Teaching math remotely

As the education world adapts to finishing the school year offline, you may be struggling to keep students engaged while teaching remotely.  In this post I show you how to take one traditional lesson offline and leave you with 5 tips for adapting a traditional lesson into a remote learning experience.

As I wrote about in 7 tips for teaching in a remote environment, this is an excellent opportunity for projects.  Projects can be time-consuming in the traditional classroom setting.  I hear more often than not from my colleagues that they want to try projects but when?  This is the time.  Here's what my AP Statistics students will be doing with linear regression:

We didn't get to linear regression before we went offline, so I have to teach linear regression remotely.  Also, I teach where not all of my students will have access to the internet at home.  We are under shelter, so students are truly on their own.  I won't even see most of their work until they are permitted to drop it off at school after the shelter is lifted.  I need to create three weeks of instructional time that students can work on mostly independently. 

  1. The background/notes: What is linear regression?   The first piece is to teach them about linear regression.  Fortunately, they have been using graphic organizers for their notes all year. 
    I printed the linear regression graphic organizers and then copied a set of accompanying notes.  Students will have to complete on their own.  These are AP students, so I am not asking them to show evidence they took the notes, but I will know if they can't complete the accompanying problems or upcoming project.  If my students did have internet access, I might also suggest that they watch some of the Statistics 101 videos or Khan Academy or Crash Course (I like crash course in addition to other videos because it does a good job with large conceptual ideas). 
    I have also photocopied textbook pages.  We don't have a textbook for every student, so this is the most realistic way for me to share.
  2. Office hours: in addition to working on their own, I set up a group chat/google hangout for those who can access it for discussion and questions.  I also have made myself available by text during school hours for questions.  

  3. Linear regression Projects:  Students will also complete 2 projects: the value of college and the linear regression mini-project which includes a choice of 5 different projects.  The mini-project provides data and explicit directions on each part of the project.  Students can do everything from home and can text questions or meet me for office hours.  With the longer stretch of time, I expect high quality work but do not look for "polished" or "slick" presentations.  They can video, write, type, do a google doc, make a prezi, etc.  It is up to them how they present their calculations and analysis.
      I don't require typed, color, video, etc. as I might if we were doing it in the classroom because students do not have equal access to resources.  We would work on these in partners or small groups at school, but these are now individual projects.  I can't evaluate rough drafts, so right now I am not sure what I will do.  I am going to try to set up 15 minute text or phone conferences to check in with students and answer questions.  
  4. Review: We are also taking time to review for the AP exam (which as of this writing was not cancelled).  One could easily think of it as final exam review as well.  I have review sheets that we use in AP Stats bootcamp (an optional lunchtime review session I begin a few weeks before the AP), but in the absence of the live presence, I give students the review sheets to take home and complete (3 per week).  My Algebra 2 students have an enormous pack of end of year Algebra 2 concepts/problems which I had planned to start in May (Free sample here).  

5 tips for adapting a traditional lesson to remote learning:

  • Play to students' natural curiosity: instead of just teaching the material, turn it into an investigation.  How would a student use the skills/tools s/he knows to solve a problem? The more open-ended a problem, the more opportunity for engaging students' curiosity.  
  • Think project:  How can you take a simple idea like systems of equations and turn it into a project? Worksheets aren't going to cut it to keep students engaged.  If nothing else, students can teach you how to work with any math concept you choose.  
  • Give students the background information and activity in paper form:  simply put, just print your lecture notes, powerpoint slides, or readings and let students copy them down, preferably with a graphic organizer.  It may seem too simple, but if you really think about it, that's what students often do.  You just usually are leading the note-taking.  Give 1 or 2 example problems fully worked out, and then challenge students to solve the other problems on their own and send you their responses (text, google form, email all are workable ways to share this).  
  • Make it a group game: if I had a puzzle activity I was going to do with students in class, I would use the same small group idea only we are all in separate spaces.  I send each group a set of the questions/problems to answer.  The group has to work together to figure out how to complete the puzzle by sharing the sides of their pieces and working together to recreate the shape.  If everyone has access to the internet this is easy to do in an online google doc.  If not, I ask students to each take a picture of their pieces on the blank template and send it to me.  When all the pictures are together, it should make a complete puzzle.
  • Be prepared to overlap lessons:  If you are like me and won't be able to share feedback readily on assignments, you may have to spread out the concepts/projects/activities.  It will be hard for students to improve/learn without your feedback.  So, have concepts/projects overlap.  For example, while students are working on notes/problems for pythagorean theorem, they are also beginning their geometry villages.  The village is an enormous project, so it is great to weave it across several weeks while students are also working on concepts through notes.
  • If you have access to technology, use it to shorten feedback time:  not all of the learning needs to go online, but it can be a helpful tool for remote learning.  If you were going to give students task cards, you can send students a link to the cards or a list of problems and then have a google form for their answers.  I also have student email me a scan of their work (turboscan is a free app they can use on their phone), so I can see what they did and help troubleshoot problems.  This allows students to get feedback almost immediately.  You can even make the google form a quiz (don't count it as a quiz necessarily) so that students can find out immediately if they have answered a question correctly.  

For more ideas, check out 7 tips for teaching in a remote environment.



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