Last year, I found myself out of the classroom for various trainings as well as for the birth of my third child. Things were very hectic for me, and I feel my students struggled in maintaining their expectations for themselves and their sense of the seriousness of their education. There were several days when I was mentally and physically exhausted, and I succumbed to the “worksheet mentality.” Those days I feel my students missed out. They were cheated. For this reason, I think that being in class “virtually” is better than not being there at all.
Preparing a lesson in advance will not only benefit your students in the long run, but it will also show that you take their education seriously. One lost minute is one minute too many. Through the use of various free, low-cost tools, you can create powerful slide shows, video podcasts, and handouts to keep your students engaged while you are out of the classroom. In short, you can leave them a digital substitute. Read last week's post to learn more about digital substitutes, and continue reading here for ideas for creating content for your digital substitute.
If your absence is planned, you can prepare in advance and continue on with a current lesson within a unit you are working on. However, in the event of an unplanned absence, what do you do? In those instances, you could provide a supplement to your curriculum, something you may or may not cover during the year. Depending on your preference, you may discuss a broad topic or a specific one in your digital lecture.
A digital substitute plan can be put together fairly quickly — within an hour if content (slide show, etc.) is already created. I would allow a little longer if you are unfamiliar with the tools and software you are using (stay tuned for my next post, "Five Tools for Creating the Digital Substitute"). The generation of content is completely up to the teacher. The possibilities are endless.
I am an English teacher, and I will discuss the content I have produced to create digital substitutes for my classes. From the “broad” content perspective, I have focused on specific authors of the same genre from different time periods. For example, I created a video focusing on Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. These two authors are very different, but there are similarities to discuss. In addition to my slide show and audio, I found a video to supplement my presented material. So the actual “instructional time” of the video file is about 15 to 20 minutes. As students watch the digital lesson, they fill in the blanks on a notes sheet the substitute hands out. The lesson ends with a writing prompt comparing and contrasting Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.
A more specific digital lesson focuses on the short story “A Sound of Thunder.” In this digital lesson, I discuss briefly the plot of the story on video. Next, I show them a brief clip from Back to the Future to tie in the idea of time travel. I also show a clip of Jurassic Park so they understand the size of a dinosaur (as depicted by Hollywood). After they view the clips, I give them a writing assignment. I ask them to answer the following questions: 1) Where/when would you go if you could travel back in time? Why? 2) What elements of foreshadowing did Bradbury use in the story? 3) How did these elements add suspense to the story? 4) What was the “sound of thunder” at the end? Support your answer.
I hope that showing these two ways — broad and specific — to prepare content for a digital lesson will help you in planning your own.
Of course, a digital substitute can be created for other subject areas, like science, math, and history. For example, in the science classroom, you could focus on a specific scientist or you could narrow it down and do a lesson focusing on “solving” Punnet squares. In math, you could discuss a mathematician or narrow it down and do a lesson on polynomials. In history, you could explore an era, or you could cover a specific event. As I said above, the content possibilities are endless. The greatest thing about creating the digital substitute is that you choose the content and the activity that goes along with it.
Do you have any strategies to keep students learning while you are out of the classroom?