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Starting the year: Ideas for anywhere learning

As schools across the country are still deciding on how to safely return to school, I have been slowly working through some new ideas, trying to plan around what may be a year full of transitions into and out of our classrooms.

Where to start?

I think the most important way to start the year is getting to know our students and for them to get to know us.

What are some ways that we can interact with them, involve them in different learning activities, work with them individually, and make them feel comfortable and supported in the learning space, wherever that may be?

Read more: 7 Tips on how to adapt teacher-student rapport while teaching online

I've decided that the best way to prepare is to come up with a list of activities and materials that will be beneficial regardless of if we are in the physical classroom, teaching remotely, or transitioning throughout the year.

5 Ideas for anywhere learning

Using these ideas, we will create a welcoming environment and a positive culture for learning by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in them and what they care about, and what they are bringing to the classroom.

There are many ways to kick off the new school year that will work and be helpful, whether we are in our classrooms, in a hybrid learning model, or entirely virtual learning. Here are five ideas to get started with:

  1. Meet the teacher

    Whether at the start of the year or throughout the year, students and families need to understand who we are and what our goals are for our students.

    As many schools may be limited in holding open house or parent night, it is a great idea to use a tool like Flipgrid, where we can create a “space” to introduce ourselves and perhaps even invite students and families to record their own introductions so we can get to know each other.

    Buncee, which is a multimedia creation tool, has many templates available for creating an About Me, Meet the Teacher or Faculty Member of the week. It enables teachers to introduce themselves, include a video or audio recording, and add links or other class information so that students and their families can get to know them.

  2. Meet the students

    There are icebreakers that can be done in our classrooms or virtually, by asking students to share who they are and leveraging some of the tools available.

    One idea that worked well for my students was creating a collaborative Google Presentation. I created a template and added my own slide, and then each student added one slide about themselves. All students then had an opportunity to get to know their classmates, and this can be used in class or for distance learning.

    Another idea is to create a Padlet wall for students to add a post with a video, picture, or only text. With Padlet, each student has an opportunity to see and interact with their peers and share experiences in the digital space. It can also be great for promoting global collaborations.

    Also, using Flipgrid for students to post their introductions and respond to each other can be quickly done and is beneficial for building those vital relationships and social-emotional learning skills.

    Read more: Can edtech enable Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

  3. Newsletters

    What are the best ways to share information about our class with students and families? Whether we use email or a messaging app, or some other form of communication, so many different methods can be overwhelming.

    An idea that can help is to create a weekly newsletter to send with links and important information. Using some of the tools such as Buncee, Canva, Piktochart, or Smore, for example, we can add in different media formats to make the newsletters more engaging ways to learn about what's coming up or what has happened in the week prior.

    A tool like Wakelet can also be an excellent way to share news and even include Flipgrid videos so that students and families can connect with you too.

  4. Class discussions

    We need ways to find out what our students are thinking. Communication and having a way to connect with each other is key. How are you going to be available to the students when they need you? Perhaps you can set up virtual office hours, whether using a video conferencing platform or a discussion board.

    I recommend that you implement some way for students to connect with you and be able to access helpful resources. Some ideas include using Padlet or a Trello board or having a class podcast for discussion with a tool like Synth. Tools like Remind are useful for giving students a way to contact you with questions too.

    Providing options that promote communication and collaboration beyond our classrooms will benefit students now and in the future.

    Read more: Podcasting in the classroom: The digital tool you should be using

  5. Lessons

    Think about some of the lessons that you teach throughout the year that could benefit from having more ways for students to interact. When thinking about transitioning throughout the year, it makes sense to create some materials that can be useful during a live class session or asynchronously.

    Read more: Adopting the asynchronous mindset for better online learning

    Possibilities would be to create an interactive presentation with tools like Nearpod or PearDeck, which allows students to work at their own pace and access various materials in one space. Using tools like these, you can add links, videos, or audio, and have it ready to go. In the event we have to make quick transitions, we won't need much time to come up with materials.

    Another idea is to use a tool like Edpuzzle to create interactive video lessons for engaging students in the content. These lessons will definitely be an excellent resource for students, and it's a great way to keep us learning and growing as educators.

Wrapping up

These are just a few activities and resources that will be beneficial for us as we plan for the year and prepare for any transitions that we may need to make. These tools and ideas for establishing some norms and fostering better communication and connections will make a difference for students as we navigate the upcoming year. By having space to interact in and build essential SEL skills and digital skills, we will best prepare our students for the future by creating a supportive and thriving learning environment.

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