I know it’s a bit gauche to talk about the weather, but this past week has been absolutely beautiful. The sun has been shining, there’s a cool breeze wafting through the neighborhood, and the flowers are all in full bloom. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to wear shorts outside or witness natural light past 6pm. Of course, much of my excitement was probably due to quarantine fatigue. After spending months indoors, I was more than ready to enjoy the fresh air.
Many teachers have probably noticed the change as well, though not in the same way. These last few months have been a challenge for everyone who has transitioned to a remote learning environment. Now, just as some of us have found our footing, students are mysteriously disappearing. Well, perhaps “mysteriously” is the wrong word. Like a character out of Looney Tunes they are zipping out the door and into the wild blue yonder.
Class is in Session
It’s almost funny. After all the work educators have done to reinvent their classrooms, there’s now a question of whether students will even show up. Thankfully, the situation is not as dire as it might seem. Students have a natural desire to learn. Even during this time of COVID-19, we have still witnessed examples of students engaging with STEM and discovering ways to exercise their curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking.
None of us know what school will look like in the fall, but it’s likely to include some type of remote learning. If you’re concerned about student participation, or worried that Zoom fatigue is starting to dull their interest, now might be a good time to review some tips and tricks for building a virtual classroom. Here are just a few strategies for engaging students with distance learning.
Make it a Mystery
Curiosity is the foundation of all learning. Each of us has an innate desire to explore and understand, to scratch that intellectual itch that’s juuuust out of reach. Educators can capitalize off this instinct by introducing their students to new people and experiences. Invite a guest teacher to come speak with your kids. It could be your school principle, the family member of a student, or even an industry expert. There are plenty of scientists who would be more than happy to skype with your class.
If you would prefer something more low-key, small changes like moving rooms for different activities or beginning a lesson with a “mystery box” can yield huge dividends. Nothing draws a student out like the unexpected!
Make it Connect
It can be difficult for teachers and students to form any kind of rapport through the virtual world. If we want them to see us as more than just a talking head, it’s going to take some investment on our part. Try setting aside time each day for your students to share. If you’re short on time, pick a different student at random over multiple sessions. Greet each of them by name and give them an opportunity to connect every 10 minutes through a survey, chat, or poll. Long online lectures have a way of lulling the brain to sleep.
But what if your students are camera shy? Try one-on-one chats first before releasing them into smaller breakroom gatherings. Flipgrid is an excellent resource for helping your class get more comfortable with virtual classrooms.
Make it Fun
Sometimes the best thing to do is go old-school. There’s a reason why trivia BINGO and jeopardy competitions have endured in classrooms throughout the years. Games are a simple, engaging ways to make learning FUN! These days, there are a wealth of online tools you can use to bring a sense of levity to your classroom. Give Kahoot! a try or start a round of online Scattegories.
A second option is to tap into your inner thespian. Instead of walking students through a project virtually, try demonstrating it for them yourself. Ham it up for the camera, add a fun hat or props that tie into the lesson you’re teaching. Whether it’s a science experiment, math problem, or writing exercise, students love to see their teacher on camera!
Make it Matter
Each of your students has the potential to be a powerful force for good. When we give them the opportunity to create positive change, we not only inspire them to learn, we also empower them as individuals. Project-based learning is just one avenue from bringing your classroom to the world. Virtual units like Prevent the Spread can show your students how germs and viruses (like COVID-19) spread, then get them thinking with dynamic public service announcements.
If you need to incentivize your class, try giving out digital badges. You can award badges through Google Classroom for assignments turned in or if you caught a student being awesome! The sense of pride and accomplishment will encourage them to stay engaged and give others something to aim for.
Above all, remember that what you’re doing matters. This is a difficult time, but we will overcome the challenges of COVID-19. When we finally look back on these months, let it be with pride at what we managed to accomplish!