Building a classroom community is one of the most important things that happen at the start of the school year. Lately, I have found myself worrying about it more and more. Back to School 2020 will be different from any that I have experienced in my 20+ year teaching career. 

We still haven't been told how we will be returning to school. Our options are a hybrid model or fully remote. Building community in either of these scenarios is still important and it can start before the first day of the school. Here are some of the ways that I am going to use technology to help build our classroom community. 

Introductions on Flipgrid
Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to facilitate discussions through video. Teachers post a video and then students respond through video. 

I am going to create a video introduction for my students and families on Flipgrid. Sharing a video introduction will allow the students (and families) to "see" me before the start of school. Then, each student will respond with a video of their own. The videos will help me start to put names with faces and I will get to learn a little about each student. 

I will send an email to each family before school starts with the link to my video, directions for the student video, and a Flipgrid permission slip. The permission slip can be found on Flipgrid and allows parents/guardians to give their child permission to use the platform. 

Morning Meetings
Morning Meetings are an important part of the day in my classroom. It's a time for greeting one another, building routines, completing social-emotional learning activities, and sharing information. 
The use of a video conferencing tool like Zoom or Google Meet is one way to continue this practice in a hybrid or remote learning environment. 

Another activity my students enjoy is answering questions during Morning Meeting. I will pose a question and then they will share their answer. This can be done digitally using Flipgrid, too. 

Read Aloud
Sharing a book with students is one of my favorite ways to build a community. Shared stories offer up so many interesting things to discuss. Students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts about the characters and the events that take place in the story. Opinions differ and learning to agree or disagree respectfully helps build trust in the classroom. 

Books can be read to students in the classroom, in a Zoom meeting, or shared through video. I love to stop at a cliffhanger and ask students to predict what will happen next. Flipgrid is great for this, too. Students can record a video explaining what they think will happen next in the story. 

Digital Classroom Hub
The classroom is the center of everything. This year our physical classrooms will be socially distant and won't resemble the home away from home we worked so hard to create. So, what is a teacher to do? Create a digital classroom hub instead!

I created a Google Site for my class. Our classroom Google Site has information for students and parents. It will serve as the hub of our learning. My students will go to the site each day to check-in and find assignments. Our Google Classroom is linked to the Google Site. I love how simple and effective it is. 

Google Sites are easy to create. They can be customized to suit the personality of the teacher. Some teachers even replicate the look of their classroom. There are plenty of other ways to create a classroom website, too. 

Time to Collaborate
Students love to work with partners or in small groups. Technology can help students work together virtually in both a hybrid or remote model. Zoom allows teachers to create breakout rooms. These are perfect for group projects. Then everyone can come back to the Zoom to share out at the end. 

As the year progresses I will share additional tips and strategies. How are you building a community with your students? Let me know in the comments below. 

If you are anything like me, you collect tips that will make your teaching life easier. Today's tip is one that you will LOVE! 
Learn how to break apart your Google Slides Lessons

Many teachers use Google Slides for digital assignments because they can be shared easily through Google Classroom. But, some assignments might be better if they can be broken down into smaller chunks. 

Guess what? You can share specific slides from a Google Slides presentation in just a few clicks. Here's how:

    1. Open the Google Slides file.

    2. Select the slides you want to assign. On a Mac, this is done by holding the Command key and clicking the slides you want to use. (If you use a Windows computer the same can be done by holding the CTRL-key.) 

    3. Click File, Make a copy, and click Selected Slides. 

    4. You will be prompted to name the file. Then, click ok. The slides you selected will be copied to a new file that can be shared with students. 

Interested in more tech tips? Check out these posts:

When I decided to become a teacher 20+ years ago I never thought that I would be teaching students remotely. But, just like you, I am. I have a degree in technology education and consider myself tech-savvy, but I wasn't really ready for distance learning. If you are struggling, it is ok. This is NEW for all of us. It took me a while to get in the groove and to figure out how things would work for me and my students. 

Distance learning is not a cookie-cutter operation. It is going to look different for each teacher. However, there are a few things that I have discovered that have made it easier for me. Hopefully, a few of these tips will work for you, too. 

Communicate with Parents/Guardians
Parents are overwhelmed. They are working from home or juggling child care so that they can continue to go to work. They are navigating the digital learning of at least one student, but possibly more. Communication is key to the success of our current situation. But, it should be streamlined. Here are some ideas to try:
  • Pick one day to send an email with an overview of the weekly expectations. 
  • Consider sending a printable schedule that outlines the weekly assignments. 
  • Set up consistent office hours. Be available during that time to answer questions via email or through a Zoom meeting. Keeping the time consistent will benefit parents/guardians that are juggling schedules for the whole family. 

Create a Schedule
The schedule you create will likely be dependent on your school district's expectations and recommendations. We were told to plan for half of the school (about 3.5 hours). The district recommended a set amount of time per subject. It was also recommended that we try to connect with the students virtually at least twice per week. 

I created a weekly one-page schedule that was loosely based on our classroom schedule. This made it easier for me to plan. I included links to activities posted by the specialist teachers (art, music, physical education, library, and technology). I send it home attached to my weekly email. 
I don't expect the students to follow the schedule exactly as written. One of the perks of working at home is choosing what you want to tackle first. 

Stay Organized
Google Classroom is my go-to for all things digital - especially organizing assignments. When we closed for distance learning I decided to create a new Google Classroom. I use the topics feature and create a topic for each day. The title includes the day and the date. Then I post all of the assignments for that day below. 

Each assignment has all of the files and/or links needed to complete the work. This takes extra time when planning, but saves time in the end because the students can access everything needed. 

I schedule assignments to post each day. It is easy for the students to follow at home because everything is in one place. 

Lesson Planning Tools
I regularly use a modified flipped learning model in my classroom, so this is the area of distance teaching that I feel the most comfortable. 

I started by using Screencastify to film lessons. I used the lessons that I created and recorded the screen while going through the slides. Screencastify is granting all impacted educators free access to their products through at least April 30th. You can read more about it here

Last week I started using Explain Everything. I love it! Explain Everything is a user-friendly design, screencasting, and interactive whiteboard tool. You can annotate, animate, and narrate slides. The final product can be exported as a movie and uploaded to Google Classroom. I use Explain Everything on an iPad. 

I have taught a few live lessons on Zoom. I liked it, but prefer to use the recorded lessons because students can pause a lesson if they need extra time. 

Connect with Students
This is the thing that I miss the most about teaching from home. I miss the buzz of energy that hums through the classroom when we are all learning together. Staying connected is even more important now. Before I share some things that I am doing, I want to acknowledge that many districts have guidelines in place and it is important to follow them. Here are some things that I am doing to stay connected with my class. 

  • Class Meetings on Zoom - We meet twice per week for 30 minutes. We greet one another and discuss a question or complete an activity. 

  • Flipgrid - I post a video question and students record their answers and post. This is a great way for the students to "see" each other. 
  • Post a Question - Google Classroom has a feature that allows you to post a question. Students can comment on posts written by other students. I like to post questions about the book I am reading aloud to them. The commenting feature can be turned off if students abuse it. Thankfully, I have not had to do that. 
  • Padlet - We have a "Learning at Home" Padlet. Students post pictures that show the fun things they are doing. I enjoy seeing the pictures each day. 
  • Snail Mail - I created a coloring page and sent one along with a note to each student. You can grab it here.

We are all in this together.  Distance learning doesn't have to be a challenge. Sharing ideas and experiences is the best way to help each other. Comment below with any tips you have. I'd love to hear from you.

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