Being able to create an engaging learning environment while producing high level reasoning in an in-person classroom situation is a challenge and creating the same effect in a virtual classroom is even more of a challenge. For Spirit of Math, creating an online experience that would produce the same experience and output wasn’t a choice: it was a necessity. Our students and their parents expected it, and we refused to lower our standards, so we pushed ourselves to do it. Accomplishing this required strong resources and a good understanding of the limitations and benefits of virtual classrooms. It has also required understanding how the combination of resources, complementary online apps and teacher skill sets work together to produce a combined effect greater than 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. We needed each component to work in a way that would make each of the other components stronger, producing a benefit of 1 + 1 + 1 > 3.
We have been working in the online space for more than 10 years, but in a very small way, testing as we went, and using in-person classes as our main mode of educating students. Having to quickly switch over to 100% online virtual classes for just over 11,000 students has meant that we had to quickly combine what we have been gradually implementing. We are at a very early stages of full virtual classes, however, the following are three key combinations of what we have found works to amplify and complement each component, creating a multi-faceted engaging experience. It must be noted too, that the simpler this is the nicer it is for the learner.
Learning Management System
We use two different LMSs, depending on the purpose of the course. The first is D2Ls Brightspace, and the second is Canvas. Students will access this platform for the following:
- Watch videos on new key concepts for each lesson as needed. These can be watched either before, or after class.
- Read messages for the lesson coming up.
- Upload homework as needed to be marked for the next week.
- Marking assignments and tests – either the teacher marks the uploaded assignments and marks them, or “quizzes” are used to automatically mark answers to assignments.
- Small quizzes for each lesson can be done by students, to test for understanding of material
- Marks book and attendance.
- Location to store and download classroom material. (This is also done in Teams)
Microsoft Teams is the platform that we use. We use this as our main communications and meeting place tool. As a communications tool, it is the place where students meet as a class and the teacher teaches. A variety of resources are used in the teaching processes, allowing the teacher to explain concepts, enabling students to present (either on the computer, or in front of a video), and it acts as a place to get immediate feedback from students. It also is a place where students meet as one whole class, or separate groups during class time, and after class in mini learning groups. It also serves as a place for teachers to provide extra help sessions for students.
There are many resources that the teachers are using that come with Teams as apps, that come with Office 365 and the Adobe products. These all assist in helping to communicate the new ideas from the teacher to the students and vis-versa, and a place to keep all the notes and recordings for students to view afterwards.