This year’s return to in-person education feels different. Yes, the enthusiasm is palpable, as it is at the beginning of every school year. But I also believe COVID-19 has changed teaching and learning in ways we may not yet fully comprehend.
In the Lake Washington School District, where I serve as a Digital Application Instructional Alignment Specialist, 30,000 students continued learning during the global pandemic through the remote learning experiences created by my talented colleagues.
These learning experiences were delivered by educators using a variety of digital tools chosen by our school district. Together, they formed a powerful ecosystem through which Lake Washington’s students could feed their natural curiosity as they continued their academic development.
It seems that as of this writing that COVID-19 will continue to linger with us through the 2021-2022 school year. Therefore, it is important all educators take stock of their learning ecosystem to ensure it delivers what I believe to be three critical attributes: Interactivity, Opportunities to Connect Communities of Learners, and Vetted, High-Quality Digital Resources.
Through the end of our first pandemic-impacted school year, educators, parents, and students often shared concerns about student engagement. Just as students said they were bored with their new at-home lesson format and parents were noticing a general disinterest amongst their children regarding attending to their schoolwork, teachers shared those concerns and worried about students who were opting out of logging in or weren’t submitting their homework.
Fortunately, our district was in the process of implementing the use of Lumio (formerly SMART Learning Suite Online) prior the shutdown in March of 2020. Through Lumio, teachers can create slideshows and build in a variety of interactive activities for students to engage with either during synchronous instruction or outside of regular class time. Assessment activities (like Response or Monster Quiz) provide students with immediate feedback on whether they submitted the correct responses, while activities like Fill in the Blanks, Super Sort, Label Reveal, and Match ‘em Up give students low-stakes opportunities to test their knowledge and keep trying until they get it right. Best of all, the teacher is able to view student progress in real time, export their results, and connect with those students who might need additional support.
While Lumio was an indispensable way to connect students to their learning objectives from home during this pandemic, the engagement provided by this platform reaches beyond the remote learning environment. Whether your district is 1:1, has students sharing devices, or has an entire class sharing the teacher’s computer, the interactive games built into this easy-to-use platform will absolutely be essential as we dive back into our new normal.
2. Opportunities to Connect:
In the first month of the shutdown, adults were quick to adopt new methods of connecting with their loved ones. Skype reported a 70 percent increase in users in March 2020 compared to the previous month, and Zoom reported an annual 4,700 percent increase in users during the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2019. When face-to-face interaction came to a screeching halt, the response was immediate: find ways to interact virtually. Turns out, kids needed the same thing. The challenge, though, was ensuring that the tools students had access to were safe for them to use.
Enter Microsoft Teams. In addition to offering one digital platform where teachers can upload files, post class messages, and create assignments, this secure learning space allows students to connect with their peers (and only their peers); something they sorely missed during the various lockdowns our community endured. Students could use a group chat to collaborate on a shared presentation, reach out privately to their teacher with questions, and connect with their entire class during Teams video meetings.
While we are hopeful that the majority of lessons will be occurring within the walls of our school buildings, this year, we better understand the importance of providing a safe communication tool for students to use and anticipate that Teams is here to stay for our students.
3. High-Quality Digital Resources:
The Lake Washington School District has partnered with Discovery Education since I was a student in the district and it was called “United Streaming.” We go way back. One newer feature, though, is student access to the resources on the recently enhanced Discovery Education platform. While our teachers regularly access and share videos with students relating to the content they’re learning together, our district had not fully implemented training with our teachers on how to get students up and running on Discovery Education.
Imagine our surprise when we saw that students were independently finding and exploring within Discovery Education! While in February of 2020 a few students had discovered how to log in and check it out, the number of students accessing Discovery Education increased by the thousands. Even better, we saw this number increasing through the end of the school year and pick right back up again in September of last year.
We are accustomed to being amazed at what our creative, curious learners dig into when left to their own devices. Our students are incredible; they design apps, compete in science fairs, discover new passions and fight for the rights of those they love. By watching the number of students independently accessing and exploring Discovery Education, that told us something: our students are inherently driven to soak up knowledge and piece it together to create meaning. By offering them high quality, vetted, and safe digital resources to explore, we feel confident that this desire to learn is not only being supported, but bolstered.
It has been said that trauma (like a pandemic) is often the impetus of significant change in great institutions. I would like to argue, instead, that though this past year and a half has been one filled with exactly that – trauma – rather than force us into change, it has taught us to embrace several very real truths. Students are curious. They seek opportunities to connect with others, to dig deeper into what they are interested in, and to try things out in a low-stakes and supportive environment. It is our role as educators to support that, no matter the method of delivery. Luckily, the resources are only getting better. We feel confident that these resources have laid down a strong foundation for our learning ecosystem and believe that we are prepared for whatever the coming school system will throw at us.
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