Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day One

Today is Day One for me as a “personal teaching assistant” to my four-year-old grandson, C.  He’s in Junior Kindergarten, and his class has been fully online for a week.  However, C wasn’t able to participate without the assistance of both his parents.  And since they are working full time:  Mom as a synchronous secondary school biology teacher, and Dad as an engineer, he hasn’t been in school. So, C has joined us in our home, so that we can hopefully participate in his synchronous junior kindergarten class.

We prepared yesterday by opening his email account, and reading through all that we missed last week.  Then we joined the Google Classroom, and reviewed, again, what was missed. I couldn’t find the link to their class Meeting, but was reassured by my daughter-in-law that is would appear for today’s class to begin.

Today we set up early.  C has a small desk (too small for everything he needs), but it has a low shelf that he can rest his feet on, so he’s fairly comfortable in his chair.  There is a bed nearby, and it’s useful for tumbling breaks, which is taking frequently.

For attendance, he had to create a name card to show.  This fit well with the first activity that he chose from the Bitmoji classroom: cutting out letters from packaging. So, he glued the letters of his name to paper, and was able to hold it up for attendance.  He was acknowledged by his teachers, though they were concerned that he was “cutting out”. So, I opened the mic and shared that we were connecting via satellite Internet, and likely would be somewhat slow responding.

The land acknowledgement went well, with one of the students assisting with the reading from slides that were shared with the group. I am so impressed at the reading levels; when I was in kindergarten the expectation was to know the alphabet and count to 10, but that’s

Next on the agenda was a virtual visit to the art gallery, which was being presented in Zoom.  It took 20 minutes of trial and error, trying to share the Zoom presentation in Google Meet. The final solution was for one of the teachers to hold her iPad up to the camera, and it worked! However, by this time the audience was restless, and my grandson needed a great deal of redirection to listen and watch.  You can see his solution in the picture at the top of this post.

The activity that was part of the art gallery presentation was really fun, and the teacher was able to do a quick demo.  My grandson was able to do the activity with verbal assistance from me, and his response was “This is really cool!”

But instead of letting the class finish the activity, they had to catch up with the agenda, and begin the activity break, where a different teacher joined them in the meeting.  C agreed he needed a break, but was entirely unwilling to do the body movements she was modelling on screen. Her music was very faint and his Chromebook screen so small, that his attention was easily lost. When she began asking for student participation we went back to gallery view, and it was harder for him to find the teacher among the faces. When a question of “what movement has the letter m?” was asked, C responded “swim”, and his teacher responded enthusiastically. What a difference in his engagement when she reacted directly to him, and acknowledged his vigorous movement! He still needed a couple of “bounce on the bed” breaks, even with the active movement, be he participated a good deal of the time. Her last activity was a video share, and we could hear it, but the video never appeared. A bit of problem-solving in the chat revealed that having “pinned” the teacher, what she shared in video would not be visible.

For the 15-minute break he chose to eat, and continue to watch the exercise video… so it really wasn’t much different than being in class! Then, when the video ended, all we saw were some empty rooms, so he went to his tablet to play a game.

Back from the break, they were asked to share their artwork.  And then a long conversation among the teachers took place, with a discussion of the relative merits of Flipgrid and Jamboard, that likely was not relevant to the students who were sitting there, waiting for direction. This is important for the activity posted in Google Classroom, but I think it should have been worked out in the background, not while the students were waiting. I stepped in and tried out the login, and confirmed with the teachers that it worked. So, almost 15 minutes later, she began her presentation. However, she was trying to redirect a flip grid video to present and, again, we couldn’t see or hear it.

The task was to create a math story, and create a Flipgrid question for their classmates. So we took a break, went to Flipgrid, and after five attempts, had a short video to submit. It was fun to watch C’s process, as he tried out different ways of saying his “math story”.

We returned to the class meeting at 11:15, and by now C was very unfocused.  One of the teachers recognized this, and suggest that they do independent learning to 12:00, with the teachers available for support.  This would be followed by lunch from 12:00 to 1:00. We decided to do the ‘igloo’ activity from the Bitmoji classroom, and take it outside to make a real igloo.

The igloo benefited from the large, plowed yard, with lots of compacted snow. We were able to use a small handsaw, and cut blocks.  Unfortunately, the snow is still quite cold, and did not compact nor adhere well.  So, we emptied a cleaning spray bottle, put in water plus blue-coloured flavouring, and headed back to add water to the seams.  We’ll see tomorrow how it stands up after a below-freezing night.

The break for exercise and lunch was appreciated, but the transition back to school received “What? There’s more school? I don’t want to go back.” C was playing a game on his tablet, and would only return to his desk with the promise that he could bring the tablet along.

He shared with his class what he had done during his break, and was very excited that they encouraged him to post pictures. After about 10 minutes of sharing the teachers said they would be online, but that the students could work independently or interact with them. C chose to leave, and I believe that school is over for the day.

We’ll be back again tomorrow morning, and in the meantime I am going to try to figure out how to share his photos in his classroom, so that he can talk about the process with the class. I really do wonder about the time spent sitting, and how I might help C focus to participate more fully. However, kindergarten has never been about chairs and watching, so I don’t think that “bailing” for the afternoon is such a bad idea after all.

If you’re teaching Kindergarten online, here are a few suggestions from both of us:

  • Find the “mute all” function, and be prepared to use it regularly to manage the noise level.
  • When on camera, connect visually with your students. If you need to work off-camera, turn it off.
  • Be sure your students know that if you “pin” the teacher, you won’t be able to see the video that is being shared.
  • Telling students who can’t read to come back at 10:45 is unlikely to be successful.  I would suggest a countdown timer on the screen would work better with 4 and 5-year-olds.
  • If you are a teaching team, consider setting up a backchannel for your technical conversations, rather than talking over the students. It would have been very helpful if the various teachers we met today had been able to work via texting, phone, or other media, to problem-solve their technical issues or to negotiate the agenda and timing.
  • Consider the “real estate” available, and when having a “full screen” might be helpful to your students, rather than the gallery view of everyone’s image. This is especially important if you have students using phones or small tablets to connect.

As a former teacher, I am amazed at how our current reality has served to “deprivatize” our practice. There are kindergarten students on screen, but behind them are the parents, grandparents, and caregivers who are assisting.  And each of them is learning about teaching and learning in a way that was not possible in the past. I believe that when we return to “normal”, our relationships with our communities will be forever changed by this experience.

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