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How to Navigate Remote Learning: Tips and Tools from a Veteran Teacher

Posted by Nicole Lanoue on Jul 14, 2020

AdobeStock_333773274-1We’ve all heard the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In the spring of 2020, most of you had to live it. In a moment’s notice, teachers across the U.S. pivoted to a remote learning model with scarce notice.

With the new school year fast approaching, some school districts remain uncertain about what the classroom will look like, while others are preparing for remote or blended learning environments. In what’s normally your time to recharge and refine your practice with a rigorous STEM curriculum, you may find yourself with more questions than answers this summer.

For example, you may wonder how you will facilitate effective science labs in a remote learning environment. Or how you will meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) when you will only see your students one or two times a week.

What if you didn’t have to invent new lesson plans and could use your time in better ways?

Find out how one teacher created a student-centered remote learning environment while continuing to spark the kind of curiosity that marks authentic learning. Click here to watch the 45-minute webinar.

Highlight #1: You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

Whether in a remote learning or blended learning environment, you can develop students’ critical thinking and promote a culture of curiosity within your existing next generation science curriculum and lesson plans. In other words, remote learning doesn’t have to be learning lost.

That’s what Judy Higgins, a veteran fifth-grade science teacher in Lawrence, Massachusetts, learned this spring when she took her instruction online. Judy set out with a primary goal when adapting her curriculum for online instruction: to maintain the rigor from her classroom in the remote learning environment. She was particularly concerned that her normal science curriculum, which involved scientific discourse and scientific testing, would be disrupted. “I panicked—I had no idea how I was going to do this because I was used to doing all these incredibly cool activities in my classroom,” Judy says.

What she found surprised her. Judy discovered that with incremental changes she could still carry out her normal lesson routine and even discovered how the challenges of remote learning presented new opportunities to develop her student’s critical thinking skills. She was excited to maintain an engaging learning environment where her students could see that science was all around them and not just contained in their school classroom.

Highlight #2: Maintain Familiar Routines and Processes

In a time when so many variables are changing for students and teachers, it was important to maintain the routines and processes that students had been practicing. “I looked at my KnowAtom curriculum I had at home—we read, we discuss, we develop questions, and then we develop a lab,” Judy says. She decided to keep using this lesson routine because it was familiar to her and her students and to focus her energy on replicating this routine in an online format instead of creating new lessons.

Similar to the classroom, Judy would assign a section of reading along with a guiding question for her students to think about. Her students now had the option to talk to a parent or sibling about the question at home. After that, the class would come together online to share their thinking about the question and respond to each other’s ideas. In this way, the guiding question became a springboard for scientific discourse. Judy developed these guided questions based on the example questions in her curriculum, the big ideas in the lesson, and the available materials her students would most likely have access to at home.

Engaging in the reading in this way allowed Judy to recreate small group discussions that her students were familiar with while also providing her students with a sense of momentum as they progressed through the lesson routine.

Highlight #3: Use High-Engagement Learning Tools

Another way Judy maintained consistency was by continuing to use high-engagement strategies for reading. In other words, she resisted the urge to shortcut introductory activities for the sake of online efficiency. “One of the tools that we used in class was the picture-thinking graphic organizer,” she says. This activity engages students in close observation of the images in the student reader in order to describe what they think the text on each page is about before reading the text together. The power of this strategy is that learners are noticing the different dimensions of an image and are taking a low-stakes, personal risk to infer meaning and then modify their own understanding after the reading. Not only did her students want to learn more to see if they were “right,” she also used this tool to reinforce concepts. “After they finished reading, I would usually go a page at a time and ask them, ‘how has your thinking changed?’” Judy explains. Some of her most reluctant students became more willing to take risks as they made connections to prior learning and were encouraged to speak up in remote discussions.

Highlight #4: Adopt Proactive Strategies for Interactive Zoom Meetings

Zoom meetings were more challenging than she had anticipated. “I assumed that I would have a bunch of students who would literally never stop talking and we would have great scientific discussions even though we were distant—boy was I wrong,” Judy says. Students who were normally chatty in class now felt hesitant to share their thinking. To help launch the online discourse and encourage students to share, Judy would give her class a seed question a few days before the online discussion so they had time to think about it. She would also reach out to some of her students that were more comfortable talking to see if they would be willing to start the discussion that day. “That worked really well,” Judy says, “because once we had someone talking, other students were more comfortable joining in.”

Highlight #5: Invite Parents to Participate

Judy found that having a weekly ClassDojo challenge provided a way for her to incorporate parents into group discussions. For example, each week she would publish an assignment that asked students to explain a scientific concept to their parents. Then the children could submit a video or written summary of the discussion. “It was just exciting to me because it was another way that a student could engage in discussion,” Judy says. It also provided a chance to invite parent involvement in a way that had not been explored before in the physical classroom. These “gems”—or opportunities for engagement driven by necessity— can manifest, but only if you know where to look for them and proactively cultivate an environment where they can flourish.

Learn More Strategies and Get Tools You Can Use

If you’d like to learn more about Judy’s experience teaching science remotely, her webinar series is a great place to start. In the first video, you can learn more valuable strategies such as:

  • How to foster student curiosity in remote environments
  • How to guide students to create testable questions
  • How to help students utilize their home environments for scientific investigation
  • How to help students work remotely with peers to analyze data

Instead of reinventing the wheel this summer, get valuable insights on remote teaching you can use to help deepen your student’s learning from home.

Sign up to request full video access and start planning your remote learning strategy today.

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