This past weekend I was able to spend some much-needed time with my family. Don’t worry, we all took precautions. Two weeks of quarantine, recommended social distancing, not to mention face masks. It was a lot, but it was worth it to spend some time together. Perhaps the ones most thrilled were my niece and nephews, who practically exploded out of the minivan upon arrival.

While the whole family appeared to be doing well, my sister confessed that she was worried about the fall. My oldest nephew was about to start first grade, and his school still wasn’t sure what their classrooms would look like. There was a good chance the entire first semester would have to be done virtually, an outcome my sister dreaded above all else. I honestly couldn’t blame her. With my nephew, virtual schooling would be a herculean trial.

Teacher or Zookeeper?

Now, I love my nephew, but he has always been a bit of a howler monkey. He never sits still, loves to climb and yell, and has an unfortunate tendency towards mischief. Getting a kid like that to quietly follow a Zoom lesson is next to impossible, and it’s not just him either. I’ll bet K-5 teachers sometimes feel more like zookeepers than teachers. One can’t help but marvel how they channel all that boundless student energy into meaningful learning experiences.

But what happens when there’s no classroom? What do you do when you’re just a face on a screen? Though it may be difficult, I believe remote learning can still provide students with education that is authentic, memorable, and fun. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ways to engage your students over distance learning.

Explore Edtech

Zoom isn’t the only piece of technology at your disposal. There are countless websites, apps, and YouTube channels you can use to keep students engaged. You’ve probably already discovered a few yourself! Don’t be afraid to lean on educational technology for support. Consider using a tool like Flipgrid or Seesaw to empower student voice. Use Kahoot when the kids are getting squirrely. If all else fails, there’s no shame in putting on an educational video!

Find Ways to Connect Virtually

Face it—personal connection is part of what teachers do, but it is tricky to parallel that level of connection in virtual learning. Maybe you have a student who is camera shy or one who hates sitting still. If that’s the case, use one-on-one discussions to get them more comfortable with virtual communication. Even something as simple as greeting each student by name during a Zoom call can familiarize them with the learning process. Once established, students will be more inclined to engage throughout the interaction.

Get Students OFF the Screen

This may sound counterproductive, but it’s important to get kids off the screen, out of their chairs, and moving around. Zoom fatigue is very real and students are most susceptible. Instead of keeping them glued to their webcam for hours on end, assign them tasks they can do at home. Have them perform an experiment using household products (with parental supervision) or provide them with materials they can investigate at home. Encourage them to interview family members, play instruments, or take a nature walk. By giving them time away from the screen, they’ll return refreshed and recharged.

Make it Matter

Remote learning has its challenges, but we can still use it to create positive change! When we give students the opportunity to make an impact, we not only inspire them to grow, we also empower them as individuals. Project-based learning is just one avenue for engaging students through distance learning. Use virtual units like Prevent the Spread to show your students how germs and viruses (like COVID-19) spread, then get them thinking of ways they can protect their community.

Communicate with Parents

This could be the most crucial piece of advice yet. It’s important to remember that we’re not in this undertaking alone. Parents want their children to thrive in this upcoming year, and they’re prepared to help where they’re needed. In return, teachers can assist parents with guidance for schooling their children at home. Working together, we can bring the classroom to our students!

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe during this difficult time. For more free educational resources, or how to engage with students over distance learning, simply follow this link!