Confessions of A Failed Quarantine Home-school “Teacher” (And Five Thoughts That Could Help)

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About a week before the whole world stopped, I was sitting in my son’s third grade classroom. I was there to watch his class present their family heritage projects. For the most part, the kids were respectful of their peers and listened, but there was one thing that stood out to me – the room seethed with motion. The parents sat in chairs in the center of the room while 27 or so third graders orbited the room. What was even stranger is that my son’s teacher seemed perfectly fine with it and, more importantly, it seemed to work.

I am cringing as my son screams at me about how much he hates i-Ready and just can’t do it anymore. I try not to yell back as I explain that he only needs to do twenty minutes of reading and math each and then we can move to other things.

Flash forward to this morning. I am cringing as my son screams at me about how much he hates i-Ready and just can’t do it anymore. I try not to yell back as I explain that he only needs to do twenty minutes of reading and math each and then we can move to other things. It is now day thirtysomething of this forced homeschool experience. Every day is like the next. I am “lucky” enough to have this time to spend with him. I was furloughed at the beginning of April. I jumped in with both feet making schedules and planning the day’s work. The day always starts with good intentions and ends with tears.

Here I am, a proponent of Ed Tech and I can’t make it work with my son. I feel like I’ve failed. But here’s the thing… There is a flaw in this system.

I am trying to get my son to sit and be productive like an office worker. I am asking him to spend hours sitting in front of his laptop using a myriad of disjointed tools and slide decks.

It frustrates me that he won’t just sit still and do the work. If he’d just hit his targets he could be done and out in the yard by 2:30pm. But now it’s 4:56pm on Thursday. He hasn’t done all his assignments for the day. I’ve just gotten a note from his teacher that everything is due tomorrow. I don’t know how we will get it done.

So, what’s wrong? I think back to his classroom — The constant motion and interactivity. The kids could ask questions of each other, be themselves, move around, and sit in different places. It was a much more natural state for an 8-year-old. Now I am asking him to clock time in front of a laptop.

I also think about what he likes to do. It’s full of activity. Even when he is watching YouTube videos, the energy is different than the EdTech tools he has today.

Of course, It’s not his teachers’ fault. They are trying to navigate this situation as best they can. In most cases, they also found themselves in this new world with extraordinarily little notice and they are learning on the fly. It’s also not really a problem with the EdTech tools themselves. They weren’t meant for this situation. The ones we are using were meant to supplement regular instruction but not replace it.

I also think about what he likes to do. It’s full of activity. Even when he is watching YouTube videos, the energy is different than the EdTech tools he has today.

Again, I am part of the problem. I’ve spent the last twentysomething years chasing greater productivity and let’s face it. 8-year-olds are not thrilled by productivity. So, what would be better?

different school materials

5 thoughts on a better approach to interactive remote education

1. YouTube-ify it!

Both of my kids and all their friends love YouTube videos. There are a few things in common with all of these.

  • They are irreverent and unscripted (or at least feel that way)
  • They are loud and have a lot of music
  • They usually involve something that is a “challenge” or a mystery to solve.
  • They are almost always of someone doing something else (e.g., playing Minecraft or trying new products).

We could use this energy-packed, quick hitting format in the media content created for online instruction.

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2. Gamify it!

I used to think gamifying could be simple like earning badges, but I am starting to think that is my “dad” way of thinking about this. Sure, I still get a thrill our of badges on my workout apps, but nothing my kid does has anything similar. Back to YouTube…  My son watches 3 main types of videos:

  • Gaming – playing Minecraft or some other game and commentating on what is happening
  • Challenges/Mystery – doing something for a specific period – often there is not even a tangible award for completing the challenge
  • Making and/or trying something – trying a new fishing lure (my son loves fishing) or unboxing a product from amazon — and reporting on the result

It’s a more classic concept of gamification he enjoys. it might work well with educations. Some possible examples:

  • A reading challenge where you hide quietly for 20 minutes. the challenge is for no one to find you until you’re done.
  • Record yourself making a meal and explain why it’s healthy or even unhealthy.
  • Record yourself building a structure out of household items and explain why it stays up or doesn’t.
  • Watch a video about a subject, say sea horses, and record your reactions as you watch.

The problem is that these things are all done on different apps or on different platforms. The results are uploaded to different locations.

3. Channel it!

I do have to say that there are some examples of the tactics mentioned above in my son’s instruction today. In fact, our biggest success was recording an Earth Day video of him re-purposing a soda can into a mini lantern (incidentally, something he learned on YouTube).

The problem is that these things are all done on different apps or on different platforms. The results are uploaded to different locations.

A better solution would be for each student to have their own channel where they upload all their videos. Teachers and peers could subscribe and comment (perhaps rate positively) the videos. In fact, constructive commentary could be a participation component of the curriculum 

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4. Mobilize it!

The biggest challenge mentioned above is that my son does most of the work stationary in front of a laptop. Most of the apps, at least in my experience, don’t work as well on mobile device. There are a couple of things that could help here.’

  • Schools could give kids a mobile camera that works easily with a smart phone or tablet. I’ve found that my son likes to use cameras that are not part of his devices.
    • Instruction should be based on smaller form factors such as a 7-10-inch tablet or smart phone. Something portable that a kid can easily move around and interact with.
5. Individualize it!

If we used more of these type of tools with instruction being mode parameter based, students could individualize their content. They may be able to engage in ways that stimulate their own interests and creativity.

Where it’s appropriate the social channel could be used for sharing and interacting with other students. This would also be done via video. Of course, Teachers would have to ensure that commentary is appropriate and student work is protected from any type of bullying.

a young boy

These are just a few thoughts on how maybe we could increase engagement and adoption during these times, especially if we find ourselves in a similar situation in the autumn (let’s hope not). I am definitely not suggesting replacing teachers, their expertise, or curriculum. I also realize that there need to be some more traditional style instructional tools. I am only thinking of ways that we can engage kids where they are, make things a bit more fun, and maybe avoid a shouting match or two.

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