A 2020 Lesson about Virtual Learning

This past year has challenged us in so many aspects of our lives. In my roles as a Learning Experience Designer and as a parent, the full-scale transition to virtual schooling has forced me to take a fresh, hard look at digital learning: both what it can be and what it definitely shouldn't be.

If my 20 years in education has taught me anything, it’s that we learn by doing, not by being told how to do things. But implementing these constructivist beliefs in the absence of any face-to-face, in-person instruction is not so simple. In a virtual environment, the instructional methods that are easiest to implement are often far too passive: watching a video, completing a worksheet packet, listening to a teacher on a Zoom session.

Since March 2020, Clarity Innovations has worked closely with The Math Learning Center to adapt their curriculum materials for digital delivery. As part of this effort, we helped to design and develop student-facing Google Slides, which required students to interact with the math concepts presented and share their thinking and strategies with both teachers and classmates.

To help launch this new type of learning, I created a series of “scavenger hunts” to help K-5 students learn how powerful and fun learning math could be with Google Slides! Rather than being told how to use the features, each Google Slide asked students to complete an open-ended math challenge that utilized a specific slide skill. For example, one slide asked second and third grade math students to drag shapes to balance the amount in two drop zones.

Slide into Math

Other Google Slides math challenges asked students to: create shapes; use their voices to enter text; insert images from their device’s camera or an MLC app; and add a new slide. If they needed support, hints linked on the bottom of each slide offered animated GIFs of Google Slide tools in action.

In addition to introducing students to Google Slides, the scavenger hunts modeled instructional design best practices. The slides utilized elements locked into the Slide Master, bottomless stacks of manipulatives for student use, and voice instructions recorded by a student. Hopefully, educators can replicate some of these design techniques as they create materials and activities for their students.

The Math Learning Center scavenger hunts were a professional highlight for me in 2020. Teachers embraced the scavenger hunts as a hands-on and fun way for students to learn about Google Slides while doing math at the same time. As a result, tens of thousands of students used the challenges through the fall!

You Do the Math!

Try out all three with the links below (you’ll be prompted to make your own copy):

Grades K–1
Grades 2–3
Grades 4–5

So 2020…I can’t say that I’ll miss you, but I’ll certainly remember you; especially the lessons you’ve driven home about technology-use in education. Digital learning, like any type of learning, needs to first and foremost engage students in exploring, trying, and doing. At some point, this worldwide experiment in virtual learning will end and we’ll find a new “normal”. Whenever that happens, and whatever that looks like, we need to remember that the digital learning tools, materials, and tasks we design and provide must prioritize students as active participants at the center of their learning; not as passive recipients on the outside, merely watching.