8 Key Distance Learning Approaches | Twig Distance Learning

Over the last few months, teachers and students have had to adapt to distance learning, which comes with a whole host of new challenges. Since most of us are unlikely to get back full-time to a normal classroom anytime soon, it’s important to find ways to make distance learning as successful as possible. 

There are several reasons why distance learning can sometimes be a challenge. One-to-one contact is important for motivation and accountability, and students are less likely to continually engage in coursework without personal contact with teachers and classmates. It’s also not as straightforward for struggling students to receive the support they need if they’re not in the same room as their teachers. 

On top of that, not all children have easy access to digital devices or a good internet connection. While teachers can’t control a student’s home environment, there are some things you can do to ensure your students stay engaged, challenged, and motivated. 

Here are our top tips for how to successfully navigate a distance learning environment.

  1. Make it fun

This one might seem obvious, but it’s arguably even more important in a distance learning classroom. Students need to feel motivated to keep coming back to virtual lessons, engage with group work, and do their independent work. Change it up every day and make use of digital resources like videos, interactive games, and hands-on activities. 

  1. Don’t lecture—prioritize conversation

Keep the explaining to a minimum and prioritize video content, investigatory projects, or independent research to ensure that students familiarize themselves with topics before coming to class. Reserve face-to-face time for conversations, feedback, and hands-on projects. 

  1. Make learning as collaborative and interactive as possible

This is trickier in a distance learning environment, but not impossible. Make use of break-out rooms (available with most video conference platforms) to encourage group work and/or discussion, assign practical projects as homework, and use interactive activities and games when suitable.  

  1. Make use of a learning management system (LMS)

Using an LMS or other application for sharing content can help immensely in a distance learning environment. For example, students can be asked to share research findings or work on group projects in shared documents. In addition, an LMS will usually allow you to easily share videos or other content with students as “assignments.” 

  1. Hold students accountable

Students who are naturally self-motivated are often more successful in a distance learning environment. With students who struggle, there are strategies you can use:

  • Prioritize group assignments over individual homework, and make use of break-out rooms during class time to give groups dedicated time to catch up. 
  • Keep parents in the loop. Of course, parents aren’t teachers, and most will have jobs that take up their time, but many will likely be keen to keep their kids accountable when it comes to doing their schoolwork. 
  1. Set clear individual goals and check learning

Look at how each student has performed recently and put together goals for them to achieve. Tailor your lesson content and assignments to meet these goals, and make sure to check students’ learning regularly. This will help motivate students to learn and means you can keep track of student needs.

  1. Don’t forget about differentiation

It can be challenging to cater to every single student in a distance learning environment, but it’s perhaps even more important. There are a few things you can do to help: 

  • Put groups of students together in different break-out rooms. Depending on the task, it may be more helpful to either put students of the same ability together, or group students in a range of different abilities. 
  • Adapt homework and feedback to student needs. Not everyone learns in the same way, and some students may need additional help in certain areas. 
  • Find learning resources that allow for differentiated learning, such as videos that come with captions/voice-overs in different language levels or different languages. 
  1. Find reliable resources

Having a reliable resource that you trust and can use for a wide range of purposes is essential for successful distance learning. Twig Distance Learning does just that. Our distance learning solution is based on our full PreK/TK–8 standards-based science program. In addition to the full Twig Science program, Twig DL features additional support:

  • Twig Coach videos are bite-sized studio quality coaching videos, presented by experienced teachers who lead students through each lesson, encouraging participation and engagement.
  • Video Labs allow students to take part in experiments from home. Students can now investigate and participate in experiments with our digital labs, created to support teaching hands on science. 

We hope that these tips will help you feel more equipped to tackle distance learning in the future. 

Teenage girl student at a high school standing among the students and looking at camera. All students wearing N95 Face masks waiting in line.

Global Approaches to School Reopenings

Teenage girl student at a high school standing among the students and looking at camera. All students wearing N95 Face masks waiting in line.

In March, the world came to a halt and schools closed for weeks, sometimes months, on end. Since then, countries have slowly started reopening schools, trying to find a new normal—but what is this new normal? Different countries have had different strategies, and the world is still figuring the best approach.

What are the pros and cons of reopening schools?

A much-cited argument for opening schools is that those under the age of 18 are less likely to catch the virus and less likely to get severely ill.(1) However, there have been cases of children under 18 falling seriously ill, even if it is rarer.(2) Naturally, many parents are wary of putting their children at risk, even with a smaller risk of illness.

But there are other aspects to the problem. For many families, not being able to send their children to school can have tough consequences: parents may not be able to work full-time, resulting in less income, and in some places, children rely on school lunches to not have to go hungry. Students also risk falling behind without adequate support. As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points out, schools are “critical to addressing racial and social inequity” and school closures impact differently on “diverse racial, ethnic, and vulnerable groups.”(3) As a result, schools reopening has been a priority for many countries.

Global approaches

Denmark and Norway have often been mentioned as success stories: only about a month after schools first closed, primary students were welcomed back in smaller classes with stricter rules about hygiene and social distancing. In Denmark, students were assigned to “micro-groups” of 12 students, arriving at separate times. So far, neither country has reported a spike in cases as a result of schools reopening.(4) 

The majority of countries that have started reopening schools have done so with at least some changes to hygiene rules and physical distancing. Many countries have also staggered starting and ending times.(2) Younger students have often been welcomed back first, since they are less likely to get infected. This is also beneficial to families as parents don’t have to worry about supervising their children and can go back to work. 

While some countries have gone for the physical distancing approach, some are opting for the safety of face coverings instead. Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are some of the countries where face masks are now required. Meanwhile, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Norway and Switzerland have instead reduced class sizes to allow for a 6ft distance between students.(2) There is still little evidence for which of these approaches is the most effective in a school environment. 

Do schools really play a big role in spreading the virus? 

In Israel, schools reopened at the end of May, which led to several schools becoming clusters of infection. However, this is thought to be due to much less strict social distancing and preventive measures, and higher infection rates throughout the country.(4) Israel is thought to be an exception, as most countries report no significant effect from schools reopening.

In a German study, a very small number of the 2,000 schoolchildren and teachers involved showed COVID-19 antibodies. Another study compared Finland and Sweden, two countries that have a similar demographic but tackled school closures very differently. Both countries showed a similar, very small number of cases among school-aged children. These studies both suggest that schools don’t play a significant role in spreading the virus.(2) That said, we are still at the very beginning of research around COVID-19, and until we know more, caution is advisable. 

Going forward

Some countries that successfully reopened in the spring, such as Japan, are now planning to reopen without full social distancing measures. However, facial coverings are still mandatory and stricter hygiene measures are still in place. In France, the distancing requirement has been reduced to one meter. Many countries, such as Canada, are sorting students into “bubbles,” allowing for less physical distancing measures and more students attending schools.(5) Countries that have high infection rates are now beginning to welcome students back for the new school year, whether in-person or remotely. 

In the United States, most school districts are opting for distance learning as the new school year starts this month.(6) Of the country’s 15 biggest school districts, only one is offering in-person instruction:

  • New York City, Chicago and Hawaii are opting for a hybrid model, with students attending school a few days a week and learning from home the rest of the time. Students are also required to socially distance and wear face coverings. 
  • Districts that are only offering digital, remote learning include Los Angeles (CA), Clark County (NV), Houston (TX), Palm Beach (FL), Wake County (NC), and others. 
  • Orange County, Florida is offering students and parents a choice between in-person only or online only instruction.(7)

Both the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the AAP have published recommendations for school reopenings. The CDC recommends increased supervision around hand hygiene and “respiratory etiquette,” regular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, spaced seating and physical barriers as appropriate, and face coverings if feasible.(8) Similarly, the AAP recommends smaller classes, physical distancing and face coverings whenever possible.(3) 

There are of course many variables that can affect the success of reopenings, such as the number of cases in the state, the size of the school, the combination of various measures, etc. Ultimately, it is a question of finding the right balance between keeping the rate of infection low, while simultaneously ensuring that children receive an education. As the year progresses, we are likely to find out more about what strategies are successful. 

As we move forward, teachers and students will likely have to get used to distance learning as part of their education, even if it’s only part-time. Thankfully, many educational companies now offer tailored distance learning solutions that will help teachers give students a full learning experience, even during the time they spend learning from home. 

At Twig Science, we have worked hard to produce a distance learning solution that works, complete with coaching videos presented by experienced teachers, and science lab videos that allows students to take part in experiments from home. Find out more!

SOURCES:

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/14/school-reopenings-what-can-the-us-learn-from-other-countries-experiences

(2) https://globalhealth.washington.edu/file/6393/download

(3) https://www.aappublications.org/news/2020/06/26/schoolreopening062620

(4) https://www.vox.com/2020/7/15/21324082/coronavirus-school-reopening-trump-children-safety

(5) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/schools-reopening-coronavirus/2020/07/10/865fb3e6-c122-11ea-8908-68a2b9eae9e0_story.html

(6) https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/508105-heres-your-states-plan-for-reopening-schools

(7) https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/30/us/schools-reopening-district-plans/index.html

(8) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html

5 Cool Science Activities to Keep Kids Learning During the Holidays

In the past, summer learning was sometimes treated as an optional, not-so-important part of education. After all, summer was all about taking a break from school. Not this year! With the COVID-19 outbreak, parents have been getting involved in home schooling this summer whether they like it or not, and we know that sometimes it can be hard to continually come up with new educational activities! 

Never fear, we’ve got a few good ideas of our own—after all, Twig Science Tools is packed full of them—and we’d like to share five of our favorites. We know all about how important it is to fight the summer learning gap, but at the same time, summer is all about fun, so we’ve selected activities that kids will really enjoy. They may not even realize they’re learning science at the same time—but they will be! So whether you’re a teacher looking for inspiration for summer school, or a parent looking to keep their kids busy over summer, the following activities are a great addition to your toolbox!

1. Grow Your Own Geode

Geodes are natural rock formations that have cavities lined with crystals or other minerals. They’re typically formed in igneous rocks by cooling lava or magma—but you can encourage your children to grow their own geodes, helping them to learn how different minerals create crystals of different sizes and shapes based on saturation levels and cooling rates.

What you need:

  • Alum powder
  • Epsom salts
  • Borax
  • PVA glue
  • Empty, clean eggshell halves
  • Food coloring
  • Three cups
  • An empty egg carton

Procedure: Coat each eggshell half with glue. Sprinkle a couple of shells with Epsom salts, a couple with borax and a couple with alum powder. Let these dry overnight in the empty egg carton. In the morning, fill the three cups with boiling water and add several drops of food coloring to each. Pour alum powder into the first cup into it stops dissolving; add borax to the second cup in the same way; and saturate the third with Epsom salts. It’s essential that in all three cases the mixtures are saturated—i.e., as much as can be dissolved in the liquid is dissolved. Pour each mixture into its corresponding geode: the alum mixture should be poured into the eggshell coated with alum, the borax mixture into the shell coated with Borax, and the Epsom salts mixture into the shell coated with the Epsom salts. Leave the shells to cool. Observe them after an interval of four hours and another of 10 hours, and then look again the following morning. What happens to the geodes? Do the crystals get bigger if they are left to cool longer? Which mixture creates the most beautiful crystals? See? Fun and scientific learning rolled into one. You now also have a number of beautiful paperweights!

2. Windmill Garden Ornaments

These beauties help kids learn how to measure the velocity and direction of the wind, as well as providing you with beautiful decorations for your garden. Why could it be important to measure the wind? Well, this natural resource is a major source of energy, and countries all over the world use wind turbines or windmills to harness this energy. Pinwheels use the same principle as windmills or wind turbines, providing an excellent way to study how wind energy can be captured so that it can then be converted to electric energy.

 What you need (per windmill):

  • Square of colored paper, 8 x 8 inches (20 × 20 cm)
  • Scissors
  • Pushpin
  • Length of thin dowelling

Procedure: Fold the square of paper in half diagonally, then open out before folding diagonally again perpendicular to the first fold. Open out flat. Use the scissors to cut along the folds, stopping each cut around 3 cm from the centre. Pull down alternating corners to the centre of the square, taking care not to fold or crease them. Hold each of the corners gently in place until you’ve pulled down all of them, then secure with the pushpin. Push the pushpin into the top of the dowelling, but leave just enough space to allow the windmill to turn.

Choose a windy day to take the windmills out. Ask your child to look at the front of the pinwheel. How fast does it go? What way do they need to hold the pinwheel in order for it to spin the fastest?

3. Color Your Flowers

This is a fun little activity to get young children interested in botany by showing them how water is transported in plants.

What you need:

  • Several white flowers (chrysanthemums or carnations work best)
  • Several different colors of food colouring.
  • Lukewarm water
  • Small vases

Procedure: Begin by cutting about a quarter from the bottom of a stem of each flower, making sure to cut at an angle. Line up the vases and fill each about halfway with lukewarm water. Ask the children to pour around four or five drops of food coloring in each vase. Alternately, you could vary the amount of one color that you put in each vase: one drop of dye in the first vase, four in the second, eight in the third, and so on. Now place a single flower in each vase and leave them for a day. Over time, you’ll see the flowers take on the colour of the water. How did that happen? Which colour is the darkest and which is the lightest? Why is one flower a pink colour while the other a deep red when they all have red food colouring? You can also remove a flower to cut the stem halfway, showing your children how the inside of the stem is the same colour as the water. You can have a lot of fun with this experiment using different flowers—you could even split the bottom of the stem of a flower vertically into two and put each half in a vase with a different color!

4. Edible Stained Glass

Food science at its best! Adding food coloring to this experiment gives it that artistic touch that kids love. It does require constant adult supervision, but the results are stunning and delicious. You can find the full experiment here.

What you will need:

  • Saucepan
  • 13/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) light corn syrup
  • Pinch cream of tartar
  • 1 cup (240 ml) water
  • Food coloring (preferably in at least three different colours)
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Baking sheet or disposable baking tray
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Procedure: In the saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and cream of tartar with the water and place over a very low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is dissolved and becomes transparent. Check the temperature using the thermometer and let the mixture slowly come to the boil: for this mixture, about 300–310℉ (149–154℃). In the meantime, spray the baking tray with the nonstick cooking spray. When the sugar mixture comes to the boil, remove from the heat and pour the mixture very carefully into the baking tray, watching out for splatters. Allow the kids—still under supervision!—to sprinkle drops of food coloring over the mixture before spreading them in swirling patterns using a wooden spoon or butter knife. Leave the mixture to cool for a few hours. Once cool, remove the stunning glasslike sugar pane.

5. Grow a Plant Without a Seed

Farmers and gardeners use botanical science all the time when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables. Asexual reproduction of plants is an important part of the curriculum, so why not give the kids a head start for next year while cultivating some homegrown herbs at the same time?

What you need:

  • Old jelly jars (cleaned thoroughly)
  • Shop-bought basil, mint, and coriander
  • Room-temperature water

Procedure: Select a couple of healthy stalks and trim their ends. Let the children gently remove the lower leaves, but make sure to keep the top leaves intact. Half-fill each glass jar with the room-temperature water. Place the stalks in the water so that the nodes left from where you pulled the lower leaves off are submerged, but make sure the top leaves remain above the water line. Place jars in a well-lit area (although out of direct sunlight). In two weeks’ time the stalks should sprout roots and be ready to be potted up. Ask the kids if they thought that this would be possible.

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For lots more inspiring activities—plus high-quality science videos and lessons—check out Twig Science Tools