Distance learning started this week (3/30/20), and I just wanted to share (1) some of the things I tried but aren’t doing, (2) some of the things I am doing, and (3) some of the things I want to try.
Things I’ve Tried but am No Longer Doing
I used Zoom for the first week we were “off” just to offer help to students who were struggling with the math. Ideally this would be connected to my iPad so that I could write on the iPad and the students could see it (rather than lift the iPad up in front of my camera). If we were allowed to use Zoom anymore, then I might rig up a USB camera to hang over paper, a whiteboard, or my iPad, but video conferencing was banned in the county the following week.
YouTube Live Stream
I only wanted a one-way video anyway, so I thought “what about YouTube Live Stream?” so that students could see my writing while “chatting” to me in a Google Doc. Here’s the crazy setup:
One tweak I had to make was that I had to check the “ultra-low latency” option, otherwise streaming was about 30 seconds behind my writing. Even then, it was about 5 seconds behind my writing and that’s long enough to be a barrier to helping in “real time”. But even without that, this was just a beast to get working. I couldn’t use my Linux Laptop because there isn’t an easy way to screen-cast Doceri onto Linux. I couldn’t use my school laptop (foreground) because I don’t have installation rights on that device, and you must install a streaming program to send to YouTube.
Discord (or Slack)
I tested this out with a few kids, and I think it would have been a great tool had I been able to introduce it in class. You could have a separate room for each topic, respond to kids individually or as a small group, or whole-class on a specific topic. I could even turn on audio channels to help students even faster than typing. And it’s all in real time with alerts, with plenty of options to manage a large number of students on at one time (I have 67 Precalculus students between the two classes, though they would not be all on at the same time). Slack would have been very similar, minus the audio channels. Unfortunately (1) students can’t use their school accounts to create an account neither in Discord nor Slack, and (2) I think it would just be too steep a learning curve for some students.
Things I’ve Tried That I Will Keep Using
Google Doc or Spreadsheet “Math Help Room”
Since there’s no tool available for a “chat” with students, I just created a Google Doc and left it open! For my Honors class, I decided to go with a Spreadsheet, which helps me organize the topics on the tabs at the bottom, and each question gets a new column. So it works a little like Slack or Discord, in that I can have multiple students asking questions at the same time, answer different students, and then students can go to the document and use it as an FAQ so they’re not waiting on me if it’s outside of office hours.
Here’s the video I used to explain the idea to my students (Google Spreadsheets) , to give you an idea of what it looks like.
And here’s the Google Docs explanation video.
They took their 5 minute limit off for FCPS, so I can screen-cast explanations (mostly using Desmos!) and quickly get the link to the kids. I started with a project in Precalculus, which uses Desmos heavily, so I can make 30 second or 90 second explanations to students very quickly. I throw the explanation into the “Math Help Room” Google Doc above for other students to get the same help if it’s a general enough question. Then, when I’m helping another group, I can copy and paste the link from the Math Help Room so that students quickly get the explanation they need!
I used Loom before, but Screencastify saves the videos on Google Drive, which I guess is a little more secure from our county’s perspective. But Loom raised their video limit as well indefinitely so I may be using that more in the future once the Coronavirus pandemic is over.
I’ve written about Doceri before (more than once), but the ease with which I can record a video, send it to YouTube, and send the link to students, is incredible. I do the same thing with these links: paste them in the “Math Help Room” and share them with students who need a certain explanation. In some ways, not having a live video feed keeps me from having to repeat myself! I simply have a library of explanation videos specific to each students’ needs!
Student Video Explanations
Since I run an SBG classroom, this had led me to allow retakes on all assessments for the classes that I have the flexibility to do so. However, I can’t allow students to take quizzes while at home because I can’t guarantee testing security. So what I’m doing is having the students do problems and explain them. Students can record videos directly in Schoology through messages, they can share Google Drive links with me, OR they can use Flipgrid (some students can’t do the first two, so I created a Flipgrid for them to submit these and that seemed to work!). I appreciate how I can hear student thinking and explanations. Since I grade on a 1, 2, 3, or 4 SBG scale anyway, this was very easy to replace the quiz grades!
Google forms is so handy for collecting information! It works great as a check-in for all my students, letting me know who understands something and who needs more help. I want to make sure I put student well-being first in all of this, so I try to always lead with a Likert scale for “How are you doing?” along with space for students to explain, and then I try to follow up!
I almost forgot this tool since I use even when we’re in a physical school building, but this increases engagement and helps the students know whether they’re understanding the material or not! Before I would touch base with each student that didn’t get a question right and asked a question in a video (unless enough needed an explanation and then I would teach whole-class). Now I reach out and message each student who had a question (although I’m behind on reaching out since I’m first concerned with the students I haven’t heard from at all!).
I saved this for last since out county has this tool and I know not every county does. But whatever LMS you have, you need a way to message students. I can message students fairly quickly, and I reply very quickly using email. To speed it up even more, I dictate my responses: Read&Write for Chrome on a computer, but my phone’s Google voice dictation software is even better! If you are able to use Schoology, the best thing I’ve done for creating assignments is to create an all-inclusive Google Doc where students submit their work by taking a screenshot or picture. Here are some example:
Precalculus Example (Students don’t submit their work here, in this case)
When you assign the above documents, if you attach it using the button “Assign From App: Google Drive Assignments” then it creates a copy for each student and makes grading (and checking in on students) much easier!
Things I Want to Try
I’ve been watching Julie’s awesome “Assessments with Desmos” webinar, and now I really want to create an authentic Desmos Assessment for my students! I need to play with it some more, but I like how you can make the assessments “less Google-able”. It also can create highly interactive assessments, where learning is the priority over assessing. I appreciated her suggestion to “try using the Desmos activity remotely first before having it count as an official assessment” for the sake of the students and their stress level.
I want to get my Precalculus students back up to speed on their Algebra, Logarithm, and Trigonometry skills, so I’m thinking one “miniquiz” a week. If I create the assessment in Schoology, then it automatically grades it! I’d make it multiple choice, and include “none of the other answers” as an option, and use it pretty frequently just to keep the kids honest. Then, I’d also explain to them that the miniquiz is a minuscule part of their grade (~2%) so cheating on it doesn’t really help them, it only hurts them and their future. Then, I’d have the miniquizzes for future years, so that the kids can enter them all on their own after doing them on paper!
That’s it for now, but I have many more ideas that I want to get to soon. I’m very glad that we’re working on a project in Precalculus, as I feel that the students that are working are actually learning through this. At the end of this project, students are supposed to ask 3 questions and then answer them, so I want to figure out a way to put those questions out for their peers to answer, because you can’t Google for an answer key if your classmates created the questions!
Except that all my whiteboards are at my off-limits school at the moment. If I really needed them, I could get them, but since I can’t use Zoom, that’s a moot point.
And I only ever used Zoom as a one-way video, with the students chatting back to me. This was actually pretty effective, especially for the one student who has trouble talking in class, even individually, but has very good questions and can think much deeper than his oral communication allows.
I don’t like having to use a Wine emulator, even though I know it’s possible to do it that way!