Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Remote Learning Reflection KWL

It's been over a month since we've been at school. Our last day was Friday, March 13th and while school closure was on our radar, we didn't know for certain when it would happen. At that point, all athletic events, field trips, and other extracurricular activities had been canceled until further notice. The mood was surreal - one colleague described it as apocalyptic. At the end of the school day, we got word that school would be in session the following Monday through Wednesday and our spring break had been moved up. That all changed the following day when our governor ordered all schools to close for two weeks effective Monday, March 16. Nine days later, the school closures order in North Carolina was extended until May 15, and on March 23rd, a statewide stay-at-home order went into effect.

I think it's safe to say that every educator has grown by leaps and bounds through this remote learning journey. We have built on what we knew, we have learned so much and there's still so much more to learn - sort of like a KWL chart. KWL charts are one of my favorite graphic organizers. They help gauge and activate prior knowledge, engage students in new learning and facilitate reflection which helps to informally assess learning.  Download a free sample here. So here's my reflection, thus far, in that format.

K - What have I always known.
  • No technology will ever replace the teacher. While it can enhance the learning process, no tool or device can ever replicate the human connection between an instructor and a learner.
  • A learning management system (LMS) is an integral part of 21st century teaching and learning. An effectively utilized LMS is an invaluable organization, assessment and communication vehicle. Students can access course materials, communicate with teachers, submit assignments and complete assessments, whether or not they are on campus. While it cannot replace the instructor or class seat time, it is a tool we need to leverage.
  • Videoconferencing is an effective way to communicate. From district PLCs and meetings to professional development sessions to guest speakers, tools like Zoom and Google Meet are simple to use and can save time and travel costs. 
  • Social-emotional learning is not fluff. Students are much more than academics and we need to meet the needs of the whole child.
W - What I still want to know
  • I want to get to know my colleagues better. I've always known the importance of strong relationships, but this time away from campus has made me realize that I have a way to go and I'm hoping I can work on relationship building remotely as I support their work.
  • I want to learn more about Canvas. I'm a huge fan of the LMS, but I never used it as a classroom teacher and I want to learn how to use it to its full capacity now that everyone is expected to use it starting next fall.
  • I want to learn more innovative ways to use screencasting and video response tools as a formative assessment tool as well as a way to give students and colleagues voice and choice.
  • I want to know what's going to stick after the pandemic is over. What part of this remote teaching will become the new normal? This is an ongoing conversation among educators.
L - What have I learned (thus far) during this pandemic
  • With directives changing daily, I have learned to be patient and flexible, and maintain an open heart and mind.
  • While remote learning is not ideal, it can work and while it may not look the same in every class, we have the tools and devices to allow learning to continue. When there's a will (or a need) there's a way. Although challenging for most students, some actually thrive in a remote learning environment.
  • Having the same LMS across the school and district is essential and will make life easier for students, parents, and staff. 
  • Remote work shortens my commute, but not my hours. The newness has created more work, but I've had to learn to create boundaries so the lines between work and home are not blurred.
Despite the challenges we are facing, I am extremely grateful to be able to work from home and for the technologies that allow us to connect with colleagues and students. I am also blessed and grateful for supportive administrators that prioritize social and emotional health in these unprecedented times. As an instructional facilitator, I spend every minute of my workday reaching out to the teachers trying to ensure they have what they need to be as effective as possible in a remote teaching role. I listen, I encourage, I ask questions, I provide resources,  I give them food for thought and try to lighten loads. In some ways I'm jealous I don't have a remote classroom of my own, but I'm living and learning vicariously through them.

I have faith that we will get through this and that we will look back at this historical event and realize how it grew us and strengthened us.
Stay safe, stay well and stay strong, my friends. I believe the best is yet to come!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Screencasting Anyone?

Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay
If screencasting has not been your thing, you may be considering it now that we are on a remote learning journey. I've been a fan of screencasting for a long time, but like any video tool, I know it can be uncomfortable and intimidating, especially at first. Screencasting, or screen recording, is commonly used in online and blended learning environments. If you haven't jumped on the screencasting bandwagon yet, I hope I can give you some reasons to consider doing so and some tools to check out.

Why screencast? Screencasting can help with:
  • Personalizing and differentiating instruction allowing students to learn at their own pace, especially helpful for English learners and other special populations
  • Narrating slideshows so students can review later and/or at home with parents
  • Introducing a new website, resource or tech tool
  • Recording document camera demonstrations
  • Recording a lesson plan for a substitute teacher
  • Having students demonstrate and explain their learning
  • Giving students an alternative to presenting in front of the class
My favorite use of screencasting is as a learning tool. I started screencasting while serving as an ESL teacher, using QuickTime on my MacBook. I used it to record read-alouds for my English learners to help them learn new words and proper pronunciation. However, I soon figured out it was great for students to practice their speaking skills, especially those who didn't like to talk or read aloud in front of their peers.

If I've perked your interest in screencasting, here are few tools to check out.

Screencastify - This has been a longtime favorite, but they recently upgraded the free version and with the addition of Screencastify Submit where students can create recordings without having to create accounts, I like it even more. The Chrome extension makes it super easy to use, videos are automatically saved to your Google Drive and you can easily upload them to YouTube. The free version allows edits and trims but does limit recordings to five minutes, which I usually find to be enough. They have generously offered a free upgrade to educators due to COVID-19, good until April 30 - but you do need to contact them to request a code. I have found the free version to be more than adequate, but if you need the additional features, the premium version is affordable at only $49/year. It's a great tool, but it only works in Chrome or Chromebooks.

Screencastomatic - A favorite of many of my colleagues, this simple tool will allow videos to be saved on the website for easy sharing to a learning management system, saved in video format, or easily uploaded to YouTube. The free version gives users 15 minutes of recording time but does not allow editing. They offer two affordable premium plans with editing and many other features - Deluxe at $1.65/month or Premier at $4.00/month, both billed yearly.

Loom - I learned of this tool shortly before our schools closed. As of March 12, 2020, their premium version is free for educators and students, not just during the pandemic, but permanently. Like Screencastify, the Chrome extension makes it easy to use, but they also have a desktop version that will allow you to work offline. While it does not automatically save to Google Drive, a link will appear as soon as you finish recording and can be easily shared or posted on your LMS.

You can also use a videoconferencing tool like Zoom or Google Meet to record your screen. You would essentially hold a meeting with yourself, share the screen, record the meeting and save to your device.

Think you may be ready to take the plunge? Here are some other things to think about.
  1. Plan ahead.  You wouldn't dream of standing up and giving an oral presentation without a plan or outline. Screencasting is no different. Having a clear idea of what you want to say and demonstrate is crucial to an effective screencast.
  2. Keep recordings short.  Ideally, videos should be around 2-3 minutes. If you chunk the material, not only will it keep viewers' attention, it will be easier for students/participants to access the points they need. I have found it's more effective when we record the steps in short videos, rather than an entire 20-minute process. Let's be real. We are a multimedia generation and most of us are lost after three minutes. 
  3. Include an introduction and a conclusion. If the video is part of a process, an introduction can be a quick recap of the last step and the conclusion can be what comes next.
  4. Record in a quiet space.  You need your voice to be clearly heard, but even if your recordings aren't narrated, background noise or talk is distracting.
  5. Don't fret about perfection. Recordings don’t need to be perfect to be good. You can always edit the video if you have too many "ums" but a few here and there are okay. It's like a natural conversation.
  6. Review and edit as needed.  While videos don't need to be perfect, you want to make sure they deliver what you intended. Eliminating unnecessary content and/or silence is a quick fix.  
If you are a screencaster and have any tips, suggestions or have another tool to recommend, please email me or enter a comment below.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Stay strong and stay well!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Teaching with Current Events During the Pandemic

Image Source: Photos For Class
Teaching with current events is a great way to not only keep our content fresh and relevant, but it also helps to generate engaging class discussions. Moreover, bringing in news and stories that directly connect to our curricula is an easy way for educators to keep up with the latest trends. Think of it as a part teaching resource and part professional development-it's a win-win.  While it's a great fit in Career & Technical Education, it can work in any subject area, especially during this pandemic. Weekly current events were part of my Business Education classroom. Many of our CTE teachers have been including current events in their remote lessons and my son's 8th grade science lessons have also included current events on the virus using CDC updates and the latest news. 

With COVID-19 turning everyone's world upside down and every industry being impacted - some actually benefiting from the pandemic - you are sure to find a current event connection, regardless of the content you teach. 

Here are some of my favorite, free (or mostly free) student-friendly resources:
  • Newsela - Updated daily, it has high-interest articles broken down by content area/industry related to the latest news. Articles are offered at five different Lexile levels and some are available in Spanish. The free version is very adequate, but the premium version is available for free until the end of the 2019-20 school year.
  • Learning Network - A New York Times resource specifically produced for student readers and teachers. It includes lesson plans, writing prompts, contests and more. It has something for everyone and it's all free.
  • Tween Tribune - Don't let the name mislead you, it's a K-12 resource, not just for tweens. It's offered by Smithsonian and is completely free. Although I would say it's more of an informational text site than a breaking news source, it's a great resource. The articles are leveled, age-appropriate, available in Spanish too  and come complete with quizzes and a critical thinking question to engage young minds. 
  • CNN 10 - Ten-minute, commercial-free video clips that come with transcripts and quiz. It's free of charge and no sign-up or subscription is required.
  • Listenwise - A collection of National Public Radio stories and podcasts on wide variety of topics. The free version is limited, however, they are offering the premium version to educators for 90 days, which offers interactive transcripts, standards-aligned lessons, assessments and more.
And while most of those sites have built-in assignments and quizzes to gauge understanding, you can also use a video response tool like Flipgrid to have students verbally share their responses, perspectives, or even questions related to the articles. First, they can't copy from a friend, but most importantly, they are honing their communication skills, so crucial is today's global marketplace. And that will benefit them long after the pandemic is over. Check out this post from Flipgrid's blog that will help you get started and get your students and their families engaged.
If current events are part of your remote lessons, I'd love for you to share how it's going. We are all learning from each other. 
Stay safe, stay well and stay current!