Digital Breakouts During the Times of Social Distancing

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Digital breakouts are an amazing way to gamify your classroom, get students engaged in content, and have them apply their knowledge in a variety of ways. "Breakouts" take the concept of escape rooms (you know those places that are popping up where you and your friends are willingly locked in a room and have to solve clues to escape it?) and helps you bring it to the classroom! Usually, students solve clues to unlock locks attached to a box to save the day, solve a problem, or just get the surprise inside!

You can check out my post on physical breakouts here.

However during our times of social distancing, physical breakouts are not quite as feasible. Students cannot crowd around the same materials all touching the same box and locks. 

Enter DIGITAL BREAKOUTS! 

digital breakouts during the times of social distancing

Using Google Sites and Google Forms, digital breakouts create engaging, problem-solving scenarios where students can apply the content they've been learning in an authentic way just without all of the "stuff" that a traditional breakout entails. Students can still be given challenging, thought-provoking tasks, just in a digital format. Familiar digital tools like Google Drawings and Google Slides can be utilized to incorporate a variety of engaging tasks. And if students need to do some recording (think: math problems!!) or for a sense of online/offline balance, some printed materials can be used as well.

On the Road to Creating Learners with Agency: 6 Tips for Goal Setting with Students

Monday, November 16, 2020

As an educator, this school year has likely been your most stressful yet, and it really has just begun! Whether you are in a hybrid or virtual learning environment, you are likely navigating previously uncharted territory. You are persevering and overcoming obstacles that come up almost daily. From planning your schedules and imagining how a virtual day will look for students to structuring routines for including ALL students EVERYDAY, many of you are stepping up in ways that we may have never imagined we would! However, even with the best laid plans, we may encounter challenges that we did not anticipate. Luckily, most of us have skills to help us take action when things go awry. But what about our students?


If you are like me, you have noticed that this shift to virtual and/or hybrid learning has caused students to struggle as they grapple with taking more responsibility for their own learning. In the past, when students struggled we could see it . . . we could provide scaffolds in class or monitor and adjust our lessons in real-time. However, when students are learning from a distance, we might notice them struggling, but we can't always know exactly what they are struggling with. This may be causing you new frustrations as you wonder how you can prepare students for the responsibility they need right now. You can be reassured, though, you are not alone! 


As a digital learning coach, a big part of my job is supporting teachers and students in using technology in a way that enhances their learning. With my local school district moving to a hybrid and virtual model, many of the students I work with are finding themselves being forced into the driver’s seat of their own learning and are struggling with this new level of responsibility. I’ve found myself not only helping them with tech but also addressing their challenges around virtual learning and empowering them to overcome those challenges and develop themselves into successful learners.

I'm Just Like You! Reflection of a Tech Coach on The School Shutdown and a Special Offer

Saturday, July 18, 2020
For me, it was March 16 when everything seemed to start changing. Up until that day, even with all the craziness around me, my life was still kind of normal. My daughter starred in the district's musical Wizard of Oz on Saturday. I went out to eat with my parents. I picked up my groceries like every other Sunday (except for toilet paper, that had already been bought up!). But it wasn't until that moment on March 16, when we were told "school's closed" that I realized it was real and things would be different.

Since I'm not a K-12 classroom teacher, I didn't have to scramble to get lessons together. I didn't have to worry about the ungraded assessments or the ones that I hadn't given yet. I didn't have to worry about the books or jackets that students left in my classroom. Yet, it was a struggle mentally because I was anticipating what was to come . . . how will we reach all of our students remotely?! 

My colleague and I did scramble to get resources together. We created how-to videos from our dining rooms. We replied to emails and phone calls from frantic teachers, parents, and students. We considered how our role must shift to support teachers in their new learning environments. And we made it through! It wasn't perfect, but it was what needed to happen in that moment. 

And now we find ourselves in the next phase: waiting and wondering! While our state has issued some guidelines, spiking cases of Covid-19 are continuing to cause shifts. The face-to-face summer program we were going to hold in July has been postponed and may be totally virtual or totally cancelled. Other districts are issuing their plans but my district is still assessing everything (including those other districts' plans) to make the best decision for our students.

I am not new to technology and learning. I completed my entire master's in educational technology online! I spent my last year in the classroom integrating technology into my instruction and the 3 last years helping other teachers successfully do the same. BUT . . . I'M JUST LIKE YOU! I was scared of the changes that came in the Spring. I am adjusting to new protocols just to leave the house. I am missing my students, my colleagues, and my routine (YES, I MISS GOING TO WORK EVERYDAY!). I am nervous, uncertain, hopeful, and just a little scared. And IF I were a classroom teacher, I would be incredibly anxious about being prepared for remote learning situations in the fall.


SCETV Guest Blog Series: Why All 21st-Century Educators Must Teach Media Literacy & How

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Over the summer, my local PBS station, SCETV, asked me to present at their conference, 21st-Century Learners Week. They asked me to talk to other educators about media literacy. While I had done a lot of general digital citizenship instruction for all ages, I had never really focused solely on media literacy. I had to do a little homework, but with the help of online resources like Common Sense Education, I was able to learn a lot and share why teaching media literacy is sooooo important for ALL educators! You can check out what I shared at the conference on my Presentations page.

Because I learned so much from preparing and sharing, I decided to amp up the media literacy instruction at our high school, providing monthly media literacy instruction for students in grades 9-12. So I was really excited when SCETV contacted me again about being a guest blogger for their site. I really felt like I could reach even more educators if I again covered how and why to teach media literacy. Here is the blog post I shared:


With technology being an integral part of classrooms and students’ lives in general, I realize that my job as a teacher involves helping students successfully navigate the online world.

My goal this year is to help every student develop 21st-century skills, including being responsible users of technology and critical consumers of media they encounter.

As a teacher reading this, you are likely integrating digital media in your classroom. I challenge you, too, in the new year to include media literacy as a part of your daily instruction. But you may wonder, “Why should I be responsible for teaching media literacy, and how can I do it on top of an already packed curriculum?”

Why do ALL educators need to teach media literacy?

Linda Ellerbee, host of Nick News (1992-2015), said, “Media literacy is not just important, it's absolutely critical. It's going to make the difference between whether kids are a tool of the mass media or whether the mass media is a tool for kids to use.” In other words, do we want students to be manipulated by media, or do we want to empower them to use media? 
I firmly believe that it’s every teacher’s job to prepare students to become knowledgeable, productive 21st-century citizens. With tweens and teens spending an average of 6 and 9 hours respectively using media (Common Sense Media, 2015) -- and that’s not including homework! --  it’s no longer a question of whether our students will be digital citizens, it’s whether they will be good digital citizens and digital leaders! With media literacy instruction they can be both!!
Media Literacy and 21st-Century Skills
Teaching media literacy provides students with skills that will help them foremost think critically about media. It also cultivates other 21st-century skills like creativity, collaboration, and communication, as well as increasing digital literacy skills through interacting with media, information, and technology. Media literacy instruction can also help your students develop into active consumers of information, determine credible sources, acknowledge biases in media, and be responsible creators of media.
Whether you teach science, English language arts, social studies or art, there is a place for the development of these skills in your instruction!

But HOW Can Educators Include Media Literacy as an Integral Part of Daily Instruction?!

The National Association of Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE, & ACT using all forms of communication.” Let’s look at some ways educators can help students develop into media-literate individuals.
Access to Quality Sources. We need to ensure students can access quality sources that are current, reliable, and unbiased when they are interacting with media at school. 
  • Provide students a curated collection of quality resources through links in their learning management systems or tools like Padlet or Waklet
  • Provide access to quality content collections like Pebble GoEpic!, and NewsELA.
  • Teach older students strategies for searching for information. Reach out to your media specialist, and I’ll bet he or she will be happy to help you! 
Analyze/Evaluate Using Critical Thinking. But how do students know which sources are credible when the encounter them without our support? Whether they are watching YouTube, reading news, or analyzing images, students need skills to understand information, put it in context, and differentiate between real and fake. One way to do this is to teach students to ask questions when analyzing and evaluating media:
  • Who is the author?
  • What is its purpose? (inform, entertain, persuade)
  • How might different people interpret this message?
  • Are there certain groups of people being represented and/or excluded?
  • Were certain details left out? Why?
  • Also consider: Are sources cited? Are there grammar and spelling errors?
Additionally, giving students the time and opportunity to think for themselves and coaching them on how to ask questions is instrumental for them to learn to analyze and evaluate media on their own.
While teachers must explicitly provide students opportunities to think critically, the critical thinking involved in analyzing and evaluating digital resources should be routinely modeled through teacher think alouds, where students hear, see, and experience this type of thought process.
Creating Media Content. We want to shift from students being solely consumers to being creators who can express themselves through media. When students create media, especially with the questions for analyzing and evaluating in mind, it helps them to consider the impact their creations will have on their audience. Some quality tools for students to use for creating include SeesawGoogle ToolsCanvaBook Creator, and Meme Generator.
Distributing Created Messages Responsibly. Besides thinking critically about media, this is probably one of the most important parts of media literacy. We want students to be life-long learners prepared to internalize what they’ve learned about media and transfer it beyond the classroom, including monitoring themselves on social media, being critical of media before sharing it, and empowering them to create and share media responsibly! 

Media Literacy Resources to Try Tomorrow

While there are a plethora of resources for teaching media literacy, these tried-and-true resources should help you develop ideas to take back to your classroom and use immediately. 
SCETV/PBS Education Resources
SCETV/PBS Pre-K-12 content like Knowitall, Learning Why, and PBS LearningMedia provide quality media and multimedia resources and lessons for SC students and teachers. 
* Improve your media literacy knowledge and skills plus earn micro-credentials with FREE courses from PBS and KQED
Common Sense Education
Common Sense Education has free, comprehensive digital citizenship curriculums for K-12 students that include lessons on media literacy. 
Google Resources
  • Be Internet Awesome, Google’s free digital safety curriculum, helps encourage students to be smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave when online, and has recently added some media literacy lessons. 
  • Search Education is a series of lessons to help you guide your students to use Google searches meaningfully in their schoolwork and beyond. Choose from Search Literacy lessons and A Google A Day classroom challenges.
  • Reverse Image Search can help students determine if images have been altered.
Other Useful Resources
Interactives like Factitious and Bad News help students to better discriminate “fake news” and develop resistance against disinformation.

Check out the original blog post "Why All 21st-Century Educators Must Teach Media Literacy and How" and additional resources at the SCETV website.
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