Every kid has a computer. Now what?

As the year starts, I have so many ideas of activities that I would like to do. The major project is to implement a modeling approach to teaching Chemistry. However, what happens when you are not able to be in the classroom?  Does this change the approach? How do you adapt?

Unfortunately, I was out of town and the activities that I had designed were discussion based. It brought me to a crossroads. Do I post assignments to keep them busy while I’m gone, or do I put in the extra time to build activities to help them develop a better picture of the content? (We all know the answer, but it doesn’t make it any easier.)  So where did I start?

Strategy #1: Open the lines of Communication

During my absence I knew that there would be times where confusion would arise. With new students, in a new class, with a new platform, it was inevitable. So, the first thing I did was create a short screencast video letting them know how to contact me. Will every student use it? No, but it provides an avenue for them, and their parents to voice concerns and ask questions.  The second idea was to provide explicit directions (Parental Advisory Warning. Sorry I couldn’t help myself). “What if they don’t read them?” I also added a video of me explaining my expectations and desires for the assignment. If it is a group assignment and the rubric assesses group dynamics, go through the rubric to know what is expected. Most importantly, tell them about the due dates. If you will or will not accept the assignment late, tell them. Make it super clear. This helps with parental calls and conferences with the admin team.

Tip #2: Foster discussion within the group

As previously stated, I was out of town. So, how can you have a discussion? If the platform that you are using has a discussion option, separate the classes into groups. You can do this based on classes, or cross between classes to get a different perspective. We are using Canvas and one of the options I have is to “Require the students to post before viewing replies.”  This helps with ensuring that students provide original thoughts before tainting their own ideas with other people’s ideas. Once they have submitted their response, have them respond to another student’s response. Most students want to just say things like “I agree or “That sounds Good.” I like to have them use the RISE method for meaningful feedback. This methods asks them to do one of the following:

  • Reflect on what they read
  • Inquire about something a person said
  • Suggest changes or edits
  • Elevate the ideas to expand on the ideas.

While this can be a difficult process to start, these skills will be used in years to come at any level beyond high school.  Now you may be asking, “What is the role of the teacher here? ”  My job is to grade the posts as they come in, using the rubric, and give direct and useful feedback so that the student can grow from it.  So this is not a situation where saying “Good job!” will be sufficient. This is where you ask questions or suggest resources. After a few, you will notice patterns in the student responses or needs. Shortcut tip: Create a word or Google doc with common feedback and copy and paste it into the feedback section. (That one was for free, you’re welcome)

Tip #3: Provide online tutorials

When you teach a subject like Chemistry, students look for opportunities to say that they don’t understand.  For the average teacher this can be hard to overcome, but one solution is to create short tutorial videos using a screencasting app. They are as simple as talking over the power point you would have done in class or a shortened version just going over the usual sticking points. This becomes an optional resource for the students to receive support when they are struggling or to review concepts that have already passed.