Synchronous and Asynchronous Remote Learning.

“Rather than reinvent the wheel, build on that which is already great.”

– Auliq Ice

Originally, I’d intended to dedicate this entire reflection on “Re-Invent the Future,” or my school’s efforts to extend our students’ ideas to the community through a live “Invent the Future” Zoom Panel on May 9. The breakneck speed of creating online solutions to teaching in the last six weeks advised me to combine this special event, in lieu of the now-cancelled county-wide event called the “Challenge Summit,” with other burgeoning projects. As the online/at-home/distance/virtual/ or, what I’m referring to as the remote classroom resources explode, I give you my current take at synchronous learning like “Re-Invent the Future,” asynchronous updates with Choice-Based self-paced modules, and the necessary blend between the two.

We’re ready to teach, no matter the classroom. This is because we’re all somewhere along the path to strengthen student engagement, no matter where the classroom falls in the physical vs. online spectrum.

Resources are in order through the SPECTRUM Acrostic

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.07.13 PM“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

– Malcolm X

Like you, I don’t necessarily like the term, “new normal.” For those of us who have taken a biology course or seen Contagion, we know a global pandemic was plausible if not probable, especially given the human population factor. Now that it’s here and changed our lives forever (with the fortunate use of the Internet), there’s no such thing as normal anymore. We all knew there were some very outdated features to the traditional “brick-and-mortar” education system, and the online sector continues to grow response to demand. Now, we have both, or some future hybrid blend between the “new” system.

As I slowly accept how recognizing MY 6th graders’ voices on Zoom with no camera, possible only because of the connections we’d made prior to school dismissal, is a temporary phenomenon, I can’t stop thinking about what’s next. What comes next is up to us – as in ANY person teaching (yes, parents and teachers alike). As I “meet” my rising 6th graders, likely online, I appreciate how much more unique today’s 5th graders are as they going through this chasm AND transition to multiple teachers in middle school soon. Yet, online or in person, it’s still up to me to create those connections and engagement as before. Same job, different classroom.

From somewhere on the Internet.

Also like you, I don’t necessarily dislike the term “new normal,” either. I realize my unique blend of experience in online curriculum and formal classrooms gives my team a slight head start, but I’m not rare (and I’m sharing!). There are thousands of us innovating new ideas EVERY DAY to connect with students, their families, and online learning. These solutions will continue to collect in our already clever practices. If a spike in this or another disease comes along, we got this. We’re ready for anything, so PLEASE share your ideas and comments below so we can keep those great ideas flowing to help each other and students.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.08.07 PM“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”

– Malala Yousafzai

So where do we go from here? Like I told my “Re-Invent the Future” students, we must problem-solve together to a) make sure our voices are heard b) present new and plausible solutions to the community and c) be the change we wish to see in the word.

I’m fortunate to work with a supportive staff who sees my potential impact of synchronous and asynchronous connections with students as helpful and timely. In short, when I asked my boss if I could keep doing the after-school STEM club, she said yes.

For “Re-invent the Future”, we held live meetings “after school” each week to prepare for the culminating Challenge Summit Live Zoom Panel. I used breakout rooms, “Presentation Pop” sentence stems to help students communicate effectively WITH EACH OTHER, and other rehearsals to essentially produce a show for our community. I had volunteers as stage managers and others as co-hosts to keep me on track. The event, held May 9, helped serve as “a” model, not “the” model for how to engage students in live episodic events like science competitions or engineering fairs.

For asynchronous self-paced learning, our work in producing “Use”-Your-Own-Adventure Lessons with Google Forms, has engaged over 250 students in our school and seems to be a crowd-pleaser online. What a great solution to simplifying the student’s experience for any topic, and if you want more tips on this, see my Adventures and join our Facebook Group. Also, please stay tuned for some new materials combining the Choice-Based asynchronous delivery with synchronous roles and collaboration.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.45 PM“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

– Einstein

I mentioned Re-Invent the Future. Last year was our school’s first year in participating with the county’s Invent the Future and Challenge Summit in its traditional format. Other than some improvements to include volunteers from last year, add guest speakers like architects and fire fighters, and utilize materials from the Missile Defense Agency’s STEM Education cohort, running this year’s program was pretty much business as usual. Until March 12, the last day I saw all 30 students.

In a rush to sanitize the room before students entered, I had them leave their backpacks in the hall and enter only with their pencil, welcoming them with a squeeze of hand sanitizer. I had reasonable suspicion schools might be dismissed for a couple weeks, and the science teacher/germaphobe in me was silently preparing yet for what, I didn’t quite know. I didn’t want to freak out my science or ITF students, not knowing when/if schools would be dismissed (they were the next day after the National Emergency Announcement) but well, I was freaked out.

Our goal was for students to design the ideas they’d brainstormed in their “interest” groups like Air Quality, Energy, Waste Management, Agriculture, etc., then order the materials they’d need to build their prototypes. We were about a week behind in prototype development as our school’s field trips to the Maker Space in Kid Museum were scheduled prior to our Spring Break. My intent was to focus on building and redesign after Spring Break as we prepared for the culminating Challenge Summit, May 9. As they left that hectic afternoon, leaving their designs in a pile on my demo table, we semi-joked we’d somehow continue the event, maybe even use FlipGrid. On a whim, I grabbed the sketched designs and threw them in my bag, not knowing I would be prohibited to enter the school the next day, for the duration.

As schools and after-school programs were cancelled, my principal quickly approved Re-Invent the Future. Students:

  • voluntarily continued with ‘after-school’ meetings to create presentations in a live Panel with Q&A after.
  • used Zoom breakout rooms and rehearsal schedules during the meetings
  • established more contact time with others and give something like therapy, given the “Q-Life” time warp and sudden vacuum in our work.

Fortunately, we’d been practicing “Presentation Pops” every week with randomly called groups giving quick POPS as practice for the big day, where they’d have the brief attention of a floating group of judges at the county-wide event in May. They were coincidentally primed for “Re-Invent the Future,” yet there were a ton of other intangibles, as well.

Here’s what we produced:

Shady Grove Middle School Re-Invents the Future

In a way, these students made an even larger impact with Re-Invent the Future.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PM“There is no way to be a perfect teacher but a millions ways to be a great one.”

– Pinterest

Are you in between classrooms right now? Me, too. How many classrooms do you have?

I have my “brick and mortar” classroom, that I miss dearly. (Yes, even though I’m embracing all the changes in education doesn’t mean I don’t miss the creativity of my lab “studio” tremendously).

I have my “Science with Auntie Jessica” Google Classroom, designed to send fun things to my niece and nephew. I’ll be adding more for their Grade 3 Adventures 🙂 Here’s the code: 7chxwzf

I have my new virtual “Unschool” classroom for students. I JUST JUST started it… I’ve been so busy with the Google Forms project, I didn’t get to this yet. My friends have much more impressive ones so far, but I’ll

get caught up. I have my teaching platform; currently we use Google Classroom but we’ll likely switch to Canvas.

Finally, I have my “home studio” classroom in progress. More on home oasis for STEM teaching and coaching soon.






Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.50.31 PM“When we know better, we do better.”

                         -Maya Angelou

So here’s the aha of it all. I’m starting a new classroom, just for us. Over the summer, I pledge to add the materials we use on a regular basis in one slideshow with new my virtual classroom for teachers. It’s also under construction, but please be an early adopter of this catalogue of compiled resources 🙂

From the explosion of resources online to the necessary inventions we create daily to fit out needs, this is what I’ve learned in the last six weeks. We may have gone into the school to help students, but now we’re in the business reinventing school to help each other.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.42.40 PM“Learn to think continentally.”


I’m too busy to write this section because you’re too busy reading it! Sharing, my friends, IS the result. Others have used this opportunity to learn how to make bread, paint, or read thick novels. I write, spend countless hours brainstorming with teachers, and edit. It may not be as photogenic, but it’s rewarding.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.14 PM“He who opens a school door closes a prison.”


Opinions aside, we have a responsibility as educators to push for equity. Push hard and push back. Under no circumstances is it ok to let students go, or let them disappear through this literal chasm in our communities. We’ve learned, through the tireless efforts of our Wellbeing Committees and county’s technology distribution efforts, that as students slowly gain access and confidence, they will show up in a Zoom and even start completing work.

Gaining access may take longer, and creating developmentally-appropriate synchronous and asynchronous blends of instruction may take even longer.

Brick-and-mortar buildings called “schools” have proven themselves to be the equalizer of all communities nationwide. They may be outdated, but they are where millions of students are fed and given access every day for over half the year. Going into new “schools” with my prediction of hybrid online and physically-based, we have great opportunities ahead, but only if we are equitable in our approach.

If I have any Undo, it’s to make sure that one-sided articles like this are never published again. If this Undo has, however, pushed me to further fight for equity and access for all students (no matter the classroom), then maybe it’s actually a Do?

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 PM“There are far far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” 

– C.S. Lewis

I hope you found my INITIAL ideas for synchronous and asynchronous learning helpful, and there are MANY more ideas on the way. Let’s “Re-Invent the Future” together.

Download & Thanks

By request, I’m still providing weekly updates on the Choice-Based Google Forms for my science department. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve developed interest probes, argumentation, and even more for differentiated pathways in learning.

Week #6 Sound Waves Classwork Form Choice-Based Lesson Format with Interest Probe
USER ACCESS ONLY: Please request editable copy separately.

The mission of is to engage teachers as they cultivate student-centered classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2020 Jess Rowell, All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike #stemjourneys #inventthefuture #reinventthefuture #kidmuseum


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