Friday, March 20, 2020

Connecting with Students During Distance Learning | Distance Learning Series #1

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

This is such a crazy time for the world of education! Having heard of some school closings around the country, I was prepared to possibly not see my kids for a few weeks as I sent them home for spring break. When, just a few days into spring break, I received word that our governor had shut down schools in our state for the rest of the year, I was devastated. I wasn't ready to say goodbye forever! Those kids are my babies, and the two months I thought I had left had already felt too short. This abrupt end was too much.

I grieved for a bit, and now, I am ready to move forward. They are still my students, and I will still teach them. Of course, we are working on changing our approach so that our students can still receive an education while we are all under quarantine. It will look different, it will feel different, and we may not like the change, but we will all get through it together.

I am going to be publishing a series of posts on distance learning, including activities for parents to do at home, as well as tips for teachers. This seemed like the best topic to start with, as first and foremost, kids should feel loved! Kids always, always need to feel loved, but even more so in times like these. Things are scary and uncertain right now; even little ones can pick up on these feelings from the adults in their lives. We need to do our part to be a stabilizing force, and to make sure the kids know there are grown ups in their lives who love them and are thinking of them.

Fostering relationships with students is vital to a solid education in the best of times, but it is going to take a lot more effort in this kind of setting. Here are some fun ideas to help you connect to your students in spite of the distance.

1. Send them a card
Kids LOVE getting mail! Sending each of your kids a sweet little note to say you're thinking of them will make their day.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

Of course, cards and postage can get expensive, and if you don't have any on hand you may not want (or be able) to go to the store right now. E-cards are a fantastic option! Several sites offer a few free e-cards; I found some adorable ones at Kisseo (this post isn't sponsored by them or anything; I just did a search and liked what I found there).

2. Make them a personalized word search or crossword puzzle
I just made one of these for my class using their names and uploaded it to my ClassDojo page, and they were so excited! I'm going to make one for each of them individually with their own interests and message it to them.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

There are many sites out there that will generate word search puzzles. My favorite one so far is The Word Search, because it is easy to use and lets you set the difficulty (such as if you want words to go backward or diagonal). You can download and save it to be printed, or it gives you a hyperlink where the kids can go to play it online. The great part about playing it online is that after the kids solve the puzzle, they can click "play again" and it will rearrange the words. The puzzles are public, though, before they are deleted after 30-60 days, so don't use any identifying information like kids' last names.

3. Audio record a personalized message and send them a QR code to hear it
You could record a message to your whole class, to individual students, or both! Do you know how much fun the kids would have scanning the QR code and hearing you talk to them?
The easiest way I have found to do this is to record the audio using an app on my phone or computer, and then upload the file to Google Drive. (You automatically have access to Google Drive if you have a Gmail account, which is free to set up!) Then you click on your audio file in Google Drive, and click "get sharable link". Highlight and copy the link that shows up, and paste it into a QR generator, such as QR Stuff. It will generate the QR code, and you can save it as an image and send it in an email or upload it to your digital classroom. You could also just send the link without the QR code, if the kids don't have access to tablets.

4. Record yourself reading a story to your kids
Get your webcam up and running, and read some of your favorite stories to your kids. Upload the video to YouTube. You can set it as "unlisted" so that only people with the link can watch it, and then send the link to your students. Many platforms also allow you to upload a video there, as well.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

Ask the students for suggestions on other books to read--they would love to hear you read some of their favorites!

5. Record yourself singing, rapping, dancing, using puppets, telling jokes, being silly...anything that feels like you!
You are the magic in your classroom, and that magic could easily get lost in a digital setting. Do whatever makes you feel in your element, and record it! This could be lesson related, or it could just be you connecting with your kids; both have value. Upload the video just as you did for your read aloud in #4.

6. Create a digital scavenger hunt
These are so much fun, and can be as easy or complicated as you want. You could create one in Google Forms, use an app like GooseChase, or just type up a list and post it in your classroom platform.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique
GooseChase has lots of pre-made scavenger hunts you can customize!

Yes, this could be used as a fun way to complete assignments, but you could also just use it as a way to build connections with students, with no set academic purpose. See who can come up with the most creative answers to simple questions like "Find something prickly", or "Take a picture of something falling". The sky is the limit!

7. Have a virtual talent show
If your kids all have access to tablets or laptops, have them all record a short video of something they are good at and share it with the class. Kids always love showing off their mad skills!

8. Have virtual contests
Tablets and laptops are also required for this one, but you could have contests like "Best Music Video", "Best Commercial for Macaroni and Cheese", "Best Dance Moves". The kids could upload their entries to your class platform and enjoy connecting with one another.

I would love to hear any other ideas you have for continuing to build solid relationships with students while teaching virtually.
Stay tuned for more posts about distance learning; we'll make the most of this together!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

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