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Tips to Elevate Distance Learning

Written by Phil Mayhoffer

For four years, I taught middle school design classes at a small private school in Boulder, CO. At the end of each year, I received a letter detailing my employment for the following school year. Part of that letter described what would happen in the event of a school closure. I never gave that part much thought, convincing myself there was no possible way the school would have to close. Yet, here we are. Thousands of schools across the U.S. (including the one where I taught) have had to quickly enact distance learning plans. Teachers are adapting resources intended for teaching and school environment to support learning at home.

Looking back at my own time teaching, I am not sure what I would do. And, thinking about my own situation now, I am glad that my little guy is not yet 2-years-old. His formal education is still a few years down the road, so I won’t face the same challenges that many parents, teachers, and older siblings are now living. However, my experiences with Edison (my son) lead me to believe that learning at home can be just as fruitful and effective as what many young learners are used to in school.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a few experiences that help me understand how learning might look in homes across the nation during our time of Shelter in Place, Lockdown, and Quarantine. I hope that you will be able to connect with what I share while gleaning some helpful hints and tips that can elevate the learning that’s taking place in your home and in the homes of your students.

Experience 1: Learning Will Happen No Matter What You Do

My son is at the wonderful age when he will mimic everything that he sees. Just yesterday, I was showing my wife a video showing a scene from the Lord of the Rings with all of the swords replaced with lightsabers (look it up, it’s pretty great). Edison crawled right up between us on the couch and caught a few seconds of the battle before we decided that maybe he didn’t need to see any dismemberment before going to bed. A few minutes later, he found some long K’NEX pieces and started waving them about as if he were fighting off hordes of orcs. He is constantly observing and absorbing.

The same observation and absorption happens every day as the children in our lives watch and learn (whether they’re two or twenty-two). They might spend time watching videos online. They will hopefully be watching and participating in lessons taught live or pre-recorded by the teachers who care for them so deeply. They will definitely be watching how we respond and react to what’s going on in the world around us.

With that perspective, it becomes important for us to leverage the learning that is going to happen whether we plan for it or not.

Tips for Teachers

  • Recognize that your students are now in a different learning environment than they’re used to. It will be a lot harder for some of them to focus on the topics that your previously planned units and assignments are centered on. Consider adding flexibility to the work you expect students to complete. This will enable them to explore topics that are seemingly unrelated to what you plan on covering.
  • Rather than compete with the “distractions” that your students are facing as they learn from home, consider having your students share what they are learning from other sources. Whether you’re holding regular Zoom classes, holding online discussions on Google Classroom, or gathering student input in some other way, give them the opportunity to share their observations, experiences, or other learning.
  • Check out additional resources from my colleagues to help transform your students’ learning.

Tips for Parents

Phil Mayhoffer
Phil Mayhoffer

Phil Mayhoffer loves to explore how creativity, curiosity, and play interact throughout the process of learning. As a middle school teacher for four years, he dove into design thinking and project-based learning to make his classroom a place to foster and support innovation in his students. He believes that one of the primary purposes of our existence is to learn how to create and thereby contribute to the beauty of the world around us. Phil strives to weave that purpose into the work he does by setting the stage for rich learning experiences that harness the power of play and empower learners to make a difference.

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