On the 24th Jan, our family flew from Beijing to Japan to celebrate Chinese New Year with friends. While we were away, the Coronavirus took greater hold in China and the USA cut travel and then the rest of the World did the same. Our return flight to Beijing was canceled, and with limited resources, we made the decision to fly home to family in Australia.
Six weeks later, we are still here.
Our International School has had to quickly transition from a vibrant Beijing school community together in-person to a supportive, challenging eLearning environment and to gather data as well as forge ahead in unprecedented learning times. We have students now all over the world but still have the active challenge to continue the education of our young people and to support them in this unusual time.
As other countries start their C-virus and try to work out what to do next, our community enters Week 6 of teaching and learning online. As a PE and Health Teacher, I would like to offer some information to those who may be coming onto eLearning, I hope that something here proves useful to you.
Keep it simple. Just as you are not in your classroom or usual Activity spaces, remember that your students may not be in optimal learning spaces either. Make sure you are using a clear template for guiding the learning you are sharing. Here is my example when posting/sharing Tasks with my students on our Learning Management System, Teamie. Have you thought about the needs of your learners? Could you use simpler language? Could you do a video or audio that is clearer? Could someone on your staff help check this for your must vulnerable learner? Could your students do this task without adult help?
- Date – Wednesday 11th March
- Task # (ex. Task 1 of 2) so that students know exactly how many things I have shared with them.
- Expected Time (to complete this task)
- Learning Outcome/s
- Introduction (I have been doing this as a video from me)
- Possible Audio – of the instructions, if they are complicated, to assist my second English learners.
- Activities and provide all links to your resources.
- For Active Tasks – I have Reminders and Safety tips as well as ideas for differentiation where required.
Who is supporting you? Big Picture At our school, our Senior Admin is taking care of business to best support students, families and teachers. Our students have been polled each week to find out how things are going. They offer coffee mornings and Zoom check-in spaces. They are asking questions of staff and assisting where they see the need. They are posting on Teamie each day with #gratefulness or #mindfulness or Games to try and engage students. They are writing those difficult emails to parents (your child hasn’t completed work, we haven’t heard from you, are you alright?) and checking in on staff and wellbeing of our colleagues. They are liaising between the people that need to take action to re-open our school and sharing feedback regularly. Does your school have an Administration that is clearly articulating what is going on and keeping you in that conversation (along with every other stakeholder?)
Who is supporting you? Technology. We are fortunate to have a number of amazing teachers who are supporting eLearning through the use of efficient tools and systems for all of us to use wherever we are. Without the ease of Google and YouTube and so many other tech apps and websites (as China blocks or they don’t operate in China) we have had to be super sleuths about what we can use and how to best use it. This has evolved with time and practice of staff and students. We have an open forum space for staff to ask questions and offer support and we had a Teacher PD day to allow people to have time to ask questions, run sessions online to allow teachers to be more comfortable using technology and having a better understanding of what, why and how this might work/look for all of us. Does your school have a clearly articulated plan of who is responsible for which questions or support that you may need?
Be open-minded. Be flexible. You are not going to ever be aware of what each of your students, colleagues, community members will be going through during this time. Everyone is going to have a different story and narrative. Find out whether what you are offering is actually working for your students. Offer them a choice of activities so that they can choose from a menu or selection that works in the environment and time they have. How will you engage each of your students? What sort of activities will fit with the type of learning you are doing presently? Or will eLearning mean that you have to change everything entirely? Do your students have access to technology and wifi? Is a parent at home with them who can help or are they up to their own devices? Are they sharing technology as a family and so have more limited time? Are they in their own home or staying somewhere else? Are they in the same time zone as you?
Keep Positive. Be Joyful. Umbrella learning within a bigger picture. Staying in eLearning for lengths of time requires a change in mindset than those who will be at home and eLearning for a week or two at most. The giddiness and ‘holiday’ feel will end at some point and then the reality of this new schooling will start to set in. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you can’t sustain the pace or the course. Demonstrate the positivity you have for your students in any way you can – it might be through silly songs or dances, it might be a gratefulness journal or meditation or a playlist of songs – try and keep things upbeat and remember that this is real and challenging on so many levels. I have had a student tell me this week that he has not been allowed outside in 5 weeks. It broke my heart. What am I doing to support his mental health and try and build ways for him to connect with other students during this time?
Less clicking. I have been really trying to limit the number of clicks and random documents. I have been using PowerPoint slides for my lessons so that students can always come back to the lessons in one place. I link all other URLs through this medium so all of our learning is in one spot. This is also a way to share the prior learning for students who are not working on school computers or who are on phones or sharing devices or who don’t have access to previous notes. After eLearning ends, how will students engage with your learning? Will they have easy access to your notes or lessons as you integrate back to school? How will they study for a test or assessment or how will you share that learning with their parents?
Celebrate. Regularly. After a major piece of work has been submitted, I have been using the following lesson with that class to offer them time to reflect on the awesome work they have completed and remind them how this learning (hopefully) has contributed to life at this time. I have emailed students to thank them for their continued engagement and have emailed parents to let them know how proud I am of their child. Make sure you are doing shout-outs for those who are really making the most of their time and learning
Support. I regularly email students to see how they are and offer Zoom calls with my mentoring class and also check-ins to find out how life is. I cc in our counseling staff or Support staff if I know that the student may need further support from a wider net of our community. I email parents of students who are not online or doing any work to check in on them too. Life isn’t easy right now. People need our support. I am so lucky, I have my family with me and we are all learning online together. Others are not as lucky, they are couch surfing regularly and miss the support of the in-person community and their neighbours. Reach out to colleagues and check in on people who may be more vulnerable than we realise. Who might need extra support from you? Who is supporting your mental health? Are you getting what you need? Exercise? Food? Social connections? Are you being kind to yourself? Everyday?
I have been teaching Health to my students as this seems to work for eLearning. I am in the midst of a Human development class with my Grade 6 students. I am using Screencast-o-Matic to record my voice and mouse over PowerPoint presentations and using Amaze.org to share videos and content. This is working well for me. I have all the lessons in a PowerPoint and share the Tasks and Activities in Teamie for our students to see. I also share two or three Active options for them each day – with a weekly focus to nestle these under. This week we are about Challenging ourselves (I am working to break down the ‘Challenge’ in a variety of ways – push yourself harder, play a game with a friend, can you get off your screen on the hour every hour? can you do an extra 5 minutes? Can you try something new? etc)
I have been using FlipGrid for students to record a reflection of their activity – a before/during/after type reflection to gather some information about their mental health and hopefully have them recognise that being active will make them feel better. I also like seeing the students and they seem to like seeing each other too.
Next week (week 7) I will embark on Fitness Units – Health-related fitness and Sport-specific Fitness and use different activities to try and learn about these different types of fitness and couple this to the Tokyo Olympics. I will also look to start Dance and try and work in some cameo appearances from Grade 6 students, teachers and see who else pops up! We will cover the basics of Dance (levels, body isolation, direction etc) and then test these out with a selection of chosen dance videos and gifs and use Flipgrid to share them. I am still working through where this will go (being flexible) as it develops.
Things change. We may end up back in Beijing next week. And then quarantined for 14 days in our home. We may end up spending 10 weeks in eLearning. We shall see. Each week feels both easier but also more challenging – we miss our school! Stay well, everyone.