Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Long-Reach Teach: What you can do to help a lot of kids without much money

Today I want to share something that I started on a whim about 8 or 9 years ago. I teach a lower income school district that tends to lag behind a bit in the technology area, just because the expense is enormous. Years ago, I looked into "flipping" my classroom, but decided that would not be beneficial to my students at the time as I still had many whose parents did not even have an email, much less computer access or wi-fi. As I brainstormed how I could help my students, I thought about creating a library of my recorded lessons. Our library had flip cameras that I could check out and my friend, the art teacher, had tiny tripods that I could borrow that she used when students did stop-motion projects. So I checked a camera out and began to experiment a little.
Flip Camera- super easy to use except some of the software is outdated

The side has a built-in flash drive that you extend, plug into your computer and download the video

My classroom set-up has a document camera and projector to the front screen (when I first started, the projector was on a cart the rolled around, but is now mounted on the ceiling) I would set up my little camera and point it at the board to show any notes and to record my voice as I taught. And guess what? It worked! It was a far cry from great cinematography and there were struggles with lighting and glare spots, but it worked! ( I prefer the Flip camera to my chromebook or ipad because it is easier to set up and keep stationary at this time. For the others, I would need an extra desk to set them on to record the board.)

And then came the real challenge- uploading it to an easy-to-reach site! I used my school website for a while, but ended up having to reformat the video types and often split them into pieces because they were too long. I tried YouTube, but it was slow and not easy to find the videos for the students. Then I discovered a learning/teaching platform called Schoology and created folders and organized them well. The newest platform that I currently use is Google Classroom, and I love it. I post a copy of the video, a copy of the notes pages and a copy of the corresponding assignment to the page and any student, adult, parent or administrator who has the classroom code can access them.

I cannot tell you how having these videos has changed my teaching strategies. It has helped me in so many ways and has helped my students in ways that I probably do not even know. The first thing I realized that was so beneficial was for students who were in a disciplinary in-school suspension situation or even at an alternative placement campus. These students can serve their discipline consequences and never fall behind! It has changed how I feel about sending to work to ISS. The instructor now just logs students into Google Classroom, gives them a set of headphones, and they sit, take notes, get the lesson and do not miss a single ounce of classroom instruction! That is huge!

It has helped students who have had to miss for a variety of reasons as they can utilize a computer or their phone and see the lesson even if they are in bed at home. One particular student, who had to go on homebound, I remember kept right up with the class the entire year utilizing my videos of the class lessons. Her other teachers at first thought I was just being nice about her grades because she was doing so well, but she was doing everything the students who were actually at school were doing and doing well, despite the fact that the homebound teacher was not strong in Algebra and struggled to assist her much.

I have had several parents who utilize the videos to keep up and help their students ( and not feel so clueless.) Let's face it, math is different than it used to be and most parents honestly can't begin to help their students. But if they have access to the exact same lesson their student had in class, they can feel more confident or even help explain more because they have more experience to relate to the lesson. Other students use the lessons to review or re-watch when they had a bad day or just zoned out during the class or can't remember one part of the lesson. I have also shared the lessons with friends of students in other Algebra teacher's classrooms at my school so they can have an explanation that might be worded differently and helped them have a light bulb moment. Believe it or not, I even have friends who teach in other districts who have shared the videos with their students, and friends who have children in other districts who have used them to help get through Algebra with their students. I personal believe it is an invaluable tool.

It is a tool, however, not without its downfalls. My tech department is working to figure out a more up-to-date and affordable alternative, but for now it is still what I am using. Flip cameras are out of date and tend to give me a little trouble sometimes when trying to load the videos. I also have learned to select a class that is not my first one (I get better as I teach it more), but it also needs to be a class that can handle the extra distraction and I have to be diligent about remember to set things up to record. I have procured a floor tripod that I set up now, so that is helpful. The video does not record any students other than questions they ask and I am careful to not say their names aloud as I teach when I am recording to protect them. I have had to resort to teaching to an empty classroom to record a lesson or two that my batteries were dead and the original didn't work or I had other technical difficulties. Other than that, It is fairly painless, just a little time consuming.

If you teach in a school that struggles with absenteeism, lower income, a lack of technology options or just have students that struggle, this is a great option to reach more students. It is fairly inexpensive, you do not have to actually be on camera (just my voice, not my face is there) and the payoff is much larger than the drawbacks. It really doesn't matter what subject you teach, it will help! It is even great if you have to miss, the sub can just show the video and your class is not behind! (you have to record those early though) I say give it a try! Don't be so scared and I guarantee your administrators will be impressed!

Here is a link to one of my videos, just to give you an idea of what they look like. They are not fancy, but they are effective.

I encourage to step out of your comfort zone just a little! If one teacher from every core subject area at a school would record lessons, think of how helpful that would be! I also feel like it is not an excuse to say your school does not have technology resources- you can brainstorm and figure something out that will reach your kids!

~Mrs. R 

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