To say the pandemic has caused havoc in schools is an understatement. Teachers are burning out, kids are way behind in their academic progress, and mental health issues are at an all time high. We need to do something to turn this around or things are going to get even worse.
Teachers are stressed and taking medical leaves and there are not enough replacement teachers around to pick up the extra load. That means that classes are being covered by district staff, administrative staff and teachers that should be on their preps. This can't continue. We need to find some solutions to fix this.
Online learning was not equitable and so some kids were ahead of the game after spending months learning this way, while most kids were getting further and further behind. There could be many different reasons suggested for this: lack of access to technology, lack of one to one support, parents not feeling qualified to help or feeling overwhelmed with managing multiple children and their assignments as well as their own work loads, especially if they were working from home for different businesses. These are some of the suggested reasons.
For some children, working online didn't happen. Some kids were not tuned in to learning and they didn't even attempt to do the work. Others were too stressed by the online format. Others may not have had the necessary access to the technology. This caused wide learning gaps when the schools reopened and kids returned to in person learning.
As a volunteer in the school, I am still seeing the repercussions a couple of years later. Many kids in grades 3 and 4 are still struggling with basic facts, decoding written material, and basic writing tasks. They are requiring extra support, but there isn't enough to go around.
The tendency is to lower the expectations and teach to the lower end of the group, but this is not really a good option. Kids still need to be challenged and they need to be able to eventually handle more difficult work. Instead of lowering expectations, teaching in a different way may be better.
Gone are the days of being able to teach whole class lessons most of the time. Instead, kids need to be given instruction that they can use and grow from there. One of the best ways to do this is to do small group targeted teaching.
It requires more work at the beginning to get differentiated groups set up, but by using this approach, those that are struggling will have more success and begin to move faster towards approaching expectations. Those that are at level will get more meaningful instruction, and those that are exceeding levels will have some more challenging work that will keep them motivated to learn.
One option that might work is buddying up with another same grade class. Then kids could be regrouped together so that they are able to work on similar areas with differentiated materials that better match the needs of the groups.
This is a method that has been used for guided reading groups at a couple of schools I've worked at. The key is to get enough people to keep the groups small enough to make them work successfully.
Guided math groups could also be an option for differentiating instruction.
There is no quick fix for closing the gap or getting everyone up to expectation levels, but it's important to look for ways to keep kids engaged and learning. Those that are struggling will otherwise give up and those that are already meeting or above expectations will lose interest and motivation to keep pushing themselves.
I wish there was a magic wand that could change this, but there isn't. Teachers, you are doing so much to try to help your students in a tough situation. Hang in there. Even when some days feel somewhat hopeless, there are kids that are moving towards lightbulb moments. Celebrate those moments with them and count them as successes.
Using Technology For Online Teaching
Online teaching has changed the way technology is used at school. Online teaching became necessary when the pandemic shut down in-person instruction. A while back I asked teachers about some of the teaching challenges they faced during the pandemic and shared this with you.
I also asked teachers: What is something good that has come out of online teaching for you?
Here are some of responses they gave me about online teaching.
"Lots of new digital skills learned"
"Have learned a little more about technology. Have learned I would not want to work in an office setting"
"Parents are more aware of what we are working on and they are more aware of what technology and resources are available. I have learned more about using digital resources in the classroom."
"We worked lots on class community and helping each other out. (this year since we have been in person)"
How Technology Could Impact Teaching Styles
For many teachers, using technology as a teaching tool was something foreign and they had to learn how to incorporate it into their teaching style. For others, they were very familiar with using digital media and they were very comfortable with it. They actually were happy to add this medium into their teaching.
Whichever camp you were in, you made it work during the online teaching aspect of your teaching as best you could. I am sure there are many teachers that were glad to have their students back in the classroom so they could return to their comfort level again, but I suspect that even those teachers will now be adding in some digital aspects to their teaching day.
Pre-pandemic Use Of Technology
Pre-pandemic, computer labs were part of the weekly routine. Some classes had access to projectors, interactive whiteboards, tablets, or other electronic devices.
Some teachers had limited experience with technology and used it in specific situations. They may have been comfortable with projecting videos on the whiteboard or maybe even projecting documents and other objects from a document camera. For many, most of the devices were part of the reading and math centers.
Other teachers were very comfortable with technology and they may have included interactive lessons on the whiteboard (or Smartboard, if they had access to one). They would have integrated technology into many areas of their instruction. At any point of the day, you would probably have seen technology in action in some form.
Shifting Our Use Of Technology
As we move towards a more "normal" way of teaching, I suspect there will be some changes to how we do our lessons.
For teachers that had limited experience using technology in the classroom, they may now feel more confident and use more technology for different subjects.
For those who were very comfortable with the online teaching, it will be somewhat challenging at times for them as they juggle balancing technology based activities with no tech activities. This may be especially true for teachers that started their careers during the pandemic.
Using technology for teaching will be up to individual teachers, but I don't think it will ever disappear from the classroom scene.
In a previous post, I talked about how kids can help teachers with technology. This might be useful for teachers who are less familiar with technology to check out. Kids are great at using technology and living in a digital world and they might enjoy being the teachers.
For those who are very confident with technology, there is the danger of using it too much. Too much of a good thing can sometimes cause a negative situation. It is important to find a balance between the benefits of using technology in the classroom and having some no-tech times to work on other areas of SEL.
A final thought: You know your students and what works best for them. Use that as your thermometer to decide what is a healthy balance for high tech and no tech instruction. Remember to factor in your comfort level as well. It is up to individual teachers to make those decisions. I am only making some observations and sharing some ideas based on what I am seeing and hearing from some teachers, kids and parents.
Teaching challenges due to the pandemic
It has been two years since the world changed due to the pandemic. Teaching challenges are real. Teaching as we knew it changed and we had to learn to do things in different ways. This has been quite a challenge for both teachers and students.
I have been out of the classroom for a while now, but not out of the teaching mode. I was volunteering and doing small group instruction in the school until the pandemic hit, as well as doing one on one tutoring at my home. I was also doing ukulele group rehearsals with my husband until restrictions shut that down. This meant that I had to find ways to continue doing some of this virtually as well.
I kept in touch with teachers from my school and tried to find ways that I could somehow support them through providing resources, offering suggestions for certain specific circumstances, and just being there to bounce ideas off or even vent, if needed. As much as I wanted to be there to help out, it was not allowed. Also, my husband had just had a heart attack and I needed to keep him safe. I often felt frustrated that I wasn't able to do more to help.
I found that virtually teaching music was definitely unsatisfying and not sustainable with one way instruction. Our groups dwindled significantly and we discovered that what we thought was working, wasn't. In fact, we discovered many things were different than they had appeared. We tried doing virtual performances, and we even tried to do some one on one support when it was allowed, but it was so hard. Two of my children are music teachers, and they found this very challenging as well. For those who had to teach music classes virtually, I feel your pain.
Feedback from some teachers
As an aftermath to online teaching and hybrid teaching, many teachers are finding it difficult to catch up on missed learning. When I asked "What has been the most difficult part of teaching during the pandemic?" one of the most common responses was about kids being behind and stress for the teachers and kids. Here are some responses.
"Stress related to trying to catch up the lost time the children have had due to shutdowns. Many have fallen behind in both reading and writing."
"Trying to catch kids up who are behind because of missed school. In my class they are either really low or really high."
"The kids who are missing school are stressing out when they come back and they are further behind."
"students being at home due to illness or quarantine"
"Teachers are really tired. It is hard to do report cards. Little change since conferences in November. Conferences are coming up again next month. Stressed out, lots of paperwork."
I know it is hard to think of these issues without feeling stressed and in some cases "behind the eight ball". However, in order to meet needs, both academically and emotionally, the focus needs to be on the kids and where they are.
In any primary classroom, there can often be a huge range in levels of reading and writing abilities. This isn't new, but right now they are more obvious and the gaps are bigger. The demands of meeting standards and testing requirements sometimes loom in front of us and it is difficult to put that aside and focus on the kids and their needs.
Some tips and ideas for moving forward
What I have discovered from working with small groups and tutoring, is that it is important to find out where the kids are at and move forward while adding in the missing building blocks so they can progress. For example: I had some kids that were in grade 4 and 5 who were struggling with the math concepts being covered in their classes. I discovered that they still didn't know their basic facts. We spent some time working on different ways to add and subtract using dice and manipulatives, and once they had a handle of these, we moved on to multiplication and division using strategies to help with these concepts. It was amazing how this helped them to better understand what was going on in class. They still needed some extra support, but they developed some confidence and this helped them to tackle new material.
Reading with younger children really is developmental and kids will progress at different rates. Those who didn't get as much practice or support while learning virtually will need more time to be ready. Encouraging them as they continue to work on their skills will do wonders for them. The same goes for writing. Keep providing opportunities to work on their skills and practice and they will start to show improvement. It may take a bit longer to get caught up to the expected levels, but as long as they are showing growth, all is good.
If the kids are to develop confidence and continue to grow they need to be encouraged and supported in their learning. Bottom line is, their emotional well being has to be protected and nurtured as they work towards developing their skills.
Consider using guided reading groups and math groups to help with tailoring material for specifics levels and needs. If you need some help with this, check out my guided reading getting started post.
For those struggling with writing, consider using scaffolds, descriptive writing activities, and fun ways to work on parts of speech.
As for you, remember to take care of yourself and enjoy working with your students. You can only do so much. Give yourself some grace and just do what you can. In time, the kids will catch up if they know you care and they are encouraged to keep going and trying.
I wish you a happy rest of the year with many successes in your classroom.
Changing technology creates a change of roles
There once was a time when our kids came to us for help when they were having trouble using equipment or tools. Now the roles are reversed for many of us. As new technology keeps coming out, our kids are becoming the experts and we need to get help from them to understand how to use the equipment.
Adults were the ones in the know
Years ago, my husband and I were tech contacts at our schools for the computer labs. At that time, the elementary labs had Apple computers and we were able to network, add educational software, and maintain the computers. When they switched over the labs to a different operating setup, I scooped up some of the computers and brought them into my classroom as stand alone stations for my students. At one point, my classroom was referred to as a lab.
Since I retired, computers have really advanced and so have the programs and apps. Floppy disks and hard disks are obsolete. CD and DVD drives are rarely found. Thumb drives, memory cards and external disk drives are still around and they are getting more and more memory space.
To think when computers became popular, we were so excited when we could use icons and images and actually drag and drop things instead of typing in code. Now we find it tricky to manipulate different apps and functions for online instruction. We have so much new technology, it is hard to stay on top of all the new apps, I know that my husband and I are no longer as in tune with things and we often need to contact our sons for help to navigate the new technology.
Now this is a job for our kids!
Sometimes we have to ask even younger people. Here are some examples:
Last week, my grandchildren showed us some new apps and ways to do things on our cell phones. I am sure that they could teach us much more. For instance, my grandson loves to create stop action clips. It is interesting to see how he does them.
I remember the kids at school creating lots of videos using a green screen and when we were doing Zoom sessions, some of the kids were constantly exploring changing backgrounds and other features.
Video games are also confusing for me, but kids can do them quickly and with great skill, even young ones.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Many teachers had to go to online teaching and they were unfamiliar with the technology. They had to learn quickly what to do. Some are still trying to figure it out. With all the online teaching and digital features needed, don't be afraid to ask for help from the kids. You would be surprised at what they might be able to do to help.
Many adults are receiving instruction from students so that they can navigate in a virtual environment. As kids become adept at the new technology, they can share what they know with those of us who were not raised in the same environment and they can actually enhance our understanding of the virtual world. Let's welcome their help and learn from it.
Hopes and dreams changed by the unexpected
Two years ago we headed into the New Year with hopes and dreams for an exciting year ahead. No one was ready for the change that happened in March of 2020. All of a sudden, we were thrown into unknown territory and a completely different way of teaching. There was lots of uncertainty and we were overwhelmed with learning how to navigate this new world. Teachers, students, colleagues, parents, and the community at large were worried, scrambling to figure out how to work virtually, scared of the unknown. and wondering how to stay safe.
Fast forward to December 2021. We thought we had things more under control and we were starting to reconnect with family and friends and beginning to return to a more familiar way of teaching and living. Plans were being made for holiday celebrations. Suddenly, this all changed as a new variant arrived. All the things we had been doing that were working, were no longer enough.
Getting through the next wave
This new variant is reacting differently and we need to make adjustments again to get through this wave.
How are we going to navigate through this next wave and still stay safe? I am sure this is a question on everyone's mind. Some places are going to online learning again while other places are still going to do in person instruction. All the protocols from the first wave are back in place, but are they enough? From what we are experiencing, they don't seem to be enough. We need to be even more vigilant than before.
Hang in there. You've got this.
I get that it is important for kids to have interaction with others, but I also wonder what kind of balance is needed between personal interaction for mental health and distancing for physical health. Nobody seems to know what will work right now. This crazy variant is finding us no matter where we are or how careful we are trying to be.
This is one of those times when we have to do whatever we can to protect ourselves and those around us. If you are teaching in person, take care of yourself and try to focus on the kids and how you are there for them. I pray that the protocols in place will protect you and that your students will realize how much it means to be there for them.
If you are teaching virtually, hang in there. I know that this is not why you became a teacher, and that it is difficult for you to be away from your students instead of interacting with them in the classroom. I pray that this will not be for too long and that you will once again be able to get back to teaching in a way that is satisfying and fulfilling.
I have such admiration for you and all the teachers that are using every creative way they can think of to weather this next wave. Hang in there. You are appreciated and you are making a positive impact on kids.
If you are looking for some ideas for how to incorporate projects and real life learning into your instruction during this time, check out some of my ideas in these posts.
Teaching And Learning Online And In Person
Using Projects For Student Learning
Learning At Home And Keeping Kids Engaged
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Kids love to play with blocks, build structures, and experiment. 2D and 3D geometric shapes and solids activities are perfect for this kind of experimentation. They allow for creativity while also teaching important skills and information about how they can be used.
What are 2D shapes?
2D shapes are closed figures that are flat surfaces that may have edges and points (vertices). A circle doesn't have vertices, but it does have a flat surface and it is a closed shape. Although pattern blocks are not really 2D, we often use them in activities that are 2D and we refer to them as 2D shapes. Kids love to use these blocks to create patterns and then count the number of each shape used. Some of the most common shapes are circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and trapezoids.
It is fun to learn about the different shapes and also how to identify them in our environment.
What are 3D solids?
3D solids are closed figures like the 2D shapes with flat surfaces that may have edges and points (vertices) but they have another dimension, height. A sphere is an exception because it doesn’t have any flat surfaces or edges or points, but it has a curved surface and depth. A cone has edges, a flat surface, a curved surface, and a point (vertex). Because of the different combinations of edges, vertices, and curved surfaces or flat surfaces, the characteristics are different from those of the 2D shapes. Some solids can roll, some can slide, and some can do both. Some common 3D solids are spheres, cones, cubes, prisms, pyramids, and cylinders.
Here are some posters that give the attributes or characteristics for some 3D solids.
How characteristics affect creating structures
It is always fun to try out different objects to see if they roll, slide, or do both. Also, how many times have you tried to balance something on the point of a cone or pyramid? Depending on the shapes, different structures can be created. Here is a resource I created that tests out some of these things.
Sampler activities and other resources for geometry
I have created a geometry scavenger hunt activity and a sampler bingo game for you. You can get your free copy here.
Our environment is made up of many different shapes and solids. It is fun to try to identify the different shapes or solids that are around us. There are many opportunities to explore and learn about geometry around us. Check out some more ideas here.
For more practice with the different 2D shapes and 3D solids, check out my geometry category in my TeachersPayTeachers store. I also have some resources for those who are doing distance teaching and require online resources.
So there you have some ideas, activities, and resources to help your students explore 2D and 3D geometry and have fun along the way. I would love to know if you have any other favorite activities that you enjoy doing when teaching geometry.
Don't forget to grab your free copy of the scavenger hunt and bingo sampler here.
As we are about to begin a new year, it is a great time for a fresh start. This year we have all had many challenges and we need to find some renewed energy and hope. Sometimes that can be a breather just to take time with family, or maybe it could be changing things up from the regular routine.
I don't know about others, but I found it difficult to get motivated lately. Even though it is supposed to be a festive season, most days seemed to be the same and it was hard to find moments of anticipation and joy. So many of the things we look forward to at this time of the year were missing due to the pandemic.
For many of my teaching friends, the challenges of teaching during a pandemic have been daunting and they are rapidly burning out and feeling overwhelmed. I hope that the holiday break has given them some time to relax and recharge so they will be refreshed for the start of the new year.
This next season will probably be a mix of online and in person teaching and learning as we continue to get through the pandemic.
Here are some ideas for starting out the new year. Hopefully these will bring some laughter and smiles to your day and give you some joy as you return to teaching.
Do a photo booth. If you are teaching in person, you could add some New Year's hats and blowers, fancy glasses, etc. Have your students create fun poses and take photos of them and then have them write about their goals.
If you are teaching online, you could create some interesting picture frames and then take screenshots of your students and add them to the frames. If they have some fancy accessories at home, perhaps these could be added to their images.
If you are looking for materials to help you through the winter season, here are some that might work for you.
Sight word games and activities, word work, parts of speech silly sentences and other literacy games can be fun when they have a winter theme.
Here are some literacy items in French in case you need them.
Here are some free products that might help.
New Year's Goal Setting Templates
3 Stars and a Wish
Snowy Days Compound Words
Winter Sports Task Card Templates
Goal setting for the New Year
Goal setting is not only good for children, it is also good for us as teachers.
Think of some things that you are proud of and things you would like to work on
(3 stars and a wish)
Come up with a goal for home, school, and something personal. This is the same format that can be used with your students.
If you are looking for some novel studies that are good for the winter season, try these.
Creative writing ideas
Start a statement and see how many crazy ideas you can come up with.
(This could be done orally first, and then developed into a written story.)
I was so frozen my fingers were like popsicles but they didn't taste as good.
I was so frozen .........
It was so cold ........
When I woke up I couldn't believe my eyes..........
If you are looking for some winter math ideas, you can find them here.
I hope you find these suggestions and resources helpful as you return to teaching in January.
Thank you for all you do for your students.
Using technology in the classroom is commonplace now. It is not uncommon to find computers, ipads, ipods, document cameras, video cameras, smartboards, interactive whiteboards, projectors, cameras and other pieces of technology in many schools. Websites are now a common source of reference and paper worksheets are often replaced by interactive worksheets projected on the board.
Children are exposed to more and more multimedia before they even enter school, and it is clear that we need to tap into this learning style that has been created and direct it in a positive way. Technology is not supposed to replace our teaching, it is supposed to enhance it and help engage learning.
During 2020, using technology has taken on a new purpose. Because of the pandemic, teachers, students, and families have had to learn how to use technology in a whole new way. Digital lessons, online teaching sessions, and one way group instruction have been implemented in many school districts along with a hybrid learning model which combines online learning with in class learning.
Looking back now, I am glad that we had opportunities to incorporate technology in the classrooms during the last 8-10 years, because we would be in a very difficult place now if we were not used to working with these devices. Who knew we would be preparing our students for digital instruction and online learning during a pandemic.
Hopefully we will be able to find a balance between in person teaching techniques and digital instruction when this is over. It would be sad to lose the personal aspects that nurture and inspire students in a different way.
I would love to hear how technology has changed the way you teach in the classroom. Let me know in the comments below.
We saw this sculpture in a hotel lobby in Seoul, South Korea when we visited in 2009. I think it speaks well to how the children of the 21 century are different learners than those of the 20th century.
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Teaching children about money is not easy. Working with money is a difficult concept for most children to understand. It is even more challenging now as we don't handle cash as often any more. Most transactions are digital. Paying with cash and making change is not as commonplace and so children don't see it very often. However, it is still an important skill to teach and understand.
Over the years, I have discovered that the more concrete, practical applications we can use for teaching about money, the more likely kids will understand and apply the skills in other areas. There are many different ways this can be done. Here are a few different examples.
When teaching about regrouping in addition or subtraction, I often used the idea of going to the bank to change pennies into dimes and dimes into dollars for addition or the reverse for subtraction. I would also use play money to practice the concept.
At Christmas time, the hamper fund would collect money for gifts for kids. My class did a money drive called Pennies for Presents. We would collect pennies and other coins. Then we would sort, count, and wrap the coins and keep a running tally of the money collected. We did this for 4 weeks. At the end of each week we announced how much we had collected. The money was then delivered to the hamper fund. You can find out more by checking out this blog post.
Not only did this teach the children about doing something to help others, it also helped them to learn about how to count and tally money.
When the penny was discontinued in Canada, we continued the drive, but we changed the title to Coins for Kids and we collected other coins.
I always had lots of play money available in my classroom so the children could handle it and work with it for most activities. We would also do lots of role playing and practice buying and selling items. This helped with the concepts of making change and using different types of coins for payment. I also created several math activities and task cards for these concepts. There are also some that are digital versions for online or distance learning. You can check them out here.
Word problems are difficult for children, so trying to add the money concept to them can be challenging. I decided to try to make them more relevant by using examples that would fit situations that children could relate to. This set of problems deals with ways children can earn or spend money in real life.
One year, I decided to take things a little further. As handling money became less common, my students found it hard to understand that they couldn't buy whatever they wanted to with the plastic card that their parents used for payment. We began studying about money from that perspective and it led to a money unit and a huge fundraiser for a field trip. We created the unit together and it made a big impact on everyone. You can find out some more by checking out this blog post. I also wrote more about it here.
There are many other ways that money can be taught, but I hope these ideas have help to give you some inspiration and additional ways to help kids understand how to use money.
Projects are a great way for students to learn. Providing multiple ways of presenting information and knowledge through projects allows all students to share in a way that is best for them. Not all students do well with written or oral assignments. Some require more hands on methods of sharing ideas and knowledge.
Over the years, I provided opportunities for students to do 1 or 2 projects a year that were connected to key ideas in the curriculum. Most of the projects I did were tied into social studies or science, but other subjects areas can be used as well.
Students had a choice of ways to present their information. Sometimes there were several options, and other times there was only a couple of options but the specifics were flexible to allow for creativity in the presentations. The hands on and collaborative nature of these projects worked well for the students and they were very engaged in their learning. See some of the different presentations in the pictures below. The students were very excited to share what they had learned with others and they presented with confidence.
Social studies and science projects
Here are some of the projects I did over the years.Some had several choices for presentation, and others were displays or models. You can check them out by clicking on the images.
The key to making these projects work is the home/school connection. Some of these projects involve some research that involves the family. The heritage project and the flat family project require the child knowing something about their family's history or background. The final projects require work at home as well. The bulk of the research and teaching is done at school, but the specifics for the project presentation will be done at home. (Note: I have had times where some of my students were unable to get home support. In these cases, I had my educational assistant or the librarian or some other person help them out. If I had some spare time while others where engaged in an activity, I would also provide extra support.)
It is important for students to know the expectations and criteria for the projects they do. I provide a criteria list and marking sheet for each project so they know what they will be evaluated on. I usually give this to them when I give the assignment so they have a clear idea of what is expected when they choose the way they are going to present the project. The parents also know ahead of time and they can help the child check to see if everything that is needed is there.
Over the years, there have been several different types of projects, but the main criteria hasn't changed much. I decided to compile some of my social studies ones for you. If you would like to have your own copy, click the button below.
I use these marking sheets for younger students. They are suitable for up to about Grade 4. For older students, a more detailed rubric would be a better option. The criteria sheet is still a good way for them to make sure they have the necessary components for their projects, but a rubric would help with evaluating writing and oral presentation skills.
With the move to distance teaching, these projects are still doable, but there will need to be some modifications. For instance, presentations will be done via an online application such as Zoom. The question period can still be done this way as well.
The tricky part will be doing the initial teaching and making sure that students have access to the materials needed for the research. This may be videos, websites, or some more detailed online instruction.
It will require some extra prep beforehand, but I believe it will be worth it when you see the results and the engagement of the children.
When you download your criteria sheets, feel free to edit them to fit your needs.
I will share more about how to use projects for STEM another time. I hope you have found this information helpful. Please let me know in the comments if there are any other areas you would like to add.
About Me Charlene Sequeira
I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 9, and a retired primary and music teacher. I love working with kids and continue to volunteer at school and teach ukulele.