Teaching kindergarten is my jam. It is something that I absolutely love doing and find that it has become second nature to me. Those closest to me always joke that I love it so much because I’m a 28-year-old child at heart. I still play video games every night, I have the same taste in food as the kids in my class, and I can’t help but laugh at a cheesy joke. Student engagement has always come naturally to me – at least until mid-March of 2020 when I heard the words, “Mr. Steen, this is boring.”
I remember sitting at a makeshift workspace in my kitchen thinking, “You know what, you’re right. This is boring. How can I make virtual learning engaging and fun?” At that time, I landed on fun videos: Secret Agent Steen, Steen the Pirate, or Steen the Builder. If you can think of it, I probably did it. The students loved them, but as the year came to an end, I quickly realized I was going to need to think outside of the box if I was going to keep students engaged during live virtual sessions for an entire school year.
Calendar time has taken a leap into the future – no more simply talking about calendar features or how to find the correct date on a calendar. If you walk past my classroom at 7:35 a.m. on any given day of the week, you’re going to hear me and 20 virtual students belting out our days of the week and color songs, or warming up with a morning dance video. Students may give the daily weather report from their home by taking their computer to the nearest window and describe what they see. You may catch us using the new Google Meets Breakout Room feature to get into small groups and discuss how we’re feeling at the start of the day.
Our math block looks a bit different this year too. One thing that’s worked exceptionally well in a virtual setting is finding an opportunity to get students moving around in a productive way instead of just sitting behind their computer screen. Each day I allocate 5-10 minutes to build number sense and fluency through exercise. One activity that my students particularly love is subitizing with dominos and body movement. I’ll show my students a number set between 0-10 and we’ll talk about how we see the set, followed by doing that many of a given exercise. It’s simple, easy, and my kids love it. Plus, it’s a great way to get the wiggles out for both the kids and myself.
Making virtual learning hands on whenever possible has been a top priority. A team member gave me the idea to make a tool kit for each student, and those learner toolkits have been the best investment I’ve made as a virtual teacher. These kits include a range of objects based on grade level. My toolkits include materials that I will use during whole group instruction at various points throughout the year. These are also great during school party time when you can throw in fun activities like “paint a pumpkin” or “create your own slime.”
I challenge you to try new things. Take this as an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, collaborate with others, and make this a year to remember.
Apple Glen Elementary