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I work at the second largest school district in the nation, and we’ll all be teaching from home through May and probably longer. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far.
Now the distance learning is a reality for most teachers throughout the country, I thought I would reach out and let you know how my colleagues are coping at LAUSD (the nation’s second largest school district). Like you, we were thrust into this with very little warning, and It has been challenging to be sure. Here are some things that I’ve learned.
Trust me, web conferencing with students is no replacement for face-to-face interaction, but I’m sure glad to have it. Hopefully your school will provide you with a free Zoom or WebEx account that you can use. If not, then I recommend getting Zoom yourself and purchasing the premium tier. It’s about $14.95 a month, and you’ll receive a much more reliable feed. The free version is not reliable,and it limits how long you may present.
I highly recommend attending one of the webinars that your provider offers. There is a learning curve, and little things like learning how to manage who may speak and setting up chat rooms are important. Also, understand your district’s policies regarding video meetings. For example, my district prohibits recording sessions that include student activity. I had no idea and was actually planning on doing this.
You will not get 100% student attendance no matter how hard you try, so don’t beat yourself up over that.These kids sleep in, they’re freaked out, they’re caring for siblings, etc… To cope with this, one of my colleagues presents the same lesson/lecture three times per day, and her students choose which one they will attend. In this way she gets pretty impressive attendance. It’s a pretty smart approach and one that I plan to adopt.
Internet and WiFi
I also recommend calling your internet provider and making sure that you’re getting the speed that you pay for or even getting a free upgrade. Make sure your router is updated and running optimally – they’ll help you with that. Ask your provider if they’ll give you more speed. Tell them you’re a teacher and you need it to run video conferences with your classes. I currently pay for 200 mbps and it seems to do the trick. But remember you’re sharing your speed with everybody else in the house which can dilute things. I know some teachers who are paying a little extra to get up to 400mbps.
If your provider says they need to install a new modem, decline it. This is not the time to have unfamiliar folks in your home. Just get the max that your current modem and router will pump out. Also, you can really turbo charge your device by plugging directly into your router with an ethernet cable. My wife got 240mbps this way (we had to get a converter because she doesn’t have an ethernet port. It was cheap at Office Depot). The good news is the rest of the house still had WiFi. It throttled me down to 100, but it was plenty to run Zoom. My kids were even on Netflix with no complaints.
Getting your students online
If your students don’t have WiFi, there are plenty of providers (Charter/Spectrum and Verizon to name a few) who are providing free WiFi. The phone cues will be long and frustrating for them, but they’ll get through eventually. If they don’t have a digital device, have them contact the school immediately. Some schools are getting devices such as Chromebooks from neighboring schools that have a surplus, but they have to call and ask.
Apps and Platforms
Google classroom has been very reliable and very robust as I enter my second week of distance learning. I’ve been told that Schoology is having intermittent outages. One app that I really like is called CommonLit. It is a free program with lots of reading materials that kids read and then follow up with a standards-based, multiple-choice quiz. The exam includes optional short answers that the teacher must grade. Their library is extensive and the kids seem to like it
Of course if you want to keep your kids writing, www.essaypop.com is a great option as well. I am Michael Hicks, essaypop’s founder. Ours is a digital writing platform that has a really cool interactive feature called The Hive which keeps teachers and students connected. We also add lessons and content to our already extensive lesson library every day. Essaypop is 100% free (truly free) and teachers across the nation are telling us that it’s working great with their distance-learning / remote-teaching efforts.
I’m learning a lot about this new way of teaching and I intend to continue sharing what I learn. I hope to learn a lot from all of you as well. Stay healthy and keep the faith. We’ll be back to normal before you know it.