BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER Dr. JESSICA D. REDCAY
I have a lilac bush in my yard that no longer blooms after I transplanted it. I researched why it would not bloom, and I learned that sometimes lilac bushes stop blooming after being traumatically transplanted. It was necessary that I transplanted my lilac bush, but I still miss seeing it bloom.
I feel like my second graders were like my lilac bush during the pandemic. They had to quickly be uprooted for their own safety. I had to be creative with the approaches that I used virtually to help my little lilacs bloom during remote learning. I didn’t want to just provide students with worksheets to complete. Rather, I wanted to find ways to spark their curiosity and interest as they continued to learn remotely. Also, I didn’t want my students to feel like they were completing a To-Do list to earn a participation grade. Rather, I wanted my students to create things, learn, connect, and have fun.
This blogpost will highlight some of the key elements of my remote learning journey that might help you as you work to adapt teaching during the pandemic.
Virtual Reality (VR) Tours
Since the students had to stay home and never got the VR goggles, we had to use VR in a different way to explore the world. My students went on virtual field trips to places like: Grand Canyon, Hawaii, San Diego Zoo. The students used Google Earth to explore different places in the world, and they could move around within the different places. Within the zoo, students were able to watch live animal webcams. Students used these experiences to act as writing prompts. These shared experiences helped the students connect with one another, and increase student engagement levels. We used Google Virtual Reality Tours, San Diego Zoo Live Cams, American Museum of Natural History, etc. However, our favorite tour was the one I created using a 360 degree camera and Google VR Creator of our physical classroom. The students wrote about things that they learned from the Virtual Reality Field Trips. Information was embedded within the virtual tours. Students had the option to write with paper or pencil or the students could use Primary Writer. We displayed their writing in a media file within Schoology.
Digital Breakout Experiences
My student teacher (Tina McDaniel) created a digital breakout experience to match the content we were teaching. This helped increase student engagement levels because the students were learning content for a specific purpose and wanted to complete the breakout activity. Miss McDaniel designed a Google Site for the escape room experience to provide students with ease of use and one resource for young children to follow. Thinglink is another great tool that you can use if you do not want your students to get confused by clicking into multiple sites. I created a States of Mater Thinglink as a reference for my students with embedded information. Within the digital breakout, my student teacher created fake text messages and newspaper clippings. The students had to solve different e-puzzles too. Here are the different tools that were used to create a digital breakout. Also, Breakout EDU has different free digital breakouts to use in the classroom, too.
Digital Scavenger Hunts
Digital Scavenger Hunts are wonderful because it gets students moving. There are different platforms that can be used to create this type of activity. You can use other platforms like: Padlet, FlipGrid, GooseChase, GoogleSlides. We used FlipGrid to create our own FlipHunt. We gave students a prompt to find different things. Then they had to respond with a video showing what they found. The prompts I included were short video prompts. For example, my students had to measure the average length of different animals with sidewalk chalk. My students had to take pictures of different 3D shapes that they found within their home. Here are some more examples of the digital scavenger hunts that we used during remote learning.
Give it a Try
Remote learning has been challenging for everyone, but we are all in this together. One of PTAC 2020-2021 Recommendations stated “We recommend teachers receive training on relevant new technologies. If remote learning must occur, teachers should have access to professional development on effective remote teaching practices and technologies for their content areas.” Virtual Reality, digital breakout experiences, and digital scavenger hunts are excellent ways to leverage technology in the classroom. However, teachers need training. Schools need to provide training and proper support. When possible, school district leaders should ask teachers about what they would like to learn more about, and they can provide teachers with options. Differentiated professional development helps teachers hone their craft of teaching while accounting for different experiences of teachers.
When teachers are willing to try new things, they can help foster creativity and learning for our students. It is tough, but we know that we can do it together because we want to find the best way to help EVERY learner bloom!
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee