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Get organized and take your lessons digital

Here's how an elementary teacher streamlined her materials and modernized her lessons

I’m a fourth-grade teacher in North Carolina. If you’re a teacher, you know I didn’t just spend my summer lounging by a pool. I spent much of my free time preparing for the school year. What did this preparation work look like? I engaged in several professional development (PD) opportunities. I spent time organizing my classroom. The rest of the preparation involved reflecting, researching, and planning—activities that time constraints make difficult during the school year.

Summer offers the perfect amount of time for me to step away, refresh, and really look back and ask myself, “What worked last year, what didn’t, and what should I do differently this year?” My biggest conclusion during this reflective period was that it’s time to modernize my lesson materials.

It starts with organization
Last year, my various teaching materials were found somewhere between four bookshelves, three filing cabinets, two Google Drives, two external hard drives, and one laptop. And that’s just what I have stored in my classroom. Consequently, planning my lessons and finding my resources could get a bit messy. I knew if I combined the fragmented collection of videos, slides, documents, and assignments I’ve collected and prepared over the years, I’d be able to create more authentic and engaging lessons for my students.

With an average of 28 students in each class, I almost always need to weave accommodations into my lessons. Some students learn best while taking part in whole-class conversations, some prefer small groups, and others prefer independent self-paced assignments. It’s difficult to plan lessons that meet all these needs. In addition to teaching content standards, I must also help students develop 21st-century skills, preparing them to be effective members of our global society. For these reasons, I’ve often found myself inventing and reinventing the instructional wheel each year.

Hence, the shelves, cabinets, and drives full of resources.

Until recently, I’ve used the Google Suite to modernize my lessons as much as possible. But I was still looking for the best way to bring all of my resources together, not just those housed in Google, to build engaging, digital lessons. I searched the internet and found a few online tools that fit my challenge. The one I chose is called Crio, a new, free offering from Curriculum Pathways.

How I create a digital lesson
When choosing a lesson to take digital, I consider three things about the skill I’m trying to impart:

1. This is a skill that students tend to gain in vastly different ways and at varying speeds.
2. I’ve acquired and created a plethora of my own instructional materials focused on this skill.
3. I believe I can provide my students with an authentic purpose for attaining this skill, making the lesson engaging and meaningful to them.

It’s so important to grab a student’s attention, and the introduction page is the first, best opportunity to do so. This page should outline the final performance task. For instance, the first digital lesson I created used a tiny house to help students solve problems involving area and perimeter. My introduction requires each student to take on the role of architect and create a floor plan that meets the needs of their pretend clients.

When converting a lesson to digital, consider the existing assets you have, particularly the ones that have already been effective in engaging students. At the same time, imagine what other video and audio assets might be available. Chances are, if it’s a great idea, it’s already out there.

With area and perimeter, I combined the best of my earlier attempts with a few of the go-to videos and Google Slides I often show at the onset of the unit. Having them rooted in the lesson this way allows my students to access them at any time.

A digital lesson should include opportunities for practice. I created a page of self-checking multiple-choice questions from the many area and perimeter questions I’ve already created. After students complete their practice, the lesson should make it simple to transition back to the performance task. A first step might require them to demonstrate their understanding, which also serves as a great formative assessment tool for the teacher.

I instructed students to conduct research to find and analyze a tiny house floor plan. They must calculate and record the area and perimeter of various sections of the house. I provide links to the research websites right in the lesson.

Ideally, a digital lesson platform will automatically save students’ work to their online portfolio. This whole portion of the lesson is paperless, and students can always go back to previous pages for support.

The digital way
Video and web content can spark creativity in ways analog materials never could. In my lesson, students take on the role of architect and create their own tiny floor plans. The new technology in products like Crio enables me to embed a handful of videos and links, each showcasing different designs. Lastly, sharing capabilities are critical to an effective digital lesson. In my case, students can submit the entire lesson to our Google Classroom. On top of that, I can share the whole lesson with any other teacher who is part of the Crio Community.

Taking my perimeter and area lesson was a great learning experience and inspired me to modernize multiple lessons. Whether it’s with Crio or another program, I hope my journey is a helpful guide for others who want to take a favorite lesson, or a particularly challenging skill, from paper to digital.
If I’m lucky, by the end of the year I’ll have created enough digital lessons to replace some of my old filing cabinets with a few more bean bag chairs or even a learning center for my students to use instead!

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