Remote learning 2.0: Online games, polls, new tech tools used to provide a more enhanced version of instruction for students

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Divya Bharadwaj

Pre-Calculus Honors teacher Amanda Morris uses an online game Sept. 11 in her Period 3 class that pairs classmates randomly to reinforce concepts learned in class. Several teachers like Morris are finding new ways to make their virtual classes more engaging for students since the second round of distance learning started for the 2020-2021 school year.

Divya Bharadwaj

After a month of distance learning using the Zoom virtual meeting platform, Pre-Calculus Honors teacher Amanda Morris decided it was time to change things up.

“I chose this game because it gives you an opportunity to talk about and describe functions, which is important for the lesson we are starting,” Morris told the sea of faces shown in rectangular-shaped boxes. “By asking questions to narrow down graphs, you have to be really precise in using your mathematical vocabulary.” 

Morris then continued with the rules and procedures for how the Sept. 11 game during Period 3 would be set up:

  • Students will be randomly paired with each other.
  • Student A picks a graph and answers questions while student B asks “yes” or “no” questions to find the correct graph.
  • According to Desmos.com, it allows students to “develop informal language into formal vocabulary.”

Though the game lasted only 10 minutes, a few students felt the activity kept them engaged and didn’t mind more of the same in the future.

“I enjoyed playing the game in Pre-Calculus,” senior Amanda Ochoa said. “It let us do something different and interact instead of having to listen.” 

Morris’ class usually consists of taking notes, reviewing the previous day’s homework and time for students to ask questions. 

“The activity made the class more engaging,” junior Lizzette Tapia said. “We were able to put our skills to the test, and I felt like I was being challenged. There was no pressure being put on me to get a certain score. It was only me and the knowledge of the lesson.” 

Morris said she was pleased with her students’ performance and was excited to introduce her students to a different activity. 

“I love how this activity forced students to think about the different properties of the functions and how they are similar and different,” she said. “It was great to see the creative questions that students were asking each other to narrow down the graphs.” 

Morris is among instructors not only at Sunny Hills but statewide who have been charged by the California Gov. Gavin Newsom and school superintendents with the responsibility of creating more meaningful activities for students as many campuses in California had to start the 2020-2021 school year with a remote learning model because of increased summer cases of the coronavirus.

“As it stands today, Orange County and 30+ other counties across the state must begin the school year through online learning for students,” wrote Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] superintendent Scott Scambray in a July 17 email to staff, students and parents. “If this remains the case, please know, the online learning offered in the FJUHSD will be enhanced and more robust in comparison to the emergency distance learning that we were required to implement unexpectedly in spring.”

English teacher Suzanne Boxdorfer said she thought carefully about the new school year as she taught English 1 summer school for six weeks — still in the remote learning format. One thing that she changed for the 2020-2021 school year was to be more intentional about getting to know her students. 

“When students are in class physically in front of me, I know whose attention I have and whose I don’t,” Boxdorfer said. “It’s much harder online. I’ll use various forms of discussion, question and answering, requiring cameras on and microphones working.” 

Along with her regular curriculum, Boxdorfer said she has her students use Membean, a vocabulary building website. Students complete 15 minutes of training sessions three times a week and then take an online quiz. 

The English 1 Honors and English Language Development teacher said she has her students do this activity for homework but provides class time on Wednesdays for the quiz or for training sessions. 

“So far, I like it,” Boxdorfer said. “This is my first year using it, so I don’t have a thorough assessment of it yet.” 

One of Boxdorfer’s students, sophomore Reena Jung, said she has no complaints about Membean because it does not take too much time to complete, and she has noticed her vocabulary skills have improved.

Nevertheless, Jung still values the kinds of activities she was used to doing when she had live classroom instruction before the coronavirus pandemic struck

“I would say English is made more special by the works of literature we read and our analysis and discussion,” she said. 

During the last quarter of the spring semester, art teacher Brian Wall said his Communication Design students did not have any access to any of the Adobe Creative Cloud applications because they were working from home.

Although he eventually settled on using an app called Canva to get his classes through to the end of the school year, Wall said it was not as robust as the apps he has his students using this semester. 

With their chromebooks, his students have been using Lucidpress, which is very similar to InDesign as it can be used to make posters, flyers and presentations, Pixlr, a Photoshop substitute, and Gravit, an Illustrator substitute.

Regarding class engagement, Wall said he has been using the Zoom poll feature, which was not available last semester. It offers a pop-up window for his students to respond to questions he would like to survey them about. 

After all students have completed a poll, a teacher can share to the class the responses broken down by the number and percentage of total votes for each choice.

Though the questions and multiple choice options cannot be set up until after the Zoom session starts, the art instructor said another drawback is it does take some time to set up as well. 

That is why he said he prefers to use Kahoot and Polleverywhere. But Wall also uses other features of Zoom such as the chat, reactions, break out rooms, video recording and reports. 

“I do feel like the students are more interested in interacting and giving feedback through the apps,” he said. “There’s a fun factor, and they don’t need to speak, which seems to be a preference of many.” 

Wall’s students have also noticed the varied use of tech tools during their virtual meetings.. 

“I think it helps incorporate everyone in class in a big way,” junior Samantha Galang said. “We usually use it as a check in for everyone to see how we’re doing with the projects and even our well being.”

Spanish teacher Gene Bordy spent the summer setting up his classroom to be better prepared for distance learning 2.0.

Bordy said he uses the Zoom breakout rooms and tries to make things as engaging as possible with his students in his Spanish classes, but in the long run, when they are in those virtual rooms, it still comes down to each person to decide whether to participate, especially since the teacher cannot be supervising every single “room.”

“I think eventually, I’d like to do a little bit more of that where they can participate in small groups,” he said.

Similarly, social science teacher Gregory Abbott teaches as if his students are live in his classroom. 

“We Zoom every day, and students get called on to answer questions,” Abbott said. “If you answer in class, you get a higher participation grade.” 

While he aims to get his students to engage in class on a regular basis, Abbott said he finds it difficult to check his students for understanding. He gives his students Google Form quizzes, but even that is not enough because nothing beats education than direct instruction in the classroom. 

“It is difficult to see all the students at once [on Zoom],” he said. “You quickly realize that with students in class with you, it is possible to see all of your students at the same time to be able to pick up on whether or not they understand the material.”