May 10

Connecting Through the Distance

‘I don’t have to do it because it’s not going to be graded.’ This is not the comment that any educator ever wants to hear. Learning is, well, amazing! We teach our students to new skills and to be curious. This has been lost along the way as a student goes through schooling and all of his or her thoughts are graded. During our Corona-time, it made me think of how to engage students so that the love of curiosity and learning is what drives students like him everywhere.

This is the perfect time to remind them. Create learning experiences that are about learning and not a grade.

PLANNING: Before we plan for distance learning, we need to go back to the framework of what makes a good lesson. It must have a clear objective, standards-driven, directions, teacher lead, and independent practice. Transferring this to a digital format, these goals will still be met but not in the way you have come accustomed to.

Yes, the objective and goal must still be stated:

  • but in a way that a student can read (typed description)
  • listen to (audio recording)
  • watch (videorecording).

Think of how you best connect with your students and how they best connect with you. Chances are the first two will be the most comfortable for adults. Our insecurities may lead the path on not showing our faces on screens. Now take a second to think of all of the virtual meetings you’ve had with family and friends over the last few weeks. How did you feel after seeing those faces, watching their reactions when you shared a story, sharing your latest art project or enjoying dinner together. Videos make you feel better and it will do the same for your students.  (For the best video option for your students, contact your IT department as the preferred method varies from one district to the next.)

DELIVERY: You’ve stated the objective, goal, and directions. Now for the delivery. In your classroom, it may have independent work that consisted of hard copy activity. This isn’t feasible during this time as we don’t know if the home has a printer or ink but that doesn’t mean the worksheet still can’t be used. Students can use a sheet of paper to

  • write down their answers
  • take a picture and submit their work for evaluation-not to imply a grade but to make sure they are working correctly

What if they don’t have a camera connected to a device, parents are working, etc? Post the answers to assigned work in your digital classroom. Will they look ahead at the answers? Probably. Imagine the student who looks to the answer then figures out how to solve the problem. Other than a formal assessment, people are always searching online for answers. This is a life long skill that they need to master. As a technology coach, I do quite a bit of backward planning with my teachers, isn’t this the same path?

TECHNOLOGY ACTIVITIES: Let’s spend some time on websites. This might be the easiest way to reinforce a skill. Pick an objective. Find the site for the students to practice, link them with an exact page with directions on what to do and how to interact with the page. Remember to include any log in the information needed as well as a helpful guide for the site. The educator can sign in to their administrator panel to view student progress, offer feedback, and the next possible steps to continue or extend their learning. This is a youth’s wheelhouse so find the sites that will excite them and connect it to the curriculum.

There is a time and place for these sites and they do provide practice but now I challenge you to have the students become creators. Find the sites that have them build something. Build a code to move a character through an ancient land. (BrainPOP Creative Coding, Scratch, Scratch. JR [iOS mobile devices], Minecraft and many more) Build a plane and fly it while adjusting wind speed, materials, and distance.

As learning and teaching continues down the path of distance learning, remember this is the path less traveled for educators who spend their careers in brick and mortar classrooms. This is also the time to take chances. Assign the activities that need students to gather things outside, create videos with their pet, and build with items the children have in their homes. Enjoy the freedom of teaching in an unconventional way.

April 10

Curiosity Encourages the Cat

Until know, educators have been in control of their classes. From the minute students arrive, the time is calculated by a scheduling team, state standards, county requirements and extra activities that must be done. When complete, we celebrate. When incomplete we highly encourage completion in a variety of ways. Our control has been taken from us. We can only share what we would like them to do, create videos to teach and hope they are viewed, offer websites to support the skill and possibly some worksheets to print out.

Living with 2 school age children and a now a high school graduate, it will be one of the biggest parenting challenges I’ve faced. Optional activities, prior to a developed distance learning plan, were never posted so those young minds have been stagnant for 4 weeks. When asked about the new instructional plan, the comment was ‘It doesn’t matter if I do it. It won’t be graded.’ How can the love of learning be revitalized when our students are not in our classroom?

As you plan your lessons and activities, remember it’s not possible to recreate your classroom. Now is the time to share all those wacky, crazy, out of the box activities you have been yearning to do. Ignite the desire for learning you have and know is in your students.

Students may not want to sit at a computer for long periods of time working on websites and worksheets. They may prefer to create with their hands. Below are some ideas that break the mold of traditional classroom activities. As you build your lessons and add activities to your digital classroom, ask yourself, what is an unconventional way to show what you know?

Skill Creative Activity
measurement create a homemade egg dye out of food; build a rain gauge
comparison create a ‘Would you rather’ game for a specific topic (presidents, locations, historical events, or numbers)
computation  use homemade Play doh, chalk, car window paint, and use windows or cement to work out math problems
geography Create a Mystery Skype game to learn about locations on a map; if technology is an issue, write questions on index cards and challenge your family
living systems and scientific investigation use vegetables in the fridge to grow more food; use a chart to record progress
Reading Skills listen to audio books, borrow books from the library (possible curb side pickup) and use these questions to guide your reading


March 26


My phone rang at 5am on Thursday, March 12. “School will be closed until…”. At that point it was shock. I had heard about the Corona Virus but it was someplace else. Then on Monday, March 23 the unthinkable happened, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam made the heart wrenching decision to close schools for the academic year. All of the emotions I could imagine flooded me as a wife, mother and educator. What will our new normal look like? There is not college student who says “I came into teaching to grade student work. I’ll plan a lesson for assessment.” Educators selected this career because of their love of learning. Learning new content, new ways to teach the content, and most significantly, experiencing that moment when a young mind realizes they are capable of so much more…all because a teacher taught them how to love learning.

In our world today, districts are faced with how to hold students accountable in a way that the system isn’t prepared. Before March 12, it was absolutely heading that way with the surge of online learning but with the recent closings, districts have been catapulted into distance learning. Educators from all fields must take their physical curriculum and face to face learning and create an experience so that it transcends through a screen. A challenge, certainly, but nothing is unreachable for a passionate educator.

While parents wait anxiously for guidance from their child’s teacher to post lessons, activities, discussion posts and video teachings, what are the teachers doing? Think of us a glacier. Only the tip is seen by the public. Under water is where the work is getting done. Sounds great, but what is happening today? Restless children and parents who are now working from home are ready for the activities.

For me, my day begins with the sunrise. The sun is up and so is my mind. The educators I work with want the best for their students and as their Instructional Facilitator of Technology I feel the pressure. March 16 began my new daily routine of virtual meetings, recording trainings and more emails than I care to count. Conversations surround defining the goal for distance learning, chosen platform for delivery, available tools and teaching passionate educators in a way that makes sense to them. Working with 40+ teachers, the learning will vary where some are independently conquering this task, others need a team to guide them along and everything in the middle. Through endless hours of the day, assistance is offered from my home office or what the rest of my family calls our kitchen table. I lay in bed at night and think ‘What if a teacher is up working, I better check my email. If I answer it they can complete one more task.’ In between all of the digital and virtual conversations, my time is also filled with creating and posting training videos to an easily accessible platform. As all of these tasks are being completed, the communication from my school community ensues. “Please help. I’m trying to help my child log in/access/open…,What is the password? or Why won’t the recommended  school website work on my personal device?” The same desire to help the educators continues with the families. As a school, we are conquering this the best way can and luckily we are part of a county-wide team to support this obstacle.

We have a system that is well on it’s way to success. There are still many questions that need to be answered. As we forge ahead, challenges are anticipated and plans to tackle  them are being formulated.

What does the public need to know? Educators want to teach. Educators are worried about how to do this since they are getting a crash course in a new delivery system. The content hasn’t changed, but the delivery is new too many. Teachers are turning to their collegues, social media groups, reading blogs, meeting with leaders in their district and attending virtual training sessions on software they know well and that which they want to perfect. They are staying up late and getting up early to create the content that will best suit your students. Above all, at the deepest core of their being, they are doing this for the love of learning.


March 15

Homeschooling? I’m lost!

Parents around the world are faced with a challenge that we didn’t anticipate. All of a sudden our children are home for weeks. Schools are closed. The panic sets in ‘How will they learn?’ and ‘How do we continue what they were learning in school?’ Many school systems are trying to find ways to make that happen and will do their best to share ideas. Keep in mind, unless you are your child’s classroom teacher, you won’t recreate their classroom. You did, however, teach them many skills before their formal education began.

Remember the stories you read about colors and animals? How about when you were shopping and asked your child to get a certain fruit? What about when you walked up steps and counted as you climbed? Now let’s take those skills you already have and apply it to the current times. Before you begin with ideas below, have your children make a list of what they were learning about in school. Go through each subject while it’s still fresh.

  • Make a meal together. Have your child measure the items, but use a tool like ‘The Big G’ and tell them they have to measure a different way. For example, instead of saying you need to 2 cups have them figure out that it is the same as 1 pint.
  • As you make your outdoor plans, watch the news and find out the current and afternoon temperature. Decide you will take that walk when the temperature reaches a certain number. Place a thermometer outside, print one out or use this interactive online version, and teach your child how to read it. Add some math by having them figure out the difference in the high and low. Extend this skill by checking the temperature over the next few days.
  • The tv will be on. Watch a movie with your kids and turn it off every 20 minutes. This is where you can work on reading skills. Discuss how the characters are connected and their stories are developing. Summarize the part you have watched. Make a prediction as to how the story may go. If you have paper, any size, get out some writing instruments and write it down. Revisit the paper at the next break and write in a new color. You can also print out story maps to guide you.


  • Pull out the building toys-Legos, blocks, train sets, etc. As their imagination soars, refer to the list of what they were learning. Use one of those skills to create what they were taught. For example, the latest history lesson was Westward Expansion. Using the building items, recreate the journey to include the people, transportation and terrain.
  • Want a larger project to include everyone, build a Rube Goldberg machine. Remember the long domino trails that would get knocked down one by one, this would be same type of activity but so much more fun. What is the goal of your machine? What do you want it to accomplish? Here are some examples to get you started.  
March 14

Learning at Home

Our world is getting turned upside down. Educators are trained to lead a room of learners in face to face interactions that may include hands-on creations, technology infused lessons and video chatting with experts. Now we are asking, in a very short time, to turn the tables and create activities they can do at home.

From the non-educator, isn’t that what they are supposed to be doing all along? They have computers and all these great websites to use. Why is it so hard?

Teach the skills in a different way.

Our students come from all walks of life. Some from a privileged home with technology that can be for the family or each person, reliable wifi and adults that can guide them through obstacles. Some come from a family that have a shared device with wifi that isn’t strong simply because they live away from bigger populations. Others come from families that are doing everything they can and a computer and wifi just aren’t priorities. There are families where the adults must work shift work and siblings are in charge of each other. All of those scenarios make up a class. Now create a lesson to meet the needs of all the learners.

Bringing this back to our teachers, all of these things must be considered when creating activities to keep the students’ minds fresh. Below are ideas to help you plan. They are broken into Unplugged/Non-Digital and Plugged/Digital.


  • Use chalk for computation, shapes, spelling and art.
  • While reading a book, create a character chart show how each is connected. Add some fun by using dolls, Lego characters, or any other toy that could represent someone in the book.
  • Throw a ball as far as you can. Measure the distance with your foot steps, a stick found on a hike or laying on the ground one person after another.
  • Time how long it takes to run around the house. Keep a chart of 10 times. Find the difference of the time. Add some people into the mix and see who is the fastest and by how much.
  • Create an obstacle course where you have to jump a certain distance, move around to make a shape, go over/under items or build a tower out of objects found outside.
  • Gather boxes, rubber bands and anything else that will make music. Compose a song that describes what you have been learning about in school.
  • Develop a Family Feud type game. Questions can be focused on a recent book you read, vocabulary terms you are learning (think synonyms and antonyms), or reasons for a historical event


  • Using a device, create a 45 second Flipgrid video that describes a vocabulary term. Share it with a friend and have them guess the word.
  • If you have an iPad, create a Worm Hole video. Locate a picture of a map and Playdoh. (In the video example, she uses a circle cut from a colored paper.) Use the Playdoh to create a green screen background. As you move the Playdoh around the map, a new part of it will be seen. Now try the same concept with popsicle sticks.  
  • Minecraft is all about creation. Use this tool to show how the Space Shuttle landed on the moon. How about demonstrating the Westward Expansion?
  • You may have a home with multiple devices. On one device, create a Google Doc and share it with your family members. Person #1 writes a sentence to start the story. Person #2 continues the story. This continues as long as you want. If you are having a challenge staring the story, use this Emoji tool. This same idea can be applied to a Google Slide where each slide will contain part of the story and picture.
  • Drawing programs are fun, but what can you do with them? Someone must draw a part of a story they are reading, a show they are watching or something they read about online. The catch is they can only use certain shapes. Great programs to accomplish this are: Google Draw or  Wixie.
  • Remember there is always coding. This is one of the best ways to keep the mind moving. Great sites are, swift on iPad, Tynker or Scratch (scratch, jr on the iPad).