With COVID-19 upending all aspects of society, across the world, schools are just one of many settings thrown out of their routine.
For educators and students, this presents many challenges. Fortunately, technology has advanced enough in the past decade to offer some promise of effective learning in the distance setting.
Like everything else, technology can be used for better or for worse. Here are some great ways to engage the kids better, ease them into difficult-to-grasp concepts, and support continued learning through technology. Woven throughout are also some helpful tools to support the strategies.
Involve them in the making
Involving kids in creating little guides and survey questionnaires around concepts can be a great way to engage them. Creating a classroom community blog or a class webpage where children can put up their ideas/presentations/survey results/pictures of projects can boost interest and engagement tremendously.
One easy, fun way to get students’ creative brains working is to try these free one-a-day brainteaser activities being offered right now by MindAntix. Once students are thinking like inventors, they’ll have great maker ideas for the classroom websites.
Get them to present abstract concepts
Abstract concepts, in subjects like science, are grasped better by using apps like the iMovie. In this example, students are encouraged to record every phase of the lab assignment and then explain what they had done. The videos are then edited by the students themselves and presented to the class or a bigger audience to demonstrate their understanding of the concept. To take it a step further, teachers can even encourage them to self-publish their work with services like Lulu or iUniverse.
iMovie for windows is also available.
Use storytelling in classroom projects
Storytelling is making a comeback as a major educational tool. Many teachers use the power of stories to connect with the child. Stories are also a great way to promote a culture of collaboration among the students -- collaboration that can be accomplished even when students are not in the same room (see #4 for one idea). Getting students to work in groups and create stories using digital media including images, pictures, and music is a great way to promote empathy, learning, and cooperation in a classroom.
Have the students interview a real person in a particular job. While they are working from home, they can interview a parent or family member, or set up a time to connect online to interview a neighbor. For example, what does a museum curator's job entail? Or what does a project manager in a tech company do all day? They could interview real people, put them up as podcasts and engage the entire classroom in a conversation on career choices!
Soundtrap for Education, part of Spotify, is a popular podcasting and online music studio software that is currently offering extended free trials for schools, which will cover your school or classroom through the end of the school year.
Promote Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Technology gives teachers the ability to engage all students in interactive learning, so they can “stretch” their critical thinking and problem-solving muscles, and each student can increase achievement regardless of their current level of mastery. And, even better, this can work across all subjects in a cross-curricular setting. This is an important way to make learning more engaging, especially in the distance learning setting where rote activities can become an easy go-to, but can leave students feeling disinterested.
One resource to support problem-solving in learning math is Beast Academy Online, created by Art of Problem Solving. This is a comprehensive curriculum for ages 8-13, featuring word problems, puzzles, and games, all of which support reasoning and problem solving skills that carry across subjects. Beast Academy is currently offering a free one-month subscription or a discount on an annual subscription.
A Webquest is a guide for students to search for specific information on the internet very effectively. For example, students may be asked to serve as the caretaker of a National Park, and they might be encouraged to find information on animal species - native and foreign, care tips, eating habits, natural habitats, steps for conservation, etc. It's a great way for teachers to integrate the power of the internet into their own curriculum.
Connect out-of-school experiences to the typical classroom experience
Use students’ distance learning time to their educational advantage by making it relevant, and having students think about their experiences through a real-world lens. How is the learning environment different from the typical school environment? (students will have no problem thinking of how it is different) But also, how is it the same? What do students like about this arrangement and what do they miss from school? If you are having a Zoom conversation, this is a good time to discuss. Or students can blog about their experience (or share it in a podcast!).
Get them to help someone
Get students to write a "how-to" piece on a specific piece of technology that could help a person who is not tech-savvy, like their grandma. For example - how to set up the iPad, or how to connect with a friend on video chat. These kinds of exercises force children to think from a user perspective and hone their own understanding of technology. And, while they’re spending their learning time at home, they can immediately put some of these ideas into practice!
Some strategies in this article were previously published on HuffPost in “8 Ways to Use Technology to Engage Students Better”