By Guest Blogger Rebecca Friedman
What do you get when you combine a 5th grade class, a home-bound teacher, and exciting new technology? A virtual teaching initiative!
When I went to my doctor recently for a routine check-up, I was sent straight to the hospital. Thankfully, my unborn child is perfectly healthy, but is in a rush to join the world well before its due date! After being monitored for a couple days, my doctors instructed me to stay home and remain on bed-rest until further notice during my pregnancy.
My husband saw that I really wanted to continue teaching despite the situation. He therefore suggested that I continue teaching my students… virtually. Less than a week after I was released from the hospital, the idea became a reality. On Thursday, December 22, my 5th grade students at Ohr Chadash Academy (OCA) excitedly greeted me using Google Hangout. The Principal, a member of the Technology Committee, and another teacher stood by to ensure smooth sailing. And smooth sailing it was. I was able to view all aspects of the classroom via two strategically placed webcams. (And who said teachers don’t have eyes in the back of their heads!) Likewise, my students were able to see and hear me in real-time on the projector in the classroom.
Through the use of Google Hangout, I am able to share images and text on half the screen, while my face appears on the other half. This tool allows the teachers and students alike to share classroom resources and materials while collaborating on assignments. Another advantage of this incredible tool is the ability to welcome an out-of-town guest speaker into our classroom without ever setting foot in the car.
In an attempt to further paint the picture and describe the dynamics of our virtual classroom, I should share with you that my students are not facing the projector screen listening to me lecture. It is quite the opposite. My students are utilizing various apps on their individual iPads, thereby adding another level of direct communication. They are using their iPads to e-mail status updates and warm ups to me within seconds, so I can plan the remainder of the day’s lesson accordingly. They are visiting the top of Mount Everest during a virtual field trip, without ever having to throw on a winter coat. They are brainstorming with each other and creating virtual puppet shows to act out the History lesson of the day. What my students are able to accomplish on their iPads, while communicating with me via Google Hangout, is not something I ever could have imagined. In the beginning stages of this virtual teaching initiative, I am working closely with the OCA Administration, Faculty, and Technology Committee to continuously re-evaluate and review how the students are best able to learn within this model. This is important as we strive to continue with our mission of academic excellence.
I initially felt grateful that this new method of teaching would allow me to maintain a sense of normalcy with my students. I was so appreciative because I simply wanted to proceed with our instruction and class discussions as planned. However, as I am learning about the endless possibilities of this new technology, I am starting to realize that this undoubtedly is an improvement in my teaching methodology. Was this the shove I needed to take that scary but exciting virtual leap? I think so, and I think my students are the true beneficiaries. There are many schools all over the world (not just at the collegiate level, but elementary and middle schools as well) that are already successfully implementing virtual teaching environments. I am excited for this opportunity to jump on the boat, and also implement such advanced educational technology in the classroom.
Rebecca Friedman is a 5th grade teacher in Baltimore, MD.