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The 6 Tech Tools We Use for Distance Learning

Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Because of the transition to distance learning, EB teachers have turned to a variety of educational technology tools to facilitate learning while students are at home. Some of these tools were already in use and some of them are new. The faculty are aware of the drawbacks of too much time on devices and are working diligently to craft learning that successfully blends online and off-line opportunities. 

Not all screen time is equal

It is important to remember that not all “screen time” is categorized in the same fashion. Although some focus on only the quantity of screen time, it is important to also evaluate the quality of screen time. 

In regards to quantity, research shows too much screen time can inhibit children from spending adequate time outside and in free play activities. In our current distance learning mode, it’s important to create opportunities in your child’s schedule for outdoor activities and non-screen play. 

Recent research has also addressed the issue of the quality of time spent on devices for children and adolescents. Increased hours of video games and television were shown to negatively impact academic achievement. However, educational technology has been proven as an enhancement to learning. In the current remote setting, educational technology is absolutely necessary to provide a continuity of learning. This article will inform you on which technology tools EB is employing, their pedagogical purpose and how they can help your child.

 

1. Zearn Math

EB students (first grade through fifth grade) have a unique login and password for Zearn. This mathematics website is based on the American program standards in math and is in English. It aligns with our bilingual math program at EB with its Singapore-inspired approach. It focuses on units of study to gain mastery, uses a concrete-pictorial-abstract philosophy and incorporates mathematical models such as number bonds and bar models. 

Students learn concepts through interactive videos where they must respond to the teacher. Students use math manipulatives to explore conceptual knowledge with different strategies. Research shows that math manipulatives online (such as the place value discs on Zearn) are just as powerful as real-object manipulatives and activate the same part of a child’s brain. 

After every Zearn lesson, students are assessed in the Tower of Power and are given remediation until they demonstrate mastery of the concept. This data is accessible by teachers so they can appropriately differentiate instruction. Students also practice math fluency on Zearn which is adapted to their own level based on previous performance. Zearn’s fun interactive format, adaptive individualized program and alignment with EB’s bilingual math curriculum make it a powerful tool for distance learning. Your child is encouraged to complete one Zearn lesson (one lesson is four activities: two for fluency, one to teach the concept and the Tower of Power for assessment) each day. Learn more about Zearn in a recent blog post.

 

2. Reading A to Z (RAZ) Kids

RAZ Kids is an application where students have access to leveled books in French and English (and other languages!). First through fifth grade students have a unique login and password for their account. Teachers can assign students books or children can browse a library of books at their level. Teachers use assessment data to determine which levels each student has access to. 

Students can read fiction and non-fiction books and take quizzes on those books to assess comprehension. They can also record themselves reading books that their teacher can listen to at a later time which gives valuable opportunities for assessment. The various levels of books in both languages allows for differentiation. Although you may have many real books at home (and those are always wonderful!), RAZ ensures that your child has access to books in both languages at their independent reading level. 

The volume of reading at the appropriate “just right” level is one of the greatest factors in reading achievement. In English, students can also click on a difficult word to hear it read correctly or see its definition and listen to books in English. If you would like to ensure that your child is reading a book at their level or make regular recordings of their individual reading for their teacher, we encourage you to utilize the RAZ Kids resource. If you would like your child to access books in Spanish on RAZ, please ask your classroom teacher to adjust the settings. Learn more about RAZ Kids in a recent blog post.

 

3. Epic

Epic is another source for digital books that we introduced to many elementary EB students a few months ago. There are 35,000 books in English and also some in French, but not that many! 

You can search for books at a certain guided reading level (use your RAZ account to know your level) and also search for books by topic. The nonfiction collection is amazing and you can search for almost any topic of interest and find high-quality books with beautiful images. 

With public libraries closed, Epic can provide wonderful variety to supplement the books you have at home and nurture your child’s curiosity. Books that have a green band that says “Read To Me” are ones that students can listen to. Teachers also assign books and collections to students on Epic that are aligned with content they are teaching. To login students use the class code given by their teacher and click on their name. 

 

 

4. SeeSaw

SeeSaw is a digital portfolio that we are currently using as our main distance learning platform for grades Kindergarten through fourth grade. SeeSaw allows for enriching, interactive asynchronous learning where teachers post assigned activities and students use a variety of tools (audio, video, photos of paper/pencil work, drawing tools, etc.) to demonstrate their learning. 

Teachers can offer lessons by video that are viewed whenever the student’s schedule allows. Families have flexibility to complete assignments based on their household schedule. Teachers can give feedback by editing assignments or leaving comments in text form or audio form. The variety of audio and video tools allow us to continue to develop oral language skills in French. 

Families have options with SeeSaw to print assignments (watch "how to print from SeeSaw") and complete them on paper or complete them directly in SeeSaw--in either case the work is submitted for approval and comments from the teacher. To learn more about SeeSaw, watch this parent tutorial. 

 

5. Google Classroom 

Like SeeSaw for the younger grades, Google Classroom serves as our student portal for grades 5-8. With this tool, already in use at the middle school, teachers provide assignments, students submit work and receive feedback. Since fifth grade students will use Google Classroom in middle school, our distance learning setting is allowing them to become familiar with this tool now. Students are building typing skills since many of their assignments are submitted with Google documents. 

 

6. Zoom

Zoom gives students an opportunity to participate in live sessions with their teacher and classmates for community building, oral language practice, overview of daily activities, small and large group direct instruction, and office hours for answering questions. EB teachers are evolving in their use of Zoom for instruction and balancing live Zoom sessions with other asynchronous learning modalities depending on the age and needs of the students. 

The Technology and Academic departments have worked swiftly to secure Zoom classrooms using new security features rolled out by the company to defend against different kinds of attacks. The school is confident in the security of the Zoom meetings going forward. Synchronous instruction is absolutely critical to EB’s bilingual program. Zoom is not perfect, but we have taken all available measures to make it a safe space for students and teachers. 


In addition to the aforementioned tools, teachers are also offering optional online sites that can enhance distance learning such as Lalilo, Ma Classe à la Maison, and Classe Numérique (tools in French) and Starfall, ABCMouse and Khan Academy (tools in English). These resources are shared with families in Google doc agendas or through your child’s distance learning platform. Teachers have vetted any resource that is shared with parents to ensure a utility and benefit for your child. 

In conclusion, please know that EB is crafting a distance learning program that provides an appropriate balance between screen-based and off-line activities. We have some wonderful pedagogical tools online that allow us to offer the differentiation and feedback needed for your child to progress in their academic skills. Each time an educational technology tool is offered as a required or optional activity that EB’s expert teachers do so with a specific instructional purpose in mind. 

We focus on the quality and quantity of screen time your child engages in. If you have questions about which education technology tools are best suited for your child’s needs, please contact your child’s teacher. You may also reach out to the Division Directors or Curriculum Coordinator, Maggie Schoon at mschoon@eb.org, to learn more about the tools discussed in this article.