Although I occasionally demonstrate some introverted tendencies, I am an extrovert. I need social interaction to refuel/recharge. I enjoy spending time with people and getting out helps me do that. In our "new normal," obviously, that is not happening. One by one, things dropped off my calendar. A significant one: A roadtrip with a friend to a conference in Palm Springs looked possible. The annual CUE Conference brings so much time with and around people. I feel connected and spend time in my element. I learn. I grow. The first year I attended, I went by myself and I knew no one. This would have been my seventh consecutive year attending. I knew it was for the best that it transition to a virtual format. I am both nervous and excited about presenting in the virtual format.
I had only heard of Zoom before last week. Then, Zoom became a part of daily life for people worldwide. Now even my moms' group has scheduled a virtual meet-up using Zoom. I have enjoyed nightly Zoom gatherings with the #midnightpedagogy crew. I do more listening than talking as sometimes my connection gets wonky at night. I have yet to pinpoint exactly what keeps happening, but I will figure it out. Connor has even shared his Snowball microphone with me for these. I will eventually get down to the storage unit to grab a few things, including one of my microphones. At this point, though, I have successfully put off going to get the things on my list because the kids are staying engaged with what we have at home.
I have appreciated the opportunities to feel connected. These less formal gatherings also allow me to get to know
the platform better which will help when I present next week. I still need to fine-tune my presentation a bit. Some of the interactive pieces I built into it following last month's ETC! will not work the same. A little tweak here and redesign there should do it. Mostly, I hope it becomes a conversation and lesson sharing opportunity. Zoom allows for screen sharing which will be helpful, but I especially look forward to the face-to-face conversation.
Bonus: Zoom allows the host to set up breakout groups. AWESOME!
Please stick with me here. I know a lot of people who have a strong dislike for Class Dojo. When used as an equivalent to a clip--chart to primarily focus on the behavior piece, there are mixed thoughts on its effectiveness and appropriateness. I am not getting into that here. What I have seen with Class Dojo the past several days is something incredible. Like me, my children need social interaction. They miss seeing their classmates and interacting with their teachers. They are both involved in scouts, as well. Naturally, as we continue to shelter-in-place all activities have ceased.
What their school has done with and through Dojo has helped bridge the gap right now. Their teachers start each day with a post and both teachers have included riddles and challenges. The kids love these! I appreciate that it gives us a good jumping off point each day. In addition, the principal and even the librarian have made schoolwide posts for the students. The students are engaged and feeling connected in an otherwise distant time. The other piece of this that I observed includes the different ways in which students can interact on their end. They can draw, share a picture, or write a post. These items that the student share on their end goes directly to the teacher. The teacher can then add it to the student's profile. That function allows the parent to see the student interaction. On the parent end, I have seen all of the riddle responses my two kids have offered as well as a few other pieces. Today, Kiera sent a message sharing how much she missed the humor in the classroom and her teacher. Her teacher responded with kindness. I had the opportunity to see the full interaction.
Some use Seesaw which is a great program, especially for primary level students. I like the schoolwide application of the Class Dojo functions and I appreciate the way my kids can interact with their teachers, the principal, and the librarian. And, I know they do as well. Class Dojo has certainly played a role in making this social isolation more tolerable for students.
Teachers across the country have started using Google Classroom. Some had implemented it previously to one degree or another. Others have just turned on to all it can offer.
Students can interact with their teachers (and, if permitted, each other) through different features within Classroom. Teachers can push out assignments or challenges. Classroom offers the option of assigning points or leaving an assignment ungraded. Teachers can determine due dates. As different schools take different approaches to distance learning , Google Classroom offers some flexibility. I know a local high school has used it to push out assignments and even take attendance for classes while Connor's class has used it for different challenges. The ability to integrate other Google tools is important. Teachers can push out instructions in a "view only" manner or make a copy for each student in their class which allows the students to work within a Doc or other GSuite file. And, again, grading is optional. While some schools are holding students to a high bar including attendance, deadlines, and grading, others are allowing students to work at their own pace, read, explore, and engage daily challenges without worry of grades and grading. My favorite part of Google Classroom both as a parent and as a teacher is its flexibility and ease of use.
Now that Classroom is available to the "outside world," I have actually set up an "At-Home Learning" class for my two kids at home. If they run out of things to do from their teachers or the stacks (we have a card table set up with books, puzzle books, art supplies, etc.) then they can check the at-home classroom. I have posted resources and "assignments." I created to Padlets where they can share their learning and more. (I love the map option on Padlet! One I created for the kids asks them to find a "field trip" anywhere in the world and share it on the map.)
Bonus: Assignments with due dates in Classroom automatically appear on your calendar. AWESOME!
I have appreciated Google Hangouts for a long time. I use it with my kids when I'm traveling. Again, face-to-face interaction (even remotely) is important to the three of us. I have helped my kids with homework while sitting in a hotel room a hundred miles from home because Google Hangouts allowed us the opportunity. It has changed some over the years, but still is one of our favorite tools. The kids use it with other family members as well. Recently, I have used Hangouts to check in with a student I tutor. His teachers also use it for some of their class sessions during this time over remote/distance learning. Other teachers use Google Meet. Google Meet is a little more limited in what you can do if you are not part of an organization. For example, someone in a G-Suite school can start a Meet while someone with a regular/standard Gmail address cannot. A few years ago, when we first started our idea of podcasting, we used Google Hangouts and recorded. That option is no longer available, but someone conducting a Google Meet can record the session, share it Classroom, and students can come back and watch the video if they missed the original session or rewatch if needed.
This is personal. This is important. We function not just within our family, but within a "framily." My best friend from 8th grade is still my best friend today. In November, we will celebrate 30 years of friendship. She is a sister, not by blood but by circumstance. We have had our ups and downs. We have seen each other through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I am a part of a moms group that I joined when I was pregnant with Connor. Now, more than 13 years later, we are like a family. We started on iVillage back in 2006 and moved to Facebook a couple of years later. In fact, that is why I moved from Myspace to Facebook. (Yeah, I know.)
I have connected with college friends on Facebook. And, their children as well. My kids have pen pals because of my Facebook connections. When Messenger Kids launched, I gave it some thought, but kept setting it aside.
Then, I received notice that my niece and nephew were on it around the same time a friend asked me about connecting our kids. Suddenly, it had to happen. So, it did. Messenger Kids has been a blessing during this time. My kids can communicate with their cousins, pen pals, and role models. One of my best friends from college has interacted with Kiera daily and it has proved to be a positive experience for both of them. And, they may not know how much they are helping the other. However, I must say that I can see it from both sides and it is incredible to see them love each other through difficult days.
What are some digital tools helping bridge the distance for you right now? Remember, we are all in this together. Some tools work better for some people than others. I know some people prefer Zoom to Meet and vice-versa. What tools are working best for you? For you kids? For your students?
Kicking it "old school"
I have seen a lot of teachers gathering together (separately in their own cars) and driving around the neighborhoods around their schools, like a parade. What a great way to let the kids know you're thinking about them! I know Connor has always appreciated when one of his former teachers passes by and gives a honk and a wave. Imagine having a whole parade of teachers! Well done, educators! Well done!