pointer!

Text boxes and sticky notes will automatically resize the text when you resize the box. I love that!

Choose a Background

There are only a few backgrounds to choose from, but they work fine. I personally like to upload a great big image as a background because they look pretty, but that image is easily moved or deleted. (If the Google Gods are listening, it would be AMAZING to be able to upload a background that locked! Please please please please!)

Start Creating!

Now that you have your first board, start creating!

The example at the right is a rif on our More Brains are Better resource. With this example, share this Jamboard template with four students. Each writes an individual thought on a separate sticky, then they work together to form the thought in the middle from everyone’s ideas.

The template for this Jamboard is available as a freebie to you. Get it by CLICKING HERE!

Some Jamboard Tips

Some tips. In a Jamboard. That’s kind of meta, don’t you think?

Caution!

Because there are less of the standard Google tools available in Jamboard, you sometimes want more features. There is a limited selection of colors, and you can’t change the font. Also, a big consideration for teachers is Jamboard does not have Revision History, which is why it is better suited to quick brainstorms instead of more involved group projects.

More Jamboard Ideas

Here are just a few ideas for Jamboards: Venn Diagrams, A Question of the Day board, Classroom Graphs, Brainstorming Sessions, and (my fave) An Appreciation Wall. You can even start a new wall (frame) every day and have a collection of appreciations for your students to scroll through! (I wish you could see how that cute little green bean is when he’s animated!)

Have fun with this remote resource!

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Remote Learning A-Z

Remote Learning A-Z

26 tips for remote teaching
For 26 days, we will be bringing you tips, tricks, and freebies for remote teaching! Here is the list so far:

Follow us and never miss a tip!

Remote Learning A-Z: B is for (More) Brains!

I said this before, and I’ll say it again: In a true collaborative task, the task itself cannot be completed without the thinking and work of everyone on the team. This was hard enough in the traditional classroom, but it’s even more difficult as a distance teacher and learner. In this post, I’ll show you one activity I loved using with kids and teachers, and how it’s been adapted for the remote world.

This activity, More Brains are Better, used the old teacher standby of sticky notes and paper. (Remember those good old days?) Kids were presented with a question or problem, and individually wrote their own answers on the notes. Then they got together with their groups and each post it note was put on the paper. Students shared their notes aloud, asked questions, and worked together to write a final solution or answer in the middle that represented everyone’s best ideas.

The paper for the traditional classroom looked something like this.

Now, the Remote Version!

We’ve adapted this resource for use in the remote classroom using Google Slides. Instead of students writing their thoughts on sticky notes, they create their own individual slide. Next, they paste their slide into the shared presentation of their group, present and discuss, and then work collaboratively (online) to create their final slide.

Get Yours Free!

While collaboration is still a huge challenge in the virtual world, it doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t try and find little ways for students to continue to work together. In the coming weeks we will showcase more of these resources to share with you!

This template is a freebie, available right now at Teachers Pay Teachers.

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Collaboration

Collaboration

Collaboration Should Not Be Parallel Play

thoughts by audrey

Collaboration is all the rage these days.  If you have read the Common Core State Standards (as I have many, many, times) you can’t throw a rock without hitting a standard where students need to be able to work together.  Yet what we tend to see in classrooms – those activities where two kids complete the same paper, or the group projects where three kids sit together and watch the fourth kid (also known as, me)  do all the work – let’s just stop calling that collaboration.  Even tried and true teacher tricks like Think/Pair/Share and Turn & Talk, while great strategies for engagement and developing oral language, should not give us the confidence to check off that collaboration box if that’s where the buck stops.

So what is real collaboration, and why do we do it?  

First, the why.  I know it sounds crazy, but we don’t make kids collaborate just because Common Core says so.  We do it because it’s a skill they will need for all of eternity.  When you launch kids off into collaborative activities, it’s really because you want them to learn something from each other, and to see the inherent value that comes from working with people who think differently from them.  Isn’t it?    

 “In a true collaborative task, the task itself cannot be completed without the thinking and work of everyone on the team.”

So if that’s why we are doing it, what is collaboration?  In truly authentic collaboration, everyone plays a part.  This goes far beyond the jobs we are so fond of assigning to group projects.  Just because I’m the timekeeper does not make me a valuable member of the team.  If that were the case, you might as well give a participation grade to my smartphone.  In a true collaborative task, the task itself cannot be completed without the thinking and work of everyone on the team.  In true collaboration, the product you generate is better because you had more heads involved, not just many heads and hands working in parallel with each other.  Finally, in true collaboration, each one of your students should emerge from the task thinking differently than when they started.

But what about blended learning? There is no question that in the world of technological collaboration, Google is King. Don’t believe me?  Being ever the romantic, this is my very favorite video ever about the power of collaboration in Google Docs.   

Now that I’ve made my point, on to the essential question of this post:  How do we leverage those powers to their fullest potential? How do we also keep it real by using a few tools but using them well? Read on! Here are three of my very favorite collaboration activities using Google Suite:

        

Partner Venn Diagrams

When I was teaching, every first day of school, we did a Venn Diagram on how you are feeling – happy, excited, or both.  We actually did hundreds of Venn Diagrams throughout the year, as it’s such a great tool for comparing and contrasting, synthesizing, and analyzing.  
Using Google Drawing, students can insert images and text, as well as manipulate the diagram to suit their needs.  

SUPER TIP:  before you send the link, change “edit” to “copy” and it will force your kids to make a copy of what you’ve sent. 

Choose Your Own Adventure

Remember those books?  Or, did you see the Black Mirror episode? Google Forms has this amazing feature that allows you to jump to a certain section based on responses.  It’s not as easy as it sounds to create a CYA story, and there is a LOT of learning that goes on behind the scenes when you have students storyboard their path and then go through a revision process as they test their stories on each other.

Collaborative Newsletters

I know you know that feeling: every Sunday night…laboring over a newsletter for your families?  A few years in, I cottoned on to the fact that my kids should be writing (most of) my newsletter, not me!  But as we were pre-Google (I had an overhead projector, for goodness sake), every Friday I’d split the kids up into teams and have them write something about what we did.  Then on Sunday night, I’d still be typing all their little paragraphs into a newsletter.