Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 2

We’re back in Google Meet with C’s class. Today he created a new name card, with letters we printed with the Cricut Maker.  He added a hand-cut (by grandma) heart “because I love my class”.

The first activity today is another workshop with the art gallery.  Today the teachers enlisted the help of the teacher who joined the class for physical activity and music yesterday.  She was much more successful, and so we saw half a screen of the art gallery session, and half a screen of the Google meet grid, with the students’ cameras or images. It was great to see the teachers on camera, but the loss of clarity for the presentation definitely had an effect on C’s engagement. The presenter also never came on camera, so it was difficult for C to make a personal connection. The teachers also invited students to participate verbally, and so there were many interruptions to the presentation as the teachers spoke over the presenter. As well, when the students turned on their microphones, the presentation cycled through and created a confusing echo. I tried to refocus C, but when I encouraged him to look at the screen, he told me “I’m taking a break”.

This reminded me of the “art lectures” that I attended as a student in grades 5, 6 and 7. We would be bussed to the art gallery, and a curator showed us slides of artwork for two hours. We lay on the carpet, and the images were huge. Despite this, I recall falling asleep in the dark. I do remember some of what we heard and saw, but it was a challenge at age 9 to focus. No wonder C, at age 4, is finding this difficult. With no face to focus on, and no interaction with the presenter, it’s a very passive activity.  Kudos to the teachers for providing the students with thinking prompts, and inviting them to participate.  Perhaps this would have been better to be recorded, so that they could pause the presentation, have the students interact, and then continue with the presentation?

The second half of the presentation was the activity: draw an animal using geometric shapes. The presenter modelled the drawing of a cat out of rectangles and triangles. C related this to a character from one of his favourite Netflix shows, and was very excited by the prospect of drawing his own. He asked me to help him find a picture of this character, which I printed for him, so that he could look at it while drawing. (You can see what other students drew using the hashtag #AGOschools.)

Because of the presentation, the opening activities were delayed.  The land acknowledgement was a shared activity with one student, and was followed by an indigenous performance of “Oh Canada” by Asani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgVqxT3G5kk&list=PLZsHu2W75wCiwyGfogmQdkW5cBZPnkUJA&index=6) C was quite interested in this, and his attention jumped from the drawing he was doing, to the screen. 

Then there was a very fast transition to the next activity, which was going to need sticks, something flowy, and a hula hoop. C was still drawing, so it was not easy to redirect his attention.  The activity was in a video that was successfully shared, though with our satellite internet it was a clear audio, with choppy video. C looked occasionally at the screen, but continued to draw. He chose to tumble on the bed, rather than do the dance moves with the instructor. When the activity with the scarf caught his attention, he then danced with his paper napkin, and it morphed into an activity of flying and crashes. The video continued to be laggy, so it was difficult for him to follow the motion of the video dance teacher. I think we might have done better with a link to this, that we could run ourselves and pause as needed in order for C to participate.

At this point, I am wondering how this Google Meet is preferable to an asynchronous activity, perhaps like the Bitmoji classroom that is also available to C’s class. Yes, the teacher is sharing the screen, but there is no interaction with the students, and it’s really not a lot different from watching a video on YouTube or Netflix.

C’s drawing turned out well, and I have shared it above. And the dance video went on as he completed his work. I used to tell my teachers that our grade 9 students needed to have activities chunked into 15 to 20-minute sessions, in order to sustain their attention. After 30 minutes C found that tumbling on the bed was better physical activity than the video, which is really more like a series of stills due to the internet lag. Maybe music would be helpful?

It was snack break, as of 10:45. Because the teachers have a 1:15 meeting they decided to do activities after snack. Then lunch from 11:30 to 12:30. So we headed outside, to rejoin the class later.

An hour later, and C was continuing to play outside, after eleven runs down the hill on the toboggan. We were hot and sweaty, but happy with the physical activity.  Not sure what those whose parents are working full-time from home were doing; I can’t imagine that it’s easy to keep their children occupied for almost two hours!

So, at 12:45 we were back in the Google Meet, having posted his artwork to the Google Classroom. Without a helper at home, this would not be possible. As we arrived, their teacher was explaining to the students how to make a Bingo card, if they haven’t been able to find the cards that were sent home with them on the last day before the Winter break. They were asked to make eight boxes, and put it any number between 1 and 20.

C had his cards, since his parents sent his school backpack with him to our place. He was very excited to be playing the game, though the pace was a little slow for him. Thankfully the pennies we chose as markers made good fidget toys! However, he also discovered that the antique student desk has a sloped top, and so kicking his seat caused an “earthquake”, and his pennies slid down off the card. We’ll take learning any place it comes! When the bingo finally was called, almost all the students shared the glory.  And the teachers asked each in turn to read out their numbers. This took some time, with many reminders to turn microphones on and off. Interspersed with the conversation were several renditions of the song, “BINGO”!

This was followed by the message of the day, contributed by one of the students.  She needed a bit of help with the reading, but it included a question that puzzled the teachers who weren’t sure if it was a riddle, joke, or a serious question. The next thing to share on the stream was a picture from another student, drawn after her walk today at lunch. The third share was a students’ artwork from this morning; a beautiful cat made of rectangles, triangles and straight lines. C was next, and he was able to describe the shapes he used, including the heart. The fourth share was another cat, and again the artist was invited to describe her process. When the sharing ended, C decided he needed to see the screen bigger, and accidentally closed the meeting. He had been sitting for 70 minutes straight; an accomplishment indeed!

After a break in the hot tub, with shower wall drawing, we headed back to see then the class would resume. The stream in Google Classroom said that there would be a “read-aloud” at 2:35, so we planned to return then.

Back in the Google Classroom at 2:30, there was no link to a Google Meet, so I had to explore.  I found the page for the Teacher Librarian, and halfway down the page was a posting for the Tuesday and Thursday Read-Alouds. We clicked on the link, and it took almost four minutes for the MS Teams interface to load. We were greeted by a slide, and the sound of static and typing. The question posed was good, but I’m not sure that many of the JK students would have been able to figure it out without someone reading it aloud. Eventually the TL switched to her face, and asked the question.  Many of the students responded to the question in the chat, but as a non-reader, this meant that C was sitting and waiting long beyond his limit. When she began the story, it was nice to see her using a physical book, rather than digital images. But it would have been nice if the software could have shared the image alone, and removed the document camera navigation. With the book on the left, and the TL’s face on the right, there was no way that the text could be read, as the book’s footprint was less than 25% of the screen.  Perhaps a setting would have allowed for a “picture in picture”, so that the book could have possibly been read-along by the students. Between this, and the reflections on the pages, C only lasted about five minutes into the story before bailing. I stayed, and tried to imagine myself as one of her primary students, trying to see the text and figure out which words were the story, which were her explanations of the story.

I made the decision that we would return to the classroom following the story, despite C’s protests. He joined in, turned on his mic, and then began to make silly faces and sounds. I heard others in the class saying “when are we leaving?”, “Hi”, and again “when are we leaving?”. C continued to sing, and insist on his mic being on, despite my prompting.  The teachers asked students to share what they remembered about the story, but it seemed only one student actually listened to it.  She gave a strong recounting of the plot, and was obviously engaged. But at the same time, C was saying “I’m tired of doing this, I’m tired of school”, so we chose to leave the meeting.

Here are my thoughts on today’s experiences:

  • I know that reflection is the best way to learn, but I suspect that our teachers have no time to do so, with all the preparation they need to make, and all the intense interaction they must undertake with their students. But perhaps hitting “record”, and watching just a few snippets from the day’s activities would be informative. By viewing the recording they would be able to see the experience of their students, could focus on particular students’ faces, and could consider what’s working, and what needs revision. Inviting our board resource staff to join in, and contribute, might be worthwhile.
  • I wish there were a way to ensure that each child has an advocate at home, to assist them with the interface. It has been a significant amount of work just getting C to class, and refocusing him while he participates. I cannot imagine what it is like for parents who are also trying to complete their work duties at the same time!
  •  I also think that a daily agenda, with the timings provided, would be very helpful.  As a caregiver, I would also like to know which of the day’s activities were important and which were nice-to-do, but not crucial. For a child with limited attention, this would support a more positive attitude, and possibly greater attention, if we could avoid the “waiting”.
  • As for timing, we know that the mornings are best for learning. So, perhaps the teacher-student interaction could be increased in this time, and the video activities rescheduled to later in the day where the students could be more passive consumers. By 3:00 today, C was tired, and ready to view rather than produce.

I can think of so many ways in which our teachers could be supported, to allow them to do what they do best: interact with their students. They are SO patient, and are responding positively to every student.  In these past two days I have not yet heard one of them get frustrated.  How do they do it?

And I’m sure that parents are unsure how much, or how, to support their children. I don’t know whether to redirect, or to leave it to C and his teachers to manage how he works online.  Perhaps he doesn’t need to actually be there in front of the screen; maybe having the computer on while he plays somewhere in the room is enough? If I, as an experienced educator, have these questions, I cannot imagine how many more our parents have.

What do you think? How much support should I be giving C?


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.

Preparing to support Online Junior Kindergarten

It was announced this week that elementary students in Ontario will remain at home until January 25. The original plan was for one week only, then a return to F2F learning in schools. In our family this meant only one partial day of learning for our grandson in Junior Kindergarten: he hung up on his class by mistake, and wouldn’t go back.  And with both his parents working full-time from home, he was left to his own devices for much of the following four days.

So, since he will be at home for another two weeks, I offered to have him move in with us.  I picked him up on Friday, and I am already getting to know the idiosyncracies of the four-year-old brain.  He loves to multi-task: eating while playing with cars, playing with cars while watching Netflix, watching Netflix while trying out tumbling moves on the carpet.  None of this promises to work well with a Chromebook and headphones when he returns to class on Monday.

His parents, one of whom is teaching two classes of grade 11 Biology synchronously, weren’t able to sit next to him while he participated in his class Google Meets, nor assist him to navigate Google Classroom as a pre-reader.  I’m not sure if I am going to be any more successful, but I am going to give it a try.

Here’s what I am going to do, hoping for better success for him:

  1. Create a standing desk for him, with his Chromebook at eye level.
  2. Set up the microphone and speaker in the Chromebook, so that he isn’t tethered to the device.
  3. Seat myself at a desk next to him, for my parallel work.  I will be able to view his screen, hear his teachers, and generally monitor his interactions.  But I will be working on my computer at the same time, so that he doesn’t feel isolated.
  4. Provide a table next to him, with fidget toys, small puzzles, and other items that he can use if his mind wanders.
  5. Allow him to leave it gets to be too much.

Our Kindergarten programs are play-based, and there is little in the online environment that supports this approach. However, his teachers pivoted to remote learning last March, with mostly asynchronous content provided via Google Classroom, and so they will have created rich resources.  In September there were elementary online schools created for families who chose not to send their children back to physical schools, and there is now a huge pool of expertise and experience. His current teacher and early childhood educator will be able to learn from their experienced colleagues, so I am confident that the instruction will be strong.

My main concern is his attention span. I have watched him devour video content, but when he does so it is usually in 10 to 15-minute chunks, and usually with a great deal of physical movement on his part.  There is no HDMI output on the Chromebook, so I can’t even attach a larger screen, as I had originally hoped.  This would have made the teacher and class visible anywhere in our room, and would have allowed him much more physical freedom to move.

So, I will try to mitigate the limitations of the small screen, untether him from the audio, and we will see how it will go. We will build in lots of physical activity in the nutrition and body breaks, and Grandma will benefit as well.

Wish me luck! (And please send me any suggestions you might have.)