Simplify your E-learning Classroom Experience

Sonya Barnes                     3/26/2020

With the current situation, many educators are being forced into e-learning platforms, whether it is wanted or not.  It can be a challenging endeavor to take on, especially with the rapid transition to get there and finish up the school year.  I started as virtual teacher in August and have gained a few insights and helpful tools from colleagues and experience, as well as listened to parents of my own students and friends and realized that it is an overwhelming place to be.  I created a video using Zoom to navigate you through some features in Google using voice, classrooms, slides, docs and forms, as well as a few things to make life easier such as tracking logs and tiny URLs for sharing sources.  Check out this link for the tutorial—and forgive the poor quality, it was via Zoom on a laptop camera, not a professional camera or studio J  Below is a brief description of each of the features I cover in the video.

Zoom link to e-learning using Google tools

Zoom

I don’t go into a lot of detail about using Zoom, but I am recording in it!  You can use it for live interaction or prerecord lessons.  I do suggest using presets for live interactions to lock out video, audio, chat, and annotation features without you granting permission and I would also let the students know that you can boot them from the lesson and not let them back in, then set up an alternative option with parents, if needed.

User-friendly Homepage

My school offers a website with the ability to add links and embed codes, but Google Classrooms is a pretty basic alternative that can meet most needs. However, you can create a customizable image using Google Slides that includes a photo, your contact info, a link to resources, office hours—anything you want or think your students may need.

Google Voice

This free feature allows you to have a phone number for work use, set do not disturb hours, send texts, make calls, have a voicemail greeting and even has an app so you can use it via your phone if you don’t want to use your computer.  I use it daily and love it.

Teacher contact info

Having this in your display just makes life easier for students and parents. Include your email, phone number, working hours, open office hours in Zoom for lessons or tutoring, or a link to resources (using a google doc you share the link of and then convert to something easy using tinyurl.com) The easier to find, the higher the likelihood of successful student engagement.

Gathering student contact info

Using a Google Form, you can gather updated contact information from your students and parents, then view it in a spreadsheet for easy sorting.

Tracking Contacts

Some schools may require this, but even if they don’t, this helpful tool can be created in Google Sheets and used to track calls, texts, emails, etc.

Netiquette training for kids

If your kids aren’t used to online learning, they may need to be shown the rules. BrainPOP has a great one that is a 5-minute video and includes a quiz that they can then screenshot their score and submit to you. This way, you can at least know you showed them the right way. I am sure there are others, but BrainPOP has never let me down with their resources before.  Here’s the link: https://www.brainpop.com/technology/digitalcitizenship/digitaletiquette/

Calendar app through setmore.com

I have tried lots of apps, including Google Calendar, which is great, but I love this one since I can share a URL and my kids can book an appointment with me without a lot of back and forth.  With the app downloaded, it even sends reminders of appointments to my phone, in  case I am away from my computer.  If you are using it solo, it is free indefinitely, not just for a trial period.  I’ve used it for a week now and love it.  I tried Calendly before and it works well, but this one just has a few features I love that make it more of what I was looking for.

I am sure there are so many more tech savvy ways of doing this, but for the short term, this will take you less than an hour to set up a streamlined digital classroom that will run efficiently, whether you use it until we are back in classrooms, or you continue to use it as a tool along with being in brick and mortar.

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Turning a Worksheet into an Activity

Sonya Barnes August 8, 2019

It doesn’t take much to go from worksheet to an activity that kids will enjoy and reach their learning objectives!

Teachers are a resourceful being.  To make a pop reference, we become as good at reinventing our repertoire as Prince did at reinventing himself throughout his career.  We have many things we have continued to use without really thinking about changing them up.  One of those go-to items could be a stash or worksheets you rely on to make copies and grade because you know it is a skillset your kids need.  But have you ever given thought to reinventing them?

In my previous article about beginning of year activities, I mentioned turning some of your ice breakers into activities to do with the kids, but you can use this premise for any worksheet that you have.  Converting it into an activity may take you a little time on prep, but, if done right, it can be laminated and reused throughout your school year as a rotation or a “done” activity to keep them proficient, as well as using it year after year.  So, let me walk you through the process of converting that worksheet.

Step 1: choose your worksheet This could be something new from a search online or a book you just purchased, or something you have had for ages that is falling apart or has been copied one too many times and needs to be revived. Maybe it’s an identify the part of speech, a scientific classification, an internet suffix identification, or a math symbol meaning, capitals and states/countries, or tools for the art or shop class.  Be sure it is one that will have a clear answer for each question.

Step 2: convert it to a new document The easiest and quickest way I have found to do this is to use a program like Word or Pages and insert tables. Excel is great for creating boxes in columns or rows, but isn’t as user friendly for inserting pictures or graphics and alternating text fonts like Word or Pages will be.  Put the text into the boxes for each question, answer, or part they will match.  I like to align my correct answers all next to each other to make it easier when I use my key.  You can enlarge and change the font to make it easy to read and visually appealing.  If you are tech savvy or have the time, adding graphics can be a nice touch, but it is not a necessity.  I also dedicate a box to a directions for use card and an inventory list, if needed, so it explains what to do and the parts needed for my students that do better with written instructions.  To help myself keep track, I will also try to label it with the standard or skill so that I can find it quickly.

Step 3: print/copy/laminate Decide how many sets you need to create based on whether this will be independent, collaborative or a station/center activity and print/copy that many sets PLUS 2—a fully assembled set for you as a key and a cut up set for you as a demo.  Then get these laminated so that they will last you for many years and uses.  Be sure you do this well in advance to allow time for your laminating person to complete them as many schools have only one person responsible for this task and it can be time consuming.

a paper cutter and some paper clips turns these into a student friendly manipulative

Step 4: cutting and prepping as sets If you have volunteers, this is a great thing to enlist them for, especially since this task doesn’t have to be done in the classroom.  Don’t forget to keep one set whole to use as your key (you can use a dry erase marker to make notes or match answers, if need be. Cut your items into sets and bundle them.  This could be done in a variety of ways, but I prefer clasped envelopes or Ziplock bags so that I can label them, and they are easiest to keep everything together in.  I also suggest taking a permanent marker and numbering the sets and pieces.  Finally, I will tape the directions card and inventory list to the front of the envelope or inside the Ziplock bag (facing out, of course).  Several of my older sets, I just put the directions and inventory in with the cards, but it gets mixed in with the others at clean up and the next user may not find it right away.

An envelope makes an easy storage device and gives a place to attach instructions if it will be an independent activity

Step 5: using the sets  Now that you have them, they can be used as a hook, an assessment, a practice activity, a review activity, or anything in between.  If you use stations or centers, this can be an activity they complete together or independently.  Once we have used them in our main lesson and moved on from a standard, I have a drawer I keep them in and my students that finish early know that this is a place they can go and find something to do while others work.  These also make great activities for early release days or days when you may have a test or lesson that doesn’t take the entire block and you need a small filler activity.

Worksheets can be a valuable resource in checking a student’s mastery level of skill and there is nothing wrong with using them.  But, in my experience, I don’t always need a 30 minute long task that I need to then grade to see if they are ready to move on and converting it to an activity allows me to do this in 10 minutes before going on to a next level or a real world project or task that allows them to apply the skill for true mastery.  If you aren’t sure where to get started, there are many of these available online that you could download (skip steps 1-2) and jump straight to steps 3-5 to get started.  You also don’t always have to laminate them if you are short on time.  If you have older kids, you could hand them out whole and allow them to cut them, but, in my experience, cutting and assembling the sets will burn an entire class period that I would rather they spent working on the skill.

I’d love to hear which activities you have turned from a worksheet into an activity, as well as what subject area and grade level you used it at.

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