Working with middle schoolers in and of itself is a complex process. You have 30 little bodies each with their own unique personalities and dispositions and only 45 minutes a day to get through whatever it is that you have planned. Add technology to the mix and now you’re looking at complex to the nth level.
I think by now most educators have realized that just because these kids are growing up in an era where technology use seems ubiquitous does not necessarily mean that these kids understand and are ready to use technology for learning (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2017). In fact, I think the cancellation of in-person instruction for K16 education highlighted the fact that the digital divide and the digital use divide is still a very real problem (Auxie & Anderson, 2020).
In my conversations with fellow educators, it seems as if teachers approached distance learning in two ways: continue with current pacing (albeit at a reduced level) or created new curriculum that aligned better with what students would be able to do at home on their own.
At my school, I was given the opportunity to choose if I wanted to continue with the current pacing or create an independent project. I chose the latter, and I’m so glad I did.
World history in my district is a semester course (don’t get me started on how to teach 1500 years of history in 20 weeks). So I used this time as an opportunity to try out a new curriculum knowing the level of digital access my students have at home, their technology knowledge based on what I taught them in class, and what I thought would interest them yet also provide a bit of respite from the ton of stressors that they were dealing with.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I have made a concerted effort to create assignments that would help students acquire and practice mastering socio-emotional skills. Every week there was an assignment that had students reflecting on the ethics of decisions by historical figures or making a personal connection to the content. But then I also snuck in assignments that would hopefully help to create an online learning presence – something that is foundational for online learning to be successful. I had to be careful in which apps or websites I chose to use because modeling was not an option during remote learning. I needed apps/websites that were easy to figure out, and then I used them over and over again. Padlet was one that my students used on a regular basis. Each week, students summed up their learning in a creative way (e.g., sketchnotes, open mind, meme) and posted their project on a class Padlet wall for all 150 of their peers to view and enjoy.
Padlet was our go-to app because it didn’t require a log-in, could be used on a mobile device or desktop, and was easy to figure out on their own. Before in-person classes were cancelled, we had used Padlet once. But once we were solely relying on interacting via online platforms, I decided that Padlet was going to be the tool that kept us connected.
The last assignment I gave to my students was to create a Summer Quarantunes Playlist. I wanted them to post a song that either motivated them or reminded them of better times ahead. By having students post their songs to a class Padlet wall, we created a playlist of various genres of music from my highly diverse group of middle schoolers.
For the past 12 weeks my students have been sharing their highs and lows of living with the coronavirus crisis and recent protests in their Living History Journals. But this playlist offered additional insight to how they were feeling…and I just love that. =)
Auxie, B., & Anderson, M. (2020). As schools close due to the coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap’. PEW Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in education: 2017 national education technology plan update. https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/NETP17.pdf