Most school districts in the US are closed for the next month. If predictions are right, the seasonality of Coronavirus makes it likely that schools will be closed for many more months over the course of the next year. As a high school math teacher I am already preparing resources for my students to review for at least the next three weeks. I wanted to create a list of resources and tips that families can use to make sure their kids are still learning throughout the whole pandemic.
Arguably, the number one rule for my current school is “consistency.” From the very beginning it is important to build consistent expectations about schedule, behavior, and goals.
If this is the first time you’ve spent a day trying to teach your kid, you will probably gain a new appreciation for teachers. It will be tough, and you may have some difficulty in getting your kids to commit to the lessons. You can’t blame them though. It’s a totally new environment. They are not used to you being their teacher. They are out of school and away from friends. I also bet that most of them were not expecting to have to learn during the break.
To balance all this, I believe that it is necessary to set clear expectations from the beginning about (1) the day’s schedule, (2) what topics will be covered, and (3) how they are going to cover them. I really like the schedule in figure 1 as a first resource.
My only extra recommendation would be to continue to take breaks on weekends and possibly even consider 3–4 days of instruction. You will be surprised by how much you can cover in a regular day when you’re one-on-one. It can move way faster than a traditional school day, and, if you plan the breaks out well, there is a good chance you can cover 5 typical days of instruction in 3 days.
Tip #2 →Don’t just throw your kids onto the computer!
Khan Academy is not the end-all solution to education. The only people who think that are technologists without K12 teaching experience. Don’t get me wrong, Khan Academy is an excellent resource and can be very useful when used as a reference. But most kids don’t quite have the self-direction to be really successful while using Khan Academy alone. It’s also very easy to breeze through Khan Academy videos without sufficiently practicing the content and learning anything. On top of that, YouTube and Social Media are often too much of a distraction to make long periods of computer time productive.
So while I definitely recommend using certain online videos as a first introduction to a topic, I’d recommend still relying on paper and pencil for the majority of lessons. I will outline how to effectively structure classes and lesson plans below.
Tip #3 →Plan in 2-week Chunks and Pre-plan Topics for each Day
This is so important. If you want to any progress during quarantine,it’s really important to be clear about what goals you want to reach with your kids. That means clearly outlining what you want them to learn, and then adjusting the lessons accordingly as you figure out what your kids understand.
You don’t have to make these too complicated, and you can limit the topics to just a phrase, but you really shouldn’t fly blind. As an example, below I provided a sample plan you could use for a 2-week math unit for an eight-grader.
Tip #4 →Keep English and History Class Simple, 80% of time reading/listening, 20% of time writing
This is an excellent opportunity to show your kids all of the different places where history and english can be relevant. So, depending on how long this lasts, I suggest keeping classes simple.
Break lessons into two easy parts: (1) have kids spend 80% of time reading or listening to something that they’re interested in, and then (2) have them spend 20% of time processing it in some way. That could mean creating a presentation on what they learned. It could mean writing an essay about one related topic. It could mean creating another short podcast about what they learned. Or it could just mean talking to you about the topic.
The most important part is to make sure that this is still a situation where you are letting them explore their interests. Don’t be tied down to the hegemony of book reading. This is another excellent opportunity to introduce your kids to podcasts that they haven’t been able to get interested in by themselves.
You could create an entire two-week lesson around one series from Hardcore History. You could build psychology and history lessons around certain Freakonomics episodes. Or you could even do a social justice unit by having your kids listen to one of the seasons of Serial. If you’re really brave, teach them criminal justice through project about The Wire.
Keep it simple keep it fun and keep it in their interest. Just make sure that they are consuming content and then having some time to process it by themselves.
Tip #5 →Follow this Template for Math Class
Math class can be tough to plan and it can be very intimidating for a lot of people. I can’t speak to including coding education in math, however I can see how you could use resources like code.org to integrate coding into math lessons.
But in general every math lesson can go the same way.
- Have kids take 10-minutes to start warming up by doing four or five practice problems on topics that are related to the main idea of the day.
- Take 10-minutes to give a lesson on the main idea of the day while focusing on explaining why it works in the kids own words. This is the time for you to either step up and do the teaching yourself or you can rely on online videos like Khan Academy.
- Go into a practice round. Use a resource like math-aids.com or kutasoftware.com and have them work on a worksheet that practices these problems.
- Go into a response round. Respond to the misconceptions that your kdis are having in the practice problems. Give them answers to the problems and then give them one or two more questions to re-practice what they didn’t understand.
Keep this all to about 60 to 90 minutes.
Tip #6 →Be Careful of Ambitious Project-Based Learning
I’ve been browsing a lot of homeschooling threads during the pandemic. I see a lot of well-intentioned people talking about using project-based learning as the main source of educational material. I understand why, but I think that it can be very easy for project-based learning to quickly become overly ambitious and unproductive. It takes a lot of practice for teachers to become effective with project-based learning. So it might not be the best thing to focus on if you’re going to be homeschooling your kids for a month.
Tip #7 →Make Sure to Still Structure Science Class
Science class is tough. The way it’s taught in a lot of places is still built on rote memorization. There are a lot of subjects, however, like chemistry and physics that can be taught around the exact same structure that I outlined in the math curriculum. It just depends on your kids interests and what they’re already learning in school. So, I encourage people to adapt to what they need, and to employ podcast learning as a way to dive into the specific interests of your kids. Give them time to read or listen to content about their interest and then have them present what they learn to you. Take time to talk about the topic and help them work out the complicated vocabulary to understand these topics for themselves.
If you don’t feel like they are learning anything, then fall back on the template I provided for math education or just have them work on relevant flash card sets in anki or quizlet.
Tip #8 →Don’t forget Physical Education and Wellness!
It is absolutely necessary to remain healthy while coronavirus is going around. That means staying active and eating healthy. Although I know that this can quickly begin to sound like The Royal Tenenbaums, I think it is important to keep it simple and make sure your kids are still playing outside, walking, and possibly also engaging in basic bodyweight exercises.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. This can just mean taking three 10-minute workout breaks during the day where you do 20 pushups, 5 pullups (or cheating pullups with a band), 20 squats, and 40 crunches.
In general, you can always structure a workout around having a pull exercise, a push exercise, and a lower body exercise. Commit to that template and you can keep your kids engaged and active despite all the time inside.
Tip #9 →Use Video Games to your Advantage
I was always surprised about how much European history I learned through Assassin’s Creed. I’m equally surprised by how much my sister has learned about spatial reasoning through Minecraft.
Your kids probably already love video games and they can be a really helpful tool when used correctly. So I encourage people to try to figure out ways to turn video game time into a productive aspect of their education.
That could mean taking on ambitious, collaborative Minecraft projects or it could just mean creating a TED talk about topics that they encountered in their favorite historical video games.
Tip #10 →Build Lessons around Podcasts, Audiobooks, and even Movies and TV Shows
Podcast and audiobooks are still a very helpful tool for education, but a lot of teachers do not give them enough credit. I encourage everyone to try to integrate podcasts and audiobooks into their kids lessons when the reading gets tough. Although having some amount of committed reading time each day is very important, we can still be flexible with how they get the content.
Tip #11→Commit to one or two resources per subject
There’s an incredible amount of education resources online for every single subject. It can be extremely hard to parse, but if you try to integrate together too many resources you will get overwhelmed and the lessons will become stressful and ineffective.
I recommend using just one or two resources per subject. For instance, with math I wouldn’t actually use anything more than just Khan Academy and math-aids. You can do the same for the other subjects as well. Just make sure not to overwhelm yourself and keep lessons clear and simple.
Tip #12→Avoid Worksheet Hell
A very common mistake is to just give worksheets and assume that students will learn something. Worksheets are not education. They are a helpful resource that can help your students practice, but they can’t be relied on alone. Avoid the instinct to print out a lot of worksheets. Your kids will learn way less than you think!
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