How to improve your online classes and engage students during the COVID Lockdown Preview

The problem with the attention of students

We all know that it is very hard to control students’ attention even in an in-person classroom and it is even harder in a remote learning environment from home.
Now with remote learning, a teacher must be even more engaging, and the best teachers integrate more and more playful based learning so that students are interested and involved.
In this article, we will share how to achieve that, what are the best practices and benefits and how to convince your decision-makers to allow more play-based learning in your virtual and physical classrooms.


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  • #1686
  • 25 Nov 2020

What is Play-based Learning

Play-based learning allows the students to solve problems imaginatively and playfully, while they are exploring and discovering the world.
Break the mold of the typical classroom where the teacher reads the lessons and gives the assignments from the textbook. In play-based learning, students must use toys, household objects, make-shift props, and others to tell a story related to the subject matter.

How to start - Make small steps initially

There is this important entrepreneurial concept of “fail quick and fail often”. If that formulation scares you, then think of “finding product-market fit”. Both ideas say that you come up with an idea and go to your customers and seek feedback. Iterate and improve based on the response you receive and keep going.
Don't create the whole game or over-complicated thing, start with small parts. As you all play, more and more ideas will come and will expand what you have.
Many teachers play-test their ideas and reevaluate based on the feedback and engagement of their students. Start with something that the students are familiar with and proceed further.
Also keep in mind that children are much more open to change, play, and experimentation than adults, so be bold in your experiments.
Yes, we are in uncharted territory and it takes additional preparation from the teachers to organize new playful activities. It takes some entrepreneurial spirit and in the next section, we will give you hints and resources to start from.

Best practices

A teacher using online presentation tools shared a file with the class and asked the students to create their virtual avatars. To express who they are, and what they do. That is a much better icebreaker than a dry explanation of who everyone is with words and a camera online.

That same teacher asked her kids for apps, movies, and songs recommendations. That immediately put her in the category of “the cool teacher”.

A history teacher challenged the students to dress up, sing, or perform in relation to the history lesson. That was not the most comfortable experience for some, but in the end, students shared that the lessons were much more fun.

Another teacher started to prep early in the summer keeping cardboards, paper rolls, egg cartons, etc. That way he could give assignments to students with items that are easy to obtain in a typical household.

Kids like to play in different ways

It is very important to provide a choice. Some kids are musicians, others are into sports, or writing, or drawing or hand-crafting. Give open-ended assignments and let students express themselves while learning about your subject.
Also, delegate the assignment formulation: let the kids lead their play-based learning.

What are the benefits of playful-based learning

There are four major benefits for students and teachers applying play-based methods of learning.
First and foremost, that is a form of active learning, where students are getting engaged in the subject because they play with what is interesting for them in the topic under discussion. And active learning creates much more neural connections and long-term memories, because of the emotional engagement of the students.
On another hand, the activities that immerse students in a creative process improve their mental health during the lockdown. With fun, creative and intriguing assignments they can get lost in the activity and pass the time happily. And surviving the lockdown mentally is as important as surviving it physically.
Play is a form of a creative process and every creation that we make improves our confidence. So students’ confidence is improved over time as they are an active part in their learning process, not simply soaking information like sponges.
Lastly, that process of shared experience, delegation, feedback, and shared interests improves teacher-student bonding, which is beneficial for the educational process in the long term.

Practical tips and tricks

How can be Play-Based Learning integrated into direct instruction models

Your first step is to craft time for Play-Based Learning in direct instruction. Give some 10 minutes to it as a start. One example was to use gummy bears as citizens and show what they have learned.

How to ensure everyone can participate in Play-Based Learning

Design the Play-Based Learning for the most distant learner first. Make sure s/he has all the information and tools needed. Even if they are not connected online. You can always help students in the classroom, but those away need good preparation of resources.

What exactly to do in subject X

The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are activities online already available. Use teachers’ websites or social media. Those give a lot of ideas actually.
Once again, don’t dive deeply into creating complicated systems. Start simple and see how it goes.

What to do in robotics classes online

You have already seen our suggestion to rent the robotics sets to students and continue with lessons online. The teacher has the robot, the student has a robot and the whole group can work together remotely. It is not as good as in-person classes, but it is better than nothing.
Another idea is to challenge students to play in pairs as software and hardware: one student gives commands to the other and the latter execute them literally. Then the roles are reversed. Think of that as the “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich” algorithm assignment, but between students.
The third idea is to ask students to build their mechanical machines from the household items available. We already shared the Tensegrity structure that is very fun to watch and analyze. Students in robotics generally love to create with their hands and any practical assignment is a good idea.
In order to cover all possible bases, there are the students that love programming. Our scratch course, any online scratch course, any free online robotic simulator can be fun for them to program.

How to convince Administrators and Decision-makers

Hopefully, you are convinced and have some ideas already. Now you want to apply those ideas in your classes, but there are people above you. How to achieve buy-in from administrators?
First and foremost, invite them to see it in action. Let them see students sparkling eyes and obvious engagement. They will like it.
The other thing that is important for the big bosses are tangibles and measurements. So any metrics are very helpful. Speak to them about increased grades and results, about students’ engagement numbers, about the number of assignments handed in.
A practical example is about a science fair that lost participants over time. The concept was changed to “toy fare with scientific principles” and the engagement went way up!

Education is pushed to evolve into a modern and better learning environment

As I was speaking with friends students during the lockdown, I realized the beautiful potential this crisis gives us. The problem was that the teachers online were acting as if they were in the classroom. But now they are not: students have a home-field advantage online and teachers must adapt and keep up. Simple testing and verbal exams cannot work, because students can cheat, fact-check online, and listen to a second channel while answering questions from the teacher.
In order to overcome that cheating problem, teachers should give creative tasks to students that engage them. When those challenges are well-tailored to the students, they can compete with social media and games as distractions. That remote learning environment will force the education to become human and student-centric, with a problem-solving focus, instead of mere information acquisition.

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