As more and more teachers decide to make the transition to teaching online, they want to be equipped with the best resources and training to serve their students.
For the Proximity Learning December webinar, certified virtual teacher Dawn Comer joins host Dr. April Willis as they discuss free resources and educator preparation tools. Ms. Comer taught in brick and mortar middle schools for 30 years before switching to live online instruction with Proximity Learning three years ago. Ms. Comer also received a certificate in virtual instruction from the National Virtual Teacher Association (NVTA), a program that has identified exactly what makes a high-quality virtual instructor and has created a certification that sets the bar for non-traditional learning and prepares teachers with tools to be successful in their virtual classroom.
Where do you find your favorite free resources for the virtual classroom?
Ms. Comer: Okay, so these are my absolute favorite places I’m just loving. One of my favorites is CK-12. It's mostly Math, Science, Social Studies, and Vocabulary and it's from kindergarten all the way up to college. It's free, you just sign up. You can get certified in CK-12, and I'm working on that certification. The great thing about CK-12 is you can do activities for the advanced kids, but it also has assignments for your lower level and every kid in between. You can differentiate your lessons. When you're looking for that differentiation, that's the place to go.
Another one of my favorite resources is Nearpod. They have tons of lessons already created, but you can make your own lessons. There’s a free version and a paid version. Proximity Learning has the paid version, and it’s wonderful.
There’s another one called Gimkit. It’s kind of like Kahoot, but you have a lot more options. So you can play a game like Among Us, because the kids love the game Among Us.
PhET shows interactive simulations from the University of Colorado. It's mainly for Science, Physics, and Biology. It takes the place of Adobe Flash, so if you're a Science teacher and you want to do virtual labs, this is the place to go. It does elementary, middle, and high school. It also ties in with Nearpod, so you can use them together.
Goddard USD Public Schools Kansas is a phenomenal school system if you need worksheets or activities. Type in your grade and subject, and it will pull up more than you ever could use for every concept you’ll teach throughout the whole year. If I need a quick worksheet or a quick review, I go there. It’s just a great website.
How have the free rubrics from NVTA influenced your instructional practice?
Ms. Comer: Those free rubrics have made me a lot more focused. It's given me a roadmap to where I need to be — it gives me a place to start and a place I need to go. Also, every school district is different, so because you're not going to the faculty meetings and you're not going to their staff development for that county, you're having to figure out what they want on your own. I also have a TA in one of my schools and for the other school, I don’t. And so you're trying to figure out what they're wanting. The rubrics help you if you have a question. I always go back to the rubrics and read through them and say okay, they're wanting me to do this and the rubric saying this. It gives me clarity on what I need to do. And then, if I still have a question, then I can go to my Vice Principal or to my contact person at the school just to make sure, but I use those rubrics all the time, so that I know that I am where I need to be.
What is something you wish someone would have prepared you for when you first started virtual teaching?
Ms. Comer: I wish I had a list of go-to resources that I could pull and then tweak to make my own. It may not be exactly what I would want, but it would be something I could use to start out with. Or, it could be an idea like this is what you’re going to need to do and this is what you need to create.
What tips do you have for successful breakout room assignments?
Ms. Comer: I have kids that have an AIG plan and kids that have an IEP plan. I will differentiate their assignments and separate them. I will go into the breakout rooms. I will tell one group what to do and give them help and then the other. A lot of times when the kids finish up, they will want to go in and help those kids who are not finished. They will do some peer tutoring.
When students exhibit a lack of motivation or isolation, what instructional strategies do you implement and how did you discover these strategies?
Ms. Comer: I talk to them, and I find out what they're interested in. If I can figure out what they're interested in, then I can go find activities for them to do. I can base my activities and lesson plans on what I can get them motivated with. I’ve found that because I took the time to figure out what they like, they’re going to do their work for me.
What professional development topic have you learned the most from?
Ms. Comer: I think any PD that teaches a student how to be interactive. When I did the Nearpod certification, I learned a lot. I learned a lot from the NVTA certification. I learned so much from it. Currently, I am working on my certification from CK-12. My next goal is to become a Google certified educator because there are so many applications for Google. I think anything that we can use to get our kids interactive. It doesn’t matter whether we’re teaching virtually or we’re teaching in brick and mortar, our kids need to be interactive.
When you encounter a challenge in the virtual world, where do you go to find solutions?
Ms. Comer: My first stop is to go to YouTube first because when I wanted to learn how to do a digital interactive notebook, I went to YouTube and I was able to figure it out and I was able to start. If I cannot find it there, of course, I go to Google. But I also have friends that are tech savvy, so it’s always good to know somebody who knows a little bit more about technology.
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