Remote Teaching: Engaging Math Activity

Let me begin by saying, I love some of the ideas I learn about on Twitter! During remote teaching in the spring, or shall I say, “emergency remote teaching,” I felt my students needed an activity that would involve some type of group collaboration.

As I scrolled through Twitter, I came across an idea for a “Mystery Number Jar.” This seemed like a great idea for a connection that I could make between my 7th grade students and students in the elementary grades.

First, students were grouped into Zoom breakout rooms. Then, one (or more) students gathered small items from around the house and a jar.

Second, students devised clues in a slideshow about the correct number of items in the jar.

Lastly, students recorded their presentations in Zoom and uploaded their videos into Flipgrid. The Flipgrid videos were shared with teachers of the elementary students who then recorded their guesses in Flipgrid.

Some alternatives to the way I did this activity could be to have students in the same class create mystery jars for each other. Other items or ideas with clues could be used for guessing. For example, students could select an animal, historical figure, or location for their mystery.

This activity nailed 4 key areas of instruction in an online environment:

  1. Engagement and practice with mathematical concepts
  2. Technology integration which enhanced engagement
  3. Collaboration between students
  4. Bridging a connection between middle schoolers and elementary school students

Overall, my students responded positively to this activity. It also helped build some classroom connections as well.

Computer skills for middle & high school students: What competencies should they be taught?

I teach computer skills classes to 7th and 9th graders. In my first teaching job in Harlem, I had one of the few rooms with A/C and Internet. Computer labs were still popular in 2003/4 and throughout most of my teaching career.

The use of computer labs has lessened as 1:1 Chromebooks, iPads and other devices have afforded many students the opportunity to learn directly in their classrooms. While the role of a “computer teacher” may still exist, the title and responsibilities have shifted.

My title is now, Technology Integration Specialist, which means that I work with all teachers to find ways to integrate the use of digital tools into their teaching to enhance the curricula. I’m also responsible for the foundation level computer classes for all students who enter in the 7th and 9th grades. A big question I ask myself every year when I plan my courses is, what technical competencies do my students need?

While the curriculum for my computer skills class is flexible, I’ve been contemplating what essential skills my students need to know and be able to do once they have completed this course. I think there is a tendency to assume that “digital native” students are competent technology users because they are growing up in a world with technology 24/7. However, just because students may know how to perform a Google search, change fonts in a document, or record a TikTok, does not necessarily mean they know how to learn from technology.

The overview of my 9th grade computer concepts course included the following topics: Digital Drama, Privacy & Security, Media Literacy, Mystery Skype, Word and Excel.

Last year, I discovered an online digital curriculum called Applied Educational Systems (AES). This curriculum includes Business apps and Health Care foundation courses. It offers interactive tutorials on applications including all Google Apps and Microsoft Office applications. While my students didn’t “love” completing some of the lengthy assignments in AES, they definitely learned some intricate uses of Word and Excel.

Once we switched to remote teaching, the use of AES was helpful for students to continue their learning. I mainly had my 9th grade students focus on creating spreadsheets in Excel, a practical tool that comes in handy in many areas of life. My students learned how to create budgets, write formulas for recipes and keep track of items in an inventory.

For the next year, I’m thinking of new assignments for my students to create in Excel. Previously, they created travel budgets. If you have some ideas, please share them with me!

Keeping Students Engaged: Some Ideas for Remote Teaching

I, along with millions of educators around the world, have been part of this crazy experiment that required shifting from face-to-face teaching/learning to online, remote teaching/learning in a matter of days.

In fact, it felt like the months of March, April, May and June 2020 were some kind of triage mode, just making it through ’til we can really figure out what to do with schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, it seems that we are continuing in triage mode as we try to figure out how to teach our children for the upcoming school year. While I don’t have many answers, I do have a few ideas in the event teachers are teaching remotely. These ideas can be done synchronously or asynchronously as I’ll explain.

Golden Retriever, Leia, says enough remote learning!

First, make connections. My previous post discussed the hashtag #MysterySkype in which I connected with teachers and classrooms all over the globe. During remote teaching, I connected with a teacher in California. We created a Flipgrid for students to record clues about a “Mystery Location.” My 7th grade students worked in breakout rooms in Zoom to record their clues as a group. However, this activity could also be done using a shared Google Doc or Office365. They can also use a free screen recording tool such as Screencast-O-Matic to record their clues.

Once the clues have been recorded, upload them to Flipgrid. Students can then record videos with their guesses. If they are camera-shy, they can use the text box to enter their guesses. This activity can be done asynchronously. I found my students to be highly motivated and engaged knowing that they were creating content for other students. Not only that, but they were learning geography skills which are sorely needed!

Photo by Timo Wielink on Unsplash

A second idea that I did with my 9th grade students also incorporated Flipgrid. I connected with a teacher in Ecuador. We had met several times via #MysterySkype pre-COVID-19, so my class was somewhat familiar with these students. However, once we were homebound, we had the opportunity to connect on a deeper level by becoming GridPals.

The students in Ecuador wrote interview questions that they recorded in Flipgrid. Their interview questions included:

How are you doing? What’s happening in your country right now?

Then, they asked my students to share their feelings and concerns about being confined. “How do you keep busy?” “What do your days look like?” This connection allowed my students to express themselves with students in another country who expressed similar feelings. It also helped me realize how much my students missed their friends and what a toll the pandemic had taken on them.

Lastly, my daughter’s school did not offer any synchronous teaching. I decided to set up a #MysterySkype for her 3rd grade class. I arranged a time to be on Zoom with my daughter. We selected a “Mystery Location” to be from while her classmates had to ask us yes/no geographic questions. For example, “Are you in the United States?” “Do you border an ocean?” etc.

While they were thinking of questions, I guided them by sharing my screen with the ScribbleMaps website. ScribbleMaps is great because it allows you to “scribble” and cross-out and zoom in on a map. This helps students learn geography and helped them narrow down their questions.

This was an example of a synchronous activity and the students LOVED it! It is easy to do and it teaches students geographic thinking and problem-solving.

Keeping Students Engaged: Some Ideas for Remote Teaching

An Educator’s Interest in Twitter: The Beginning

Twitter is a popular place for many educators. In 2017, when I was planning my dissertation, I realized that I wanted to know more about how teachers were using Twitter and what they were learning.

Ultimately, my dissertation topic explored how elementary schoolteachers use Twitter for professional development. I found that teachers reported Twitter provided them with a supportive community, new ideas to try out in their classrooms, and how to integrate digital tools into their teaching.

Why Twitter?

I first joined Twitter in 2010 at the recommendation of a colleague. My colleague was an active Twitter user who had connections all over the world. At the time, she was organizing a conference and it seemed as though everything came together from her connections on Twitter.

Initially, I just lurked and read others’ tweets. Then, I came across the hashtag, #MysterySkype. I was fascinated! Here were tweets from teachers looking to connect their classes in a geographic guessing game through Skype calls. I definitely wanted to be a part of it so I exchanged tweets with some teachers and we scheduled Skype calls with our classes.

#MysterySkype was my first realization of the power of Twitter to expand education beyond the four walls of the classroom. I became hooked. One #MysterySkype led to another and another. Soon, the first thing my 3rd and 4th grade students would ask me as they entered our computer lab was “Do we have a #MysterySkype today?” The cheers and excitement that resulted when I said “yes” belied the power of engagement in this new activity.

While engagement is not the only ingredient for student learning, participating in #MysterySkype activated other ingredients as well: motivation, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. With #MysterySkype, the goal is to ask yes/no geographical questions in order to figure out the other students’ location. The inherent “unknown” of the other students’ location provides the motivation, narrowing down which questions to ask involves problem solving and critical thinking, and working as a class involves collaboration. What more could a teacher ask for in her classroom?

My interest in how teachers are using and learning from Twitter is still fresh. I will post summaries of my research on this blog. Here is a link to my article published in the journal Professional Development in Education.

Stay tuned for more.

Student-centered learning

Through my dissertation research, I’ve been asking teachers if their classrooms have become more student-centered as a result of their learning from Twitter. The answer from many teachers is yes!

When I look at the teachers who are posting their classroom projects and ideas on Twitter, I admire them. They are sharing their student learning with the world. They are making connections with others. They have a support network of teachers available 24/7.

In my attempt to bring some of the ideas from Twitter into my son’s classroom, I’ve coordinated with his teacher to allow me to teach her how to use them with her students. This week, her 3rd grade class has three #MysterySkype calls. In addition, I have helped her use some digital tools to make the curriculum student-centered.

Here is an example of a hyperdoc lesson that I helped create for her third graders:

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