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?
Curriculum, Must-Reads, Professional Development

BOMish: Jan 2020 {“All Things Being Equal”}

book-of-the-month (1)

All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World

math
[Photo from Penguin Random House Publishing]
  • The Stats: 304 Pages, published January 2020
  • Who Should Read It: New and veteran teachers to math and anyone wanting to be inspired and/or rethink their relationship with math!
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥
  • My Thoughts: All Things Being Equal is part social justice manifesto, part growth mindset companion reader, and part practical guidebook. Author and founder of the Jump Math program, John Mighton, is a self-described late-bloomer in math and has himself grown from math-queasy to a mathemetician in his 30s. Mighton has an approachable tone and brings you along easily into some of the math “traps” students and teachers can fall into. For instance, Mighton is a true believer that anyone can learn math and that it’s often just taught in ways that are inaccessible or relies heavily memorization without the fundamentals (which make the most sense). Mighton spoke to me especially in his beliefs of not creating “low floor, high ceiling” problems, but rather, aiming to get the entire class to succeed. He advocates for this by breaking down math problems into their simplest, easiest to understand forms- something he notes few teachers generally take the time to do, favouring what seems like a more efficient route, but leaving many students behind in the process. Indeed, Mighton convinced me that students who already know the steps won’t be bored in this process either, as they have time to practice and apply, or the opportunity to mentor students along the way.  Further, Mighton’s approach also includes myriad reasons why math is imporant. While I didn’t need convincing, his passion for math as a subject in and of itself, and the success with which students can realize within math pedagody in particular, is an admirable one (check it) and further reinforced my belief in strong, inclusive math programs. The book makes the most sense within the context of the Jump Math program, founded by Mighton himself. I recommend this book without reservation for your 2020 reading list, however, to get the most out of it, make sure to carve out time to investigate the Jump Math website, resources, and/or webinars. 
Educational Theory, Professional Development, Recent + Research-Based, Technology

Looking to 2020: New Year’s Teaching Resolutions!

With a new year comes new opportunities to reflect one the year, which many do with a look towards health, habits, and perhaps even new gym memberships (go for it!). Why not do the same in the classroom? In January, I wrote about how teachers can use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate classroom norms, habits, and goals. As we round out the year, let’s take a look at what we can reflect on and look forward to as teachers in the new year. What will I be doing? Check out my 5 resolutions!

Audit My Classroom Library

Library Audit BINGO, created by Dr. Katherine Fishman-Weaver; from Edutopia

Dr Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, faculty at the University of Missouri, recently created a brilliant Classroom Library Audit BINGO, as featured on Edutopia. The audit itself addresses common problems in classroom libraries and is an invaluable, even fun, resource. Fishman-Weaver’s BINGO game is especially helpful for any teachers who feel intimidated by the grand task of ensuring they have representative and inclusive libraries.

Expand Classroom Inclusivity

It’s 2020, and dialogue has changed significantly. Things on the news become more and more raw, real, and scary and include difficult topics, such as consent, racism, homophobia, violence and terror, hate speech, and more. Our students are witness to these things daily, from the news to YouTube to all sorts of social media platforms, and beyond. While it’s ultimately up to each family to decide how, when, and in what manner they talk to their children about the real, raw, and scary, as teachers it is a disservice to ignore these topics. At times, however, it’s challenging to know where to begin. The most trusted and courageous resource I have found is Teaching Tolerance. This website includes easily adapted lessons, learning plans, student tasks, teaching strategies, learning plan tools, film kits, and posters on a wide range of topics for grades K-12. My resolution is to use 1 resource per month from Teaching Tolerance.

Experiment with Apps for Inquiry

Just a small sampling of the TONS of games and resources available through the Goose Chase app.

Confession: technology is not intuitive for me, particularly when it comes to using apps. I find I’m always a bit clumsy with respect to how to best incorporate apps into the learning, rather than have the app take over the instruction and learning entirely… though I’m learning sometimes this is okay, too (for example, MathGames or RAZKids). I’m going to challenge myself this year to get comfortable and plan a lesson around ONE app, and go from there. (I like setting goals I know I have some hope at achieving!). The app I’m thrilled to try is Goose Chase: an interactive, customizable scavenger hunt app and one that is easily adaptable and lends itself well to discovery, student-directed learning, and inquiry. I was introduced to the app as an online Learning Design student through the Harvard Extension School, and I loved it! I’m particularly excited to dive into the full Game Library that Goose Chase provides, which includes topics from Christmas wreath coding (cool!) to English language learning to ecology to field trips, and seemingly everything in-between!

Practice Responding Over Recreating

As mentioned in my November post regarding B.C.’s curricular overhaul, Indigenous knowledge and philosophy are critical pillars and lenses for learning and teaching. One of the key learnings for me in navigating and re-calibrating my positionality in response to these curricular changes has been the notion of responding to, instead of recreating, cultural practices, traditions, and art. My resolution in this regard is to continue to challenge my lessons and applications of the First People’s Principles of Learning, particularly in the way of how students can respond to art, stories, and lessons. Specifically, I’m creating my own essential question: What is the most valuable, meaningful, and authentic way students can connect to their own and other’s cultures? Luckily for me (and all B.C. teachers), there is the First Nations Educational Steering Committee (FNESC), who have SO generously provided extensive lesson plans and classroom resources addressing this very need. B.C. Ministry of Education also has some excellent resources to help guide me on this question.

Learn!

This one may seem like an obvious one, but too often, teachers can get bogged down in the many day-to-day details that go along with loving and wanting the best for our students and their learning…that we forget to take a breather and look around. My goal/resolution there is simply to keep my ears perked and stay curious about new ways of teaching and learning. All of our students are so beautifully unique, and any expansion of our pedagogical toolkits can only help everyone. Recently, I’ve been diving down the rabbit hole of Whole Brain teaching...which seems great and also quite controversial (is this not true of everything to some degree?). To be honest, I don’t know much about it! If you do, what should I know?

  • What are your teaching resolutions for 2020?