The news is out: Coronavirus spikes and social distancing guidelines mean school will be virtual, at least for the beginning part of the year. What isn’t definite is how your student will react to it.
This blog post will guide you how to get your child ready for his or her math class.
Here’s what we will go over:
- How Effective Is Remote Learning?
- How Will My Child Actually Learn?
- What Tools and Supplies Will My Child Need For The Virtual Classroom?
- How Can I Best Support My Child?
Online classes have made their mark in colleges, but not for K-12 public school children.
Can kids really learn online? What should parents do to help their students succeed in the digital learning environment?
This post will answer those questions from my online teaching experience over the past few years. When classrooms were open, I used video and educational technology on a daily basis.
Plus, I taught in a remote learning structure during the last semester before quarantine and taught online summer school.
I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t and how parents can step in and make it a better learning experience for their children.
Believe me, I get it.
How can a child learn from being in front of a screen for hours without in-person contact with a teacher? Can remote learning really work?
It seems like a losing battle.
But hear me, remote learning can work.
It has worked before and, with the new increase in training and resources from districts, it has a huge likelihood of working for the 2020-2021 school year.
Are there challenges?
But that’s where you as the parent can really make the difference.
First, you need to exactly understand what the difference is between the online classroom and traditional classroom. Once you know the common shortfalls, you can develop a plan to lessen the blow.
The biggest obstacle? Time.
- LACK OF CLARITY: Have you tried to write using a touchpad or a mouse? It’s awkward, inaccurate, and time-consuming.
But for math, there are little alternatives. Students have to show their work, which will be hard on a virtual whiteboard.
SOLUTION: I often had students complete work on their own paper, take a photo, then send the photo to me. Students solving equations could also type out each step to the solution.
This is great because it teaches students how to justify their solutions in writing. It gives students valuable experience to increase their writing skills on the SAT, other college entrance exams, or standardized tests.
- LACK OF EXPERIENCE Most likely, your student’s teacher(s) hasn’t taught like this before. There will be a learning curve for the teacher, as they get used to using new tools. Even then, there are some limits.
SOLUTION: Be patient with your teachers. Help them out if you come across broken links, corrupted files, or forgotten attachments.
- LACK OF TEACHER ACCESS: Normally, a teacher would be able to see students raising their hand and work the room to help. Students are now limited to office hours for teacher availability, which can be a whole day before a question is answered.
SOLUTION: Find out each teacher’s virtual office hours for quick help.
I taught virtual summer school students who struggled, but never came to my office hours. That’s not good.
Help your student organize their schedule to sync with those office hours as much as possible. Expect for some hours to overlap or just not work out.
In those cases, go to email for the next best option.
Remember to include your name and your student’s name.
Teachers have over 100 students to manage and tracking down names and class information takes up time. That’s time that could be used for faster response times.
Emails from the student’s school email is preferred, but it’s understandable if you need to send through your personal account.
Just keep in mind some personal emails may go to the teacher’s spam folder. So be sure to follow up if you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time.
The Remind app is awesome school communication tool and I strongly recommend it for parents.
It was built with teachers in mind, but parents can use it, too, for a real virtual learning edge.
Remind is great because it allows you to input all your students’ teachers in one place. No more tracking everything down and getting it mixed up. There’s even a Message All function for a quick check-in with every one of your students’ teachers.
Remind organizes teacher contact information and teachers will actually be impressed that you use Remind.
Definitely check it out.
Even with those above difficulties, I had some teacher wins and proud moments in virtual learning during summer school. I saw growth and increased understanding from a student’s first assessment to their final exam.
The same can happen for your child.
How Will My Student Actually Learn? What Exactly is Virtual Learning?
Every school district in the country will be different. But teaching can take one of these basic formats:
- Teacher is in a empty physical classroom and the lessons are live-streamed on a physical whiteboard.
- Teacher uses virtual whiteboard and screen share feature for teaching lessons.
- Teacher assigns pre-recorded online instructional videos (self-made original content or YouTube, TEDtalk, etc.). Teacher helps students with specific questions after they watch the videos.
Some districts also have students meet with certain classes on certain days with dedicated times for group sessions and individual learning.
For example, you could have math class Tuesday and Thursday for 2.5 hours of set group learning and 3.5 hours of individualized work that can be completed anytime.
Thanks to Zoom and other similar teleconferencing platforms, your student can virtually “meet” with their entire class at the same time.
Be careful because students can easily enable the mute feature where they’re just looking at a face and not engaging in the session.
During this virtual learning time, students will have to find out what motivates them to log in everyday and do their work. This is especially true for underclassmen who don’t have the incentive of graduation.
Your student will need to learn how to treat home like to school, even though home has been home.
Your child’s maturity will play a big role in how he or she performs in this new virtual learning environment. Whatever form of digital entertainment they got comfortable with during the quarantine, they will have to learn how to balance with online school.
Many students used school as a social center, which isn’t bad at all. Students can learn from each other and I personally structured some instructional days to include group work or working in pairs.
Without some sort of contact time, focus can become a real challenge for some students.
Make sure your child is part of some sort of social network or larger community of adults and/or their peers. Nothing can fully replace in-person contact and every parent has to choose what they feel is safe.
Your remote learning teachers will set clear expectations and try to maintain structure as much as possible. Students will likely have tasks to complete every day in the virtual learning platform.
Schoology—the learning platform my district uses – has teachers writing in their own lessons and uploading student assignments.
The Common Instructional Framework is to have a 3- or 4-phase online work environment:
- Warm up/Opening
- Discussion post
- Work session (individual student work)
My district required me to post assignments for the entire week during summer school remote learning.
The biggest problem I saw with remote learning was so simple — Students couldn’t log in.
More on that below, but without logging in, students couldn’t participate in the required discussions.
Discussion posts are the online learning environment’s attempt to foster engagement with students’ peers.
The typical format is to make a post answering the teacher’s question or prompt. Then, students are required to respond to two other students’ posts.
It should work in theory.
But if students didn’t log in — either because they couldn’t or chose not to – it left some of my discussions with just 3 posts. The first student wouldn’t know if other students commented. That first student would have to keep checking back in order to get the complete grade.
That last commenting student would have the best choice for commenting on other students’ post. But that last commenter was less likely to get response from his post.
Be on the lookout for announced virtual bell schedules and mandatory log-in times. This is likely how teachers will mark attendance – a big key in being promoted to the next grade and getting enough credits for graduation.
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR TEACHER
Here’s a definite for virtual learning: expect slower grading turnaround and less instructor feedback on assignments.
Teachers will be short on time and won‘t always be able to fully comment on student work.
And that’s for several reasons:
- Learning curve with technology
- Added district regulations
- More steps for lessons and accessing student work
It’s not personal and it doesn’t mean the teacher is lazy. It’s just that hundreds of students plus strict district requirements mean teachers have to prioritize.
Still, that doesn’t leave you without options.
As a teacher, I can assure you that teachers more than welcome students and parents who ask for feedback.
Teachers want to share what they see in your child and how your student is or is not meeting the standard. We’re trained professionals in pedagogy and learning patterns. We’re excited about our profession and would jump to apply all that knowledge we studied in college.
But this new learning environment comes with new restrictions.
Students and parents should feel comfortable reaching out to the teacher and communicating their needs. Make sure you fully understand how to use the virtual learning tools and online platforms. We’re here to help.
BRING A NO-EXCUSE APPROACH
Every teacher will not teach the exact same. Students and parents should understand that going in to this school year.
Different teaching methods don’t mean a teacher “can’t teach.”
As an educator, I personally don’t think there is an excuse for not learning – in the digital learning environment or otherwise.
Do a quick YouTube search and there are hundreds of tutors posting videos of how to do math on any level.
A key suggestion to students and parents who feel they don’t necessarily mesh with their new digital learning teacher: become an online researcher.
This becomes even more important if you have a high school student you are preparing for adulthood outside your home.
Encourage your student to do some research before giving up.
Chances are they are already using the internet to research TikTok, Snapchat, and the latest social media trends.
Use the internet for knowledge advancement and not for just for entertainment all the time.
That leads into a small point that makes a huge difference.
How Should I Support My Child During Virtual Learning?
Take a look at this graph from my virtual learning experience during summer school.
More than half of my students couldn’t log in. Either the students didn’t know their username and password or the log-in process just wasn’t working.
Half the battle with virtual learning is just being able to be present.
Make sure you child knows how to log in. Make sure you, as the parent, know how to log in.
And not just know it, but actually do it.
It may seem silly, but you and your student should really do a trial run of logging in and getting a good familiarity with the platforms your teacher will be using.
Common problems I saw stemmed from:
- Sharing family devices auto-set with single sign-ins (i.e. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, school email vs. personal email)
- Pop-up blocks and restrictions (Now, I fully support restrictions to protect kids online. Definitely keep those. But just double-check that those programs aren’t the culprit for log-in problems. If so, just make an exception for that specific school site. Easy peasy.)
- Uncertainty in where to go (mixing up school log-in with specific platform log-in information)
CHEATING AND ACADEMIC DISHONESTY
Be on the lookout for cheating. Most parents won’t be able to spend the whole school day monitoring their child. As a parent of a toddler and a preschooler myself, I know it’s impossible to watch a child’s every move.
Some parents have gone as far as hiring a tutor/nanny to help keep kids on task and ethical.
A virtual learning environment with its lack of accountability makes it easier to cheat, unfortunately.
Know the popular math cheat websites and apps out these days, like Photomath, Socratic, and Mathway. Know it so you can make sure your student isn’t using it.
I’ve actually watched my students use these. The apps can shows the step and even provide visual and verbal explanations.
The problem is the student isn’t able to learn because it lacks practice and students who cheat get a grade that’s not reflective of their ability.
My personal way around it is to assign word problems, require students to key in their work; and notice patterns.
Math is so diverse where students have different thought processes to come to the solution.
Showing your work is like a thumbprint. Everyone’s thinking is different and only a familiarized teacher would see that.
Cheating makes one fake thumbprint and if you see it enough you can tell it’s a cheat site.
What Tools and Supplies Will My Child Need?
Does digital learning mean parents need to buy a new desktop computer, laptop, or iPad for their children?
Short Answer: No
A lot of school districts are going 1:1 where they will supply a device for every student in the district. Even in social distancing, school systems are arranging ways for parents and students to pick up the devices at a specific site location.
Save some money and check first to see if your district will provide a device.
If devices aren’t provided, the basic smartphone can get the job done. Believe me.
Videos and live-streaming mean more dependence on good internet connection. If your home internet is slow, that means your student is waiting for buffering.
You may just want to call your internet provider and ask about internet speed improvements. You can also arrange for school work to be done when multiple users aren’t on the internet at once.
Consider some sort of listening device for your student.
Not saying you need to go Airpods, but some sort of inexpensive listening device is fine.
This just makes sure your student hears everything taught, especially in math class where each step is critical. A listening device also brings better focus by helping limit distractions.
Books? Probably not.
Schools have been stepping away from textbooks way before quarantine. The expectation for virtual learning is that online resources will be taking the place of books.
CK-12 is great for digital books and other resources.
On top of that, find out what online resources are already available to your student.
School districts often have system-wide subscriptions and pre-purchased online products that any student can use.
Ask your teacher or approach your district directly to make sure you aren’t missing out.
BALANCING THE VIRTUAL SCHOOL DAY
Organization will be key. School hours won’t be so defined in the digital learning environment.
School bells aren’t ringing at 7:20 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Students, especially in high school, will be juggling other commitments, like work schedules, caring for siblings, extracurricular activities, and access to technology.
Some students may be forced to finish school work overnight. The price these students pay is no teacher access.
I predict this virtual school environment will bring about a seemingly never-ending, constant workcycle for teachers and students.
Many teachers will be basically working nonstop in the virtual setting to try to help students.
I found it was slower because I could only respond to email one at a time. Throughout the day, I had students and parents contacting me through email, phone, text, and the online platform. I constantly had to log in, log out, check this, check that. I ended up simultaneously using both my personal laptop and work laptop in a two-screen set-up just to try to keep up with it all.
Virtual learning gets rid of those common classroom distractions, like announcements, fire drills, and goofing off.
But some in-class distractions were positive, like other students asking questions.
You, as a parent, will need to evaluate those new home environment distractions.
Economically-disadvantaged students may have distractions beyond their control, which is another issue of itself.
How Can I Make Sure My Child Is Successful?
The COVID catch-up is a real thing and every teacher in the country will be dealing with it.
What can you as a parent do?
If you’re really serious, my top suggestion is to contact last year’s teachers as soon as possible and ask what your student missed after quarantine shut down the schools.
Find out which standards were not taught so you can try to giving your child some exposure to the material.
A new math class means new expectations. Curriculum is paced to where teachers often can not backtrack too much without risk for teaching all the required material for the year.
Granted, there will be some focus on catching up students.
But each child is different and may not learn on the same pace. Trying to find out last year’s missed concepts can only help your child.
Math is based on concepts that are building blocks. Miss a concept or have a shaky foundation and it’s almost guaranteed the student will have trouble down the road.
Then, of course, there’s an option for math tutoring. A math tutor provides undivided attention on an individualized learning pace. It can make sure your student catches up and keeps up with what is being taught.
School is incredibly different now.
If you thought communication with your child’s teacher was important before, it’s going to be several times more important in the virtual classroom setting.
You will also need to talk with your student to make sure they are understanding what’s being taught everyday.
We call this a check for understanding in the education world.
The sooner we can catch gaps, the sooner we can bridge them.
Don’t assume the teacher knows what’s going on at all times. We try, but teachers aren’t always going to contact and call when an assignment is missing or grades are low. Unlike the classroom environment, we won’t be able to investigate to find out the problem.
If teachers don’t hear anything, we can only assume that everything is OK or just that the student is not willing to do better.
This is a new time for everybody. It’s an uncomfortable world.
But let’s work together this school year to make the best of a less than ideal situation and bring out the best in our students.