Tried & True Tools for Managing Distance Learning

Some of you are in the home stretch of finishing your school year. Others of you still have a few more weeks (like me!) We were all thrown into distance learning and I am so impressed by how quickly teachers adapted and pulled together. Now that we've had time to try out various online platforms, programs, and tools, I have some reflections and recommendations.
First of all,  I am SO thankful for the many teachers who know more than me and their willingness to share their expertise!  There is no reason to reinvent the wheel! Here are some tried & true tools that have saved my time and sanity:
Allison at Future in Fourth is SO creative! She created an editable Online Class Goals chart using Bitmojis. The biggest timesaver is adding the Bitmoji Chrome extension. You can copy & paste as you work on your laptop now! You can check out the chart  HERE. She is always so generous in sharing her amazing ideas! Check out her Instagram & stories! I used to share my screen with these goals as students entered our Zoom meetings. This helped to set the tone with gentle reminders for online behaviors. (Now that we're 10 weeks in, I don't have to use this as often. . . but if we start the new school year this fall online, this will be so helpful again!)
How to film and record lessons: my friend, Kristen at Easy Teaching Tools has a GREAT tutorial on Screen-Cast-o-Matic. Check it out HERE. It is an easy way to make a quick tutorial to share. Since I kept getting the same questions, "Where is _____? How do I check ____?"  I made a short video for my parents and students on how to navigate Google Classroom, which has mostly eliminated the questions. Also using screencasting, I was able to turn my social studies powerpoints into videos with me talking to my students, pausing to discuss specific points, just like I would if we were in class together.

However, I discovered that many of my kids were playing the videos but not truly focusing or retaining information. (I discovered this as we played review games at the end of each week, and it was as if they had never heard of the information! Ugh. . . arrow to the teacher's heart!) So then I discovered EdPuzzle. Oh my goodness, this changed my life! With EdPuzzle, you use a video of your choice: it can be one of your own (in my case, the video lessons I made with Screen-Cast-o-Matic) or you can even upload videos from YouTube! Then you create stopping points in the video for students to answer questions (multiple choice or short answer). You can also insert additional links to videos or articles.  EdPpuzzle reinforces student accountability: it allows teachers to check if students are watching the assigned videos, how many times they're watching each section, and if they're understanding the content. This has been a game changer!!
The video stops at each point you've set and they cannot go on until they've answered the question. They can rewatch sections multiple times. (On the teacher end, you can see how long it took students to view and answer or if there were certain tricky sections for the whole class. This has been great for reteaching!) 
If you insert multiple choice or true/false questions, EdPuzzle grades it for you! You can also add short answer questions that you can assign points. Somehow thinking an assignment is "for a grade", students tend to take it more seriously.

Did you know that you can video record yourself using Zoom? It's a little awkward at first; talking animatedly and loudly to yourself/screen. I kept thinking, "What if one of my students tries to join the meeting?" That's ridiculous; at 10:00 at night?! Anyway, you host a meeting with no participants, press RECORD and that's it! Zoom saves it as an mp4 file onto your computer. At first I was uploading to YouTube then posting that link into Google Classroom but uploading took forever. Now I just save the video to my Google Drive and post that link into Google Classroom. This has been especially helpful when reading aloud picture books for mini-lessons.
Another fun way to use Zoom to engage your students is to change your virtual background. While we were studying the Gold Rush, I took us to the gold fields.  We've been to the Mexican-American War battlefield and on the Overland Trail. My class is so excited to see where we will be going each time we meet!
One of my tried  & true tools to use is Flipgrid. When I initially looked at it a few years ago, I thought it was just a way for kids to talk about something on camera and act silly. Thank goodness I took a second look because it is so much more than that!! Flipgrid is a free online platform where students can record videos up to 10 minutes long. Other students (& teacher) can view the videos and reply with another video.  We've been using it to discuss books, to explain our math reasoning, to record a speech as a famous Californian, and to explain our STEM engineering designs. There are so many ways to use it! I'm so impressed with how my students have improved in articulating their reasoning:
Josie at Maniacs in the Middle  first introduced me to Remove Image Background. This has been SO much fun to use!! It's a free website that removes the background of any image. You can drop any photo into and it removes the background in a second, leaving a png image. Believe me; you'll want to start removing the background from everything! It's magic!
 I've been using it to layer images in Google slides, such as our  Morning Meeting slide. I have it on screen share when students join our meeting so they can see our schedule and any notes. (I like to change out the image daily and greet each other in a different language each time we meet.)
I'm sure you all send class e-mail blasts, send Remind messages and keep a class website. You can read more about all those HERE, but with distance learning, I needed a way to keep parents updated on their child's weekly progress. (When at school, I send home weekly Boomerang folders with student work for parents to see.) Thank goodness for my friend, Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6. She has SO many practical, real-life tips! Click HERE for her very cute weekly reports. Having 30 students, I was looking for an even shorter way to send home information. Did you know you can click on PEOPLE at the top of your Google Classroom and it will take you to a list of your students?! I had no idea! (Thanks, Steph!)
 Then click on the student you want & it will bring up all their assignments!
You can sort by graded assignments, as well as see which assignments are missing!! Now I just screenshot each student & send that off to parents at the end of each week.  Parents have been so appreciative & there's been a noticeable difference in student work!
I know this is a lot to process, but I'm still getting the hang of this remote learning! I hope some of these tried & true tools help you to not spend so much time figuring things out like I did! Click on the blogs below for more teaching ideas!
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  1. Great tips! Thank you! Did you know that if you invite parents to join your google classroom, it doesn't mean that they will become members in your class? It means that if they accept your invitation they can get weekly/daily updates sent to them automatically to show them how their kid is doing with their work. So instead of a screen shot of their missing/graded/assigned work that you have to send them, they will just get this in an email from Google. When they accept the invitation to join, they get to choose if they want this update daily or weekly. This would eliminate a step for you and make things easier.

    1. I invited parents to join but forgot they get an update! Oh my goodness, you're right this would have saved me so much time!! LOL Thank you!

  2. Love this post. I tried clicking HERE for the template chart in the first section but it doesn't send me there. Hmmmm, thoughts? Thank you for all of these tips.