COVID-19 & Education: Part 13

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The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation. 

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child. 

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(www.casel.org)

2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap. 

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3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands. 

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4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time. 

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5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.  

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It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all. 

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

COVID-19 & Education: Part 12

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I started writing this post on Thursday due to news that came out a little while ago about moving ahead with video conferencing with students. And then news came out yesterday, via a memo, from our Minister of Education stating that teachers need to “embrace live video conferencing”.  Stephen Lecce and Nancy Naylor (deputy minister of education) said “while the expectation of the ministry was that educators would embrace the use of synchronous (real-time) learning during the school closure period, there has been an inconsistent uptake of this mode of learning.” The ministry is “expecting” that synchronous learning“ be used not only as whole class instruction but also for working with small groups of students in addition to one-on-one meetings. 

So, now I am finishing up this (short) blog post with my concerns about this “expectation”. There are so many issues connected to virtual meetings with students and it concerns me that the minister has either not considered these issues nor did they cross his mind in the first place. Here they are:

  • Access: Even though we are moving into Week #6 of virtual learning, many students and their families still don’t have reliable access to internet/wi-fi. How are these kids supposed to participate in these lessons when they can’t get online? What about our northern communities, where there is spotty wi-fi to begin with? Some students’ technology capacity won’t allow for logging into a virtual meeting. It’s simply not equitable. Furthermore, are the networks capable of handling such an increase in the use of these virtual meetings or will these networks crash due to the demand and increase in usage? 
  • Scheduling: How will parents and teachers set up these meetings to ensure equity? What about households that have 3 or more kids or only one device? How is that going to work? Will teachers be expected to provide multiple times and days to meet with their students? What about parents who are busy with their own at-home work schedules and have their own virtual meetings to attend, especially if there is only one device? What about parents who are not at home because they actually have to go into their workplace (this is also connected to the safety issue, which I talk about next). Additionally, there’s also the concern of screen time for kids. We need to be mindful of the amount of time our kids are spending online, in front of a screen. Time online needs to match developmental levels; for example, students in the junior division should be spending no more than 30 minutes (2-3x/week) in these types of meetings (https://bit.ly/3ch2rbm). And let’s not forget that every family has their own schedules during this challenging time. It’s not fair nor equitable to expect a student to log in at a specific time. Again, I can’t reiterate enough that we are in virtual learning due to a pandemic not for pedagogical reasons. I will go further and say this is basically emergency online learning”; it’s not homeschooling nor is it distance learning. We are in unprecedented times and I feel that many people are beginning to forget this; there will be times where kids won’t feel like logging in to a video conference because of mental health issues or because they would rather do something else (e.g., playing outside, gardening, going for a walk, playing a game with their parents/guardians, baking – which by the way is also learning). This might happen more often as the weather gets nicer and students begin to “check out”. As educators, we all know that students begin to lose focus sometime in mid- to -end of May when we are actually  “in school” so what do you think will happen now that we are online? I feel that more and more kids will choose not to engage and there are some parents who will be okay with that. Again, parents will be more concerned with their child(ren)’s well being (as they should be) and as educators, we should be too. Every parent/guardian has different expectations when it comes to virtual learning and we can’t make them all happy. That’s the reality. Of course, there are those kids that do want to connect and see their teacher and classmates face-to-face in a virtual environment because it’s good for their well being and I understand this – it just speaks to the equity piece. We have to do what’s best for our students on an individual basis. In this case, asynchronous learning (discussion boards, pre-recorded lessons, etc) provides much more flexibility and choice for students and their parents/guardians and again is equitable.

 

  • Privacy and Safety:  this is the issue that concerns me the most! I am not sure about how many stakeholders have thought of the safety and privacy issues connected with holding virtual meetings. The first depends on which platform you are using. Zoom still has privacy concerns, which apparently the company is continuing to work on. There are security concerns in terms of “Zoombombing” and hacking and there are other platforms with similar concerns. One of my biggest concerns though has to do with supervision. I believe teachers are opening themselves up to possible liabilities and legal issues. Teachers need to protect themselves and ensure there is a parent supervising the meetings. Online meetings have the potential to create issues in terms of what was done and said. If a parent is not present, a student can easily misconstrue what a teacher did and said and report back to parents, who might take action, even though what was said and done was innocent. We all know students can easily misinterpret what adults say and do. If a parent is not present, I will not recommend hosting a virtual class or meeting with students. And I would also highly recommend recording these meetings to keep yourself safe. I am not trying to scare anyone, but I have designed and delivered many workshops on virtual learning and privacy and a few teachers approached me about their experiences with parent complaints. I especially worry about male teachers who are meeting with female students – that just opens up an entirely new, different, and dangerous can of worms. Basically, I would highly recommend against conducting virtual meetings unless a parent is present and even then….just be careful and do your due diligence by documenting your meetings with notes and recording each and every meeting. It might seem excessive to some but nothing is too much when it comes to protecting yourself. We also need to remember that it’s not a competition – there are many teachers who are sharing great ideas and strategies during this time, which is awesome and then I have seen some teachers who are openly and blatantly “boasting” about how many virtual meetings and online classes they are hosting and how great these meetings are going – what we need to always keep in mind is what is good for our students, what is best for them, and doing right by them. It’s not about us, it’s about them. 

COVID-19 & Education: Part 11

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For this week’s blog post, I was going to write about the future of education due to COVID-19; there are many lessons to be learned and several changes that I would like to see moving forward. But I am going to save that for Tuesday’s post.

Today, I’d like to talk about well being. We are all going through a range of emotions and dealing with our own challenges due to this pandemic. Some of these feelings include sadness, anxiety, fear, stress, and being overwhelmed for a variety of reasons. Due to social and physical distancing measures, we can’t see our family and friends in the ways in which we are used to (e.g. girls night, dinner and drinks, movies, shopping, games night, etc), which makes many of us very unhappy and sad. Some of us are stressed out due to trying to balance our own work schedule with that of our kids. Many of us are anxious, wondering when a treatment or vaccine will be found and life can get back to “normal”. 

When we experience these feelings, our body releases stress hormones, which increases blood pressure and heart rate and causes us to feel scared.  So, it’s important to think about what will help you to relax and destress when you are experiencing these feelings. I can’t stress enough that your well-being (and that of your family and friends) is most important during this time; nothing else matters. You need to take time for yourself and do things that help you in terms of your wellness and alleviate those feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness. So, in that regard, I created a few Wellness Bingo Cards and I pick 1 or 2 things everyday to brighten my day and help me cope with being stuck inside everyday. Yesterday, I had an hour long phone conversation with one of my best friends, Lisa and I had a virtual girls night with some of my favourite girls from a school in which I previously worked –  2 hours of laughs! Made my day!

Here are three cards:

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Today, I will be doing a hair mask (equal parts castor and coconut oil), a mini-facial, and finishing Season 1 of the Simpsons! What will you choose for yourself today?

I will create some more Wellness Bingo Cards as I think of more ways that we can take care of ourselves over the next few months (if you have an idea, please let me know. I will add it to my list). Please take care and be sure to reach out to family and friends when you are feeling down!

In the meantime…something to make you laugh…

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COVID-19 & Education: Part 10

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In my last blog post (https://bit.ly/3cNOW31), I talked about the components of digital citizenship and the importance of integrating each one in the classroom. Digital citizenship is much more than teaching our kids how to stay safe online. It’s about engaging our students on a global scale to affect social change. It’s about integrating inquiry, social justice, and equity to drive social change. It’s about building lasting relationships. It’s about collaboration, thinking critically, and problem solving.

 Social media is a great way to connect locally, nationally, and globally to discuss issues related to equity and inclusion. How are we using it to connect with other teachers to enhance and deepen learning? How are we using big ideas and driving questions to amplify and strengthen the learning? I wrote blog posts about this several years ago (Inquiry Part One, Inquiry Part Two, and Inquiry Part Three) as well as one about inquiry and the United Nations SDGs (Inquiry and SDGs). I will continue to write about these topics in future blog posts. 

For this short blog post, I’d like to talk about how we can build relationships with our families and communities using social media. I know many schools have a Twitter account as well as an Instagram account. So, how are we using these two platforms to connect with our students and our families? First of all we need to realize that all our families are dealing with our current climate in different ways due to the different circumstances they are in (e.g., frontline workers, illness, loss of jobs, etc). How can we leverage Twitter and Instagram to reach out to our families and check on their well-being and give them some semblance of hope and during these times? Here are four ideas:

  1. Gratitude Prompts: post a daily gratitude prompt. I post a #GratitudePromptOfTheDay on my Twitter Feed every morning and it helps in terms of being thankful for what we have, taking pleasure in the ‘small stuff’ as well as providing hope for getting through this pandemic. Post one prompt on your Twitter and/or Instagram feed every morning. Here are a few examples:

1. Who made you smile in the last 24 hours?

2. What book are you grateful for reading?

3. What modern invention are you thankful for?

4. What is your favourite way to enjoy nature?

  • Learning Prompts: This is a time where we all need to realize that learning is much more than the curriculum. Parents included. Posting daily or weekly learning prompts, which integrate learning with family time is ideal. I recognize that this might not be possible for all families due to their circumstances, but here are a few examples where family time can be used in conjunction with learning that can be posted on your social media accounts:
  1. baking and cooking
  2. gardening
  3. sewing/knitting
  4. arts and crafts
  • Quotes: post daily quotes related to gratitude, hope, and optimism. We all wish for life to get “back to normal” and hope is one of those emotions we all rely on to get us through the anxiety and fear some of us might be feeling; it’s important to let them know that there is light at the end of this very long dark tunnel. Here’s one quote:

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  • Chats: hosting a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly ‘slow chat’ (post a question and participants answer at their leisure, basically an asynchronous chat). You can post questions to check in to see how families are doing. Some simple questions
  1. How are you?
  2. What went well this week/month?
  3. What didn’t go well? How can we help?

I realize that not every family has access to technology so they won’t be able to access these platforms, which just demonstrates the digital inequities present; so again, how do we solve this problem? I’ve continued to reiterate how virtual learning in the face of this pandemic has brought these inequities to light and I find many stakeholders are continuing to use the band-aid approach and thinking of equity as a short term strategy instead of an institutional commitment.   

As humans, we are social creatures and we thrive on relationships, socializing, and face to face interactions. Using social media is also a great way to connect families with each other in order to build community. In the interim, this is one thing we can do to emotionally support our families (in addition to phone calls and emails). It is my sincere hope that schools are using their social media platforms to connect with their families and reassure them that their well being is of the utmost importance.

COVID-19 & Education: Part 9

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I hope everyone is keeping well and staying safe! Last week I talked about humanity in education during this time of crisis (https://bit.ly/3af26UJ)  and I will continue to discuss this aspect of education during the COVID-19 pandemic in later blog posts. 

The switch to virtual learning has been challenging for several reasons:

    1. Educator’s comfort level (knowledge/experience)
    2. Student’s comfort level (knowledge/experience)
    3. Parent’s comfort level (knowledge/experience)
    4. Access to technology (digital equity)
    5.  Meeting the needs of all learners (differentiation & UDL)
    6. Building online communities (relationships)
    7. Privacy and Safety (digital citizenship)

In today’s post, I’d like to focus on digital citizenship. Digital citizenship is part of digital literacy and it is much more than ensuring privacy, staying safe and being responsible online. If practiced effectively, digital citizenship also teaches students how to connect with one another, build relationships, and develop empathy and other habits of mind (e.g., open-minded, fair-mindedness, compassion, etc). The elements associated with digital citizenship need to be developed in our students and there’s not a better time than now to integrate these principles in our teaching and learning. 

In a nutshell, digital citizenship includes:

  1. Safety: Passwords should not be related to anything personal (e.g., birthday, phone number, etc) or generic (e.g., 1234, password, etc). Additionally, passwords should have a combination of upper and lowercase letters, a number, and/or a special character. The same goes for PIN numbers in banking; ensure that these codes are not related to anything personal or private. And never write your password down anywhere and never use the same password and/or code across multiple sites! It’s also important for them to know that locking their phone adds another measure of security. Students also need to know about identity theft, phishing (a term used to describe an individual or individuals who try and scam users by sending e-mails or creating websites in order to collect an your online banking information, credit card information, or username and passwords to obtain login information), viruses, anti-virus software, VPNs, and facial recognition technology. 
  2. Privacy: When creating social media accounts  or profiles through various sites and organizations, don’t share personal information (e.g., address, phone number, school names, names of friends and family, list of favourite things, where you hang out, etc). This information can be used by unsavoury individuals to get close to students. Also be careful giving out any email addresses. Most importantly, it is important to be mindful of pictures being posted. Pictures can be tracked using geotagging and pictures can give away information (e.g., street names, landmarks, etc). 
  3. Internet Knowledge: students need to know how the internet works; in other words, how does data flow through the internet? Terms like networks’, ‘packets’, ‘checkpoints’, ‘user data’, anddomain names’ need to be taught to students.  They also should know the difference between hardware and software. Furthermore, they need to understand that nothing is truly ever gone even if they hit ‘delete’. 
  4. Internet Use: Not only do students need to know how the internet works but they need to understand how to use the internet in meaningful and legitimate ways.  This includes obtaining permission to use images, citing sources, copyright, intellectual property, and how to effectively Google a topic. (more on this in another blog post).
  5. Literacy Skills: In relation to internet use, students need to develop literacy skills while using the internet. Two main issues students need to be aware of are fake news and click baiting. In the era of social media, fake news has proliferated and students need to learn to understand the difference between what is fake and what is not. Fake news is news that is widely biased or false. How are students being taught to discern the difference? How are they being taught what is information and what is misinformation? This pandemic has resulted in so much misleading information, it’s hard to keep up! A great way to teach students about fake news is to explore and examine the information being published everyday about COVID-19! This helps to develop important skills such as critical thinking, evaluating, and judging. In recent days, both “Dr. Phil” and “Dr. Oz” have come under fire for their comments (last week it was Ellen DeGeneres). Dr. Phil said that the States didn’t have to shut down or enforce quarantine due to the coronavirus because there are thousands of deaths from drowning and car accidents and we “don’t shut down the country for that.” “Dr. Phil” is missing a big piece of the puzzle here- car accidents and drownings are NOT contagious! This is the conclusion we would want our students to arrive at if they were thinking critically. “Dr.Oz” said opening schools is “an appetizing opportunity” and  “opening schools would only cost us 2-3% in terms of total mortality”. What conclusion would we want our students to come to after doing their due diligence in terms of the research? These two ‘doctors’ are not qualified to speak about the virus because they are not specialized in the areas of infectious diseases and epidemiology. In the past, Jenny McCarthy, who is also not qualified to speak about medical issues, convinced many that they shouldn’t get their child(ren) vaccinated because it causes autism. What are the ethics & legalities involved in these kinds of comments and situations? What we need to remember and what we hope our students will come to realize and understand is that celebrities are NOT heroes; they are entertainers. The real heroes are our firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, etc. Students should also learn about click bait. Click bait and fake news are closely related. Click bait is any video, website, or headline where the main purpose is for the reader to click on the link based on their interest; the main goals being to earn revenue and display ads. Most of the time, these links take the reader to fake news! Another major objective is for some of these website owners to infect the user’s computer with malware. (More to come on fake news and click bait in another blog post).
  6. Netiquette: related to literacy skills, netiquette is about how to respectfully and meaningfully interact online. This includes: (a) respecting each other’s experiences and background knowledge (b) disagreeing with something that someone has said in a respectful manner, (c) proofreading to ensure your message conveys what you intend to convey; be sure spelling and grammar are correct to ensure ease of reading, (d)respecting everyone’s time and other commitments during group work activities to ensure assignments meet the required deadlines; everyone participating and sharing the work, (e) providing constructive feedback, (f) responding to different colleagues so we can build community as well as learning from a variety of participants. If you are participating in an online meeting, be sure you are on time and dressed appropriately 🙂

 Having said this, there is a difference between how we should interact socially  versus academically in virtual environments. While many of the guidelines above should apply to both types of interactions, grammar and spelling might not be the focus when interacting in a social manner. Many social media platforms have their own lingo and short form, which is fine to use during your conversations. I am also a fan of adding emojis, GIFs, and memes to enhance your message (again, be mindful of your audience).

7. Footprint: do students know about “digital footprints”? Do they know what is “out there” in terms of their information? I had/have my students Google themselves once a month. When I first started this, some of my Grade 8s were shocked at some of the pictures they found of themselves online. They would say things like “How did that get there?” and “How do I get this off of here?”. Students need to be cognizant of the fact that their digital footprint determines how they are perceived.  They need to know and understand that employers and companies will Google them when they are applying for jobs and if they don’t like what they see and find, they will not get the job. This is why it’s so important for students to determine how they want to be perceived and start building their brand; this can include an online portfolio, social media presence, a website, blog, etc.

8. Social Action: how are students using technology to initiate social change? How are students building relationships by learning together across dimensions (within class, across classes, across grades, locally, nationally, and internationally)? How are students using big ideas and driving questions with a social justice lens to jumpstart social change? Inclusion? Equity? How are these learning opportunities allowing students the opportunities to develop habits of mind (empathy, compassion, open-mindedness, etc.)?

9. Health – last but not least, how are we teaching students about their amount of screen time? Do they know they should be taking frequent breaks in terms of their eye health (20, 20, 20 rule)? Do they know that they should take prolonged breaks from the screen and engage in other activities? Do they know how the amount of time spent in front of a screen can negatively impact their brain? Many of us have “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) but we need to teach our students (and maybe ourselves too) that we need to focus on other activities such as reading, playing outside, game nights with family, eating well, and exercising. 

I know this sounds like a lot and it is, but we must integrate these concepts into the classroom. It is so important for students to know and understand these factors. If students do not develop good digital citizenship skills, it will result in cyberbullying, mental health issues, safety concerns, and inappropriate and sometimes dangerous use of social media platforms. How can we integrate in our classrooms? 

We’ve heard the term “digital natives” but I disagree with this term to a certain extent. Students might know how to navigate social media platforms for social reasons but they don’t necessarily know how to leverage technology  for academic and learning purposes. In this time of virtual learning, I am hearing from a lot of teachers who are telling me that their students are not only posting inappropriate responses but that they don’t know the basics of the LMS they are using (e.g., Google Classroom, Brightspace, etc.). For example, they are not sure how to post pictures or upload their assignments. So in addition to planning lessons and activities, teachers are also posting instructions about how to navigate the LMS itself. These issues highlight the fact that students are not digital natives and need to be explicitly taught the finer points of using technology for their learning. There are also concerns about how students use social media. They post or send inappropriate pictures, give out personal information without knowing who is on the other side, and use easy to guess passwords. This is why it’s so important to incorporate the 9 areas I mentioned above. 

Here are some ideas:

  1. Google: have students Google themselves and see what they find
  2. Twitter: have students find examples of tweets that are respectful versus those that are mean & can be classified as bullying
  3. Norms: have students generate a list of norms for appropriate behaviour online (use padlet, mentimeter, etc)
  4. Privacy: have students practice how to “blur out” faces in pictures
  5. Privacy: have students read the privacy policies of different sites; who owns the information? Where is the information stored?
  6. Movies:  have students watch a futuristic/sci-fi movie from a list you provide (from the 90s and early 2000s); have students investigate which technology is now available that wasn’t during the making of the movie? What would be some of the concerns? What are the advantages? What is a happy medium? Which technology is still not available? Why? When do you think it will be available? What are the pros/cons?
  7. Literacy Skills: have students go to Tree Octopus to investigate the site. Do they buy into it? Do they believe what’s on the site?
  8. Images: have students find Google images and determine copyright. How do they accurately cite the image?

Another example related to Literacy Skills:

Have students investigate the pandemic (be mindful of those students who might not want to due to trauma & anxiety). Students can find the research (so much out there!) and these are some of the areas/questions they can explore that have an inquiry mindset:

  1. What will the history texts say about the pandemic in 2050? Did we react too slowly? Did we not do enough at the start of the pandemic?
  2. What will history say about the way the various world leaders handled the pandemic? Trudeau vs Trump? What about leaders in Europe? Asia? Africa? Australia? How did various leaders handle the pandemic? (You can also do a ranking ladder with students, where the ranking will change depending on the information they find)
  3. Which leader do you think handled the pandemic most effectively? Why?
  4. Which leader do you think didn’t handled the pandemic least effectively? Why? 
  5. What fake news and misinformation is out there? What can/did you find? (e.g., “Dr Phil”, “Dr. Oz”, etc)
  6. How can we better prepare for the next pandemic or global catastrophe?
  7. What lessons do we need to learn/should we learn regarding COVID-19?
  8. There was a lot of conversation and dialogue about economic impact vs human health/safety. What do you think? What are your views/thoughts?
  9. Have students look at and compare how different newspapers reported on COVID-19. What are the differences in terms of content? Perspectives? Voices? Visuals/graphics? Why do you think certain newspapers reported on it differently? Go global and have students read newspapers from different countries.
  10. Have students look at and compare how different news outlets reported on COVID-19. What were the leading stories? Which order were the topics covered in? Why? What are the differences in terms of content? Perspectives? Voices? Visuals/graphics? Why do you think certain news outlets reported on it differently? 

Digital citizenship comes down to these 4 Principles:

  1. Being Safe
  2. Being Smart
  3. Being Social Change Agents
  4. Being Social 

Digital citizenship not only keeps our kids safe but it also engages in them in meaningful learning opportunities and experiences, which engages them on a global scale to enact change, make a difference, and develop habits of mind.

COVID-19 & Education: Part 8

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First of all, I wanted to wish a Happy Easter and Passover to those celebrating!

We just finished our first week of online learning. A few of my students logged on to participate in our first gratitude prompt and complete their first math activity. I will also be calling families next week to check in on everyone. My main goal is to see how they are doing and to reassure them that the main focus continues to be their health and wellness. In terms of learning, I will be posting choice boards on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This will include (but not limited to) math and science activities; the math is based on concepts related to the curriculum but I am also going to continue to include games, puzzles, and brain teasers to keep the atmosphere fun and light and the science will consist of short inquiry assignments broken into small steps, video, case studies, and trivia. They will be encouraged to complete these activities as they see fit for which I will provide them ongoing descriptive feedback. (I will be providing sample choice boards in my next post). 

Many educators are doing a fantastic job of providing engaging and differentiated activities, communicating with families, and ensuring the well-being of their students; this should be the main focus going forward. The one thing we need to continue to be mindful of is that we can not dictate what our students are doing at home. Work and activities can be assigned but there shouldn’t be any expectations in terms of completion dates and deadlines. In a nutshell, it’s all optional as the work can not and should not be graded due to the significant equity issues. (https://bit.ly/2xbkzEx). 

During this challenging time, I keep revisiting one word – “humanity”. How are we ensuring we are focusing on the humanity aspect during this difficult time, no matter who we are?

I did hear from one parent (via social media) and what she told me was disheartening. She told me her son’s teacher assigned work, which was due at the end of the week. When this mom told the teacher it wouldn’t be possible, the teacher proceeded to tell the mom why each assignment was important and why it must be completed. The teacher even gave the parent a sample schedule to follow! I am presuming positive intentions and thinking that the teacher was trying to be helpful but clearly this upset the mom even further and added undue stress on her already stressful life.  

This should make all of us pause and reflect. Reflect on our privilege. Some of our families have lost their jobs and are worried about how to pay the bills and how to feed their kids. We are very privileged to still have a job and receiving a steady paycheque. Many of us don’t have to worry about food or shelter. Privilege. Many are stressed about how to juggle working from home, taking care of their kids, and in some instances their elderly parents (as I am sure many of you are) and now there is the added component of home-schooling their children, which has added more stress to their lives. Therefore, it’s important that we continue to show compassion, empathy, and humanity (i.e., telling that mother that her son can do as much or as little as he wants depending on what is going on at home). I also think about those kids who are in homes where this is domestic abuse; that is heightened at this time with everyone being inside, especially those homes that have access to firearms. Learning and doing school work is the last thing on their mind (school was their safe place). Again, let’s pause and reflect on that. Many of us don’t have to worry about being in such a household. Privilege. I worry about those kids who might not have a (quiet) space in which to work because of the number of people in the house. I worry about those kids whose parents can’t support them due to language issues. I worry about those kids whose parents/guardians can’t support them due to their own educational background. Many of us don’t have to worry about that. Privilege. We have families who were living in poverty before this pandemic started and now it’s been exacerbated due to the impacts of COVID-19.  Many of us don’t fall into this category. Privilege. 

At this time, we need to be even more responsive to our students and do what is best for them. Being responsive doesn’t change but it does look different. The stress on everyone is unbelievable. Social emotional well being should be heightened at this time. What about some of our students who might be dealing with a family member or relative who might be afflicted with COVID-19 or even worse, died because of this deadly virus? (e.g., How many of our students are accessing Kids Help Phone?). How will they feel about the education system as a whole if we are focusing more on the learning than the social emotional component right now? How will they feel about us and ‘schooling’ (when we eventually return), if we are placing unrealistic academic expectations on them during this time? What does it say about our priorities? These are not normal times. We have moved to virtual learning due to a pandemic not due to pedagogical reasons. Right now, they need to know we care; how are we showing that? What are we doing? Are we listening to them and following  their lead? Are we showing them our vulnerable side; that we are anxious, scared, and frustrated just like them? We are relating to our kids and their families on a human level. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this – again, humanity. 

So again, lets please pause, reflect,  and be responsive to the realities of our students and their families. We need to give them space and continue to demonstrate empathy, compassion, and humanity. One day at a time. Small steps. 

Let’s get back to the “digital divide” and virtual learning for a minute. Let’s think about:

  • Access/SES
  • Environment/Support
  • Motivation

Access/SES

We can throw all the technology at students we want and call it closing the digital divide or solving the digital equity issue, but it’s not even close. How is returning the technology at the end of all this, closing the divide? How is deactivating their wi-fi capabilities at the end of all this, closing the divide? What message is this sending to our students and their families? This is NOT how you solve this problem. 

Environment/Support

We can throw all the technology at students we want and call it closing the digital divide or solving the digital equity issue, but what about the environment in which the student is working? Do they have a space in which to work? Do they have the materials they need (pencil, ruler, calculator, manipulatives, scissors, glue, paper, etc.)? Do they have parents/guardians who have the background knowledge to help? Do they have parents/guardians who have fluent English language skills? Do parents/guardians have the time to help (parents who work night shifts, parents who work multiple jobs, etc)?

Motivation 

We can throw all the technology at students we want and call it closing the digital divide or solving the digital equity issue, but what about intrinsic motivation? How are we personalizing the learning? How are we individualizing the learning? How are we differentiating the learning to meet their needs? How are we integrating their passions? Interests? How are we ensuring equity in assessment in terms of feedback driving their learning versus assigning grades?

Kids who have all these resources will be fine (access to tech, bandwidth, parental support in terms of finances & education) and I am afraid the equity gap will just get wider if we are not proactive right now. Right now, we are using the short-term Band-Aid strategy and that is understandable because no one saw this pandemic coming. But it should be a wake up call for education systems everywhere that we need to place the focus on digital equity. These opportunity gaps (in addition to the engagement gap, I mentioned earlier) will continue to affect the achievement gap. How are we planning forward? Instead of having students return the technology at the end of this nightmare, how are we solving the bigger problem?  As I said in my first blog post in this series, digital equity is an institutional commitment not a strategy. 

We’ve been hearing the phrase, “We’re in this together.”, a lot lately and the more I think about it, the more I wonder about this phrase. Yes, we are all impacted by COVID-19, but we are impacted in different ways. As I mentioned earlier, some of us are better off than others. Some of us feel safe in our house while others may not feel safe because they have an abusive partner in the house. Some of us aren’t wanting for food, while others have lost their jobs and are worried about putting food on the table. Recently, Ellen Degeneres came under fire for her comments when she compared being quarantined to being in jail. Many, rightfully so, called her out on her privilege and ignorance because not only was she speaking from her ‘huge mansion’  but also because as a celebrity, she didn’t have to worry about access to essential services and resources due to her financial means. Some came out to defend her, saying she’s a comedian and that’s part of her job, which is true but this is a time where all celebrities need to acknowledge how lucky and privileged they really are; how good they really have it. 

Another way I look at it, is in terms of sitting on a plane. My friend, Mike and I have been using the plane analogy when we’ve been discussing the many issues related to this pandemic and education. We might all be sitting on the same ‘pandemic’ plane but due to the privilege some of us hold and the inequities in the system, some of us are sitting comfortably in first class while others are fighting for legroom and space in economy class. And we all know there are factors that determine who is sitting in a particular part of the plane (race, SES, gender, etc). So, even if we’re not a celebrity with unlimited access to resources, some of us are still better off than others.  

Normal depends on what we’re used to. Expectations are based on experiences. Let’s remind ourselves that our reality isn’t necessarily someone else’s reality. Let’s continue to show empathy, compassion, and most importantly, humanity.

H – humble

U – understanding

M – mindful

A – authentic

N – nurturing 

I – inclusive

T – thoughtful

Y – you matter!!!

When we know better, we must do better. Let’s do better 🙂

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COVID-19 & Education: Part 7

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In Ontario, we started online learning with our students yesterday. I posted a Welcome Back message, which included acknowledging how we are feeling at this time (e.g., anxious, worried, confused, and missing our friends) and I am here for them if needed. Then I asked my students to name three things for which they are grateful and I provided a short activity to get things started (http://wodb.ca/). 

I see a lot of teachers working hard to meet the needs of their students, whether it is academically or social emotionally. This is new learning for a lot of educators and it will be trial and error moving forward. This can be seen with the ever-changing guidelines, policies, and procedures every week; the most significant being the use of virtual platforms. I know many districts in the States started using Zoom with their students. My district is not using any type of audio or video conferencing platforms with students due to privacy issues, so we can’t use a platform like Zoom nor can we use Google Meet or Microsoft Teams (although we are using Teams to meet as a staff). Because we are not allowed to use these tools, it does limit us in terms of what we can do and how we can do it with our classes. 

Due to new information being gleaned, many districts are now moving away from Zoom due to privacy issues and as someone with a background in educational technology, it has been very interesting and informative to follow what is happening not just in North America but around the world. The latest  numbers indicate that more than 90,000 schools are using Zoom and the app has been the most downloaded app since March (Konrad, 2020). Many experts, districts, educators, and parents, rightfully so, are worried about how their child(ren)’s/students personal data might be used and therefore, several districts have now banned educators from using Zoom as a virtual learning platform.

It seems like Zoom’s existing security practices might not be sufficient to adapt to the recent and sudden surge in both the volume and sensitivity of data. The company has been slow to address security flaws & vulnerabilities amidst the increased usage of their platform, which includes:

  • Third parties gaining access to webcams
  • Sharing data with Facebook
  • Other organizations with which they share data (e.g., LinkedIn)
  • Identifying the categories of data that they collect
  • Hackers interrupting sessions (“zoombombing”)

Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, in a recent blog post, stated, “I am committed to being open and honest with you.” (Yuan, 2020). He has promised to stop the development of new meeting features and ensure the company’s engineers focus on privacy and security issues moving forward. He has also committed to holding weekly town hall meetings focused on these issues (Yuan, 2020). Here is the link to the updated privacy policy (https://bit.ly/3c0BZSM). 

Therefore, some districts have moved to other platforms like Google Hangouts/Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Whichever platform schools and districts are using, we need to keep several guidelines in mind:

Virtual Meetings

Factors to Consider Ideas/Strategies/Rationale
1. Limit Screen Time Primary

*10-15 minutes, 2-3 times a week

Junior

*30 minutes, 2-3 times a week

Intermediate

*45-60 minutes, 3 times a week

Senior

*60 minutes, 3-4 times a week

2. Provide students time to connect socially 
  • Gratitude prompts/questions
  • Icebreaker questions
  • Student led questions
  • Let them know you are there for them
  • Activity ideas (games, baking, drawing, colouring, etc)
3. Make use of the chat features & screen sharing
  • Answer student questions
  • Comments regarding the conversation/learning
  • Connect socially (see #2)
  • Share slides, websites, docs, etc (teachers and students)
4. Make use of breakout rooms
  • Group students (change it up)
  1. Based on interest
  2. Random
  3. Different goals/objectives
  4. Research topics
  • Assign and vary student leader in each group
5. Small group check-ins
  • Meet with students in small groups to focus the learning
  • Meet with students in small groups based on need (differentiation)
  • Meet with small groups based on interest (use of choice)

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to virtual learning. There are many subject areas that are all different in terms of needs, resources, and supports. There are some subjects that are more amenable to being transferred to an online environment whereas others not so much. Subjects like language, history, and geography are easier to translate online than subjects like science (laboratory component), phys-ed, drama, music, home ec, and construction, etc. Even mathematics can be challenging to instruct online because of the difficulty of using manipulatives and other tools to explain mathematical concepts. Therefore, different grade levels and different subjects require different approaches to virtual learning. This is why it’s important to have a combination of synchronous (live learning in which students learn with the teacher at the same time) and asynchronous (students learning independently at different times) approaches (e.g., practicing your instrument on your own, experimenting with a variety of recipes, and physical activities outside/inside).

Yes, we need to get the technology and wi-fi capabilities in their hands. I worry about those kids who don’t have their technology yet; how are they going to feel when they log in and see the work that has been assigned (and some with due dates)? Stressed, I would imagine. At the end of the day, it is up to the families on what is being completed at home. Provide short activities for them to complete each week and try to relate the learning to everyday activities.

Right now, the rules and guidelines are out the window. Each family needs to be treated on an individual basis. We have always talked about being responsive to the needs of our students and this shouldn’t change; there isn’t a more important time than now to be responsive to our students and their families. 


Be well. Be kind. 

kind

References

  1. Konrad, A. (2020). All eyes on Zoom: how the at-home era’s breakout tool is coping with surging demand – and scrutiny. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2020/04/03/all-eyes-on-zoom-how-the-at-home-eras-breakout-tool-is-coping-with-surging-demand-and-scrutiny/#5b445fd557f3
  2. Yuan, E. (2020). A message to our users. Zoom Blog. https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/04/01/a-message-to-our-users/

 

COVID-19 & Education: Part 6

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My mind is spinning at the moment and my brain hurts, so I’ve decided that I will write about online platforms tomorrow. For now, some random thoughts as I begin virtual learning with my Grade 6s tomorrow 🙂

I finished setting up my online classroom for my Grade 6 students this afternoon using D2L’s Brightspace platform. In Ontario, our students will “return to school” tomorrow via virtual learning. Through conversations with colleagues on Twitter, I have seen many school boards and districts inundate educators with emails and resources about how to transition to online learning and while these emails and resources have mentioned student wellness, I still feel like the system is missing a significant aspect the humanity aspect! Where is the humanity in our education system? I have seen guidelines being released, which includes “online etiquette” and “deadlines” for students. It still shocks me that many districts are expecting students to replicate a school day, online and adhering to strict timelines. The main theme throughout my posts has been that of “wellness”; focusing on this is the utmost importance right now and not the limited scope of our curriculum.

How we choose to behave and the actions we take in our current world will eventually become our world.  So what is our focus? What is important? If anything, this pandemic, should make us ALL realize that family, friends, and our health are the most important things; nothing else matters! We can and should demand better! How will this be reflected in our education system moving forward?

I posted a message for my students, welcoming them back and asking them how they are doing. I also posted their first icebreaker question (i.e., “What three things are you grateful for?”). It is so important for them to stop, acknowledge, and appreciate what they are thankful for during this time. I will continue to post some fun, light-hearted icebreaker questions to keep the learning environment enjoyable. I’m also going to post a short math prompt per day (i.e., Which One Doesn’t Belong, Would You Rather, and Number Talks) that they can take a few days to complete. As for science, I will be posting an inquiry driven assignment, broken down into smaller steps, that they can complete each week. That’s it, that’s all. They will also have activities suggested to them by their Language and Social Studies teacher, so tasks need to be short and to the point. Again, you can not replicate a normal school day into an online environment – it’s just not good pedagogy nor does it embody common sense. 

I will also be sure to connect with families over the phone to see how everyone is doing. I want to ensure my students and their parents/guardians are doing well, that they have the most current information, and that it’s okay if their kids are not focused on their learning or not completing all of the work assigned. It’s okay! This is why it’s so important to let parents know that everyday family activities are a part of learning.  Baking – fractions! Gardening – measurement, geometry, and science! Finishing the basement – numbers & decimals (and so much more)! Gratitude journals – writing! And the list goes on. I have an extensive list of resources and ideas that I will be sharing tomorrow.

I continue to be concerned about digital equity issues and if students will actually receive the technology they are supposed to receive. Even so, another significant concern I have is that of my ESL students. Even if they do receive the technology, many do not have the parental support they need. What I mean by this is the parents of ESL students, themselves, have very little English, if any at all. How are they supposed to support their children? Many are just getting used to life in Canada, some still don’t have jobs, and some have lost their jobs. This job stress goes for all of our parents in our communities – and they’re supposed to also keep up with their child(ren)’s learning? Hmmm…..Even if schools and teachers provide paper packages to these students, how are parents supposed to support that work? What does this look like? C’mon, what are we doing here? We can not be forcing unrealistic expectations at this time due to equity issues and the stress families are facing. All of these concerns just proves we all need to take a few steps back (if not many) and think about the humanity aspect of this entire situation. How do we want to be remembered when we look back at this pandemic in 2050?

As a sports fan, I love sports analogies so remember, that good teaching is like good coaching; you don’t force your players to fit your game plan, you have to adjust your game plan to fit your players. 

Adjust expectations. Small steps. Short activities. Check in. 

Lastly, an administrator once told me the best resource is human resource; we are each other’s best resource at this time – so reach out to your colleagues for ideas, strategies, and most importantly to discuss your wellness! 

Tomorrow, I will share resources as well as talking about a few different platforms being used right now for virtual learning (e.g., Brightspace, Google Classroom, and Zoom).

folks

COVID-19 & Education: Part 5

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A lot of teachers will be starting virtual learning next week with their students. Many teachers already have, especially in the United States. Most of them are using Zoom as their virtual learning environment, which has its own issues including issues related to privacy. I’ll get into that in my next blog post.

For now, I’d like to keep this post short. 

First of all, I’d like everyone to take a deep breath, or take a couple of deep breaths!

Breathe

While it’s important for our students to continue their learning, it is unrealistic to replicate a regular school day at home. Every family will need to determine what works best for them based on their needs, schedules, and well-being (we know that many children are experiencing anxiety, missing their friends, and the routine of school). This is why, and I will continue to reiterate this, the curriculum shouldn’t be the focus right now. Next week, we should be taking the time to reconnect with our students on a personal level. We can’t and shouldn’t be jumping straight into delivering lessons and assignments. For the first week, let’s do some icebreakers with our kids, play a game, share some funny GIFs and memes, and most importantly ask them how they are doing. Set up some norms for online learning using Jamboard (Google app). Then assign a short activity for them to complete, if they so choose. “If they so choose” being the operative term because you can’t dictate what students and families are going to do during this time:

  • Some parents/guardians are more concerned about their child’s mental health
  • Some parents/guardians are worried about money & their jobs
  • Some parents/guardians are in the medical profession and just want to make it through the day
  • Some parents/guardians aren’t home because they have to go into work
  • Some parents/guardians have more than 2 kids and not enough devices

In other words, for some parents, their first concern isn’t the curriculum. They have enough to deal with right now without the added, unrealistic expectations that are being rolled out for the continuation of learning. And this is a reason why I continue to have issues with the fact that students will be graded moving forward. 

Yes, we have to do our due diligence and make an effort to engage our students in the learning, but the ultimate decision is up to families. If there is increased absenteeism as we move forward, so be it. As I’ve said before, check in and provide a choice of activities for students to complete. Here are four things to keep in mind:

Four Components

  1. Take it Slow
  • Connect personally with families
  • Check to see how students are doing socially emotionally
  • Play icebreaker games, share jokes, share funny memes and GIFs
  1. Keep it Short
  • One or two things a day (short 20-30 minute activity OR long term assignment broken down in steps)
  • Connect with colleagues to create integrated learning opportunities 
  1. Personalize
  • Use of choice boards
  • Make use of their interests & passions
  • Choice of book to read & inquiry questions
  1. Check-in
  • Regularly through emails or phone
  • Google Forms, Jamboard, etc

For example, as an MST (Math, Science, Technology) teacher, you can provide one math prompt/rich question a day (20-30 minutes) or real life activities (baking, cooking, redesigning a room) by the use of a choice board. In science, an inquiry based assignment that they can work on a little bit each day (another 30-60 minutes). 

This is also a great time to leverage social media. Many schools have a Twitter account and I encourage schools to use this platform to share what is happening in their communities! I will be creating an Instagram account for my school to create prompts, share the learning happening, and wellness tips. 

One of the important things to remember moving forward is to have patience and respond with empathy & compassion to your students, parents, colleagues and of course, yourself. Continue to teach from a student-centered mindset. 

Tips for Teachers:

  • Take time for self-care of yourself
  • Go slow!!!
  • Connect with colleagues for support and help (phone calls, emails, GHO, etc)
  • Form small teams to share ideas (e.g., grade level, subject area, etc) & use Google Drive to collate ideas
  • Planning Time teachers (i.e, Music, Phys-ed, Healthy, Art, Drama, Core French, and Health) can join a small group to provide ideas related to their subject area
  • Integrate! This is a great time to integrate expectations and ideas from different subject areas 
  • Have students complete one short activity everyday or one longer activity for the week. It’s not about recreating FTF online!!
  • Resist the urge to add another tool or trick or bell & whistle until later, or if at all
  • Plan for as many asynchronous activities as you can (limit group chats
  • Leverage social media (Twitter, Instagram)
  • Create a weekly calendar 
  • Create a choice board for students 
  • Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing; you know your students best, do what is right for each of them (it’s not a competition)

Tips for Parents:

  • Keep an eye on your child’s well being & let them talk about their feelings
  • Keep an eye on their body language, facial expressions, and reactions
  • Do what you feel is right for your child(ren) – you know them best!
  • Reach out for support

Tips for Administrators:

  • Regular communication & updates (emails, online meetings, etc)
  • Check on teacher wellness (phone calls, emails, etc)
  • Cut back on expectations
  • Ensuring kids have access to food and social emotional support
  • Understanding & supportive
  • Leverage social media
  • Self care

This is our new reality, our new normal. Reach out, support one another, and take care of yourselves.

Be well!

well

My next post will provide more strategies and ideas related to learning.

COVID-19 & Education: Part 4

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I never intended to turn this into a series of posts but I am slowly losing my mind reading and hearing stories from parents and educators around the world about the expectations moving forward as we continue to battle the fallout from COVID-19! And today, our minister of education announced that schools will be closed until at least May 4th, so we will be moving towards virtual learning. Part of this announcement also included the fact that students will still be graded and receive June report cards, which I have an issue with for a variety of reasons. 

I know I must sound like a broken record, but the focus right now needs to be on wellness over curriculum. I am by no means saying that learning is not important but what it does highlight is that learning doesn’t just come from the curriculum. As I’ve said before, we need to lighten up on meeting curriculum expectations; now is a great time to redefine what learning looks like. Learning goes way beyond the parameters of what the curriculum defines as learning. Taking time away from the standard curriculum opens up opportunities for children to explore their interests and passions. I am hearing stories of kids baking, cooking, gardening, coding, drawing, reading, creating mazes & obstacle courses, and helping their parents build the basement. Life skills, people!!! 

Therefore, the goal moving forward should be a focus on student well-being and student-centered learning (versus teacher centered learning) and rethinking the status quo. Now is a great time to spark learning by:  

  • Thinking about having students exploring their passions and interests
  • Thinking about how you can give students choice and voice (e.g., choice boards)
  • Thinking about inquiry, passion projects, and genius hour
  • Thinking about questions that will promote other questions and their curiosity (not answers they will accept, challenge their thinking)
  • Thinking about questions they can’t Google (if they can Google the answer, it’s not a good question)
  • Thinking about rich questions that promote learning (not just covering the curriculum or content, which shouldn’t be the focus at this time anway)
  • Thinking about what you want them to understand versus what you want them to know
  •  Thinking about the purpose of lessons & how they can be enriched and extended
  • Thinking about thoughtful work versus busy work
  • Thinking about designing experiences not drill and kill tasks
  • Thinking about designing experiences, which develop skills and habits of mind (e.g., empathy, compassion, open-mindedness, etc)
  • Thinking about designing activities that can be done outside in the backyard
  • Thinking about students creating versus consuming and completing
  • Thinking about the best & most meaningful ways to get students to meet their goals

Below is a link to some ideas to get things started. Please feel free to get in touch with me (@raspberryberet3) with more ideas that I can add to this list.

https://bit.ly/2Uwh3gu

As for grading the work that will be completed by students moving forward, I have some concerns and it all goes back to equity. How are we expected to grade student work when:

  1. We are not sure who completed the work
  2. We have students who require differentiated instruction due to special education needs
  3. We have students who don’t speak English or very little English
  4. We have students experiencing social emotional issues and might not be producing their best work
  5. We have students who don’t have the necessary tools to complete the work (despite claims of ensuring our neediest students receive what they need)

Maybe we need to revisit Growing Success?? Hmmm….

During this time, the focus should be on descriptive feedback and learning without the pressure of grades. What message are we sending our kids during this difficult time if we are still focusing on grades? What does this say about what we value? If anything, we should be providing each student with individualized and personalized comments during the next three months in addition to checking in on their mental well-being. We need to be praising their efforts and progress. The last thing we need to be doing is overwhelming teachers, students, and parents with unrealistic and unmanageable expectations regarding the curriculum. We need to be encouraging small steps that are achievable and stress-free. 

This is not ideal from a pedagogical or a physiological sense so while sharing resources, tools, ideas, and strategies are important, we must not forget about supporting everyone emotionally be it our students, parents, colleagues, or our own children. 

Let’s connect with parents about how they are doing instead of telling them about the curriculum and content their kids will be expected to learn in the next 3 months. Encourage them to create ‘soft schedules’ instead of ‘hard schedules’. Flexibility, understanding, and compassion are key at this time. 

This is a pandemic & the focus should be on getting through this.