Saturday, August 15, 2020

The New Frontier: Teaching Digitally as an Adventure (Part 1)

Look, I don't want you to see my title and run away because it's so positive and you're already worn out by the peppy, faux-positive, "we can do this" posts that paint teachers as go-getters who conquer all obstacles because we're just so darn selfless. 

That's not me. I'm also angry.

But, I like challenges and puzzles and technology, and here I am, with a huge Gordian Knot plopped in my lap, and I can't resist the chance to pull at the edges, work the thread, and pry it until it starts to soften and reveal what's inside. Plus, my kids deserve great teaching from me.

And if I can deliver great digital teaching, doesn't that prove that perhaps we can wait to open schools until it's safe?

So I have a lot of reasons to work on this.

If I'm truly honest, though, I am more excited about teaching than I have been in a while. I have missed the intellectual challenge of a conundrum this big. I love the kids, so emotionally I have been fulfilled. But figuring out how to create digital community is fun.

Okay. Enough about me. 

Making a Google Classroom
When I started posting about how much I'm enjoying my digital days, people started asking if I would share the things I'm creating. My answer: absolutely! Why should anyone else have to create stuff again? So if you already have a Google Classroom, skip the video below to the couple of goodies. If you don't, watch the video below to find out how to create a Google Classroom in the quickest way possible.

Assignment Option: Favorite Things Introduction Slide
So my main goal overall this first half week of instruction has been to help students get used to Zoom, get on my Remind, join my Google Class, and learn how to use Google Classroom effectively. That means that we have done some simple activities to help them learn how to use different functions. The video above discusses the Stream and assigning questions and material. 

This assignment is meant to be assigned as a copy for all students. It's independent work. I was inspired by a video like this one to think about how I could make things editable for the kids without them messing up the parts I want them to leave alone. There is a second approach aside from inserting the image in the background, by the way. I made this slide and the following one by editing the slide in Master View because it lets me add more elements. Then I added the parts I want them to be able to change in the regular view of the slide.

Favorite Things Introduction Slides

Opinion Board
I also wanted to try out the concept of a shared document that students all edit together. Honestly, this spawned from the fact I wanted to build class community, but I will get to more of that later. Below you will find what I created as a result: 

an Opinion Board. The opinion board construction is based heavily on things I learned from this video, and it honestly was so much fun. I asked questions in Latin, students moved tokens to their preferred answers, and eventually started moving each other's tokens. If you worry about them posting inappropriate things on a shared document like this, Google's "version history" is what protects you. Just click the link at the top that tells you when the "last edit" was made and you will be taken to the version history of the document. It will list when every student edited the document and whenever you hover over a name you can see what their contribution is. I warned students this was the case so they wouldn't get carried away. I also used this to keep restoring the document to my original version to "reset" it so we could ask another question. The students laughed and enjoyed themselves and one class was inspired to trade social media account information. This created class community on the second day of digital learning.

To change the options on the Opinion Board, open the Master View and edit the words there.

Opinion Board

Final Thoughts--For Now
I have a lot of these. Honestly. First of all, I love what Google Classroom is letting me do. I could gush on and on, but I won't. I will just say that it feels like freedom.

But. More importantly. The biggest mistake you can make when trying to create digital lessons and digital classes is to think of it as simply taking your regular, face-to-face classes and putting them on the computer. That way is pure frustration for you and your students. The setting is different. You're different. They're different. The best thing you can do is recognize that.

Instead, think, what is the point of this activity that I would normally do? What is its function? What are its key components?

Then look for ways to fill those needs with technology. It will feel more authentic.

Lastly, I named this Part 1, because I plan to keep sharing what I learn and what I make. This is a year where we will all be trying new things, learning as we go, and hopefully becoming better teachers against all odds and with public opinion, as always it seems, against us. We can at least support each other!

(I wrote a follow-up with more templates! See Part 2 here)


  1. Thanks for this post! I am going to use these activities my first week of class. I made a French version of the first activity because I couldn't figure out how to edit the mater like with the opinion board:

    I just had a couple questions. Did you have the students type their names into the circles? How did you make the questions you asked comprehensible? Did you have a slide with photos that you showed as you asked the questions? If so, did you toggle back and forth between that presentation and the slide the students were editing?Again, thanks for sharing!

    1. These are great questions--I'm doing a lot of learning as I go :)
      I did not have them type names--it made it more fun for them and let them kind of fight over "land" so to speak. In terms of comprehensible, I was very slow and repetitive and did not hesitate to define a word if they asked. But I have since come up with the idea (I'm posting it this weekend!) to go on the master slide and post an item for clarification there. For the opinion board it is just one slide so you could just pop a picture there if you like.