Virtual classrooms have become the default method of continuing with school since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in 2020.
Last year, The Harbour School won the Best International School award from Hong Kong Living Awards for its outstanding virtual school program. As a school focused on its students and how they learn, student engagement is a prime consideration as our teachers design their lessons - online or offline.
However, virtual classrooms present their own set of challenges, one of which concerns the engagement level of students during virtual learning. It is no secret that it is more challenging to focus and pay attention to a computer screen than in face-to-face classes. There are so many things that can distract our learners and cause them to disengage with lessons online.
Educational technology, or EdTech, has revolutionised the teaching and learning process in many ways during the Covid-19 era. EdTech refers to the introduction of technology tools to complement and promote deeper and more specialised learning experiences. These are not simply tools that entertain students while they are learning, but have been proven to boost student engagement and enhance learning experiences. When used in virtual classrooms, these tools allow teachers to ensure that students are actively engaging with virtual lessons and taking an active interest in their own learning online.
As we enter the fourth major iteration of VC@T (Virtual Classrooms at The Harbour School), many teachers are now better equipped with EdTech tools. Let’s dive into how the Grade 1 Team has been using these to provide interactive experiences on VC@T over the past few months.
1. Review Games
First-graders hooked on fishing at Fishtopia on Gimkit.
Everyone loves playing games! “Can we go fishing please, Mr. N?” is something I hear almost every morning after introducing Fishtopia, a game-mode on Gimkit, to my students. Our first-graders love Gimkit and Blooket; they are classroom gamification platforms that have a variety of different game-modes to help students review lesson materials. Teachers launch a game and students join with a code in real-time. Our first-graders love Kahoot!, Quizizz, and Quizlet too - real-time quizzes where you collect points, what is there not to love?
2. Learning Apps
Learning apps are fun tools that students enjoy engaging with. Apps such as EPIC!, Todo Math, and Phonics Hero, are nicely in line with our school curriculums and provide digital instant feedback. For example, students can read visually stimulating levelled books on EPIC!, challenge themselves with some Common Core-aligned curriculum Math games on Todo Math, or supercharge their spelling on Get Reading Right’s Phonics Hero. These apps also serve as great motivators as our first-graders love being given the choice to go on these apps after they have completed their missions on VC@T.
3. Virtual Field Trips
First-graders loved their ISS virtual tour and they all want to be astronauts!
Even though we are not able to go on field trips due to social distancing restrictions and school closures, that does not stop us from taking our first-graders on fun trips. Through the magic of Google Earth, YouTube, and Nearpod VR Field Trips, we can take our students back to school, places around Hong Kong, around the world, or even up in space! Virtual field trips make the learning process so much more engaging because they create interactive elements and encourage authentic learning experiences. My favourite virtual trip was definitely taking my students up to the International Space Station - you should have seen their reactions (all of them want to be astronauts now)!
4. Virtual Presentations
First-graders showed off their published opinion writing books during our virtual Publishing Party.
With the help of the many tools on Seesaw, students are able to add flair to their work and present them virtually. Students can write, draw, label, take photos and videos, and record their own voices. For example, our first-graders were able to post photos of their published opinion writing books and recorded their voices reading their books on Seesaw. Teachers were then able to host a virtual Publishing Party over Google Meet to show off their published books, give each other feedback and compliments, and celebrate their writing achievements with families and friends.
5. Interactive Slides
First-graders used Pear Deck to review telling time to the half-hour.
Some EdTech tools - like Pear Deck and Nearpod - allow teachers to make their Google Slides presentations interactive, so that students can actively engage and participate from wherever they are learning. Our first-graders love being able to use drawing tools, drag-and-drop functions, and other interactive options to engage actively with the lesson material. As teachers, this even allows us to visibly see their thinking processes. Our students also love seeing their contributions to the interactive slides in real-time.
There is no one-size-fits-all model for teaching and learning, which is the case for both face-to-face and virtual learning. With the advent of EdTech, teachers are able to keep their lessons varied. The best virtual classrooms are those that make learning fun and interactive. Use engaging tech, and you get engaging students!