Sunday, August 30, 2020

Preparing for Back-to-School - Advice Educatos, Administrators, and Ed-Tech Coaches

Hear a panel of educators, administrators, and ed-tech coaches discuss the lessons they learned in the spring of 2020 that they’re using to prepare for returning to school this fall. The Academy of Active Learning Arts & Sciences brought together this panel to share, prepare, and help schools plan for the future of education in the time of a pandemic.  Watch the full panel discussion below or read the partial transcript.

Carl Hooker:

We’ve all experienced this rapid transition to online learning; all of us have in some different form or fashion. How did this rapid shift help us think about the future of schools? What are some things you noticed right away when the shift happened that you thought, “Wow, this is something we really need to consider in our schools in the future in case this happens again?”

Chris Bugaj:

I think my immediate answer to that question is accessibility. Meaning there was an immediate rush to say, “We’ve got to provide materials to students so they can do asynchronous events.” And then the next thing was, “How do we do synchronous events?” Something that’s been on the forefront of this since it started is, “Well, jeez, I’ve got students with all sorts of needs.” So how do I make sure I meet all of their needs as I design my instruction with flexibility in mind and with accessibility in mind. I know a lot of my time has been spent with a rush of general education teachers that no longer were necessarily waiting for a special ed teacher to kind of fix their lesson design. They were thinking, “How do I design it for everybody right from the get-go?”

Lisa Nielsen:

In my current role, I’m the senior director of digital inclusion. We’re really focusing a lot on that. The first thing that we were doing was we were ensuring all of our 1,800 schools in New York City understood how to make accessible websites. We’ve been focusing our concentration on that. But now we need every person in every school to understand how to make truly accessible content.

Anne Vega:

We’ve been one-to-one for quite a while now, but we had students who chose not to get a device, for whatever reason. When all of this happened, it was like an influx. So over the last two months, we have come into the office and enrolled about 600 plus devices. Of course, another issue is the internet. Our warehouse is actually going house to house, delivering these devices along with hotspots. So as long as they qualify, we’re delivering hotspots to those kids that don’t have access.

Brent Wise:

I think the main thing that we took away right away was, “How do we maintain relationships?” We’ve built up these relationships over the three quarters of the year, which we are very fortunate to have, but how do we maintain that to drive the learning? That became a big focus for us: how do we harness technology to maintain those relationships? Which will be a difficult thing if we’re back in this boat coming into the fall.

Carl Hooker:

I do think we take that for granted. That was one thing about the timing of this; it happened right at the end. So some of us were able to coast through. A lot of it was re-mastery of work. It wasn’t the beginning of the year, building those relationships.

Jake Habegger:

For us, I think one of the struggles was the access to technology for everyone, just like we’ve been hearing. But another part of that is teachers being trained on, “How do you deliver content remotely?” I’ve been a flipped educator for a long time. For me, I saw this as a golden opportunity. But since we, as a district, weren’t really prepared for this, we ended up not teaching new content in the last quarter. Instead, we were doing review packets. It’s just where we were. So I think getting teachers educated on what this can look like remotely for the long term is a big thing that we need to get pushed out.

Caroline Little:

At-home access was big for us. We’re just in our second year of one-to-one initiatives, so we had lots of kids who didn’t have access to devices. So that was sort of our first big push, and then also with the internet, with everybody else in the country who wanted hotspots, we did a lot of collaborating with our neighboring districts who happened to have extras, and we borrowed some from them, and just really worked with our local cable providers. So that was a hurdle that we hadn’t really considered or thought about. We had people who would drive to where people live to see if local hotspots actually worked and that the kids would be able to get hooked up there. Once we felt like we kind of got over that hurdle, then the other big one really was supporting the teachers. We helped people through a lot of tears and things. But at one point, we did say, “If this wasn’t so awful, we would actually be having fun.” Because in our ed tech world, it was kind of nice to throw everybody in and to say, “All right, let’s go. Let’s see who can swim,” regardless of what part of the pool you’re in.

It’s kind of crazy to think that in the last two months, we can now pretty confidently say that all of our teachers can create learning opportunities in a digital environment.

Carl Hooker:

I’ve spoken to so many leaders about the analogy of having a wildfire that’s miles away in terms of ed tech, like, “It’s something I need to worry about at some point, but it’s not in my backyard yet.” Now it’s in your backyard, so you need to worry about it, right?

Michele Eaton:

I think the thing that we’re going to take moving forward is some of the positives that can come out of a situation like this. I think what’s been most unprecedented, (I know we haven’t heard that word enough in the last two months), is the foundation of technical ability we have now established with all of our teachers. It’s kind of crazy to think that in the last two months, we can now pretty confidently say that all of our teachers can create learning opportunities in a digital environment. That hurdle, that hangup that gets in the way of us really focusing on what’s most important, which is teaching and learning, is something that we can leverage moving forward. I don’t have to spend so much time making sure everyone knows how to use the tools. We can really dig into online pedagogy, on building community online, on creating highly interactive, highly personalized, accessible, digital learning activities for our students, because we’re all talking the same language, we’re all using the same platform. That’s pretty exciting. If we look for the good in all of this, I think that’s one of the things that I’m excited about looking forward to in the fall.

Carl Hooker:

Lisa, I noticed you’ve raised your hand. You had a couple comments you wanted to add on to that. What do you want to add to what we’ve been talking about? It’s a lot. We’re kind of all over the map on this, but also, we’re still honing in. I noticed the word relationship has come up on a couple of three different occasions. What are your thoughts on what we’ve been talking about?

Lisa Nielsen:

Something that I’ve heard many districts are considering is looping with their students if they might be remote in the fall. From the youngest grades, where that is not an uncommon practice, but even in the upper grades, having teachers just loop with their students. That helps address the relationship issue. And then the other thing, in New York City, we were never one-to-one. We never provided at-home devices for students. As a result of this, talking about the silver lining, every single one of our students now has a device and internet access. That’s amazing because this is something I’ve wanted for so many years in our district. In such a short time, we have accomplished one-to-one in New York City. So that is a definite silver lining for us.

But one of my greatest fears moving forward is that we go back. Hey, let’s just try and rush back to the way we did it, as opposed to, “Hey, how can we design for the future?”


Carl Hooker:

I do think the future of what school looks like in the fall is going to be different for all of us because all of us come from different areas. Down here in Texas, we’ve opened up somewhat. We’re opening up summer school next week, and we don’t know what the fall will look like, necessarily. But I know in New York, of course, Lisa, it’s going to look a lot different. This is an opportunity to leave, “the bad things” behind. So what are those things?

Brent Wise:

I think one of the most eyeopening conversations that I’ve been a part of with the high school staff, especially, is that they’ve all recognized there’s a lot of wasted time in a school day. They found, “I can do a lot and accomplish a lot more this way, but I need that face-to-face for other things.” So it was really neat to hear them say, “I can take all this stuff, this lecturing and all this other junk that I used to have to waste face-to-face, shove it over here, and now I’m doing these labs, I’m doing more relationships, I’m doing more discussions and back and forth.” So yeah, it’s kind of the flipped classroom. But finally, maybe what it’s really, really meant to be, as Jake’s high fiving over there, it’s an exciting time. Because I think if we can get staff to understand you’re going to be better for this because of this, I think we’re going to be able to take a huge step forward that we’re all forced into that was difficult at first, but now is making us all better for our kids.

Carl Hooker:

Jake, I’ve got to kick it over to you now, because when you talked about the flipped, I know you’ve been doing it for a while and that’s been around probably for eight or 10 years. Of course, it’s all gotten a lot easier now, because you can kind of record anything quickly over the phone. But what are your thoughts on that idea?

Jake Habegger:

You’re speaking my love language. That’s it right there, I don’t have to use as much class time lecturing. I’m a history teacher. You’d think I just want to stay in there and talk the whole time. But really, if I can put some of that out of the way and have time for Socratic seminars, I’m as happy as I can be. For us not being able to teach in the fourth quarter, most of my time doing Zoom sessions with students was doing Socratic seminars. It was the deepest learning my students had all year because I wasn’t able to do anything else except go deep. For me, one of my favorite things is Mastery Learning. That’s one of the reasons I flipped, is that students could go more at their own pace. I have students who could, like you said, your daughter being done with her schoolwork by Wednesday. This could alter education completely if we went mastery-based. If a student can be done by Wednesday and they can move on, they can get 40 percent more of the curriculum for the next grade done already. We could be seeing high schoolers being done as freshmen. There are so many opportunities to completely flip the system. I think flipping, for me, is the… It’s the operating system that allows us to do that. But mastery is really the tool.

Carl Hooker:

You’ve now spoken my love language because I used to be frustrated. As a first grade teacher, I used to remember getting to spring break, and all the second-grade teachers are going, “Slow down. Don’t let the kids go any farther. They have to stay on this track based on their age.”

Chris Bugaj:

But one of my greatest fears moving forward is that we go back. Hey, let’s just try and rush back to the way we did it, as opposed to, “Hey, how can we design for the future?”

Saturday, August 29, 2020

School's Back, Now What? A Conversation About Teaching and Learning During COVID-19

Are you worried about sending your child back to school this fall? Do you have concerns about how your child will reintegrate into daily routines and peer relationships? Children and Screens’ Ask the Experts webinar “School’s Back, Now What? A Conversation about Teaching and Learning During COVID-19” on August 26, 2020, covered a plethora of thorny questions about sending children back to school this year and/or facilitating virtual learning.

You can check out the video below. You may also want to read these tips from the experts about navigating education during a pandemic. Following the video are time stamps of featured video highlights.

[01:55] Lisa Nielsen, the moderator for the interdisciplinary panel and Senior Director of Digital Literacy & Inclusion at New York City Public Schools, reviewed the variety of learning environments children and teens are experiencing and discussed what works for online learning and what doesn’t. Nielsen also reminded teachers to ensure their teaching materials are accessible and provided a handy mnemonic device (FIRST) to aid in this effort.

[10:39] To help parents understand the pandemic-related health risks to their children and families, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, world-renowned pediatrician and epidemiologist, addressed common concerns parents have regarding COVID-19. The conversation covered the infection rate of COVID-19 in children, specific protective and risk factors, and mitigation strategies that schools and parents should implement for a safe and healthy back-to-school transition. [25:28] Next, to help parents through the difficult decision of whether or not to send their children to brick-and-mortar school this semester, Dr. David McKinnon, a parent and Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at Stony Brook University, highlighted the importance of weighing local infection rates, specific familial situation, and each child’s educational and social needs. He eased the decision making process for parents by providing strategies to reduce risks with online learning, and advised parents to consider all educational options available. [40:55] Along with physical health and education concerns, it is vital for parents to consider and mitigate mental health declines in their children during this anxiety-provoking time. Founder of InnoPsych and licensed psychologist, Dr. Charmain Jackman, discussed how to navigate the social-emotional needs of children in the midst of the most traumatic period most children have experienced. Dr. Jackman explained the differences between anxiety/worry and clinical anxiety and provided tried and true tips for thoughtful “back-to-school” conversations with children and their schools. [1:00:05] All of the panelists emphasized the importance of parents and schools working together to make this transition as successful as possible. Dr. Elizabeth Englander, Director and Founder of Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University and author of When The Kids Come Back: A Return-To-School Guide After the COVID-19 Pandemic, provided tips for top line communication. Dr. Englander broke down the trifecta of stress parents are feeling right now and explained how parents, schools, and communities can work together. Throughout the conversation, panelists answered questions from the audience, easing parents’ worries and providing evidence-based advice on everything from which masks children should wear at school to keeping kids engaged in virtual learning. Moderator: Lisa Nielsen, MA Senior Director, Digital Literacy and Inclusion, New York CIty Department of Education Permanently Certified Public School Educator and Administrator Author, Teaching Generation Next https://theinnovativeeducator.blogspo... Distinguished Experts: Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH Editor-in-Chief, JAMA Pediatrics Director, Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development Seattle Children’s Research Institute Charmain Jackman, PhD Psychologist Founder, InnoPsych, Inc David McKinnon, PhD Parent Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior Stony Brook University https://renaissance.stonybrookmedicin... Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits supporting and advancing evidence-based scientific research on technology’s impacts on child health and well-being, convening interdisciplinary clinicians, researchers, educators, public health experts and others; and educating the public about the impacts of technology on children’s health, well-being, and development. Follow Children and Screens on social media! Instagram: Facebook: Twitter: Visit our website at

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Some Thoughts on Hybrid & Remote Teaching

Districts around the globe are talking about having a hybrid model when returning to school.  In a hybrid model, students attend school 1 - 3 days a week. In some districts, they'll have a remote teacher and a face-to-face teacher who will teach them at a six-feet-apart distance and students will be six feet apart from each other.  

How will this work? 

First let's take a moment to review.

Lessons learned from remote teaching

Remote teaching taught us a many things. Here are two:

  1. Have a drop date each week:  This is the date that you drop your lessons in advance so students understand the expectations of their upcoming work for the week.
  2. You don't need to teach live: You can use videos of yourself teaching or you can have a video from a renknowned expert teaching or you can have a video of a student teaching. This is what they do in the successful flipped classroom model.  

So the question becomes this. If you have a flipped or in flipped classroom (where you can watch the lesson at school) what does the remote and in-person teacher do? 

Consider the medium

First, it is useful to consider the benefits of each medium: 

  • In person at a physical distance
  • Remote
If you're in person, you can touch stuff. This means you can use resources in the classroom as long as you don't share, stay six feet apart from folks, and disinfect often. So, I guess in this sense, things like art, music, making (i.e. makerspace), science labs make sense. But, ask any regular public school teacher, and you'll find out the following:
  • There are not many robust art, music, makerspaces, or science labs.
  • If there are, much of it is funded from the teachers pocket.
  • This works because students share. It would be cost-prohibitive otherwise.
  • You are very lucky if you have these things running well in your school.
  • These subjects usually are not prioritized
So, yes, if you can have those hands on experiences in school with the cavaets required in a pandemic, then school kind of becomes lab time where students do hands on work, perhaps after watching a video showing them how. 

When tech teaches, what do teachers do?

For the rest of folks who do not have art studios, makerspaces, and science labs, it comes down to your job consisting of the following: 

  • Relationships: When technology provides the on-demand lecture and feedback, teachers have more time to develop relationships with students.  Students want to be seen, heard, and known. Technology enables teachers to better know their students for who they are as a whole as well as their talents, interests, and areas where they want to grow.
  • Guidance: Young people need and want guidance. Teachers can spend more time guiding and supporting students.
  • Tutoring: When whole class instruction can be done using technology, teachers are freed up to do small group and one-on-one tutoring. 
  • Digital Literacy: Teachers can play an important role in helping to support students in being responsible and respectful digital citizens.
  • Learning Network Development: Connections are key and with technology we can help students safely make local and global connections.  What if we found a mentor for every student that could support them digitally and/or face-to-face.
  • Cheerleader: Students love knowing you know their accomplishments.  More time to notice what students have accomplished. Discuss what that means and give them support.

When technology is infused into learning, the way it has been during the pandemic, the teacher's time is freed up to do much more of the work that is so important for learning.  This transforms the role of the teacher who can engage in these activities whether you're in person or face-to-face. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Distance Learning Support from @CommonSenseEd

Is your school or district giving you the needed support to know how to effectively provide distance learning to your students? If the answer is no, fear not. Common Sense Education has you covered with a robust distance learning resource site and a new distance learning video series.

Distance Learning Resource Site

This site contains distance learning resources just in time for back-to-school. It covers topics such as:
  • Partnering with families
  • Setting norms
  • Finding the right tools
  • How to effectively teach with tech
  • Videos and webinars on effective distance learning

Screen shot of the distance learning resource page

Distance Learning Video Series

The series targets primary school educators. It consist of dozens of videos that are about 30 minutes each. It is a great way to see how educators across the country are responding to this situation. Videos include topics such as:

Tips to engage students

  • Why students need art now more than ever before
  • Media literacy in a time of an increase media diet
  • Connecting in a time of social distancing