Distance Learning Week 4: Making Things Fun

As news of the Pandemic becomes more bleak, it’s very easy to get caught up in all of the sadness, anger, frustration, and negativity: Who’s fault is it?  Why are so many people dying?  When will this be over?  Will I be next?  As a husband, father, and teacher, I try to rise above it all.  I attempt to find the positive needle in this negative haystack.  I need to focus on the good so that I can be available as the best husband, father, and teacher possible in these difficult times.  Recently, I’ve been avoiding the mainstream media as a way to filter out some of the negativity, and in doing so, I happened upon a wonderful resource called Good News Network.  It is a website devoted to positive and encouraging news.  They feature stories of hope and happiness.  They highlight the heroes in our communities and all of the great and wonderful things that are still taking place during these uncertain times.  People are finding ways to make face masks for the hearing impaired.  How cool is that?  Scientists are creating powerful new solar cells with increased efficiency.  Even in the darkness there is hope.  I used this website with my students yesterday to discuss positive current events happening around the world.  They really liked learning about the wonderful things people are doing to help one another in this time of quarantine and uncertainty.  This wonderfully curated list of positive news is helping me, my students, and many others see the light and goodness when it is so easy to allow the negativity and darkness to permeate our daily lives.  Focusing on the positive helps me to be more self-aware so that when I do learn that my school, as well as every other school in the state of New Hampshire, will be closing out this academic year with distance learning, I can find the silver lining and not allow the sadness to mentally crush me.

As I’m sure this remote learning, social distancing, and quarantining is super challenging for my students, I spent this week trying to find new ways to inject fun into our virtual classroom experience.  I want to try to bring some positivity and happiness to them, as we wade through these difficult times together.

  • We end each academic day with a funny joke as way of ending our Closing Meeting.  While the jokes are silly and probably funnier for me, smiles still fill the screens after I recite the punchline.  Laughter can be powerful medicine in these difficult times.  Yesterday’s joke came from one of the students: “A man spilled a bunch of Scrabble letters onto the pavement as he crossed the road, and so, I asked him, ‘What’s the word on the street?'”  Hilarious, right?  It definitely helped us close out our day of virtual learning in a fun manner.
  • One of my students asked if we could do some sort of breakdown or closing chant to end our Closing Meeting after the Joke of the Day, like we do when we are on-site.  So, I brought this idea to the class during Friday’s Morning Meeting, and they voted to add this new piece to our virtual class day.  Yesterday was our first day, and it was a big hit.  The students loved standing up, putting their hands towards the camera, and then chanting, “vBHS Fifth Grade Rocks!”  Click HERE to view a video of yesterday’s breakdown.
  • I wanted to find a way to bring some humor to our video conferences.  As my school uses Google Meet for our online conferencing format, there are very few bells and whistles offered within the program to jazz things up.  So, I did some research and discovered this fun little add-on app that can be used to make our virtual meetings and classes a little bit more fun.  It’s called Snap Camera.  It’s free and easy to use.  Thursday morning, I entered our Morning Meeting conference using the underwater theme and background.  My students were laughing and asking me how I did it.  I told them that my fish tank had broken overnight and filled my apartment with water and fish.  They giggled and then asked, “No, really Mr. Holt, how did you do that?”  They wanted to try it out too.  Now, they get excited for our video conferences to find out what I might look like.

Underwater Pic

  • As I now know that we will not be returning to school for the remainder of this school year, I realized that we will not be able to have the Marble Party my students had planned prior to March Break.  Is there a way to conduct a virtual celebration?  I started looking at online Karaoke websites and other fun things that I might be able to do with my students to celebrate and have some fun.  I’m still brainstorming ideas, and I’m going to pose this same question to my students next week as well.  Perhaps they have some ideas for virtual parties.  I am certain that we will be able to come up with something fun.
  • At the close of the school year, I like to have my students complete a project that allows them to leave their mark on our school.  I call it the Betterment Project.  It was super fun last year.  My students built a garden, started a school store, constructed a free lending library for the community, and reorganized our classroom library.  It was awesome.  Then I started thinking, will we be able to do the Betterment Project this year?  Can it be adapted for our distance learning program?  Well, perhaps.  They could find a way to do something from home.  What if they found a way to leave their mark on their community in a safe way?  Or, maybe they could create or build something remotely that could be brought to school when it is safe to do so?  Then, I started thinking about our community garden.  What if I had the supplies for the garden at the school and then assigned each interested and able family a time to go to the garden to work on one part of it?  That way they would still be adhering to the social distancing guidelines.  That might work.  I need to keep thinking on this one, but I feel like I can still find a way to make the Betterment Project work somehow within the parameters of our remote learning program.

While all of these additions to our distance learning program seem like little things, they are making a big difference for my students.  My students love being at our school and in our classroom because it is a fun place to be, and so I’m trying to bring some of this fun and excitement to our virtual classroom.  And, I think it might be working.  The students are putting forth great effort in completing their work and they join our Google Meet sessions early to connect with one another and stay on late to laugh and talk about life.  It’s nice to see so much light in these challenging times.

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