Dan Wizner is a high school social studies teacher. Throughout 2020, his school has been remote sometimes and hybrid sometimes. So, Dan has had to get creative. And his students have had to make some adjustments, too.
In this conversation, Dan describes his plan for making his class more flexible, the opportunities that having his students on Chromebooks so much have brought to the table, and how Fall 2021 might look different because of what he’s learned.
Brittany Oleszczak teaches 5th grade and she’s been teaching remotely for almost a full year now. Despite the struggle, she’s found ways to make this work fairly well for her students and her students’ parents. She’s leaned on a couple of strategically chosen tech tools, patience persistence in leading her students toward high goals, and a steady diet of realistic optimism.
Remember, a lot of things have been said about teaching in 2020 – but this is Brittany sharing her experience in her own words.
I last taught in the classroom in 2014. From about 2010, I had developed a rather strong series of opinions of homework. The condensed version of those opinions would have sounded like this…
Homework exacerbates disparities in environmental effects of the student home life on student achievement
Homework needs to be used for re-inforcement only, not for exploration.
I can get a lot more out of my students in class as a learning community by using homework as a bargaining chip (and mostly being willing to eliminate it)
Homework absolutely shouldn’t be graded in any way.
You get the idea. The result was math classes that included almost no homework at all (which the students enjoyed, and then they liked coming to math class more, and I was able to take advantage of that, so they learned a lot…) If you have questions about where those thoughts can from, I’m happy to explain my 8-10 years ago thoughts to you. I still stand by a lot of them right now.
But, what happened this spring raised questions in my mind. Like, how prepared would my students have been for the Covid shut down? Was I simply avoiding an opportunity to help my high school students be better prepared to learn outside of my classroom? Should I have been doing more to help them engage learning more flexibly?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I observed Covid turn the entire school system into non-stop homework for weeks this spring (it happened in my home, too.) “Being good at doing homework” is just a series of skills and habits that need to be practiced (like anything else) and students who had 2013 Andrew would have had very little practice doing Geometry at home because I made the conscious decision to make sure they didn’t.
Maybe I was doing it wrong (wouldn’t be the first time). Maybe I wasn’t, but what I was doing worked in 2013 and now it’s Covid2020 and things are different. Possible.
Anyway, for Fall 2020, it seems to me that preparing students and families for the need for the students to have meaningful learning experiences away from school needs to be taken seriously.
The last post I made included a few of my thoughts presented in video form.
Here’s “part II” of those thoughts, which are less about how we might onboard students to prepare for digital teaching-and-learning and more about supporting the students’ needs for learning at home.
Now as you watch those, it’s fair to ask the question, “yeah but the students are simply going to watch an instructional video for a single skill, right?” And from a student learning perspective from the side of the CONSUMER, that’s likely true. And when you go to Next Vista’s website, you’ll see that it’s fairly simple to find videos, but it’s also that there’s lots of opportunities to submit videos. That’s where this conversation turns. When you see this from the side of the CREATOR, you get a whole different view.
Rushton Hurley (the founder of Next Vista for Learning) has a line I’ve heard him use a couple of time: “When your students know their classmates and community will see their work, they want it to be good. When they know their teacher will be the only one who sees it, they want it to be good enough.” And I think that platforms like Next Vista can provide the space for students to invest their time and effort into learning math to the level needed to record videos that can help others learn the math that deeply, too.
That’s something we’ve learned as math teachers. When you don’t know what you are talking about, that becomes a problem when you are trying to instruct someone else on that topic. By exploring creative outputs for our math learner, we are operationalizing that same truth. In order to create effectively to support learning, you have to have deep knowledge of the content yourself.
And the prospect of deep math knowledge for our students is enough to get my attention.
What could we do if we gave the students more control over how they presented their learning to us?
A simple Google search for some random geometry topic… let’s choose angle pairs… reveals a whole collection of visual images meant to serve as posters, visuals, flash cards, etc.
And most of them are really, really boring. Our students could do better than that. But they might need a tool to do it. Here’s two.
What I love about these two tool is that they are really, really easy to use. Free to get started (and, quite frankly, perfectly satisfactory without leaving the free version) and easy to share.
Now, you might be asking, “why would we want our students to spend time making this stuff?” Fair question.
Remember, to make something helpful to others, they need to learn it themselves. And for some students, being able to make something awesome-looking can help to add some motivational value to some bits of content that are difficult to jazz up. (Angle pairs, for example.)
Thinking of something like this…
And, of course, it won’t work for all students. So, you can keep the quiz handy for the students who would prefer to show you what they’ve learned that way.