While many school districts have canceled school, and parents are scrambling to prepare for home learning, here are some helpful tips.
First, communicate with your child’s teacher(s) about any activities or suggestions. For example, some schools have already been using digital learning programs. Ask what is expected and their suggestions on learning materials and resources that fit your lifestyle and budget.
If you are not already connected to your child’s teacher through a communication app, ask if the teacher can start one. With ClassDoJo, parents can have one-on-one text message-style chats with their child’s teacher.
Setting Up a Workspace for Your Kiddos
Setting up a workspace for your children is important to keep them engaged and interested in learning. It helps set the tone for an hour of reading, writing and spelling, versus jumping on the couch. In the workspace, whether it’s at a small table or on the floor, the area should be defined as “home school.” Some parents may prefer to create stations for different subjects, such as a station for math or science and a station for reading, writing and social studies, or a station with games, toys, crafts or building materials, for recess.
Reading and Writing
There are many resources available for reading and writing for children while at home. The most popular may be ABC Mouse and Scholastic books. Many educational companies are offering free subscriptions at this time. Libraries across Texas may be closed, but they are offering free access to ebooks and audiobooks online and through apps. Many libraries that normally offer children’s programs such as story time and toddler time have programs on YouTube.
While homebound, there are free websites for educational content for all ages and all income levels.
Autumn A. Arnett, Vice President of Communications for Texas Public Charter Schools Association, recommends the following:
- Math: Funbrain, Prodigy, Math Playground, Splash Learn, Math Game Time, Khan Academy.
- Science: Discovery Mindblown, NASA Kids Club, Amazing Space, Code Academy, How Stuff Works.
- Social Studies: Crash Course (YouTube), the app and website “Who Was?”, National Geographic Kid, Time for Kids, Smithsonian for Kids.
Comcast is also offering education assistance.
“For those with school-age students at home, we’ve created new educational collections for all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Just say “education” into your X1 or Flex voice remote,” Comcast announced last week.
Social Studies, Science, Gym and Art Virtually
The Houston Zoo is bringing the animals to your living room with interactive Facebook Live streams. At 11 a.m. daily, children can tune in to follow updates from the zoo. Then they can write about it or find an animal book at home to read. Museums across Texas may be closed, but many are offering virtual field trips and virtual exhibitions. There’s also Google Earth to explore.
Mo Willems, author and illustrator of the popular books “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” “Elephant and Piggie” and many others, is hosting episodes of virtual Daily Lunch Doodles, posted daily at http://pigeonpresents.com/.
If your kids have energy to burn, you could try gym alternatives and virtual P.E. classes.
The cleaning, cooking and daily grit that naturally happens in a household can also become a part of your kids’ learning. Children enjoy being a part of a task, having a role and responsibility while mixing the curriculum and family time.
Some children have stress at home.
“For some students, school is their only safe space, and the only place they’ll have guaranteed meals,” Arnett wrote. “Many cable and internet providers are offering free services to families that have students in grades K-12 but don’t have access to the internet at home. But this doesn’t account for kids who don’t have devices on which to access the internet, or who may all be sharing one parent’s cell phone – and if that parent still has to go to work, it means they wouldn’t be able to access any content until the evening.”
Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria explained other challenges that come with virtual learning.
“It is important to consider that teachers spend countless hours planning and preparing lessons to meet the academic needs of all the students in their classrooms, including English language learners and students with special needs. Teachers work to provide students an academic experience that utilizes as many senses as possible, including peer-to-peer, and this will be a challenge with virtual learning. But teachers will work with the resources they have. We also must ensure that all students have access to virtual learning, not just those students with internet service at home.”
Middle School and High School Students
Your child may already be very involved with Google Classroom or Canvas, a popular educational technology that is a dashboard for learning. It’s where a language arts or math teacher can post videos and explain expectations for the students while they are home and post suggested assignments. Communicating with your child’s teacher will ease your mind during this transition.
Teachers in some districts are asking parents to log on to existing platforms for suggestions on how parents can engage students in their at-home lessons.
Some middle school language arts teachers are holding reading challenges. Music teachers have given exercises and shared links to resources. Social studies teachers are treating online learning similar to how a college course would be administered, with students selecting an assignment and sharing videos or notes virtually. Science teachers are approaching distance learning with lessons posted on Canvas and are finding ways to help their classes stay on course.
Texas Colleges and Universities
If college students weren’t taking online classes, they now will be. Texas colleges have suspended classes and are preparing for remote education — many for the remainder of the spring semester.
Many colleges and universities had digital learning in place before the coronavirus became a significant threat.
“Applications such as Zoom have always been in place on our campus with the only difference being that we’ve ramped up the licensing and capacity. VPN (virtual private networks), Canvas and other tools are now configured for more access across campus, and the university’s locally developed online course and lecture capture infrastructure is further helping us accommodate the new online teaching demands,” wrote Kathleen Harrison, communications manager at the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Texas at Austin.
Jeff Morgan, associate provost for education innovation and technology at the University of Houston, sang the praises of modern digital tools.
“Through an Learning Management System (such as Blackboard Learn), [teachers] can host live online meetings, discussion forums, and give assignments and assessments. These capabilities have been somewhat improved in recent years through use of tools like Zoom, MS Teams, MS Stream, G Suite and others.”
Instructors may already be familiar with some tools.
“Many of these tools have also made their way into traditional face-to-face classes to augment the traditional learning experience, making it possible for faculty to host online office hours and online live help sessions, provide automated grading that gives students immediate feedback, and facilitate student to student interaction outside of class time,” he said.
Teachers have more options than what their schools offer.
“Faculty, however, are not restricted and have the option to use any additional tools outside of what we offer if they feel it would be appropriate for their students and classes,” Harrison wrote.