Teaching Online (Network)!

“Collaborate with people you can learn from.”

– Pharrell

This is how I cope with uncertainty: I bring people together, we share ideas, and I share the journey. Like you, I have little to no idea how to prepare for next school year’s students, 6th graders new to middle school to boot. You know, the 5th graders who were sent home so suddenly and had to remain there for months, with civil unrest and widespread hardships. These are the students I’m spending all summer thinking about.

Won’t you join me in my Adventure to share best practices with fellow 6th grade teachers as we navigate the uncharted waters to successfully begin the 20-21 school year?

Resources are in order through the SPECTRUM Acrostic

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.07.13 PM“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

– Henry Ford

In another metacognitive loop similar to the one I spun in grad school, I’m helping teach teachers how to teach online, online. Both as a TA for a course through my alma mater, and as a leader for an informal network with my fellow 6th grade teachers, called 6TN.

Together, we are facing the unknowns in our world by exchanging best practices in building online communities, lessons and courses in our subject areas, and, shit, I don’t know what else. We’re just building as much as we possibly can to prepare, feel ready, and be helpful. It’s what we do.

At time of writing, we (as in teachers from anywhere in the USA, so like, millions of us) have so little to base their planning for online, “hybrid,” or face-to-face instruction. Same with knowing how often we’ll need to shift, how little notice we’ll have to change, or how to keep ourselves and others safe during this challenging time. 6th grade teachers face an even more unique challenge in that they’re 1 of about 7 core teachers introducing students to middle school, all with varying tech-savvy backgrounds and limited opportunities for compensated professional development. Ready?

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.08.07 PM“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

– John Dewey

Working with fellow teachers is therapy.

We share what we went through this spring as schools “closed” overnight and instruction continued. We share stories of what we did just to get by and survive, knowing we can never know how much all this has severely impacted all families and teachers with families alike. We share the dashing discoveries we made to suddenly deliver instruction online, and we share the improvements we make as we enter a world where we can? will? have to? should? struggle to? want to? are able to? plan for anything.

At least we have this summer to regroup.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.45 PM“If we marry educational technology with quality, enriching content, that’s a circle of win.”

– Levar Burton

Let’s begin with the end in mind. No matter the class format, I can provide students with immediate opportunities for engagement and community. So I created 6TN – yes to cope – but also to experiment with new techniques for teacher- and student- engagement.

Welcome to the 6TN Virtual Workroom. If you join, you’ll learn methods for building Virtual Classrooms, Communities, and Conferences along with me using such tools as Google Slideshow, Choice-Based Google Forms lessons, Google Sites, and other platform-agnostic features which promote a blend of both synchronous and asynchronous engagement.

This experience is teaching me to think about students’ FIRST exposure to both online learning last spring and well as meeting us this fall. I don’t know what they hated or loved about online learning, or what misconceptions they will have as a result. I can, however, help teachers provide seamless experiences for their students, no matter the classroom. Starting smoothly is the end goal of 6TN. Join us!

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PM“Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.”

– Scott Hayden

This Adventure is all about beginning a new journey, so it’s fair to expect reports from the field as we come to an end later this summer. I’m enjoying the new experience of working with teachers of all grades and subjects this month! From what Kindergarten teachers did to teach with their families to working with Marine Biology teachers in high school. We ARE the entire spectrum 🙂

I’m creating more reference materials in Google Sites, Google Classroom, Canvas, Virtual Tours, and other STEM-related courses with a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning for my students. Stay tuned, and contact me if you’d like a hand.

Meanwhile, my own summer time classroom is on a hammock with SPECTRUMClassrooms Book Club’s long overdue discussions in service of anti-racial education. I am joined by my esteemed education partner, Kim Cole from the instructional leadership team at her Haverhill middle school, MA. We are finishing up Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris and moving on to the uncomfortable albeit necessary learning from White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo soon. We’ll also read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Oh, and I got Black Women in Science by Kimberly Brown Pellum, PhD and can’t wait to read it to my niece and nephew. Also, here’s a Black Lives Matter virtual library for kids.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.50.31 PM“Collaboration allows teachers to capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence.”

– Mike Shmoker

Despite the circumstances, global responses to COVID are teaching me to be proactive, not reactive.

Skipping the irony of that statement, I’ll share how my experience in online instruction is informed by the hundreds of teachers I’ve worked with this summer so far. Basically, while K12 has endured a tsunami and working through the aftershocks of the COVID quake, our higher ed peers have been swimming laps near the shore. Not to say our higher ed peers were not tremendously affected, but they could see the shore. There is so little literature to support the unique needs of teaching students with multiple courses in the same grade and school, special education with assistive technology education, and parent education – all necessary, NOW.

Yet, we must turn to our peers in higher ed, like in this Expert Panel for online teaching I was lucky enough to be a part of, to begin. It’s just a start, but this Adventure is all about beginning somewhere.

My biggest take-away so far is we as a K12 body of educators MUST be more proactive in helping students with the whole experience of online instruction, not just content delivery. We must foster relationships with the student AND family, we must provide time for instruction on online instruction (like helping students use a platform and better yet, a platform consistently used by all teachers on the team), and we must provide differentiated support for teachers and students alike. No matter the classroom, we need more help.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.42.40 PM“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

-Ken Blanchard

When I’m done with this amazing experience TA’ing the Foundations to Online Teaching course and 6TN, I’ll share the next steps to this incredible journey. I’ll be teaching a little STEM here, producing a little STEM Professional Development there. I’ll be helping where I can as a private producer and coach, and if I’m lucky, get a little rest before planning with my cohorts and team.

For now, that is enough.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.14 PM“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

-Helen Keller

I used “hybrid” in quotes earlier because while I’m a proud graduate of a hybrid online graduate program in Science Education, I see misconceptions with new use of the term. Traditionally, hybrid is the mix of online VS. face-to-face classes. Moving forward, I see educators adopting a hybrid online AND face-to-face classes, as in rotational weeks of instruction in and out of the school building.

I hate to be a stiggler for specifics, but if I had an Undo, it’s clarifying some vocabulary just in case the whole world comes to a screeching halt again. Schools don’t “close,” they close their physical doors and open their online doors. Schools must help all students, no matter what, no matter the classroom. And we must fund them.

  • That said, brick and mortar schools will ALWAYS be necessary as a place for equal access to education, food, family support, sporting and arts events, technology with mobile internet, and yes, teaching.
  • That said that said, there’s a value to blending asynchronous learning (self-paced modules combined with group discussions) with synchronous learning (online or face-to-face sessions) that online education fills nicely, even with existing expertise.

Complicated? Yes. Current funding not designed to cover both? Correct. OK to send schools back to session this school year without a better plan to keep teachers and students safe? No. Additional expertise needed to support technology education for all learners, including families? Yes. Do we need a plan for both physical schools and online schooling? Yes, and frankly we’re already expected to do both.

The good news is thousands of teachers are ready to help, no matter the classroom. So let’s help teachers help students and families – while remembering they are paid for 10 months of work and willing to volunteer much of their time to meet the demand. Write your senators and Vote.org.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 PM“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”

– Bill Gates

This week in 6TN, we invited Maryland teacher Steven O’Neill for an AMA on teaching these specific 5th graders, soon to be our 6th graders. Thank you so much Steven! Leave questions for him in the posts below or in the Live Q&A form below, and take a copy of “How to Make a Live Q&A Form” as our thanks for joining us!

Download & Thanks

Live FAQ! Questions for Steven, 6TN, or other cool projects we’re working on? Fill out this Google Form and see my answers in real-time. (Also, please leave comments in the blog post, too!)

Want to build a Live FAQ just like this for your students? Here’s the same form with instructions on how to use inside (PLEASE MAKE YOUR OWN COPY, THANK YOU!)

This Adventure is dedicated to the students who called me their favorite teacher this year. One, supported by our emotional disability program, blossomed in the sudden online environment, as if freed from pressures unknown before. Another said they sworn they’d fix the Pacific Garbage Patch the day they learned about it in my class. And my favorite is the anonymous one, even to me, who said they “used to think science was all about mixing chemicals and doing experiments but now I think it’s about recording data and seeing things from different perspectives.”

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

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike #stemjourneys #6TN #prepareforanything #spectrumclassrooms #foranyclassroom


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