5 Tips to Engaging Learners Through Digital Learning

By: Lindsay Bauer, Branching Out Trainer & Coach, M.Ed. in Reading & Elementary Ed

Well, here we are my friends. Captured in an unprecedented time. As educators, we are now called to teach, engage, and prepare the children of our country away from the comfort of our own classrooms! All of our lesson plans, resources, and manipulatives are quarantined. Okay, well maybe not "quarantined," but you get the drift!

I am here to tell you that online teaching is not only possible, but a treat, my friends! I have had the incredible opportunity to be an online educator for the past year and a half. I work for a program that teaches English to students in China. Those students rock my world! However, you have the upper hand. You know your students personally. You have watched them walk through your door day in and day out. You have given them high-fives, wiped their tears, laughed at their jokes, ingested their germs, etc... You probably know these students better than they know themselves! You have the unique opportunity to have each student in mind as you create the online curriculum they need to be successful. You've got this!

So, now what? Can we still be effective teachers while still in our jammies? I want to hear a collective, "YES!" Now is the time to press on. Be fearless! Eat the last cupcake! We are all in this together! I wanted to share with you some tips and tricks I have learned along the way that has helped me to become the best educator I can be for my students.

Tip #1: Know Your Online Platform

Our administrators and directors are frantically trying to create online programs that will offer the best tools for their teachers and students. The least we can do is get the know the program, and know it well! I have already had many teachers tell me, "I don't know if I can teach using a computer! I am not 'tech savvy!'" Friends, you do not have to be Bill Gates to teach online. However, you will need to commit some time to learn the platform. If your school is using YouTube, it is as easy as Googling a YouTube tutorial to teach you how to post your first video (Don't worry, I looked ahead of time, and there are actually many videos to help you!). If your school chooses a platform like Blackboard, Performance Pro., Teachable, etc... dig deep into the structure of this program. It will take some time, but you want to be fully knowledgeable when your students begin the program and before you are bombarded with questions from the parents. Be prepared and ready to help them.... and let's be real, be ready to help ourselves!

Tip #2: Be a Rockstar

Yep! I know many of you are already saying, "Um, I'm already a rockstar! Next tip!" Let me tell you, you are absolutely right! Teachers are some of the most incredible individuals on this planet, and I have had the honor to watch them in action over my many years of teaching (Yes, I'm old. Let's not go there!)! So, remember now that you are at home, your students still depend on you to be that same rockstar. Many of our students are going home to undesirable environments. Your classroom was the one time in their day where they felt safe and loved. Really sit and ponder that for a minute. We have a massive responsibility. Even though we cannot physically be in each of their homes, we can offer the same love and support online. When you record your lessons, be your same smart, loving, crazy self that your students are used to seeing. If you are not video recording your lessons, portray yourself clearly in your agendas, syllabi, and communication. Be available for them. Create office hours so they can reach you. Of course we are there to educate, but as you all know, it is so much more than that! They NEED you! Be there!

Tip #3: Let the Students do the Work

This new-fangled way of teaching is so new to many of you that you may be unsure as to how to have the students complete their work from home. However, they definitely need to be challenged to do so. Spring Break has come and gone, not it is time to learn again! Your objectives for your students have not changed. Let's get going! How does this look for you specifically? Now, this is going to be unique to each school. I have heard that some schools are having the students pick up packets once a week in the office. I have heard that other schools are asking the students' homework to be scanned and emailed. While other schools are using an online platform that will allow the students to complete all work within the program. So, first of all, discover the program your school is implementing over the next few weeks so you know how to prepare for your students.

It may be up to you. You may want to create a discussion platform for your students. There are many websites you can use to invoke discussions with your students. The website: YO Teach! is a backchannel web app teachers can use to create and moderate chat rooms for real-time student interaction. would be a great way to get them interacting with each other at a time of "social distancing." If your students have smartphones, they can download a free app to scan their work and send it to you. Genius Scan is a free app for students. They can easily scan their homework and have it sent right to your email. Do not be afraid of technology. Many of these programs are very user friendly and will gently guide you through the process!

Tip #4: Get Creative

While your students are learning at home, look for new and exciting ways for them to be engaged. There are so many websites available that offer incredible opportunities for your students.

Virtual Field Trips

Many of the museums, zoos, aquariums, etc... around the world have created virtual field trips for students. Places like the Louvre, the San Diego Zoo, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium invite people into their world via the Internet. You can even tour the Great Wall of China! It is really spectacular. Encourage your students to take a trip with you! Watch the pandas at The Smithsonian National Zoo together (I may or may not have clicked on a panda cam and watched pandas play for way too long during my research). Many of these sites also include lesson plans that you can integrate into your plans as well!

The Louvre:

The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The San Diego Zoo

The Smithsonian National Zoo

Ouwehand Park Polar Bear Cubs Rhenen, Netherland

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Great Wall of China

Free Learning Websites

There are so many free websites out there available to our students! I will list a few, but please do yourself a favor and research these free sites! These sites will offer children the opportunity to enjoy interactive programs while learning! Now, some of these locations you may already be aware of, and may even utilize within your classrooms. However, I promise you my friends, there are SO many more that you have not even heard about.....YET!

For Primary Students:

For Middle School/High School Students:

OK Go Sandbox: Creative music video-inspired STEAM design challenges

DIY: Design, build, and share new things offline and online

PenPal Schools: Give students global perspective with pen pal projects in any subject

iCivics: Exceptionally well-designed games, lesson plans demystify government.

Learn Out Loud: Provides an extensive directory of free audio books, lectures, speeches, interviews, and other educational audio and video resources

Khan Academy: Helps students learn through video tutorials, interactive exercises, in-depth articles covering topics such math, science, economics, history, and more.

TedEd: Provides a huge collection of educational video content to inspire, challenge and enrich students learning experiences.

CK-12: Provides a library of free online textbooks, videos, exercises, flashcards, and real world applications for over 5000 concepts from arithmetic to history.

Tip #5: Ask for Feedback

We all know this is not how we expected to spend the rest of our school year. We are now creating online platforms, researching websites, downloading scanning apps, etc... However, we are teachers! The rockstars, remember? Take joy in the small blessings...bathroom breaks whenever you want, teaching in jammies, and staying healthy for more than a week! You've got this! But, since this is all so new for us, we need to be ready and available for some (deep breath) constructive criticism. We want what is best for our students, right? We need to allow the opportunity for feedback from administrators, parents, and students. Be open to change! If one website does not offer what the students need, change it. If a parent has done some solid research for you, take it! If an administrator tells you that you need to change a lesson, quit your job. Ha, ha! Man, I make myself laugh sometimes! Seriously though, friends, listen to, lean on, and pray for your principals! They are in the trenches just like you are! We all need to support each other during this time! If you are willing to listen to feedback from those around you, you are going to create a classroom full of engaged learners! What an exciting opportunity!

Okay, friends! Get ready! We are in a season of change! However, we are going to go into the uncertainty with open minds and open hearts, together! You will be prepared and ready for some exciting new lessons. You are fantastic teachers! You've got this!

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