Five Quick Distance Learning Activities For Teachers In A Pinch

Highway through forest, from above

(Image credit: Unsplash/Taneli Lahtinen)

Regardless of the likelihood that schools are shut down on a local, state, or national level thanks to the coronavirus there are many great reasons every teacher should become familiar with distance learning best practices. Beyond the ability to one day abolish snow days or not lose instructional time due to other reasons schools may close, it turns out the tools and methods you would use to run a distance learning class are likely even more beneficial to students when everyone is using distance learning techniques while in the classroom together.

Blended Learning is when students learn at least partially online while the teacher is in the room with them. I’ve been a long time proponent of blended learning. Blended learning allows the teacher to take on more of a support role while empowering students through self-paced, self-directed learning made possible through technology.

Whether you’re getting ready for distance learning because of an impending school shut down or you’re interested in bringing blended learning to your classroom, you’ll need to consider some important practices to get this type of learning to work well. I plan on jumping into these bigger questions like the best blended learning models, how to help students who fall behind or speed ahead, how to address students with special needs or lack of access, and more in future posts. But I wanted to write something now for teachers who may need to come up with a few weeks of distance learning lessons quickly. What types of lessons can students do online, from home? It’s similar to what they can do in the classroom, it turns out, only better.

1. Blogging / Podcasting

Whether students watch, read, or listen to something you post in a learning management system like Google Classroom or Schoology, having them share their thoughts with you is a common online assignment. Instead of just writing a response or essay in Docs, consider having students create a blog on new Google Sites, or make a podcast on Soundtrap or Twisted Wave.

2. Socratic Seminar / Debates / Discussions

Responding to others thoughts and feeling as an activity in an online class has been around forever. Most remember it from college: the teacher poses a question, prompt, or topic for debate that students must respond to. After posting their response, learners must also respond to a specified number of other students’ responses. Not very exciting, but it works. Try making things more engaging by using Flipgrid so students can respond via video to each other.

3. Quizzes / Tests

Whether for practice or the gradebook, assessing student learning with a traditional style quiz or test is still possible online. Google Forms has added ‘quiz’ features which allow you to create an assessment that is more robust than a paper test or quiz. You can insert pictures and videos, set answer validation, and even have the assessment automatically grade and ‘hand back’ student scores. Students can answer a variety of questions including the ability to turn in files or links as answers. Check out all the features here.

4. Worksheets

No one likes worksheets, but if you’re in a pinch most worksheets can be uploaded to Google Classroom. The thing is, having students print the worksheet and upload it when it is done is a bit much. Know these helpful tips if you don’t already have your worksheets made in your Google Drive.

If you upload a PDF to Google Drive, right click on it, and select Open as Google Doc. Drive will automatically convert a PDF into an editable Google Doc that you can then fix and post for students.

There are apps like Office Lens and Evernote Scannable that allow you to take pictures of your worksheets and convert them into a PDF that can then be edited in Drive with the above method.

In a pinch, you can take a picture of your worksheet with your camera and upload the picture to Drive. If the picture is clear enough, you can open it as a Doc and Drive will convert the text in the picture into something you can edit.

5. Show me what you learned

One of my go to blended learning activities has always been show me what you learned. Show me what you learned is my way of challenging students to come up with their own creative, engaging way to do just that: show me what they learned during a lesson or unit. It can be a song or rap, a how to video, a book trailer, an infographic, an animation. Anything school appropriate. Why not let students decide their distance learning activites? Ask them to turn in something that shows what they learned for your lesson or unit!

Distance and blended learning can and should be so much more than these five activities. The use of online learning tools especially when supported by the teacher while learners are in the classroom, seems to lead to better learning outcomes than more traditional classroom. But if you’re in a pinch, and those two weeks worth of distance learning lessons plans are due in a couple days, keep these activities in mind. Promise me, though, you’ll come back and learn more about blended learning when you get back to school.

Looking for more: Check out this great Waklet of distance learning resources my friend Steve Isaacs is crowdsourcing online.

Until Next Time,

GLHF and wash your hands!

cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher

Chris Aviles presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more at Teched Up Teacher.

Teacher, Fair Haven Schools, NJ