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


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. https://forms.gle/8wH4FC93k3cJYm1N9

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 #inventthefuture #reinventthefuture #kidmuseum