[Guest Blog] Working with schools during lockdown: 7 activities that work

Author: Terry Freedman

Terry freedman is a freelance ed tech writer and consultant. He blogs at ICT & Computing in Education, and tweets as @terryfreedman.

What can you do to help schools during lockdown? A lot of edtech businesses provide resources, and some provide lesson plans. Unfortunately, the resources on their own can become just one more free resource, and the lesson plans are often useless. (As Daisy Christodoulou points it in her book Teachers vs Tech?, lesson plans from companies tend to focus on learning the skills to use the software itself rather than the skills the software is designed to teach.) 

Perhaps as part of your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities you are used to sending someone into schools to work with them through activities like giving a talk, or running a problem-solving day. Although visiting schools is unlikely to be possible in the foreseeable future, you can still help them out. Here are 7 ways you might do so.

Give a talk

Clearly, giving talks to classes of kids is still possible. For example, authors are taking part in Zoom meetings at the moment. And bear in mind that a talk can be more than just talking. For example, you could use a screen sharing program to demonstrate what other schools and pupils have done with your product, or suggest innovative ways in which it can be used.

Run an interactive activity

Rather than just give a talk, run a question and answer session instead. Depending on the age of the pupils, you could also co-ordinate with the teacher to ask her to send a fact sheet or a research sheet to them in advance, so that they are well-prepared for the session.

Set up a competition, and judge it

How about working with the teacher to set the kids a challenge? For instance, come up with an innovative way of using your product or service, create a video about it, or a poster, or greeting card…. Much will depend on what exactly your product or service is, of course, but you get the idea. In order to get around the issues of child safety, rather than have the teacher send you pupils’ work, have the pupils present their work to you in the online meeting. However, there are a couple of challenges in doing this. 

First, there is the time constraint: looking at each pupils’ work is going to take longer than the session, and it’s not like they could easily work in groups beforehand. 

Second, pupils may find it technically challenging to share their work on-screen.

Therefore, a simpler approach might be to set an activity in which pupils have to find the answers to questions or work out the solution to a problem. If you set the questions as a self-marking quiz in Google Forms, then the online session can be devoted to explaining the answers. Perhaps you could even create some digital badges to award pupils: for example, Gold for 100% correct, Silver for 75%, Bronze for 50% correct. As you can see, this last idea is in effect a beefed-up version of the preceding one. 

Provide technical or admin help

That last idea raises another possibility. Many teachers may not have the expertise to set up self-marking quizzes or other digital resources. Why not offer to do it for them, especially if they have no technical support of their own? 

Assist in the online meeting

A challenge for all presenters in an online setting is keeping an eye on, and responding to, questions in the chat area. How about offering to take on that task for at least some of the sessions? Even if you can’t answer the pupils’ questions, you could at least bring some of them to the teacher’s attention. This would be tremendously helpful because if the chat area is very active, comments and questions can disappear out of view in seconds.

Provide in-service training

Teachers find it notoriously difficult to be allowed out of school for training purposes as a rule. But unless they are still teaching classes full-time online, that is less likely to be an issue at the moment. How about offering webinars in how to use your product or service? Not just the basics, but more advanced or innovative ways too. If you make sure the webinar is recorded, teachers will be able to download it as a video afterwards and watch it when they have time.

Something to bear in mind about this particular idea is that it demonstrates that you don’t have to be online at the same time as the lessons are taking place. Indeed, although a webinar has the advantage that you can answer questions posed during the session, you could circumvent the issue of co-ordinating meeting times altogether simply by recording (short) videos, and make the links available on your company’s website afterwards.

Ask a teacher

If none of these ideas appeal to you, or seem feasible, and you’re not sure how else your company might be able to be of assistance to schools, here’s a radical idea: ask them! If you don’t want to be inundated with requests from all over the world, then ask only your existing customers. If you’re concerned about being overwhelmed with a multitude of disparate requests, ask people to choose from a list of, say, half a dozen ideas that you know you can do. That way you can avoid over-promising and under-delivering. Use a tool like SurveyMonkey or Doodle, and select the top three ideas.

Conclusion

As these suggestions have demonstrated, it’s now more difficult, but not necessarily impossible, to be involved with your local or client schools.

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Terry Freedman

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and writer, having had a long career in Education, including teaching, advising schools and inspecting. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org/diged. You can follow Terry on Twitter @terryfreedman.

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