Friday, May 29, 2020

Creating Breakout Rooms in MS Teams for Virtual Events

The best way to create breakout rooms in MS Teams is to create one Team that has channels for each breakout room.  The name of the Team should be the name of the event.  The name of the breakout rooms can just be listed as Room 1, Room 2, Room 3, Room 4.  The reason you want to keep it generic is because throughout the day, you'll have various sessions and you'll just indicate on the agenda which room each session is in.  

To schedule the virtual sessions
1) Go to your calendar and select "New Meeting."
2) Add channel for the room where your meeting will occur (screenshot below)
Screenshot of a meeting invite that shows how to select a channel.

Once the conference is in place, go to the appropriate meeting room and enjoy your learning.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Foster Connection and Interaction in Webinars

Screenshot of a webinar called: School website makeover
Some new to conducting online webinars may feel a void in this environment. Unlike teaching face-to-face you can’t read the room the same way. It may be difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues. You can’t walk over to someone and look over their shoulder. Sometimes it just feels like you are talking to an empty room.  The ideas below are designed to help fill the void, establish connections, and facilitate interactivity.

Before the webinar:

Here are some considerations to put in place to prepare for your webinar.
  • Select some background music you can play before the webinar to get folks starting in a good mood. Add audio to the opening slide. Perhaps also have audio at parts where participants are working too.
  • Create some pre and post quick polling questions and compare responses at the end. A meaningful poll can also lead to some good discussions/idea sharing.
  • Set up a whiteboard and think of some ways you might want to use it.
  • Create a workbook or checklist for participants to work on during the class. Encourage participants to take notes and engage with the material as you go along.
  • Dualless: This simulates a dual monitor. Good way to see what participants are saying while conducting the webinar.
  • Consider using Peardeck with your slides to make them more interactive.

At the start of the webinar 

Here are some items to consider as your webinar begins.
  • Introduce yourself and share what you are hoping to get out of this session. 
    • Doing this can clear up any questions or expectations about the session early on and also give you an idea of which participants you might be able to call on later.
    • We may want to get creative and have them each complete a slide in a slide deck. This can be going on as the presenter is going through housekeeping, etc.
  • Have different grade strands, subjects, etc. say woo!!
  • Create a room (using whiteboard, slides, Google Draw, etc.). Have folks use a photo, Bitmoji, etc. to seat themselves in the room. Do activities that you might do f2f where folks move around in the class, for example:
    • Stand in this corner of the room if…
    • You’re using such and such web platform
    • You have this role
    • Have a question? Come to the podium

After the start use some of these:

Here are some ideas you can incorporate during your webinar.
  • Questions
    • Call for questions from participants between each section of your presentation about every 10-15 mins
    • Ask questions of participants and have people reply in the chat, then pick some to paraphrase and reply to
  • Breakout rooms 
    • Could be alphabetical, according to birthday, or some other way
    • Give participants a task
    • Tell them to have a reporter ready to share when coming back
    • You can visit some of the rooms
    • Have everyone share.
  • What are some takeaways from what you learned just now. 
  • Does what I just shared make sense? If not, what clarification do you need? 
  • How are you feeling about what you’ve learned so far?
    • They can respond with emojis
  • Put some fun/funny slides in about the topic to encourage laughter
  • Kahoot to check for understanding
  • Use raise hand to call on people who may want to contribute


As the webinar comes to an end there are some final activities you can have participants engage in.
  • What are you excited about?
  • Lingering questions?
  • Post poll. Share pre and post results

Further Reading

These are the sources that many of these ideas were pulled from.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Virtual Bitmoji Classroom Help

Have you created your Bitmoji classroom yet? If you have not and you want to, then you're in the right place.  Here you'll find an article and two videos that outline the process. I'll also share how you can check out Bitmoji classrooms on social media. And, finally, I'll share a slideshow featuring virtual Bitmoji classrooms that you can check out for inspiration, visit directly, and even copy and paste your favorite elements into your own classroom. 


If reading is your preferred method to get information, check out How to Create a Virtual Bitmoji Classroom from the Hello Teacher Lady blog.


If you prefer to learn via video, here are two tutorials that will walk you through the process.  

Social Media Inspiration

You can get lots of ideas by following the #BitmojiClassroom hashtag on social media. 


Want to see some samples? Check out the slideshow below to see Bitmoji classrooms from teachers who work at the NYC Department of Education. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Which Video Conferencing Platform is Right for Your School?

Graduations, celebrations, and dances, oh my! When it comes to planning virtual events for your school, you need to select the right video conferencing platform. But how do you know which one is right for your needs? 

Tech educator Clay Smith and I needed to answer this question for the schools we support so we came up with a handy dandy comparison chart of video conferencing platforms. The chart outlines various features and advises on what platform is good for specific types of events. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

An Innovative Vision for the Future of Schools

Pupils sitting behind partition boards to prevent infection of Covid-19.
Students sit behind partition boards to prevent infection.
Photograph: David Chang/EPA
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance on reopening of schools will require innovative thinking to re-imagine how schools may open in the upcoming school year and beyond. The key will be agility and flexibility. That's because we've learned that we don't quite know what's ahead of us. Schools need a plan that fits many possible scenarios and provides options for families and staff that work best for them and are as safe as possible.

To implement the CDC guidelines, schools will need to dramatically reduce the number of students who attend school full-time. Guidance for schools that have reopened in other places generally states no more than fifteen, socially distanced students in a classroom. To attain this, in some cities, they may need to keep a large portion of the student body at home. In many districts this will mean keeping remote learning for most high school students and for all middle and elementary students who learn better this way.  An agile model would be ready to switch opportunities for students as circumstances allow and as families request.

All schools should put in place the following options for all students:

Learning options

  • Traditional Model: Face-to-face instruction
  • Blended Learning: Students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face teaching.
  • Virtual School: Students learn either entirely or primarily online.

Here’s what that looks like for staff and students

For Staff

School-based / Blended:

  • Staff who are in good health, will be encouraged to report to school and operate as per the CDC guidelines. 
    • This means less crowded campuses, no large-group activities, health checks, staggered schedules, meals in classrooms, etc.
  • In addition to being face-to-face, classes will be live-streamed for synchronous, asynchronous by students attending school from home or engaging in blended learning.

Home based:

  • Some staff may be immunocompromised or have other factors that make working from home the best option. Engaging in a virtual learning program may make sense for these staff members.
  • Some of their students would be ones who learn from home. Others could be those who tune in from their respective school buildings or engage in the class asynchronously.

For Students

School-based / Blended:
  • Like staff, students who are in good health, whose families feel in-person learning is best, will report to school and operate as per the CDC guidelines. 
    • Students will have health checks, staggered schedules, social distanced recess and meals in class.
  • They will have classmates socially distanced from them in class. They will also have classmates who are taking classes remotely or are following a blended approach and will attend school from time to time.
Home based:
  • Some students may be immunocompromised, sick, or just find remote learning works well for them. These students can continue learning from home from school-based and home-based teachers. They may also join their classmates from time to time as circumstances allow.
While the class size of face-to-face students will be reduced in these scenarios, it is possible that teachers will have the same class size. The difference is some of their students will be taking classes remotely and others will follow the blended model.

Schools will need to train and support teachers in providing this type of agile learning experience.

While some schools will struggle to figure out how a model like this will work, there’s at least one school that has determined plans for the fall that allow for such flexibility. That school is Arizona State University (ASU). They had the infrastructure and tools in place that allow for students and staff to engage in school in a variety of ways. 

ASU already had in place, the three platforms necessary for flexible learning.

Infrastructure includes:

  • Canvas: An online learning management system. Other popular platforms are Brightspace, Google Classroom, and Blackboard.
  • Slack: For discussions and collaboration. Other popular platforms are Teams, and Workplace.
  • Zoom: For video conferencing. Other popular platforms are Teams Meet and Google Meet.

ASU has identified three learning options that students can choose from.

Learning options include:

Synchronous on-campus

  • This is what traditional school looks like. Students come to class and learn. However, they will be learning among other students who may be participating remotely.

Technology-enhanced learning

  • A blended approach where students take some classes online and others face-to-face.

Asynchronous full-digital immersion 

  • This is what we think of as a virtual school. 
  • There can be live video instruction. 
  • There may be recorded resources and instruction. 
  • School takes place online and can be accessed anytime/anywhere.  
These models and infrastructure were put in place because college president, Michael Crow has advocated for using technology to make learning more flexible and accessible. This is part of the reason Arizona State has been named Most Innovative School by U.S. News and World Report for the past six years.

Additionally, the faculty is adept at teaching in a variety of ways:

Teach from home

  • Faculty is set up with the right equipment and training to teach from home.

Teach from class

  • Faculty is set up with the right equipment and training to teach from class.
  • They serve students who participate face-to-face.
  • They are also live streaming to provide live or recorded instruction to students who are taking the class online or using a blended approach.

Your turn

District and school leaders everywhere are trying to wrap their minds around the new reality and come up with plans to adapt. An agile plan can move and adapt easily as our reality constantly is changing due to COVID-19 now and something else in the future. What is happening where you teach? Are they just hoping for the best, delaying the school year start, remaining remote, or doing something more agile?

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Why We Are So Behind With Virtual Learning?

Young Kids on Screens Engaged in Remote Learning
Toltemara / Shutterstock

Despite the fact that any state or district can run their own virtual learning program, until now, many never offered this as a public school option to families. 

It didn't have to be this way. Some states have had virtual schools for many years

Florida opened their virtual school in 1997. K12 online school began offering their full-time virtual school to states in 1999. Today they serve 29 states.

But what about the rest? 

In districts across the United States, many families haven’t had the freedom to choose this option. In fact many families didn't even know it was an option.

The Coronavirus has forced districts to either
  • move to remote learning, or
  • stop learning altogether

Learning on pause

Sadly, some districts put a stop to remote learning early on with poorly thought out justifications.

They sighted accessibility concerns saying that remote learning couldn’t meet the needs of all students.  For example, Washington state banned virtual learning. As the pandemic reached Washington they had no plans to provide any instruction at all. Governor Jay Inslee, the superintendent of public instruction, advised schools not to offer online classes unless they can ensure that lessons are provided on an equitable basis.

They chose not to figure out ways to bridge the digital divide for the most vulnerable families and students. They chose not to think about how to serve students with special needs.. They choose to let strict guidelines in federal and state regulations be the reason to halt learning for everyone. 

They were not alone. 

In Philadelphia principals were sent a letter stating: “To ensure equity, remote instruction should not be provided to students, including through the internet, technology at home, by phone, or otherwise.”

US Department Of Education Guidance

Fortunately, the United States Department of education released new information clarifying that federal law should not be used to prevent schools from offering distance learning opportunities to all students, including students with disabilities. The United States Office of Civil Rights addressed the issue with this Supplemental Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools (PDF)

What next?

Prior to school building closures, no one was thinking strategically about big picture virtual learning models. This is despite the fact that guidance has been available for schools and schools of education for a long time. In fact, the NEA published a guide to teaching online courses more than a decade ago. Some states embraced this guidance. For those who have not, it is a good place to start now that most districts are being forced to implement some form of remote learning. 

Now that most districts across the United States have tossed everything aside that was in the way and are employing remote learning, some families and educators are discovering the benefits to this type of education. They’re also discovering how this can be done successfully and they’re learning more and more each day.

But before now, why did so many districts:
  • Block virtual learning? 
  • Keep districts stuck in the past?
  • Deny families from being able to make choices that could serve them best? 
Despite the fact that all along, legally any district “could” run their own virtual school or online learning program, many didn’t.

What was preventing virtual learning? 

It boils down to this philosophy: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Even though this option had been available for decades, it never came to many districts across the nation. If no one knew they could have it, why tell them? The status quo was working.

There was never any impetus to figure this out. Districts stood comfortable doing business as usual. As a result, those who didn’t figure it out, were left woefully unprepared for what we are facing today. 

When the Coronavirus hit, schools and districts fell in one of several categories: 
·       Some did nothing, just hoping for the best. 
·       Some scrambled, preparing for the worst. 
·       Some had been doing virtual learning all along and they didn’t miss a beat. 

We are the 12th wealthiest nation in the world, it didn’t have to be this way. Instead, we could have focused on:

  • Closing the digital divide.
  • Giving families options that served them best.
  • Providing the resources to support a digital education.

Doing so would have required unions, district leaders, and, in systems with mayoral control, the government, to come together and agree to allow it. 

If a state wanted to serve students statewide, it would require agreements with other districts. Each “home” district would have to be willing to accept the virtual courses and give credit. Funding models would need to be worked out. Teacher agreements would need to be considered.

Places like Florida where they have Florida Virtual School, figured out legislation two decades ago when they allowed virtual school programs to serve students statewide. They have provisions and policies that require school districts to accept course credit from Florida Virtual School and place the courses on their home school transcript. 

They were able pass legislation that put into place a new funding formula to pay for students to enroll in classes (usually from the state coffers). The other place a state could put legislation in place is if they run a statewide online charter school. That’s because you need a funding formula if a student outside your district enrolls.

This can be done. This has been done in many places, but it is not a freedom everyone is allowed to choose because many districts had nothing compelling them to figure it out.

Until now.

Now, like it or not, most districts across the nation have turned to remote learning with varying degrees of success. 

What does this mean for the future of your district? 

Districts can either decide to figure it out or pretend it never happened. What do you think will happen where you work?