Zoom. Quizlet. Epic. Raz-Kids. When it comes to remote learning resources, the list goes on and on. But while accessing technology tools is one thing, knowing how to use them to best teach students is quite another.
Kentwood Public Schools educators have been sharing their knowledge and the tools they use in their classrooms with other teachers as the district quickly switched to remote learning due to the state-mandated closure of schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
They’ve connected with one another through online professional development, tutorials and other shared resources.
Educational technologist Brooke Storms created KPS Remote Learning and Tech Talk, complete with free tutorials and getting-started guides and a list of remote learning resources. It’s an organized space for Kentwood teachers to collaborate and engage in self-directed professional development.
Storms got to work immediately on providing the go-to spot to help meet the needs of teachers suddenly required to teach from home. She worked with the question in mind, “How can I take my role and support teachers in this environment?”
KPS Remote Learning is also a place to post resources and offerings. Storms said teachers have varying needs as they navigate new expectations and face overwhelming demands. Access is limited to Kentwood teachers, and about 140 teachers have joined the Google Classroom platform on which the resource is located.
“Our teachers are all over the board in what they need,” she said. “I wanted to focus on creating a space to access on their own time.
The content is organized — there are sections on how to Zoom, hold office hours, work Google Meet, for example — so teachers can access what they need, when they need it. Plus, she has a recorded Tech Talk to facilitate conversations on what resources teachers are finding valuable and challenges.
“I wanted to organize the content we want to share with them—give them a choice about what they need to learn and do that on their own.”
‘A Whole New Meaning’
Before the pandemic, Storms was leading a web-based course with about 20 educators on Michigan Integrated Technology Competencies for Students (MITECS) standards, which focus on learning enhanced by technology.
That “takes on a whole new meaning” now, she said.
Through KW Remote Learning, Peter Weise, a science teacher at Crossroads Alternative High School, led a professional development session on using the tool GoFormative. He said about 20 teachers have reached out to him to learn about the web app, on which teachers can view student work as they complete it and provide feedback. He teaches introduction to chemistry, introduction to physics and earth and space sciences, and has used a blended classroom format for years, including virtual and in-class instruction.
“If it weren’t for that background I would be incredibly stressed,” he said.
Right now, he’s relying especially on Google Classroom and GoFormative for his own teaching. He uses the latter to mark up PDF documents, create and upload multiple-choice and fill-in-the blank problems and watch live as students complete work.
Offering tech PD remotely is a bit of an evolution for Weise, who typically leads sessions each fall at the district’s EK Conference, during which teachers lead workshops on topics they are knowledgeable about. He has taught then on remote learning.
“Our teachers are all over the board in what they need. I wanted to focus on creating a space to access on their own time.”— Brooke Storms, KPS educational technologist
One of the best things about having a site and teachers to go to is knowing where to turn, explained Valleywood seventh grade special education teacher Jennifer VanDyk, who’s used KPS Remote Learning to find ways to continue instruction. She also posts questions there, and said she gets quick responses from fellow educators.
“I’m utilizing it because I was in need of some tech support,” she said. “I had never created a Google Classroom before. What’s nice about it is it’s giving me an opportunity, instead of blindly searching on YouTube, to find out how to use (technology tools). It has been really nice to go into this one location and find resources in terms of the tech out there and how to best reach my kids.”
VanDyke has now created a Google Classroom for each of her classes and has learned to post assignments on them. “I’ve figured how to use things like Screencastify and Loom.” She works with students who attend general education classes and are completing assignments for those.
The tools have helped her continue to reach her students as she normally would in class, but remotely. She helps them by posting articles they are assigned to read in other classes and recording herself reading it.
When first faced with remote teaching, VanDyke worried about meeting her students’ needs. “The part that made me the most anxious was I have kids who need a little more support.”
KPS Remote Learning has helped.
“If I have a question. I can throw that up and connect on Brooke’s site.”