A few weeks ago, back before coronavirus shut down all the schools in Virginia, where I teach, I was reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1965 by Christopher Paul Curtis to my fifth grade students. Suddenly I had to stop and explain what a long distance call is. Cue I-feel-old feelings.
This happens more and more each year as we continue to be engulfed in new technology. It is funny to think about technology in my classroom today that didn’t even exist when I began teaching 17 years ago. And now that I have to rely on technology to reach my students, I’m so grateful for it.
This year, I’ve been finding the following three sites are some of my favorite go-to resources. They each serve a different purpose and utilizing them is easy for me and my students. Most importantly, I believe they have a positive impact on student learning.
Whatever shape your new virtual classroom takes, give yourself a pat on the back for transforming your classroom from a physical space to a virtual space in a matter of days and, for some, hours.”
Kahoot! is an online platform that lets you quickly create fun learning games or pick from games already in their library. They’re offering their premium distance tools for free to all schools affected by closures.
I don’t remember when I stumbled upon this one, but my students and I sure do love it. Its tagline, “Make learning awesome,” is definitely the vibe we get in my classroom when playing their games. I utilize the program as a formative assessment tool when reviewing content with my students.
[With Kahoot!] the kids have a blast taking part in a healthy competition […] all while I get information I need to meet my students’ academic needs.”
What I do: I log into my free account and search the database for content. I teach in Virginia, so I often search based on our standards of learning and include “VA” to narrow my results. Quite often, I find a test that has exactly what I need. If I find one that is close enough, I can make a copy and tweak it to meet my students’ needs. On the rare occasion that I cannot find something already created, I make my own. That’s all I need to do to prep.
What my students do: When we’re in the classroom together, my students go to kahoot.it/ and input the PIN I provide. Once everyone is in the game, we start playing. Questions appear on the SMART Board with four multiple choice answers. Once everyone has answered, or time has run out, a graph appears on the screen with the four possible answers and how many students picked each choice. Now that we’re all at home, I have my kids take student-paced challenges.
Why I love it: When we’re playing together and the graph appears, I can see how my students answered and decide if they need more instruction or if we can move on. The student-paced challenges give me the same visibility into what they’re understanding and what topics I need to revisit. The kids have a blast taking part in a healthy competition to review content and they reflect on what they need more practice with, all while I get information I need to meet my students’ academic needs.
IXL is one of those sites I was told about some time ago and did not like at all. Years later, and after some changes to its platform, it is now one of my favorites to use as part of my math program. It offers exercises in more than just math, though, and breaks them down by grade level. Like most online resources, there are so many ways to use it, and a lot of content is available for free.
I […] love that [IXL] provides my students with authentic and purposeful practice of math on a screen and requires them to take ownership of any work that may need to be done on paper or a white board.”
What I do: I use Google Classroom as a platform for my math instruction. For more on what that looks like, read my 2017 post on personalized learning. Each lesson includes both online IXL assignments and paper/pencil work. I put everything for each day in a specific Google Classroom assignment that students visit, including a link to IXL assignments based on the content of that lesson.
What my students do: After my students have completed the daily paper/pencil portion of the lesson in math (which I’m putting in Google Classroom during these school closure days) and I have checked in with them to ensure understanding, they visit the IXL link attached to that lesson. The link provides them with questions, both multiple choice and open ended, that help them practice the skill of the day.
Why I love it: My students get immediate feedback. There’s no need for them to wait for me to correct their work. If they get it correct, yay! If not, IXL provides an explanation. I also love that the site provides my students with authentic and purposeful practice of math on a screen and requires them to take ownership of any work that may need to be done on paper or a white board. I believe students need practice in both platforms: online and paper/pencil.
Meet Moby, the lead character in BrainPOP. He is a robot who speaks only in beeps and is always accompanied by one of his human friends. Through short videos—anywhere from two to about ten minutes—the characters provide straightforward responses to questions on lots of topics, from English and math to engineering and the arts.
My school has a subscription to access all of the videos as well as individual student accounts, but BrainPOP is offering free services to both schools and families affected by closures.
I have used [BrainPOP] in every content area: reading, writing, science, social studies, and math.”
What I do: BrainPop has videos on a myriad of topics and across all content areas. I search for the content I need and note it in my lesson plan. When we’re in the classroom together, I just pull up the site and we are ready to go. Now I include a link to it in Google Classroom so my students can watch it at home.
What my students do: They watch, usually with a great deal of excitement, either as a whole class or on their own accounts.
Why I love it: The videos are funny with witty humor dispersed throughout. They also provide clear, to-the-point explanations of some pretty complicated concepts, like the US Constitution. I have used it in every content area: reading, writing, science, social studies, and math. The videos serve many roles in my lessons: introduce, review, enhance, and take notes about a concept. There is a choice to take a quiz at the end of the video that helps students see what they’ve learned.
You’ve got this
Free online resources are popping up all over the place as schools adjust to distance learning. I hope you’ll find some of the ones I’ve listed here useful. Whatever shape your new virtual classroom takes, give yourself a pat on the back for transforming your classroom from a physical space to a virtual space in a matter of days and, for some, hours.
I hope you find comfort in knowing that we are all in this together. As a mother and a teacher, I’m trying to remember that we will get through this. In the meantime, I’m taking great joy (sometimes to the point of tears) in the way that the world has responded with kindness, generosity, and empathy (and also hysterical memes). Those are the life lessons I hope my own child and my students learn from these very unchartered waters. No matter what is happening around us, we can choose how to respond, and how we are responding right now is bringing out the best in everyone.