What Are You Exploring?

There is definitely a part of me that threw an internal temper tantrum when we were asked to develop strategies for online instruction. I already have a course outline, thankyouverymuch. I knew what we were doing before spring break (research) and had new ideas I wanted to try out for the unit.

Then the plan was to punt that until after spring break and drop the mini-unit on Machiavelli’s The Prince, as that would give us the time we’d need to focus on research before moving into the memoir.

And then we found out we wouldn’t be going back at all.

I’m also more than a little suspicious of the digital platforms that are offering extended trials. Maybe they really do mean to be helpful, but to me it comes across as just shy of mustache-twirling villainy. Muahaha… get them hooked now, while they’re desperate… and they’ll pay whatever we ask to keep going!

But what I’m finding is that this experience is offering me the opportunity to explore some of these platforms and do some troubleshooting without the pressures that would arise in the classroom. Sometimes there are compatibility issues with different types of interfaces that I’m simply not aware of. I have students using all different sorts of devices for the online work, and that helps me pinpoint issues with different systems. Because we have a great deal of flexibility and freedom right now, I can develop a work-around or an alternate plan entirely.

As one example, my family has been using Duolingo to study different languages. Tonight we found out that the profile has different features on the desktop version, the Android app, and the iPhone app. We were on a Google hangout and it was kind of interesting to try to show each other what we saw on our phones!

FreeRice, which is a vocabulary game that I’ve used before, has broadened beyond vocabulary into other knowledge sets. Recently, it has added a groups feature. It will be interesting to see how I can use that to get students interested in thinking about the relationships between words. I also want to check into their grammar category and see how the practice compares with what’s available on NoRedInk.

Some of the reading practice platforms I’m looking at are CommonLit, IXL, and NewsELA. I’m curious about the quality of both the reading passages and the questions. But I’m also hoping to find out how students respond to them. Which ones are most interesting, and why? Does it have more to do with the reading material, or with the way it’s presented?

And finally, while I’ve had comments available on the blog since I started, having students set up blogs on platforms of their own choice showed me that I can also create a discussion space on our class website. One of the students used Google Sites as a host and added a comment box through Disqus. I’m definitely looking forward to making use of that when we return to a traditional class structure.

It’s a LOT. And that’s not even considering the fact that I have something else I’m hoping to introduce next Thursday. (I might give it a few weeks to work with what we’ve already got, though. Haven’t decided yet.) Honestly, sometimes I have to get up and walk away from the computer because I’m just mentally exhausted.

And I can do that. I do have to keep reminding myself that there’s really no pressure here. That if something doesn’t work, well, I’ve learned that I don’t want to try using it in class! I need to prioritize anyway. I can’t teach everything; there simply isn’t enough time. So even if everything works well, I still have to decide what works best. And I have to be willing to let the rest go.

Honestly, sometimes that’s the hardest part.

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