A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 09 2010

An Experiment: Remote Teaching

One week from now, I will be returning from my first full day as a grand juror in the DC Superior Court.

The back-story is interesting. I received a jury summons in late July for a 5+ week September/October term. Realizing that I had been summoned to a grand, and not a petite, jury, I had a minor panic attack. What would happen in my classroom during my extended absence?  I wrote a letter requesting that I be excused to minimize the disruption. That was denied. My principal wrote a letter explaining the hardship my extended absence would impose. That was denied. I called up the clerk at the courthouse. No exceptions. I settled for the only thing possible, a 90-day deferral.

So now I am in my last week with my current students until January. I repeat: until January.  That’s a long time for a lead teacher to be gone.

Furthermore, jury duty creates an odd situation: I will be forced to teach remotely. Though I will still be “in charge” by lesson planning and coming to school once a week to pick up work to grade, the 9am-5pm commitment precludes actually seeing my students on a daily basis. This is highly counterintuitive.

Upon first reading my summons, I equated the inevitable disappearance of face-to-face interaction with a halt in student learning. I resigned myself to the fact that my students, already so in need of learning opportunities, would fall further behind.

Tonight, however, I was inspired and convinced that this didn’t have to be case. I attended a Slate Hive event, on “The 21st Century Classroom” at the Newseum, that gave me a taste of what is possible with education in the 21st century. We started with an insightful panel discussion, moderated by Justin Cohen of Mass Insight’s School Turnaround Group, that included a DoE Deputy Assistant Secretary, a founder of an innovative STEM charter school and an ASU ed tech professor. They reflected on the failings of our current model of classroom design and played the role of futurists, too.

Then, we broke out into small groups with various slate editors and writers and “hived” (read: “collectively brainstormed”) on different ideas. My facilitator was William Saletan, who helped draw out a great discussion on how we could improve a classroom with $1,000 (O, what I would do with that in my classroom!).

Finally, we schmoozed and cocktailed in the Newseum concourse. There, I was able to share my TFA experience with Emily Yoffe (her “Human Guinea Pig” column always has me laughing out loud).


The event, on a Monday night no less, got me thinking about many things.  Most relevantly, however, the evening provided me insights about the power of technology in today’s classroom.

In essence, I’m convinced that there are ways that I can ensure that students continue moving forward as English learners even while I’m away poring over evidence and issuing indictments. I have the opportunity to blend “learning” with what is already a normal part of my students’ everyday lives: technology. What an opportunity!

I’ve already created a teacher Facebook profile. I’ll use this profile to provide students updates, and to have perhaps the closest thing to a real conversation that I can have while I am serving my term.  Given how often I see students signing onto Facebook, I see this as a fun but legitimate way to communicate with my students while I’m away.

In essence, my term on the grand jury forces me to engage in a teaching experiment of sorts: in the 21st-century world, what can an educator accomplish when forced to sever face-to-face interactions for almost 2 months?

I’m sure there are already loads of fantastic methods and ideas out there.  At this point, I almost wish I had taken an ed tech course, so that I might have a few more tools in my box to use for the next few weeks.

Do you, dear remote reader, have any great technology-based ideas that will help (a) keep students engaged, (b) hold them accountable and (c) students withstand 5+ weeks with a substitute teacher?

I have a few ideas buzzing in my own mind’s hive, but I could use some more from the worldwide hive.  I have exactly 7 days to figure things out. Thank you much for your help.

profile counter

13 Responses

  1. Nice post! I was at the event as well and wondered if our group would have fared better with a budget (I was in the group with unlimited resources for technology).

    Would you be able to Skype? I wonder if you can assign group projects and then use set times every day (during breaks?) to meet with each team to check in. You wouldn’t be able to meet with every group every day, of course, but it may be a way for you to remain present in your classroom.

    • Thanks for the comment. Skype is probably unrealistic. I don’t suspect I’ll be bringing my laptop to the courthouse. I only have an hour lunch break. And, anyways, there won’t be a projector in the classroom since I took it home. I know other teachers who have had laptops and projectors stolen during their absence, sometimes, but not necessarily always, by students. I can’t afford to let my DonorsChoose funded one suffer the same fate.

  2. Molly

    I’m sure this was brought up at some point, but my classes make a lot of use of blogs. Students can get one for free at blogger.com or wordpress.com or some place and do journals or assignments, and their classmates can comment on them to have a “discussion.”

    Also, you should check out moodle.com

    • I like the idea of using blogs. I may have to look into this. I am wary of requiring that they set one up, since there are a few students who do not have reliable access to internet.

      I remember using Moodle at some point in my academic career. I will check it out again.

  3. Oh, YES! Yes, I do. And I’m local – Potomac, about 20 minutes outside of DC. Would love to help. Do you know about Edmodo? Do your kids or will your sub have reliable computer and white board or projector?

  4. Catherine

    As an AmeriCorps college advisor, I used a blog last year to post information on application deadlines, test scores, scholarship links, etc. Even though I work in a school, I don’t like pulling students out of class and miss instructional time, so most of my interactions are via email (I edit personal statements and resumes, provide step-by-step instructions to fill out an application, etc.) I don’t really use any special technology to help me do my job, and it’s also an opportunity to show students how to write appropriate emails and engage in the basic tech they will be using in college.

    Also, one of my discussion sections in college used Twitter to post questions to the professor and post links to relevant articles and websites. And I’ve used Facebook for study groups and posting notes and discussions. However, the technology is only effective if everyone is engaged…

  5. I also think blogging and Twitter are fantastic ideas! Have you ever used thinkquest.org? It basically provides you with a website domain that you and your students can use to interact. I did it last year as a project and assigned one web page to each individual student to complete. The website lets you also create polls and discussion forums on your home page, so students can log in and respond on a daily basis. I used this for both do-nows and exit slips. The website does take some setting up, and you’ll probably have to teach your kids how to log into the site and make sure they don’t lose their passwords, but otherwise it is great!

    I hope your time away goes well. That is rough; I can’t imagine being away for so long. But it really sounds like you are doing an amazing job and have a great rapport with your students!

    • I just found this comment in my spam box! Sorry about that. It took some sleuthing to figure out what was real and what was fake since spam messages these days are highly realistic. The giveaway is the email address and sometimes the linked website.

      I like all of your ideas. But do you have many computers in your classroom? I only have one student workstation. My classroom is also on the small end so I couldn’t fit anymore. Would it make sense for students to take turns on that machine or is that not going to work? I suspect it won’t.

  6. Posted a note earlier… not sure what happened to it. I’ve got loads of ideas for resources for you to use to support your students from a distance. Edmodo.com is a great place to start. It’s super simple and free. Also, I have a huge network of teachers including tech integration specialists on Twitter that you could tap into… if you like, I can tweet your blog and ask for recommendations specific to your goals. I recommend getting started with twitter as a prof. resource because you will find loads of help there- people are shockingly responsive. Shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to help.

    • Thank you for your comments. For some reason this blog has not been sending me emails when people have been posting comments so I did not know there were comments in the approval queue. I approve all non-spam comments (actually I screened one highly-offensive personal attack on me and my support for TFA), so I’m sorry that your original post got delayed.

      I’m definitely going to have to check Edmodo. I love that you have so many great ideas. The one hitch is that students will have nothing but a chalkboard a student workstation and, if I choose to give them access, my teacher workstation. I took my projector home because I don’t want it stolen. Anyways the sub claims not to have an email account OR a cell phone so I wonder how adept she would be at setting up such technology while I’m gone. This is why I am trying to use tech that students have access to already and can use on their own. Cell phones seem to be ubiquitous. I’d say less than 10% of students don’t have them, despite how poor the community is overall. So I want to tap into that resource while I’m gone.

      Given this information do you have any cell/mobile based ideas? I’m obviously going to have to do some more research. I’ll try Twitter, although I am not a big fan.

      • Edmodo has a phone App. so you could give that a try… I’m not sure how stable/reliable it is… can’t the school give the sub an email account? Sounds like s/he’d rather not be bothered which is infuriating…If you create an Edmodo account and get her to check it every day, you could plan lessons from home and either upload links or files for her to print as needed… Edmodo is my favorite when kids have access to a lab or at least projector/smart board because you can give assignments with links and files all in one place and they can also comment, upload work/provide links to share with each other etc but you can remove anything “off task”. I’ll ask my twitter friends for phone aps. If you decide to use Twitter WITH your class, start one account strictly for that purpose. Then use a totally different user name to start to interact/build your peer learning network. If you decide you want to do it, I’ll talk you through it. I don’t like it for regular social networking either – NO time for tweeting… BUT as a professional resource and for independent professional development, it is OUTSTANDING. You won’t even believe how much help you get from people who are literally, teaching around the world.

Post a comment

About this Blog

Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

D.C. Region
High School

Subscribe to this blog (feed)