By Kathy Moore
Last spring, when New York City Public School buildings closed and all classes moved to remote instruction, my elementary school students and I suddenly had to transition to an entirely new way of teaching and learning. I had never used Google Classroom, and many of my students and their families had limited experience with technology. To my surprise, I learned a tremendous amount during this time. I discovered tools to engage students remotely and make online learning as interactive as possible. I will discuss three of the most useful of these resources here.
Jamboard is an interactive digital whiteboard that provides “sticky notes” to write on, markers for drawing, and the ability to attach images from the web. It’s useful for a variety of purposes. Students can participate in collaborative written discussions. For example, my third-grade students use Jamboard to share opinions on topics such as whether snow days should be remote school days or whether video games are sports. Responding on Jamboard allows students quiet moments to reflect and formulate opinions. Students can also play games like Pictionary on Jamboard and participate in activities like matching words and definitions or sequencing events. With beginners and SIFEs (Students with Interrupted Formal Education), I use Jamboard for shared writing lessons. A beginner student and I created a Jamboard to describe how she baked a coconut cake with her mother. We included pictures of ingredients that we also labeled, and then we wrote the procedure.
Screencastify is a video recording device for teachers. I utilize it to attach narration to Google Slides and PowerPoint presentations. Students can then use these videos to independently review key concepts or language features and listen to the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and technical terms. For example, I created a video for fourth graders, The Magic Power of “tion,” to explain how the suffix “tion” turns a verb into a noun. With Screencastify, teachers can also read aloud e-books or sections of textbooks that are available online. When my fifth-grade students were reading poetry, I made videos where I read certain poems aloud so they could hear the beat and better understand the line breaks. I also often make videos to provide explicit directions for new assignments and activities.
Flipgrid allows students to record short videos in response to questions posed by the teacher. I use it to have students try out new vocabulary and language features. For example, when third graders were introduced to the words adapt and adaptation, they made videos in response to the question, “How have you adapted to remote learning?” A fourth-grade teacher I worked with uses Flipgrid to have students explain their thinking when solving a math problem or to discuss an issue they would address if they were the President.