Tech Tips for a Smoother Telecommuting School Day

To be honest, I was apprehensive about transitioning from classroom teaching to delivering instruction entirely online. How would I connect with my kids? How would I accurately assess their learning? How would I deliver the content and still make meaningful connections with them? These questions and others plagued me as COVID-19 threatened to take more and more time away from the classroom.

So, where to begin? Fortunately, I’ve had some experience with teaching digitally, so when COVID-19 forced the closure of my district, I was already familiar with some technology that could deliver instruction to my students remotely. The following are some practical tips I have used in my transition.

In our school, we were already using Google Classroom for assignments, so this was my foundation. The next piece I needed was a video platform, and there are a number of these available for free! I chose Edpuzzle for three reasons. First, it allows me to either search for a video on YouTube, in their library, or to upload my own, homemade videos. Second, and very importantly, it allows me to insert multiple-choice or open-ended questions that appear while the video is playing. This helps to assess if my students are really paying attention. Lastly, Edpuzzle works on any operating system and it has an app for both iOS and Android.

Now, on to your lessons. If you have access to a whiteboard, I recommend using your cell phone camera to record yourself teaching the lesson as if the whole class were there. Be yourself! In the times I have done this, my students made it a point to tell me they prefer to see and hear ME over any YouTube video. I took this to heart, and I now try to make the videos appear as if my students were right there with me. I encourage you to open each video just talking to the students like you would on any ordinary day in the classroom. This personal connection makes the video more authentic and allows students to connect with you.

If you do not have access to a whiteboard, there are plenty of other options to deliver content. My students always say I am “so extra” and this is evident even when I am teaching online. Since I do not have a physical whiteboard at home, I use a free digital whiteboard called OpenBoard. To record my screen and webcam video at the same time, I use a recording tool called Screencast-o-matic (also free).

The following items are “extra” and, although they make my online teaching easier, they are not essential. I did not like trying to write on a digital whiteboard using a mouse, so I purchased a huion writing tablet. These can be found on Amazon between $30-$50. I also purchased an expensive ($35) studio microphone from Amazon so my voice is more clear when recording. (Now you know why my students say I’m “extra.”).

Now that you have the tools for some awesome lessons, you can explore different ways to deliver the content. I have been exploring Google Hangouts to connect with students, and I will be doing a Google Hangout Lesson in the very near future. This allows me to record the session and post to Google Classroom for those who missed the live recording. This is where the writing tablet comes in handy, but again, this is not essential.

Assessing student learning has been challenging. Edpuzzle helps to see if students are paying attention, but mathematics is more about the process and what students are thinking. The only way to truly assess their learning is in student work. So far, I have been using Google Classroom to help with this process. I give students 3-4 problems in a Google document which they must work out on their own. Students then take pictures of their work, insert them into a Google document, and upload this to Google Classroom. Not all students want to do this, but I have learned the key to student participation is to give a daily grade for just uploading their work. My goal at this time was not to grade their accuracy, but rather to gain insight into their thought process. Then, through the comment feature of Classroom, I can give specific feedback on what they need to correct. So far we have not had a summative assessment but it is on the horizon, and I am considering different avenues for delivery and grading.

While transitioning to delivering instruction entirely online can be an arduous undertaking, the time and effort can also be very rewarding. Students have often commented on how they feel how much I care about them because I take time to create engaging lessons rather than assigning busywork. So, embrace this opportunity by taking time to connect with your students through your digital lessons and have fun in the process!

Dr. Jeremiah Veillon lives in Rome, Georgia and works at the College and Career Academy. He is an enthusiastic, student-centered mathematics educator with experience at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. He has taught in both traditional and online learning environments, and he is passionate about using inquiry-based instruction in the mathematics classroom. He is a life-long learner and seeks to instill a love for learning in all his students.

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