3 Easy Ways to Better Engage Students in Distance Learning | Mentoring in the Middle

3 Easy Ways to Better Engage Students in Distance Learning

Colorful sign that says distance learning resources that lead to more engagement in distance learning
Remember this past spring's online learning?  I know we're all trying to forget it!  Like you, I want to return to something that looks like "normal" this Fall.  

I've been reflecting a bit on some of the things that worked for my students and others that didn't.  I've thought over conversations I had with kids who just couldn't "do school" without being in the classroom.  I heard their grief and had to find words to convince them to keep going; honestly, that wasn't always easy to do.

Here are some distance learning resources that teachers could incorporate that would lead to better engagement with students, in the event that we're faced with this again in the Fall.
Surprise Classroom

Find a teacher across the country (or across the world if you can manage the time difference).  It's easy to do that on Facebook.  See if you can Zoom/videoconference with them, asking only "yes" and "no" questions to figure out where they're from.

This would require some management strategies:
  • You'd want to have students prepare questions ahead of time and perhaps determine who would ask each one
  • everyone's microphone would have to be muted except for the student asking the question
On another occasion, depending on your comfort level with breakout rooms, mix students up into groups (each with an adult) and have them learn a little more about each other.  

In ELA, this would be a great way to teach:
  1. writing descriptions after the chats
  2. compare and contrast
  3. making predictions
  4. making inferences
  5. point of view
In Math, this could be used for:
  1. graphing
  2. ratios
  3. percentages
  4. adding and subtracting for younger kids
Imagine all you can do in Geography and Social Studies!
Virtual Field Trips

This one has been mentioned a lot and for good reason!  For my sixth graders, I liked using some that I made myself and many that were accessible by the click of the finger.  I offered this freebie for roller coaster rides in a previous blog post.

Here are some great sites that lend themselves well to ELA in particular, but also other subjects.
  • 360cities.net - this site provides 360 degree photos and videos.  They have free signups for teachers.  I took my students to a fountain set to music in Dubai, UAE; they went to the Great Wall of China, to a remote forest in Argentina, and Rabbit Island in Japan, among others.
  • National Parks - this blog post will show you the breadth of their field trips!  They provide teacher-friendly materials, including worksheets and scavenger hunts.
  • NASA  - If you have any interest in the "magic" of travel to outer space, this is your site!
  • Discovery Education - My district has always made this accessible to us, but I think you might need to have a subscription.  Again, these are tailored for teachers so there are a lot of additional materials, standards, etc.
  • MyBayut - Want to travel to the UAE (the United Arab Emirates)?  A young student who read this blog post suggested adding this site.  It's filled with museum recommendations, and if you click around on the site, you can also learn a lot about the country.  Thank you, Pierce, for finding this eye-opening site for us! 
Online Games

You are probably familiar with a lot of these.  Kids love playing them and don't mind the fact that they're learning in the process. And these companies have done a lot to make them easier for teachers to use during remote learning.  Win-Win!
  • Kahoot - students play against each other in a race to answer questions.  This has always been a popular one with my students.
  • Quizlet - anything from live games to practicing with flashcards.  I've used this a lot of times for review and found students asking if they can use the flashcards to study for quizzes.  Of course!
  • Quizizz - you can set these games to have everyone play at the same time or individually.  My students have taken short quizzes with this app many times.  Who doesn't love the self-pacing for kids and a score sheet at the end for teachers?
  • Gimkit - My students' favorite game platform, hands-down!  Where else can you answer questions in teams made by the app? (Students never argue with it!) You earn money for answering correctly and lose it if you're wrong.  Questions are repeated multiple times to get students to mastery.  And the best part?  There are powerups and upgrades that students can buy with the money they've earned while they're playing that can protect their team or freeze another team for a while.  Great fun!
What are some ways you plan to better engage your students this Fall?

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