Socially distanced classrooms are challenging the mental and physical health of our students. Intentionally add movement and conversation with these tips.
Movement breaks and brain breaks are definitely not a new concept in education. However, never have I taught a school year that required brain breaks more than 2020. Due to COVID restrictions, this year I have 14 first graders who are not allowed to leave their seats all day. Six year olds, at desks six feet apart, all day long. No centers, no "find a partner who..." activities, no real group work, not even the option to get up to sharpen a pencil or grab a piece of paper. We have truly no movement naturally built into our day. So, I started the school year by intentionally planning movement breaks and partner activities that would be a part of every school day, to protect the mental and physical health of my students.
I have always actually leaned away from formal brain breaks, like the ones posted on Go Noodle, because they often get students wound up and then require me to lose teaching time to get us refocused. Instead, I have always just built natural movement into our day, with center rotations, group projects, allowing students to get their own materials and work in every corner of our classroom. However, with all of those things being big no-nos, I went into this school year with an intentional plan to give students movement without taking away from instructional time. Here are a few of the things I have done:
"Action Break" Transitions
Even though my students can't rotate through centers, I am continuing to teach through small group rotations. Only this year the students complete the activities at their desks and I move from one small group to the next with my rolling whiteboard. In between each rotation, when students would normally be moving from one area of the classroom to another I have created "action breaks".
For these action breaks, I typed up a list of different actions, everything from basic exercises (like jumping jacks and pushups) to yoga poses (like chair pose and boat pose) to imagination activities (like pretending to drive a car or pretending to hula hoop). I cut up my list and during each transition, I pull an action and the kiddos have thirty seconds to a minute to complete it. This is about the same amount of time that I would normally give students to transition between center rotations, so no lost teaching time and the kids get out of their seats.
Planned Talking Partner Activities
When students are working in centers, they talk to their groupmates, a lot. When these conversations are on topic, they can create additional learning possibilities. This is especially important for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. But, honestly all students benefit from these peer on peer conversations. Additionally, these conversations give students an outlet from the monotony of their own thoughts. Without these built in times to talk, we as teachers need to intentionally build in talking opportunities.
Since groupwork is challenging from a six foot distance, I have assigned each of my students a single "talking partner". This is generally the person closest to them in the classroom. All throughout the day, I ask students questions and they are to discuss it with their "talking partner". This can be as simple as "Tell your talking partner about the work you did on that word problem." or "Tell your partner what you would do if you were that character." However, I also build in specific questions during whole group and small group lessons. As in I write the questions directly into lesson plans. I also put them in my daily slides. This keeps me focused and gives my students a brain break from listening to me. It also gives them a chance to talk and make meaning.
Learning Material Boxes
Since students cannot share materials this year, I gave each child a tote with baggies of basic manipulatives. It has things like red and white chips, connecting blocks, plastic coins, dice, a timer, a clock, etc. I originally created these simply as a time saver so I wouldn't have to sanitize manipulatives each time they were used. However, this has really helped encouraged my students to pull out manipulatives whenever they feel they need them. This increases learning and the metacognition skills to realize when they need manipulatives.
These learning boxes also increase movement. They sit on the floor next to my students' desks, and so each time they bend down to get something, they are more active than if I had delivered those manipulatives to them. Additionally, I use these learning boxes as an opportunity to build in partner talk. For example, I might say "Roll the dice, compare it with your talking partner. Who has more?" Or "Build that word with one chip per sound. Show your talking partner how to spell that word. "
The lack of movement and conversation our kids are experiencing due to COVID is very concerning to me, as a parent and as a teacher. It is not good for anyone's mental or physical health to sit still all day, or to be isolated from their peers. While I understand that this disease is dangerous, the measures we are taking to prevent disease spread are also dangerous. Please, as a teacher, find ways to add movement and conversation into your classrooms, whether you are teaching virtually or face to face. And if you have a great way to add this into the classroom that you'd like to share, please leave a comment with that information. Let's learn from each other to make the best decisions for our students.
What will we learn about education from this pandemic? Learn today with Angela in Morocco on Teaching Hive Mind: A Worldwide Window into Education
Teachers are busy. That should be news to no teacher reading this. However, because we are so busy, we often only see teaching as what WE are doing in our own school in our own area. We forget that there are so many teachers teaching in other parts of the world, in other circumstances, in other ways. For a long time I have wanted to help us as teachers connect with each other, to learn from what is happening in different schools around the world. Then COVID happened and the differences between areas became more and more apparent. So I have reached out to some teacher friends and put together a series called Teaching Hive Mind: A Worldwide Window into Education.
For each episode in this series, I will be interviewing an educator from a different area on what teaching looks like in their area, and how their area is responding to the COVID pandemic. Today I am releasing Episode 1: An Interview with Angela in Morocco on How Education is Changing During this Pandemic.
For this episode, I spoke with my friend Angela, who I had taught with in Morocco 9 years ago. Angela is a teacher and administrator in Morocco. The international school she taught at last year taught live lessons from day one of the pandemic and the French Moroccan school she has now switched to has been teaching virtually this school year. She is now preparing for a hybrid of some students coming back face to face and other students attending from home.
Angela and I discussed the trends towards virtual only learning, and how her own daughter is achieving her goals this way. We also discussed the inequities that this pandemic has uncovered and how extreme they can be in Morocco. Additionally, Angela gave us a clear picture of what education looks like at her school.
Watch the entire interview on my YouTube channel.
Afraid of starting all over this fall? Don't recreate the wheel for distance learning! Convert worksheets you already have using Google Slides.
Hybrid learning is out and virtual learning is back, at least in my district. With one week left before school, there isn't a lot of time to recreate the wheel for distance learning. So now I'm looking at all of those worksheet resources that I use and trying to figure out which ones I can convert to Google Classroom resources. Although this sounds difficult, I have found a very simple way to prevent myself from reinventing the wheel. So I am spending this week turning assignments into things I can use in Google Classroom.
Choosing the Correct Format for Google Classroom
When I am creating assignments for my class using Google Drive, there is always a debate about whether to use Google Docs or Google Slides or Google Forms. Each format has it's own benefits and drawbacks.
Google Docs provide students with the option to type as long as they would like without "running out of space". They are also very easy for teachers to copy and paste pre-created prompts or assignments into. This is great for essays. However, Google Docs allows students to have complete control over formatting, which can be challenging, especially with younger users. Additionally, if students need to create a picture, they have to create that picture using the "insert picture" function that is slightly challenging for kids to use. I use Google Docs predominantly for writing assignments and long response reflection responses.
Google Slides allows you to put a picture as a "background" and use text boxes to complete a worksheet. Additionally, students can create pictures right on the slides, which is super helpful with math activities. However, due to the limited space of each slide, assignments need to be broken down into appropriate steps before handing them off to students. Also, because assignments are often broken down into one piece on each slide, students need to be trained on how to navigate the slides to find what they are looking for. I use Google Slides predominantly for math problem solving or for worksheets where the formatting helps guide students through the activity, like my math projects.
Google Forms grades quizzes for you, providing students with immediate feedback on their work. Additionally, Forms is an easy way for students to look at a large group of student work very quickly. It even gives you graphs of student responses! However, Forms will not grade written responses for you, unless it is a number answer or a single word, given in a specific format. This means that Forms are most effectively used for multiple choice activities. While you may add a picture to a form when you are creating it, respondents can't add pictures to a form. Additionally, if a student starts a form today, they cannot save their work and come back to it tomorrow. I use Google Forms predominantly for multiple choice quizzes and quick check exit tickets.
Turning Worksheets into Google Slides
As you can see, I use all formats: docs, slides and forms, when creating activities for my kiddos. However, recently my focus has been on Google Slides. To turn a worksheet into a Google Slide, I take a screenshot of the worksheet. Then I set that screenshot as the background of a slide in Google slides. Finally, I insert text boxes into all of the places where I want kiddos to write. Personally, I leave my text boxes "invisible" without borders or shading. Then, when students open the Google Slide, they see just the worksheet, but as they click where they would like to type, the text box will be there waiting for them.
It does take a little bit of training for students to remember to click on those text boxes, but they get the idea quickly. I also train my students on how to add their own text boxes, in case they accidentally erase the ones I have provided. This skill is just one of many Google Slides navigation skills I teach my kiddos, including how to draw, how to add shapes, how to highlight, etc. By the end of the year, the kiddos are often better at Google Slides than I am!
Save More Time, Use My Pre-made Google Slide Worksheets
Don't have time to create Google Slide Worksheets? I am working hard on updating my more popular items into Google Classroom assignable activities. Here are a few that are ready and waiting for you to download from my Teachers Pay Teachers store and assign right away:
Ice Cream Shop Project
Be an Architect Project
Holiday Shopping Project
Party Planner Project
Balanced Checkbook Project
Holiday Recipe Project
Field Trip Planning Project
Student Created Video Project
Graphic Organizer Sheets
As districts quickly turn back to distance learning, it is important for teachers to teach the technology vocabulary without being face to face.
"We'll be going back to school using the hybrid model." was the message from many districts as early as a week or two ago. Now, as the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, many of them are saying "Actually, we'll teach from a distance for a little while first." As much as I understand and appreciate districts (including mine) following the science and making safe decisions, I have to admit that I am bummed. I was looking forward to having at least a little while to teach those basic skills and procedures in person.
One of the skills that I always start the year with is technology skills, especially vocabulary. Direct teaching words like upload, save, restart and double click from the beginning, makes it easier for my kiddos to get into complex technology tasks quicker. I can explain technology tasks to them easier if they already know the correct words. This is important every year, but with kiddos so reliant on technology for their education this year, it is more important this school year.
Most years I teach kiddos technology vocabulary using my technology vocabulary cards. After we talk about a word, I add it to the word wall, so that they can refer back to it regularly. Since kiddos won't have that word wall to refer back to this year, I created a technology terminology presentation in Google Slides. I can add this presentation to their Google Classroom, so that they can refer back to it in the same way they would refer back to a word wall.
So here is my plan to teach technology vocabulary during distance learning: I plan to pre-teach each vocabulary word to my students using the word wall cards, held up in Google Meet (3 - 5 a day). Then students will come up with example sentences for how we might use these words. They will also draw a picture that might represent these words - using Whiteboard.fi. Finally, we will look through the Google Slide Presentation to see where that word is when they need to refer back to it. After they have been introduced to the words, we will complete a technology activity that will ask them to use those words. For example, after learning the words download and upload, they may have a Google Classroom assignment that asks them to download a PDF and/or to upload a picture they have drawn. By having students USE the words regularly, they will internalize meanings much quicker.
Both of these resources are available for sale separately in my Teachers Pay Teacher store. I also have them bundled at a discount. How will you use them to make distance learning easier this school year?
Let kids explain their thoughts everyday! Student created videos document learning and prevent the risk of cheating during distance learning.
As we approach the 2020/2021 school year, more and more districts are choosing to stick with distance learning. So, we are especially focused on how we are going to teach from a distance. But how many of us have thought about how we are going to assess kiddos from a distance? So much of my informal assessments come from me observing how my students are doing in small group. Without being able to sit next to my students, how am I going to assess their current level? Without seeing them, how do I know that the work on the screen is actually theirs? One strategy I plan to use is video, specifically using the website FlipGrid.
FlipGrid in the Traditional Classroom
FlipGrid is a website I have used in my classroom since we got Chromebooks. It allows students to record short videos of themselves and share them with me and their classmates in a safe and secure way.
In my traditional classroom, I used FlipGrid in a few different ways. One great way was to allow students to explain their thinking for math word problems to the video camera. This practice allowed students to justify their thinking verbally before they tried to write it out. This helped them to gather their thoughts and think about their word choice. Additionally, it allowed me to go back and watch the kiddos who I was unable to work with in small group for whatever reason.
Additionally, I have used FlipGrid to help students work on reading fluency, as they recorded themselves reading the same book multiple times. This allowed them to see how they were growing as readers in a very visual way. And it was a great way to show growth to parents during conferences!
Using FlipGrid with Distance Learning
With the advent of distance learning, FlipGrid can become so much more. It can allow for you to see the individual thinking of each student. You as the teacher can create a mini lesson video and add it to an assignment. Additionally, students can create response videos to their classmates, so they can actually have a digitally delayed discourse on a topic. Here are some of the ways I can see FlipGrid being helpful for Virtual Education:
- Teachers might read a story or poem to the students and/or post a video in FlipGrid of this read aloud. Each student can then respond to the text with a video of their own. Either they can all respond to the same question, or you can do a "virtual jigsaw" and have each student answer a different question. Students can then go back and watch the videos of their classmates to gather additional information that they hadn't thought to include.
- Teachers might assign a math problem or post a math mini lesson video with a problem at the end of the video. Each student can then solve the math problem and create a video explaining their thinking. Again, differentiation can be put into play by assigning different groups of students different problems to answer.
- Before writing about a topic, students may create a video discussing what they know about a topic. This can serve as their pre-writing to help get their ideas into order. Additionally, when students complete their writing, they might share it with the class by reading it into a FlipGrid video.
- After completing research or lessons on a topic, students might create a presentation video to teach the rest of the class what they learned. In fact, my Student Created Tutorial Videos Planning Sheet works great for helping kiddos plan out videos like this.
These are just a few ways to use FlipGrid for both learning and assessment. How will you use this powerful website this school year?
As the 2020/2021 school year approaches, teachers have a lot of questions about what it will look like. When we ask this question, it seems like all we hear is “We don’t know yet.” Since governors, district leaders and administrators don’t know what schools will look like next year, teachers are struggling to figure out how to prepare. In this blog series, we are looking at 10 ways that we can prepare this summer without wasting our time. Each way will prove beneficial to you, whether your district ends up using distance learning, traditional classrooms, or a hybrid education approach. Included in each blog post in this series will be tech tool suggestions, free resources, and a giveaway entry form.
We have already talked about setting up your digital classroom, exploring technology tools, exploring both digital and paper formats for teaching resources, building up a communication system for parents, digging deep into your standards, prerecording mini lessons, creating a classroom management system, differentiating instruction and finding balance between teaching and parenting. Today we will discuss the final, and most important thing, all teachers should do to prepare for next school year:
You can take time for self care.
Summer is supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy our families. With many businesses still closed, or open with big restrictions, we will not be doing the things we normally do during the summer. Most of us won't be traveling, or hanging out at community pools. We won't be going to family reunions or having gigantic barbecues. However, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't be taking time for ourselves this summer. In fact, with the stress of the unknown in the Fall, it is even more important for us to take time to recharge this summer.
Additionally, this is a great time to build self care into our daily routine, with the hope of keeping that self care going in the fall. Personally, I have decided to make exercise a part of my morning routine every day. I started this as we started quarantine and it made such a difference during distance teaching. My favorite type of exercise is Yoga and a teacher friend of mine suggested the app Down Do because they were giving away a free membership during distance teaching. I tried it out and liked it enough to pay for the membership when the free trial ran out.
Here are some other suggestions on some how to build self care into your summer:
- Limit the amount of time you spend on school work. Yes I know there's a lot to do, but set yourself a daily limit and stick with it. This is the beginning of finding a life/work balance and it is so important.
- Catch up on shows and books you've missed. While I'm teaching I never seem to have enough time to enjoy the escapism of my favorite shows and books. This quarantine situation has given me that time to enjoy and to broaden my horizones with new, interesting shows and books. Personally, I have watched all of the 100, the Handmaid's Tale and Overlander.
- Explore a new (or old) hobby. For the first time in a long time, I have the space and time for jigsaw puzzles and baking, which are two of my favorite hobbies. What new hobbies can you try now?
- Take screen free time! Hiking, walking, gardening, sitting in the sun, playing board games, doing puzzles, taking a nap, there are so many things we can do WITHOUT our phones or computers.
- Learn something new - just for fun. There are so many things to learn in life, and we never have time to learn them as teachers. Learn how to change your oil, or how to cook a new recipe, or how to speak a new language. I'm working on Arabic on Duolingo!
- Sunbathe - in your backyard. Vitamin D is such a great mood booster, and there's no better way to get it than to bathe in sunlight. You don't have to go to the beach to do this, lay out a blanket or a chair in your backyard and catch those rays!
- Find a nature based day trip, so you'll feel like you traveled. Sometimes it doesn't take going very far to feel like you've traveled. Going even an hour or 2 away can give you the "road trip" feel that puts us in such a great mood.
- Pretend you're a kid and have a water gun fight. Run around splashing your kids, or your significant other, or even your dog. You'll laugh, you'll get exercise, you'll have fun.
- Spend at least a few days laying around in your PJs! The official uniform of teachers on vacation should be PJs or Yoga pants, but if yours isn't, then try it for at least a few days! You'll like it!
FREE Resources for Your Classroom
As you take some time to take care of yourself, here are some free resources that will save you planning time and allow you to plan a little less:
Back to School Vocabulary Packet for English Language Learners - This packet has 4 differentiated levels and guides students through 5 days of work for each level.
3rd Grade Problem Solving Path - This packet gives you 10 community based word problems for 3rd grade students.
Parts of Speech Quizzes - These quizzes (with answer keys) gives you multiple ways to assess if students can use the context of a sentence to determine the part of speech of a word.
Long I Spelling and Vocabulary Packet - This packet has 4 differentiated levels and guides students through 5 days of work for each level.
June Digital Learning Resource Bundle Giveaway
Now time for our giveaway!!! With today's giveaway entry form, you will be entering to win my 1st Grade Internet Scavenger Hunt Bundle. This bundle includes: 8 different internet scavenger hunts. Each scavenger hunt comes with 4 different formats: .doc format that allows students to type on them, a .pdf that allows students to click the links, a QR code version that allows students to scan QR codes and a Google Classroom version that includes a Google Doc and a Google Form. Enter to win this Internet Scavenger Hunt Bundle, by completing the the June Giveaway Entry Form #10.
All winners will be chosen on July 1st. Winners will receive the bundle directly to the provided email. All those who enter will also receive my monthly Raki's Rad Resources News Releases.
Missed a day? This blog post contains the entire list of 10 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Next School year.
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