18 Amazing Tools and Tips for Successful Distance Ed

Whether you know you’ll be teaching part or full-time distance education this fall or you’re still in limbo, the reality is that it’s very likely that distance education will be a part of your life this upcoming school year.

The good news is that at least you have some time to prepare and feel ready. The bad news is that distance education is still new for many teachers, and they aren’t sure how to approach it.

We’ve put together some of the best tools and tips to help you navigate distance education this coming fall. Take a look!

Tools:
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To facilitate online learning, we need apps and platforms that allow us to meet with students, assign and receive assignments, chat via forums, and access lessons. There are a few helpful tools that you might consider using to make your life, and your students’, much easier:

1. Google Classroom – Do you already use google docs, slides, and Youtube in your classroom? Then this is the learning management system for you. Ideally, you could use this tool as an addition to in-person classes. However, it can also be adapted to fully distance learning. In combination with google Hangouts and chats, Google Classroom offers you the basic tools you need to run a class online. Students can access and submit assignments, view lessons, and talk to their peers and teachers through this tool.

Common Sense Media gives this tool a high rating as far as security goes. So, you can generally feel good about having students use this platform.

As far as disadvantages, the main one is that it doesn’t come with standard-aligned grading options. Plus, it doesn’t fully integrate with student information services as of yet. Despite these cons, the tool is free and easy to use. Teachers that use it regularly and follow up to make students are engaged can achieve impressive results with this tool.

2. Moodle – Also free, Moodle is another popular learning management system. This tool is similar to Google Classrooms in that it allows students to access and submit assignments. Yet, the tool offers additional options such as peer assessment workshops, wiki forums and real-time messaging.

Unfortunately, the Common Sense Media privacy review doesn’t give Moodle a high rating. There is 35% risk associated with Moodle’s privacy settings. However, their review was done in 2016, so it’s possible that improvements have since been made.

Other disadvantages include that it does require some technical know-how to customize. So, tech-savvy teachers or teachers with tech support will have the most success using Moodle. Despite these disadvantages, Moodle is a widely popular learning management system that offers a great level of support for teaching online.

3. WhatsApp – Used on mobile phones, whatsapp allows video chatting, calls, and group chats, all while using wifi. It can be great for whole-class announcements that you need to get out fast. Kids can also collaborate on smaller group chats. However, try to be present on all chats related to your class to help make sure students are safe and happy. Whatsapp is also free.

4. Zoom – This video chatting software helps larger groups of people meet up. It’s even free for meetings under 40 minutes in length. You can use features on this app to share your screen, annotate, use a whiteboard, and more. Plus, students can share their screens with you so that you can see their work. Overall, it’s a fairly solid option for video chatting if that’s your main goal.

5. Slack – Another useful chat app, slack is great for managing various class topics. Through channels, you can organize conversations with students based on the topics such as “math”, “language arts”, “general news”, and more! Slack has free plans and paid plans.

6. ClassLink – This helpful program can double as a learning management system for a tech-savvy teacher. One of the main benefits is that children and teachers won’t have to remember all of their logins and passwords for the apps and programs used at school. Using just one login, kids have access to all kinds of subscriptions and apps. In addition, files can be shared through the school network. Even Google files, Microsoft Cloud, and Dropbox are included as options. Although ClassLink is not free, costs are reasonable.

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Tools and Apps for Teaching Content
Teaching from afar can be tough. Use these apps and games to keep learning interactive, fun, and effective:

Math:
7. Happy Numbers – Happy Numbers is an all-in-one math app for grades k-5. Using a personalized learning model, children learn and practice math concepts that are aligned with Common Core Standards. Using real-world examples, lots of visualizations, and fun, kids learn math! Add this app to your distance learning routine for happy children who learn lots of math!

English Language Arts:
8. Epic! – Need a digital library with a range of reading levels, fiction, and nonfiction books? Epic! is the app you need.
9. ReadWriteThink – This wonderful and free website provides great language arts resources for elementary school teachers. From lesson plans to interactive games that students can play on a device, you can find lots of resources for distance learning here.
10. ReadWorks – This free program is an amazing tool for teachers. Through it, children can complete digital classwork related to reading comprehension. There are loads of levels and passages to choose from, covering topics from STEM to poetry and fiction. So, why not give it a try?

Science and Social Studies:
11. Smithsonian Open Access – Museum visits might be out for 2020, but you can still visit them virtually! The Smithsonian offers stellar museum content in digital form. This will allow you and your students to learn about anything under the sun. Look at artefacts and explore exhibits from the comfort of your classroom or homes with this great resource.

Various Subjects:
12. BrainPop Jr. – For English language arts, science, and social studies, coding, and math, head over to BrainPop for some great content. Both videos and activities such as quizzes are available through this resource. As a bonus, it has helpful lesson plan resources. You can even search for activities and videos based on Common Core Standards. Another bonus is that you can teach coding using activities on this platform. Do note that this is a subscription based website.
13. Wide Open Schools – Run by Common Sense Media, this resource will walk you through distance teaching, but also point you in the direction of lots of other distance learning resources to help you teach science, English language arts, and more!

Tips for Successful Distance Ed
Now that you know what tools to use, it’s time for some top-notch tips. These tips will help you think about how to run your distance education portion of your classroom:

14. Do Some Test Runs
Do you teach classroom procedures at the start of each year? This is a popular practice that helps make sure the classroom runs smoothly. Consider doing the same for distance learning! Have kids submit simple assignments to practice how to do it. Ask children to answer fun questions in the chat or forums area to get them used to that. Do practice break-out groups on zoom so that kids can chat about something easy such as what they ate for breakfast. These test runs will help kids know what to expect when you get into more complex topics.

Pro Tip: Do some test runs yourself as well! Ask a colleague or a friend to do a practice video call with you. This is usually the toughest skill, since you can’t do everything ahead of time. Go through the steps of sharing your screen, using a whiteboard, showing physical papers with a display cam, etc. This will help you feel confident when there are kids right there with you.
15. Keep It Short and Sweet

Videos should be short! Research shows that viewers engage more with shorter clips. So, if you’re including recorded lessons in your distance planning, try to chunk your content into bite-sized amounts.

The same goes for class and small group video chats. Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon that affects both adults and children. So, try to keep your sessions short and to the point. That way you can maximize the benefits of social interaction and real-time instruction without exhausting your students.

16. Hold Office Hours
Distance learning can make it hard for kids to ask questions and get the individual attention that they need. So, why not hold some office hours? Set up some daily times when children can hop on a chat or a call with you. That way, they’ll know you’re ready for them to come with their questions.

An alternative might be holding individual or small group conferences. This way, children have a set meeting with you to ask their own questions, show you how they’re reading, working, or solving problems in realtime, and more!
Pro Tip: Make your office hours set hours so they’re easy to remember. For example, every day from 10 am to 11 am.

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17. Create Groups to Boost Interaction

Some areas that suffer with distance learning are social interaction and participation. You can help combat this by creating student groups with assigned working times. This way, children can ask each other questions and learn from each other as they work. Plus, they can just talk to each other and enjoy connecting with other kids! It can be as simple as a 10-minute chat to talk about how their work is going and what arts and crafts they’re doing at home. You can facilitate this by setting up the groups and designating times.

These groups might meet together via Whatsapp, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. Some parents might even be able to facilitate socially distanced meet-ups in parks and other low-risk areas.

18. Mix Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

Synchronous learning is a video chat or a moment when everyone is online and learning together. Asynchronous learning is when you leave lesson plans such as videos and assignments that kids can do at any time in the day. There are advantages to both!

Synchronous learning helps you make sure no one’s missing out. You get to see and interact with your students and make sure they know what’s expected. However, asynchronous learning relies more on parents to help kids access materials and figure out what to do. On the other hand, some asynchronous learning can be done offline or even off the computer. Plus, kids don’t get tired in a long video chat. For best results, use a mix of both!

Distance learning may be something new for you, but with the right tools and tips, you’re sure to knock it out of the park! We wish all teachers the best on their distance education journeys this year!

If you want to streamline and simplify math in your classroom, talk to us about setting up your Happy Numbers Classroom! happynumbers.com