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.

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