It’s still July, but teachers are already gearing up for back to school. Many don’t yet know if they will be in the classroom or online, or doing a combination of the two. Here are some back to school must haves for distance learning, so you can be prepared for whatever the upcoming school year brings.
By the way, the items in this article are NOT affiliate links. I’m not making any money recommending them.
If you’re teaching from a laptop, you might already have a built in camera. But often the way that we sit with our laptop puts the camera right up our nostrils. And unless your lesson involves counting nose hairs or bats in the cave, that might not be the angle you want. I have a simple web cam that rests on top of my computer monitor. I can move it around or place it on something even taller to get those coveted MySpace angles. This isn’t the one I use (my husband bought one for me), but if I were about to buy one, I’d get this one.
Lighting matters when on camera. A ring light can help make sure you really are putting your best face forward. You’ll avoid shadows. Your students will be able to see your facial expressions more clearly. And if you’re teaching phonics or speech, your students will be able to see the movement of your mouth more clearly.
And for pure vanity purposes, ring lights can make you look fantastic.
A document camera can come in really handy to show students how to do something on a print out. If you’re working on handwriting skills, doing a screen share just won’t cut it. I don’t have a specific recommendation on these and they can be pricey. I’ve seen some brilliant teachers repurposed their phone by adding their phone as an additional person to an online meeting. It’s OK to get creative!
Don’t have the set up to put a wall behind you? Get a backdrop or a green screen. My teenager has a green screen he’s used for streaming on Twitch, but it could be used for all sorts of fun effects for your class. This would be especially awesome for teaching about different locations. Learning about ancient Egypt? Teach in front of the pyramids! French teacher? Teach in front of a Monet or the Eiffel Tower. Art teacher? Hello Starry Night background.
Screen Share Extensions
I have both Loom and Screencastify Chrome Extensions. I’m still testing both out. Right now I like Loom slightly better. The only trouble I had was getting it to pic up my microphone. I just needed to set up a setting allowing it to access my mic. No big deal. Both of these extensions allow you to pre-record a screen share session. That means you can edit for clarity, and you don’t have to teach it live. Kids can rewind the video and go back over something they didn’t catch. So much better than repeating your instructions over and over and over.
High Speed Internet
Your internet provider is going to need to be able to keep up with the demands of online teaching. In my homes, teachers will be streaming to their classes, while their own children are logging in to their own live classes, while their spouse is logging into a work zoom meeting. Can your internet handle that without getting the hiccups? If not, you might need to look at updating before it becomes an issue.
Celebrate a win with your students by throwing this stuff up and down in front of the camera. Will it feel silly? Yes. But it will also delight your kids. We need to up our animation when we are separated from our kids through screens.
You know how kids love everything and anything annoying? Celebrate them with a kazoo!
These make fun noises too with the fun visual element. Point it right at the camera to catch kids attention. Eyes are hardwired to notice things traveling towards our face. It gets engagement in a fun way.
Use balloons to celebrate. Have them watch as you blow up the balloon in celebration. You could even get a Pet Net behind you to collect the balloons. Maybe when the net is filled and balloons start falling out the class could earn a special online surpise. It could work a lot like the marble jar classroom management strategy, but bigger and brighter to make an impact online.
Make fun signs with phrases or visuals like, “Awesome,” “Yes,” and “Way to Go.” You could even incorporate some of your students favorite interests and characters in your signs.
You can get all of these little celebration back to school must haves for distance learning online from a party store inexpensively. They can really help make a difference in engagement and help make the experience fun for kids and you.
If your district allows it, send your students a little welcome package. You can mail them a letter with a sticker and maybe a pencil letting them know how happy you are they are going to be in your class. These little relationship builders are going to be important. When schools closed last year, it was with established classes where relationships had already been built. While it’s difficult to create relationships this way, it is an essential skill that our students are likely to use in the workplace one day anyway. I’ve had business meetings with people all the way in Australia before myself. Online relationship building is part of our kids future, so model it well.
You don’t have to have all of these things to do a great job teaching online. But they are handy to have on your wish list to make your online teaching smooth and effective.
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