Instructional Tools, Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: *Free* Resources, Ideas, Family Fun, and Deep Breaths

It is not a unique nor profound reflection to say that what the world is experiencing with COVID-19 is unimaginable, unprecedented, and something of a horror movie mixed with a nightmare. Every day, we see stories of dire new statistics but we also see the resiliency and strength of the human spirit emerging throughout. Alongside the rest of the world, I remain ever-grateful for those who put their lives on the line and are truly leading the fight: the first responders, health professionals, the hospital admimistrators, the engineers doubling down and changing course to make rapidly depleting medical supplies, the supply chain directors and workers pivoting and doing all they can to help, the grocery store cashiers and stockers, the pharmacists, the nurses, the doctors, the researchers, the food delivery personnel, the garbage and waste removal personnel, governance across the world and their staff, journalists, and everyone else who is doing what they can to help, inform, and generally add to the good in the world.

Amongst all of this are our brave, resilient, maybe scared, and always precious students. This is a potentially scary and unsettling time for our kids and one that inevitably seems to not have a clear deadline nor course of action.

I find myself asking: “What can I do?”

Besides STAY HOME (which I happily can do), I know I can offer parents support who might be called to homeschool their children as schools scramble to figure out how to make distance learning possible, despite limiting resources available to all students. There are likely going to be som gaps and lags and one thing I can lessen the load for parents is the feelings of helplessness, while also providing students with some learning opportunities, building off of things they already know.

It’s worth noting that perhaps the best thing you can do for your child or students is first to take a deep breath. Smile. Be honest with your student or child but also be strong. They need us right now!

The wonderful thing about teaching in the digital age is the ample and ready access to heaps of free online learning resources and tools. To simplify, here are 10 elementary to middle years resources that are easily adaptable to a wide range of students. Do they neatly fit within specific province and/or state curricula? Not exactly, but I’d say it’s a pretty darn close fit!

1) AT-HOME SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS

From rainbows in a glass to slime and everything in between!

2) FREE ART, LITERACY, & MATH PRINTABLES

Class Playground has fantastic resources for helping kids practice, review, and learn art, literacy, and math. These resources are appropriate for roughly grades K-6. Click on “Menu” to see the subjects and sub-items.

3) FREE NATURE WALK SCAVENGER HUNT PRINTABLE

There is simply no substitute for wanders and wonders in the great outdoors. For a little bit more guidance and ideas to further explore, try a scavenger hunt for your neighbourhood!

4) FREE 1-MONTH TRIAL OF VOOKS

Need something while you hop into a Zoom meeting? Check out Vooks, storybooks brought to life, featuring a wide range of genres and stories. These books are appropriate and entertaining for grades roughly K-4 and are used in classrooms across North America, even before quarantine.

5) FOR OLDER SIBLINGS HELPING WITH YOUNGER SIBLINGS

Many homes will have older siblings tasked with extra responsibilities to help with younger siblings. If reading and playing start to get a bit tired, task your older sibling with making a specialized scavenger hunt using this free app (GooseChase). This also works well for teachers who are instructing remotely to mix up the Zoom meetings and independent work. Have students create scavenger hunts for one another. Minor parental assistance may be required.

6) MIDDLE YEARS STEM/STEAM WITH MUSIC VIDEOS

Need a break from the grind and want to let loose a little while still ensuring your kiddos are learning? The band, OKGo, is known for their larger than life and visually wild music videos… which are brought to you, in large thanks to SCIENCE! Say what!? It’s true! The band has a truly fun collaboration with the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St Thomas (say what?! Can I work there?!), and has created STEAM and STEM challenges for students to try to recreate some seriously FUN scenes in their music videos. Parents and caretakers, this might be a fun break for you, too!

7) ART & ART HISTORY AT THE MET (INCLUDES FREE LESSON PLANS)

Did your spring break travel plans get cancelled? I feel for you! If part of your break involved art viewing, fear not! The MET has got you covered with interactive exhibits, lessons, and stories. This resource is great for middle years to secondary.

8) MATH PLAYGROUND

Math Playground has a wide variety of math games and puzzles for kids of all ages. If practice sheets and quizzes are getting a bit dry, mix it up with some math games! This resource is appropriate for grades K-5, depending on screen time allowances at home. Also a great way to wake up the adult brain 😉

9) GAME-BASED PHYSICAL EDUCATION WITH LIMITED EQUIPMENT

Physical Education is perhaps one of the most important subjects during this nutty and stressful time in history. If “go outside and play!” is losing its power in your house, or sibling rivalry is reaching a peak, check out PlaySport.Net, a game-based, minimal equipment bank of resources that helps kids engage in non-competitive but strategy-based game activities that keep them active and thinking! These games are transferable to a wide variety of team sports, including volleyball, basketball, baseball, etc. but do not have the same equipment requirements

10) MINUTE-TO-WIN-IT CHALLENGES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

And, perhaps above all, it’s good to remember to have FUN and embrace this rare time together (while I respectfully and fully recognize that this time might be MUCH more challenging for some families than others). Take some time at the end of the day to ditch Yahtzee, ditch Netflix, and just get silly. These minute-to-win-it challenges take (you guessed it!) a minute to play and are full of around-the-house items used in creative and silly ways and can help take our mind away from the stress and uknown… at least for a minute!
  • How is COVID-19 impacting your family?
  • How have you adapted?
Must-Reads, Recent + Research-Based

Reflections on My Edutopia Binge (Part 1)

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Anyone else been following Edutopia’s “How Learning Happens” video series? I just tuned in this week and have been binge-watching the series.

I’m hooked.

What’s the deal?

In Edutopia’s own words:

“More than a year in the making, the series explores teaching practices grounded in the science of learning and human development. The videos highlight the importance of a safe, nurturing school environment and positive relationships with peers and adults. Get an inside look at practices that build students’ academic confidence and foundational skills such as problem-solving and self-regulation.”

In my own words:

This series tackles the question of how holistic learning actually happens. Rather than remove all of the variables of a student’s experience (social dynamics, past trauma, and so on), these videos embrace them. They provide tangible strategies on how to leverage social-emotional learning across all subjects, grade levels, and classrooms.

Tell me more!

The series contains 5 major topics, which follow a robust introduction:

  • Cultivating a Belonging Mindset
  • Fostering Positive Relationships
  • Building Academic Confidence
  • Developing Foundational Skills
  • Establishing Positive Conditions for Learning

Within each of these topics is a series of videos that share background information, highlight successful strategies in action from real schools (read: real teachers and students). The videos are quickly digestable, relatively short, and provide small steps that can be taken in individual classrooms.

From the perspective of an educator, the strategies pack a punch. They are simple enough to use in your classroom without the pomp and circumstance required for a overhaul (a la flipping the classroom), yet powerful enough to make a remarkable difference in the classroom.

Talk Moves, a strategy fostering safe participation practice, speaks to this. In theory, small group discussions are a great idea, but unless each student is given the same set of expectations and opportunities, it’s no different than any other squeaky-wheel conundrum (one student does all the talking because they perceive no one else will; everyone else is afraid or indifferent to talk because they perceive the talker to have established the vocal territory in the class as theirs).

Talk Moves is a strategy that puts all students on the same playing field, whether they are gregarious or more reserved in sharing their opinion. It gives students shared vocabulary- and more importantly, shared strategy- on how to engage in dialogue. As educators, we can make the error of assuming all of our students know the rule of dialogue– that participation is the goal and however you insert yourself is the strategy. But, what about the students that come from an entirely different set of cultural norms and thus, conversational rules? Perhaps it’s impolite to offer your opinion before being asked. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable and uncouth to debate at all. Or perhaps a student identifies as an analyst– one who prefers to hear all opinions and facts before they decide.

Not convinced? See for yourself:

In short, this is one strategy that allows students to bring their own experiences, ideas, opinions, and backgrounds into a discussion. It serves as the map to help students dive deeper together, (mostly) eliminates competition and judgement, and creates pathways to community. (Side note: interested? Use the free template in your own classroom!)

What’s the point?

If the whole series was just Talk Moves, it wouldn’t be particularly compelling as a series, and the video series encompass a broad range of strategies and approaches, all primarily rooted in social-emotional learning and it’s unequivocal connection to the science of learning.

Check it:

My main takeaways are:

  • A child’s brain is exceptionally responsive to experiences and relationships
  • Relationships and experiences affect brain development
  • Adversity can lead to uneven development of foundational skills (think self-regulation), which will in turn affect more advanced skills required in contexts of learning; in contrast, belonging and safety can help flourish these skills
  • Intentional skill-building aids in developing both foundational and advanced academic skills, creating whole learners
  • Classrooms with manipulatives, tools, and collaborative tasks build foundational skills and encourage social-emotional learning

The video is introduced by Dr Pamela Cantor, the founder and Senior Science Advisor for Turnaround for Children. In her words:

“The 20th-century education system was never designed with the knowledge of the developing brain. So when we think about the fact that learning is a brain function and we have an education system that didn’t have access to this critical knowledge, the question becomes: Do we have the will to create an education system that’s informed by it?”

Well, that’s a hard-hitter, isn’t it? Cantor is also part of an expert cross-disciplinary team studying the science of learning and development, and has dove deep into the role nurturing plays in educational settings…and how this actually affects the very nature of a child.

Cantor is also the founder of Turnaround for Children, an organization that began following 9/11 attacks “to address the impact of trauma on New York City public school students,” per the website. Indeed, trauma-informed practices are a central tenet in the series.

Trauma-informed teaching strikes me as equal parts essential, relevant, heartbreaking, and uplifting. We see growing acts of abuse, violence, and cruelty around the world, but especially so in the USA with 288 school shootings and no efforts to stop them. It’s true also that trauma, social-emotional learning, and a holistic perspective of a child’s experience inside and outside of school are finally recognized as critical pieces to the learning puzzle and that these types of initiatives are truly tying it all together and creating effective and powerful strategies teachers can use in their classrooms everyday, regardless of the subject or grades they teach.

What’s Next?

I can’t possibly recap the entire science of learning initiative into one post, so a series of my Edutopia Binge is forthcoming.

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  • Have you binged on this series?
  • What strikes you as most relevant in your classroom or setting?
  • What did the series nail, and what did it leave out?

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[Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash]