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Tag: virtual learning

Snowmageddon and Virtual School Preparation

Is your school/district ready for the possibility of extended school closure due to weather or other factors? We are preparing for a blizzard here in Virginia as it looks like folks in the Washington DC area will experience the full force of winter storm Jonas.

I have written here and spoken often on the Ed Tech Co-Op podcast about the value of developing blended to virtual learning programs in one’s school. There are many reasons for doing both with one big one being ready to continue the learning in case of a a big storm like we are about to experience here in Virginia.

In the best of conditions, one’s school would form a committee to research, plan and implement a blended to virtual learning program. We did this at Hong Kong International School after we had to quickly respond to extended school closure due to an outbreak of SARS. We learned a great deal in reactive mode as we constructed our virtual school to serve our families. One big lesson was just like we practice fire drills, we needed to practice virtual school.

The virtual school committee began the annual procedure of running a week of virtual school in which teachers, students and families connected to our online tools for learning. Our experience in responding to the SARS closure expanded our blended learning when school reopened. It was a natural step to then practice for the possibility that our school could close again. For more insight as to our experiences, here is an article describing the response to the crisis.

With many schools having other priorities than planning for virtual school, one can still provide ideas and resources for the short term closing of one’s school. Here is an example of a short listing of tools that I put together to share with the teachers at my school. It might provide a framework to build from in case your school might be closed for several days.


With the advancing snowstorm and the possibility of another Snowmageddon, here are some ideas to support student learning if we miss more days of school. We have several online tools and resources that students can connect to for skill work, inquiry, creation, collaboration and direct instruction.

Skill Development:

DreamBox (students can access at our LR website > Students > Math)
-Web Resources Math and Technology pages for math, typing and coding skills
-Tumblebooks and other eBooks accessed at the Library Web page
-The Using Information Web Resources page also has several online reading sites for younger students and information sources for our older students
Quizlet is a huge collection of flashcards, quizzes and other searchable resources to share with your students. You can also create your own.


The databases can be accessed at our Library Web page. Notice the direct link to the databases but there is also a listing by grade level further down the page. See the attached database and tool password listing. Finding or creating your own WebQuest is a terrific way to support inquiry, collaboration and learning product creation.

Creation and Collaboration:

Wixie (grades 1-5)
-Google Apps (grades 3-6)
-The Web Resources Creating page has several fun and creative activities for our youngest students.

Direct Instruction:

Khan Academy and other tutorial sites
-See the PD & ICL Web page for a full listing of potential instructional resources including TED Talks, iTunes U and the idea of sharing educational podcasts for your students to listen to.
-Teacher created screencast videos and/or podcasts> I can provide more information if you would like to create a screencast and/or podcast. Here are a couple resources if you want to give screencasting a go. Your school computer comes with Snag It which you might have used for grabbing screenshots. It also can capture video as you open docs, websites. etc. on your screen as you voice record information for your students. If you use a Mac, you can use the built in QuickTime Player. There are helpful tutorials on YouTube for both tools.
-Blackboard has a built in podcast recorder (Voice Podcaster) found in the Tools section of your classroom course. Wixie can be used as an instructional tool to support blended to virtual learning. You can create videos that include voice-over explanation of images, diagrams, drawings, etc. that you build into your presentation and then share with your students via the Web. Check out the Wixie resource page for more information including tutorials.

Sharing Your Virtual School Package:

So how can you share these resources with your students? Several of you are using Google Classroom to post resources. Blackboard is another helpful platform. Another choice is to create a simple site like our Web Resources using Google Sites or a free provider like Weebly. You also can create a Google Doc to share directly with your students if you are in our upper elementary. For the younger students you might want to create a Google Doc in your personal account and make it public. You can then email your parents the link for easy access. Our school Google Doc accounts cannot be shared publicly. The same goes for creating a Google Site using your school account.

Let me know how I can help if you would like to look into using any of these resources and tools. For more information on blended to virtual learning, check out our blended learning page at Web Resources for Learning.

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Student Voices: Interviews with Sophia Pink

Sophia Dept of Edu

I was fortunate to record a couple podcasts with the extraordinary Sophia Pink. She designed and implemented a hybrid year of studies in place of attending Washington International School for her 10th grade year. In the first podcast Sophia tells the story of the program of studies she put together. In the second show, she offers her insights on how high school can be much more personalized with increased student engagement.

I am really enjoying our shows that give students the opportunity to share their ideas about teaching and learning. Stay tuned for the next Edtech Co-Op podcast to hear from my son Samuel as he shares about his lesson design work with his Theory of Knowledge (TOK) teacher.

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Virtual Tech Courses

Virtual learning is a topic we recently spoke to on the Edtech Co-Op podcast. The discussion reminded me of a talk many years ago with our high school instructional technologist back at Hong Kong International School (HKIS). We discussed the computer programming course he taught. The context was a meeting of the instructional technologists from each of our four divisions about online learning as we had run a virtual school for a month in 2003 when SARS struck Hong Kong.

We were thinking about the power of the HKIS brand in Asia and our leadership in the region for technology integration. The idea was to start offering some fully online courses not just for HKIS students but also for interested students from around the region. While this idea was not implemented, it did bring us back to the computer science course and how it would be a good class to teach virtually. International schools were using the Virtual High School, now called The VHS Collaborative, to provide courses that they didn’t have the teachers and/or number of students to efficiently run. It also would not be that difficult to run a computer programming course in house through our MyDragonnet learning management system.

Back to the present day, in recent chats with directors of technology from two leading independent schools in Washington DC, we discussed where their respective schools are in offering online courses. There are many reasons for providing students access to virtual courses but the question came up as to how to offer them. Does one do them in house or through a provider like The VHS Collaborative, K12 or the Online School for Girls? Several questions arose about how the courses would connect to the mission of the schools, who would teach the courses, would virtual courses take the place of regular classes in the students’ schedule, etc. It was interesting for me as an instructional technologist to hear of the needs of the students and teachers to get me thinking about how to design the process of deciding how to offer virtual learning opportunities.

Connecting back to my experiences at HKIS, it became clear to me that one option for these schools would be to offer their technology and Information and Communication Literacies (ICL) courses online as opposed to teaching them during the regular school day. The instructional technologists at each school have the skill set and content knowledge (i.e., TPACK) to design and deliver courses in either hybrid or in a fully online fashion. The schools could pilot this effort to not only meet the learning needs of the students but to model for interested teachers how they might also might provide virtual courses. It could be an easy first step towards providing virtual learning for each of their communities.

Another thought is to build on the badge movement for virtual learning offerings. The instructional technologist, librarian and other interested teachers could build out a series of mini courses focused on specific skills. Examples could be in learning how to use various apps on the iPad for student workflow and productivity,  learning how to use apps for editing images and video, providing a mini course in good design in presentations, etc. Students could earn badges to represent their certification in reaching the standards set for each mini course. Instead of taking up time in their daily course schedule, the students could work at their own pace through the schools’ learning management system and other online collaborative tools.

This line of thinking connects to what we are doing at Alexandria Country Day school where by the Fifth Grade, we are providing “just in time” instruction with follow up online tutorials for students to further explore how to use various apps and Web 2.0 tools. One of our science teachers, Sara Stein, looks to her students as learning partners when new apps need are introduced to the class. The students use their ICL skills to find tutorials to self teach to then provide guidance for other students during class meeting times.

This supports my belief that my job is to help each student build out his/her ICL tool belt by the end of the Fourth Grade. While their ICL skills are far from complete, the students have the foundation skills and know how to find tutorials and experts among their co-learners to self teach. This connects to the construction of one’s personal learning system that empowers and skills students to use ICL to become more effective learners.

Virtual School Providers in the News

The Washington Post, New York Times and WSJ published articles in the past month about virtual school providers. The main provider is K12 located in Northern Virginia. Tom Ashbrook on his On Point radio show also covered this topic with his usual finesse in trying to show all sides of the issue. Diane Rhem just produced a show looking at how well our higher education system is functioning in the US looking at for profit online providers as well. So whether you have a long holiday drive or some down time during the holidays, check the links to the articles and podcasts at the end of this post.

I continue to look for all the information I can find to decipher what is working and not working when it comes to virtual learning providers. As a curriculum designer and teacher who has been using a blended learning environment in my teaching for many years, I have a good understanding of how much curriculum development work is needed to create a learning community for one’s online students. Just as we want project-based, collaborative learning driven by students’ questions and curiosity in our regular classrooms, we must put in the extra design time to create learning activities that involve collaboration and engagement for our online students to stretch their minds to the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

While it is a good thing when topics we discuss in the blogosphere make it to the mainstream, it is taking my best information literacy skills to work through the following articles and podcasts to really get at the facts. I have many questions for companies like K12, Kaplan, Connections Education, etc. and would love to see  some of their units of study to see how they build in community for their learners.

WP article

NYT article

WSJ article

Tom Ashbrook podcast

Diane Rehm podcast

Virtual Learning & Volcanic Ash

Volcano in Iceland“Mr. C, we are in crisis!” This was the Google Chat that appeared on my screen this morning. My student went on to stay that she and another student were stuck in Paris and probably would not be able to return to Morocco until Thursday as the airport is shutdown due to the volcanic ash from Iceland.

I then asked if she had checked Edline that lists the assignments for the coming week and if she had posted five possible research questions in her Mindmeister mind map. Her response was “yes” and could I take a look at them.

I went to her mind map and left comments to help my student narrow down her questions to one. She is now ready to use her time effectively in Paris by working on the research process and doing the regular classroom homework. In both cases, I am able to access her work using online collaborative tools.

After sending out an email to all my students to check on their status, I will see how many other students will miss some class this week but will still be able to continue their learning wherever they may be “stuck”.

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