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!


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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 😉


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


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?
Instructional Tools, Technology

What the Flip(ped Classroom)?!

Ever meet one of those people who’s a soulfriend? You’ve got the same energy and pace, and you can chatter on and on about nothing/everything? And, one of those people you can emphatically disagree with till you’re blue in the face? I was lucky enough to study with one of these fine people- Marc Bliss– and we still engage in lovingly heated arguments that encapsulate everything from emoji use to echinoderms to pedagogy.
Both Marc and I are science teachers (I’ll still identify as that- sure!), and we both identify as innovative instructors… or at least we strive to be! Marc flipped his classroom last year as an experiment, and we had a great time discussing it this summer in Madrid. Marc is patient and sarcastic, which are 2 qualities I deeply appreciate, and are excellent for any colleague of mine to hold, as I’m often persistent, curious, critical, and have a wry ‘n dry sense of humor. So when I say we spent hours discussing every possible asset, circumstance, and case study on flipping one’s classroom, I’m not exaggerating.
I have to admit that unless prompted, I rarely take the time to peruse primary literature and keep tabs on instructional strategies from a research point of view, so any excuse to do this (in this case– trying to somehow find a counter argument for Marc’s flipped classroom advocacy!). I find overall beneficial to my professional practice as an educator. So off I went, trying to prove Marc wrong (ugh, it’s painful to say that!), digging through tens of research articles on flipped classrooms in the bowels of EBSCO.
And, long story short, Marc’s right (GAH!), and flipped classrooms are, too.
Despite the critical motivation for my search, I really did appreciate seeing studies published from 201x that continued to validate flipping the classroom as an effective and high-impact strategy. I was most encouraged by some of the case studies we read about on medical and pharmacy schools employing flipped classroom strategies in order to create more time in class to practice bedside manner, collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation– skills I typically do not associate with the mind-numbing grind medical school seems to be (based on my completely informal research in what I hear from my med school friends at happy hour, Facebook, etc.).
Using time at home to study potential symptoms associated with illness or disease and class time to engage with others as part of these professional programs is an excellent way to model educational and instructional practices from the top. It seems that many innovative strategies begin at the bottom (primary or middle school and some high schools) and tend not to transfer to “the top” (college/graduate school), which are still quite traditional by and large in their professional practices.
Many times my colleagues and I (high school and middle school teachers) bemoan our school’s title as a college prep school because so many of our graduates struggle their first two years in college. While many students from many different backgrounds may take a bit longer to adjust to college, our progressive school that relies primarily on group work, discussions, and PBL does not prepare students for Scantron exams or long didactic powerpoint lectures, or extremely particular tests that come directly from textbook readings, which are quite commonplace in the introductory classes in the first two years of introductory college courses.
So, I remain convinced curious on flipped classrooms. Where else can flipped learning be employed? Where does it work best? When should it not be used? When will it become obsolete? Or essential?

[Photo by Ben White on Unsplash]