Distance Learning Is Killing Me!


             Is anyone out there???


Do you feel completely alone now that you are stuck at home utilizing distance learning techniques instead of being in your classroom?  I do.  It has been beyond isolating.  I don't mean that in an "I'm all alone" place in life.  There is never a shortage of people in my house.  In that sense, I am never alone, which can be equally annoying and overwhelming.  I am talking about my teacher world.  The day schools in Washington were closed, my entire teaching world crashed.  Connections were lost.  I don't get to see my friends each day (teacher friends AND kindergarten friends).  I spend my entire day on the computer just trying to keep up with the ever-changing plans life has tossed my way.  I think we are all feeling this way to some degree.  It feels like distance learning is slowly killing me or at least killing my spirit.

We are preparing for week 6 of home learning in kindergarten.  Although it has been a relatively smooth ride because I do tend to be hyper-organized.  The bumps and potholes along the way I have encountered revolve around trying to do everything a new way, and I am only speaking for myself as a teacher.  I can't imagine what the families of my students must be feeling!

I am not going to focus on the negative aspects of what is happening with all of this.  Instead, I want to highlight all of the ideas, resources, materials, and tutorial videos that have helped me find more digital-friendly ways to continue what I had already been doing in the classroom.

Daily Home Learning Videos
I decided several days prior to the state closing schools that my go-to move would be to create a home learning video for my students each day.  We were told late in the afternoon of 3/31 that the decision had been made...and we had to tell our students as we walked out of school for the last time together.  I told them I would see them each day in a video...and I stuck to that promise!  With videos, I am able to go about teaching a lesson just as I would in the classroom - minus 21 little audience members.  I have also created tutorial videos for parents and guardians.  It has been a bit challenging due to my internet connectivity being so spotty these days, but I am dedicated to this mission.

Zoom Gatherings
I also jumped on the Zoom bandwagon.  The second week of the closure, I set up and account and had a meeting scheduled to take place after spring break.  It really has made the kids feel better about not seeing their friends, and it's keeping us all "together" in the safest way possible.  Each week, we have a show and tell, eat lunch together, and I read a book.  After Friday's Zoom meeting, I sent all of students a Google Form (survey) for them to vote on next week's read aloud book...and whether they liked the book I read during the meeting that day.  This was a nice way to make the session a little more interactive.  I can see how a Google Form will be a great way to use as a digital assignment in the future.
I recently plopped down some cash on a green screen so I can be in various places during our meetings!  My favorite place is Disney World, so this week's meeting took place in front of Cinderella's Castle.

The Weekly Schedule
My most recent find was a weekly schedule template from Teach Create Motivate on TPT.  It will (hopefully) streamline our assignments for people in need of a visual schedule.

Distance Learning Agenda Slides with Timers (Editable) $11.00
They are meant to be used in Google Slides, but I found it difficult to add video links I wanted in the slide.  It was just a big pain in the rear.  I couldn't get the links to not embed into the image I was trying to link it to, which seemed to be ruining my life.  Because I was trying to add a link to a graphic, the video would then play in that teeny, tiny little graphic box with the play arrow inside of it.  Ummmmm, nobody wants to watch Cowboy Count that way.  So, I ended up editing in PowerPoint and saving the slide as a PDF to make the links easier for families to use.  This is the BEST $11.00 I have spent on TPT in a looooooong time.  The packet is robust with lots of ways I can use this in the classroom next school year!

Paper Packets
As much as this has pushed digital everything on teachers, I am still not sold that our youngest learners should be doing all of their work digitally.  Not at all.  Young children still need crayons, glue, scissors, markers, and paper.  They need to practice the motion of writing letters and numbers each day.

I provide my students with paper packets each week, and I will continue to do so for the remainder of this closure.  Yes, it's a pain in the butt to put together.  Yes, my district has supported me in this task.  They have my packets printed for me, and they provide a spot in front of the school for parents to pick up their student's packet any day of the week that is convenient for the family.  Not everyone has technology in the home.  Not every student learns best through devices.  This also allows me to continue using allllll of the same resources I had been using in the classroom.  Students are independent with many of the activities we do each day, and I do not want to create a situation where parents are having to guide them through every single task.  If they can own some of the work...let them.

I also make everything printable by week for families wanting to print their own work.  However, everyone has chosen to go grab a packet so far.  The upside to this is that we can add more to the packet than just worksheets!  I give them STEM challenges that include materials or a kit.  This week, we attached a packet of seeds to each work packet.  Guess what I'll be doing in Friday's video?  Planting seeds!
Picture taken by my amazing teacher buddy, Danielle!  She put together enough for both classes.  xo

Google Classroom
Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It is going to take a LOT for me to not sound negative about this Google platform. Instead, I will focus on how I organized it and how beautiful I made it all look because that's what is making me happy in this moment.

I learned to create "topics" and add materials and assignments to those topics.  It helps keep all of our resources organized.

I can say...life will be easier now that I have had a few weeks of experience working with this platform.  I understood that it was somehow linked to my Google Drive account.  I actually love Drive and use it many, many time per day, but something about Google Classroom just did not jive with my brain.  For one thing, teachers were not trained to use Classroom.  There had always been that option from the district, but it was an option typically used by teachers in upper grades - not kindergarten.  My students don't even have technology in the classroom.  There has literally been no need for Google Classroom until now.  The other part of GC that totally threw me off was not realizing students have to be logged in with the school district Google account to use this platform.  {Insert sound of crickets in the background.}  I also did not realize my kindergarten students had Google accounts. Sigh.
Here are a few links to videos my district's Ed Tech department created that have helped get me through the dark times with Google Classroom are...

How to Use Google Classroom From Home:

How to Use Google Classroom for Students (I sent this to families in my class):

How to Use Google Classroom Classwork Features: 

Creating Digital Assignments
Because my students do not have access to technology in the classroom, I never had a need for digital assignments.  All of that has changed, and I needed a quick way to make some of my classroom worksheets digital.  I found this fantastic series of tutorial videos from Amy Almada.  She actually has several I will share with you below.

PDF/Paper Copy to Digital: Are you looking to turn your PDF or paper worksheets into a digital assignment?  I know I was searching for the easiest way for my kindergarten students to keep up with their work digitally.  Check out this video on creating editable, digital worksheets...

Create Sorting Activities: Creating "cut and paste" sorting activities with Google Drawings, by Amy Almada.  After messing around for a few hours in Google Drawings, I realized it just was not going to meet my needs.  I think creating a Google Slide is a better option for kindergarten students because I can embed the background of the slide so students can't move it around, I found this particular video helpful because Amy talks about color coding the work being done for simple, easy grading.  That part starts around the 9 minute mark if you want to jump ahead.  It's brilliant, and I am using that in my upcoming phonics sorts.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RP3jEsJ70FE

Create Sorting Activities in Google Slides: I have found Google Slides to be the easiest way to create sorting activities for my students.  This tutorial is by ShakeUpLearning, and it really highlights making master templates that kids can't "mess up" if they drag and drop the wrong thing on the screen.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGWRPuqTWa0

Sharing Your Google Created Content: Sharing Google created documents with your team or teacher friends and you don't want them to mess up your master copy?  Try this hack.  It will force them to make their own copy before they mess up your version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Lm72IEHJA

Google Forms
I have been using Google Forms to collect information from families.  I sent one right away asking about printer availability and devices/internet availability.  A few snags I ran into right away were based on the "share" settings within my school district account.  Each time I create a form, I have to go into the settings to make sure I can share it with people OUTSIDE of the school district.  Otherwise, families get a permission error message when they click the form link.

Last week, I used Google Forms to allow my students to vote for the book I will read in this week's Zoom meeting.  They also had to give me their opinion of the book I read in our most recent meeting.  Here's what it looks like...

I found this tutorial to be very helpful.  I learned to make each form question required, and to make sure to collect the student's name on each form (helps for sorting, grading, getting in touch with the correct student if you are using Google Forms for assignments and quizzes).  Until this tutorial, I had no idea you could add images into the forms!  It was a game changer for the voting form I sent to my students.  I love that I could put a visual in for each book option.  Here's a link to the tutorial...

Well, these are the tips and ideas I have found most useful during this time of school closures. This is not to say that everything has been roses and sunshine.  I am simply choosing not to go there right now.  I would love to hear what has made your teacher-life with prek, TK, or kindergarten easier during this time of digital learning!


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