Teaching Remotely or Remotely Teaching

A few months ago I was one of the members of staff who went with our Year 6 pupils on their 5 day residential trip to the lake district. An annual tradition of running, jumping, climbing trees, water sports and eventual exhaustion. Whilst on this “holiday” my Year 2 break out groups back at school would have to remain in their classes and work within them. I decided this could cause issues for my colleagues who would have to further differentiate their planning on account of me not being there. So I saw the opportunity for an experiment.

What if I could set a whole weeks worth of work for my pupils that would keep them engaged, move them on and not result in me coming back to a large pile of marking after a long week in the Lake District? I decided to use a mixture of all the tools we have been using in my breakout groups to accomplish this.

How would the work be set?

We have been playing around with Google Classroom in school for the last term or so and my maths group have enjoyed the way they can access material I set through their own log on and leave comments for each other under the posts.

A screenshot from my Google Classroom feed.

I decided each day would have work set and the pupils could submit this at the end of each lesson. The Google Classroom teacher interface would mean that, should I have an internet connection, I could check up on how they are doing. 

I decided to set 4 separate tasks each day that would take approximate 15mins each to complete, thus filling the hour long numeracy session. Each task would be independent therefore if pupils had trouble with one task they would have 3 others to work on during their maths lesson. Setting the tasks was simple thanks to Google Classroom’s simple interface. I selected assignment, and added all the resources for the first day to the one post. I selected the time frame for submission and clicked the assign button. 

What activities would the pupils do?

I focused on activities that would challenge the pupils but allow them to be independent and therefore not disturb the class they were working in. The activities were, 4-a-day, 15 minutes of RM Easimaths , a written method activity involving a brief video explanation and Education City activities.

 Each activity was self contained, 4 a day is a daily exercise, pupils copy questions into their 4 a day books and then complete them using strategies they are comfortable with, this also works as a medium for teaching and practising new written strategies before applying them to problems. 
RM Easimaths tracks pupils understanding of different mathematical concepts and pitches its questions to the level of each pupil after a timed 15 minute session the system then shows the pupil how well they have done through a points system that rewards pupils at different milestones. 
Education City is a great resource for all areas of the curriculum. The interactive activities test pupils understanding of a concept and can give them guidance if they are struggling, it is great for reinforcing topics as well as using the tools when introducing new concepts. I used the My City feature to set specific activities for my group and could track attempts and how well they did on each actvitity using the Education City Success Tracker. I could then alter the activities for the group if needed should I have an internet connection.
The written method activity required the most preparation as it was in two parts. The first was a video created using the Clarisketch App, which I have written about before, of me explaining a mathematical strategy. In this case it was short division and the grid multiplication method, 2 videos on each subject, 1 for each day. The second part of this activity involved my self marking spreadsheets, questions were set for pupils to work out the answers using the method described in the video. The self marking questions had conditional formatting applied to the answer cell, if a pupil entered the correct answer the cell would turn green, orange if an incorrect value was entered. Google Classroom creates a copy of the original spreadsheet for each pupil as they start the assignment and using the revision history of each document I could see how many attempts pupils have made at each question and how long it took them to complete the worksheet. 
What happened?
So feeling quite pleased with myself that I had managed to set up 4 days work and only have a little bit marking to do I set off with the Year 6’s. Upon arriving at our accommodation for the week the centre staff provided us with their Wifi codes. That evening I eagerly logged on to check the progress of my little group back at school. They had accessed Education City and RM easimaths with encouraging results! Success! However that success was short lived as I checked the assignments that the pupils had attempted. Several comments greeted me on the Google Classroom feed, “Sir I cant wach the video” “My sheet dosint work”. My heart sank, was my experiment a failure? Had I not revolutionised remote education? I had visions in my head of my two colleagues back at school cursing my name as they had to deal with a technological crisis in my absence. I messaged one of the teachers and tentatively asked how it went. She was very positive and said that the pupils had all attempted the 4-a-day, RM and Education City quite easily. It was their understanding of Google Sheets that had let them down. I realised I couldn’t address this until I was back at school so left an encouraging message for them on the Google Classroom feed and added a few more activities to their My City pages on Education City.
I checked in on their progress over the next couple of days, as it happens there were a few interruptions to the school week that meant maths didn’t go as planned on some days, but when they had the sessions they tried their best to complete each activity. Upon returning to school I spoke to the pupils about how they felt using the technology to complete maths activities. They were very happy to play on RM Easimaths and Education City, and some even liked the videos I had created for them. I talked them through the use of Google Sheets and we have since gone on to do some great data handling work using them. I reflected upon my experiment and realised that it wasn’t a complete failure and there were some great positives I could take from the exercise. My 6 and 7 year old pupils had, near enough, been teaching themselves that week. Albeit with the assistance of online resources, and it made me realise that as we continue to use technology to challenge the nature of learning spaces and the tools pupils use to learn, we will need to ensure that pupils understand the tools they have at their disposal to help them achieve. 
As my grandad used to say “You can cut a steak with a spoon, but it’s easier if someone teaches you to use a knife.”* 

*(He didn’t but why let the truth stand in the way of a good metaphor?)


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