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Learning Doesn't Have to Stop When Teachers are Out Sick

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It has been a long time since I have had to take a day off for illness.  In fact, I think the last time I was out sick was in 2011.  I eat right, exercise, and take care of myself.  My job comes with some stress, but usually not enough to wear me down.

Like most teachers, if I have a cold, I go to school.  It is way easier to sniffle through a week than to write out detailed sub plans for each individual course for 5 days.  So, imagine my horror at being told to stay home for 2 weeks.

What is a teacher to do?  Luckily, I had some strong antibiotics and a strong online toolkit that helped me get through the hardship of being away from the classroom.  PowerSchool Learning, Loom, FlipGrid, Kahoot, and EdPuzzle allowed me and my students to interact and learn together, even though I wasn’t on campus.

Have a good foundation. I would be lost without the use of a learning management system (LMS).  I have used many in my time, but it wasn’t until I started teaching online with Global Online Academy that I really got a grasp of how to make an LMS a dynamic space for my students to interact with course content and each other.

As some of you have read in my blog a few years ago, I make the most of my PowerSchool Learning pages (aka Haiku Learning).  I put all of my units, lesson by lesson, on my pages within the LMS.  Students can see a calendar of lessons, they can see the individual lessons, and they can access all lessons resources: video tutorials, documentaries, links to other online activities, text, worksheets, or whatever was handed out in class.

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When students go away for sport, or if they are out sick, they may not be in class, but that doesn't mean that they have to miss out on the learning.  Funny that I had never considered how this would ultimately benefit  me if I was out sick.

Explain the content and instructions.  All of the lessons and digital materials that students would be engaging with during the week were already posted on my PowerSchool Learning pages.  I just needed to give my students a quick explanation of each day’s tasks.

I used Loom, a free online application, to make 3 to 10 minute screencasts showing students what task they would be doing each day and where they would find the resources they needed to complete those tasks. I also gave feedback on work that had been collected and handed back to them.

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Students couldn’t say they didn’t know what to do. The amount of views let me know they all watched it. If they were unsure of the task, they could watch the video again, ask the substitute, or they could put a question in the comments on the video.  Kids also gave me emoji feedback as they watched the video, often giving my instructions a thumb’s up or a smiley face.

Interact with students. PowerSchool Learning does have discussion boards to involve students in discussion.  These can work great to get a class started or to use as an exit ticket, but this kind of written discussion has its drawbacks. For my ESL kids, reading all that text, and then writing a complete response in English is a real struggle.

FlipGrid is an online video discussion application that can be embedded into your LMS, linked to your Google Classroom, or accessed on the web, or their phones, using a link you provide your students. As this was the first week of the new semester, I had a class of students I hadn’t met yet.  I wanted to get to know them and have them check in with me as they dove into this new subject.

Students shared their understanding of who they thought was most to blame for World War I, they reflected on what it is like to learn online when their teacher wasn't present, and they discussed their big take-aways from a documentary they watched through EdPuzzle.

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And they also enjoyed creating weird and wacky selfies using the stickers and emojis to personalize their video responses.

I checked for understanding.  Just because I wasn’t in the classroom, doesn’t mean I didn’t have the chance to evaluate student understanding of lessons.  As stated before, kids participated in discussions through FlipGrid.  I used the assessment function on PowerSchool Learning to give a quiz.  I embedded a few Kahoots and put them on “challenge” mode so kids could choose when they wanted to check their own understanding of the topics.  And I embedded EdPuzzle videos for students to review content.

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EdPuzzle is an online application that allows teachers to take a video and make it interactive.  Using a video on YouTube, on Khan Academy, or Vimeo, EdPuzzle allows you to clip the video for only the parts you need.  You can then add extra visuals like maps or diagrams to enhance the material being delivered in the video.  And you can add quiz questions (multiple choice or extended response) to check that your students understand what they are watching.  Their responses are then saved for you to check and record.

Now some of you might say, “You were supposed to be home resting, not working.”  I know.  But really, I was doing this all from the comfort of my couch, in my pajamas, sipping a cup of tea. My lessons would take mere minutes to write since the details were in the videos and on the LMS.  And my screencasts took 3 to10 minutes, depending on how long winded I decided to be.

Did my kids learn anything while I was away?  Heck ya! Through various formative assessments, students showed they understood the content.  What was interesting here was that my new history students scored much higher on their first quiz, than my students did last semester.  Their responses to the essay question were much more detailed and used more specific events, terms, and policies to back up their opinions.

They learned about themselves as learners.  In one FlipGrid reflection, students commented on the empowerment they felt to make their own decisions about how to use class time.  They loved their new-found independence.  They liked that they were given a clear path to access the info and that they were solely responsible for their own learning. They had full access to the content via the LMS and they had dozens of responses from their peers in FlipGrid to help them understand a topic better.

There were some students who didn't like this new found freedom.  They were very candid about their need to have a teacher present to actively motivate them to do work and make choices for them.

Did I learn anything while I was away? Of course, I did.  I learned that the tools I use to make my online courses successful, also work to make my brick and mortar classes successful.

  • It is good to be organized. Having units of worked mapped out on an LMS with all the content embedded saves time.  Yes, it took some time to put it all up online,  but I spend just a little bit of time tweaking and adjusting the lessons with each new year.  In this case, all my sub plans were already written, because the content was already online.
  • Show your face. Using applications like Loom and FlipGrid helped me create a positive classroom rapport with my students. They could see my face and laugh (or roll their eyes) at my jokes.  We had a place to share ideas and get to know each other's personalities.  One particularly sensitive student mentioned that to see me talking each day was reassuring that I was ok and getting better.
  • Have a full toolbox. Making the most of tools that give formative feedback like online quizzes, Kahoots, and EdPuzzles, gave me and my students a clearer picture of how well they were acquiring new knowledge and concepts.
  • Push for independence. Students need more opportunities to exercise their skills and to find solutions to problems on their own.   It was clear that my 9th graders were ready for the challenge of independent learning, but the 6th graders were not.  A younger student will look up how to do something on YouTube when confronted with a problem on Minecraft, but they don't show the same willingness or sense of urgency in the classroom when confronted with a problem.

I’m glad that I’m feeling better.  But I’m also glad that I had this opportunity to test out some new learning environments with my brick and mortar students.  And I will continue to use my toolbox to grow my students into becoming more independent in their learning.

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Kathleen Ralf teaches Humanities & English at Frankfurt International School in Oberursel, Germany. She is also an instructor for Global Online Academy where she teaches a course on Genocide and Human Rights. As a teacher she works to create a classroom that is active, hands on, and full of creativity. She has been an active leader in technology integration on her 1:1 campus as well as an advocate of the Blended Learning model.  Kathleen has presented at the European League of Middle Level Education (ELMLE) Conference in 2015, 2016 and 2017 as well as the University of Rhode Island's Summer Institute for Digital Literacy.  Kathleen has a BA in History from the University of Washington and an MS in Educational Technology from Walden University. She enjoys traveling around Europe with her family and experiencing out of the way spots as a local.  You can find me on Twitter @Deutschekath.

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Guest Monday, 21 May 2018