Below is a log of IDRA’s instructional strategies updates for schools regarding COVID-19. We release updates each week in our Learning Goes On eNews (sign up free) in English and Spanish.

See Spanish version


  • Elementary Teachers in Tennessee Explore Technology-Infused Project-Based Learning
  • Educational Leadership in Unpredictable Times
  • Science Comes Alive by Generating Interest and Promoting Inquiry-Based Learning!
  • Making ELAR Alive with Virtual Experiences
  • Models of Instruction to Help Students Interact and Engage in Hybrid, Face-to-Face and All-Remote Settings
  • Hispanic Heritage Month – An Identity Preface
  • Language Development in the Virtual Classroom
  • Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA Resources
  • Classroom Tips for Safe Zooming
  • Learner-Centered Digital Badging with Distance Learning
  • Using Choice Boards in the Virtual Classroom

April 16, 2021 Edition

Elementary Teachers in Tennessee Explore Technology-Infused Project-Based Learning

Dr. Robin Nelson, IDRA EAC-South Consultant

The Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) district and the IDRA EAC-South teamed up this spring to introduce Nashville elementary teachers to technology-infused project-based learning through a virtual book study. The seven-week study asked teachers to attend weekly meetings and read Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Susie Boss and Jane Krauss. The book introduces the essential elements of technology-infused PBL and maps out how it can expand teacher and student learning beyond the classroom.

Each week, elementary teachers from across the district met via Microsoft Teams to discuss weekly readings, learn from other teachers, and take away technology tools and tips to expand and support project-based learning in their classrooms. Amid a pandemic, the book study encouraged teachers to open their classrooms to the possibilities that technology-infused project-based learning affords.

Today’s classrooms are no longer bound by walls but are expanded by the imagination of teachers and students who learn together inside them. As participating teachers explored project-based learning and technology tools, they began to exchange the traditional content expert hat for the role of facilitator. When implementing project-based learning, teachers prepare students to ask questions, find answers, make real-world connections, and share knowledge with others in the community and beyond.

Technology enables teachers to provide access to people and resources otherwise inaccessible. It supports student accommodations through video, audio and voice-to-text features and helps teachers differentiate student instruction. Technology also enables students to express their understanding and ideas creatively inside and outside the classroom. But technology can only do all these beautiful things if implemented correctly and equitably.

The MNPS teachers understood that technology-infused project-based learning is not about bells and whistles; it is about meeting students where they are and supporting them. One group of MNPS teachers plans to use technology to connect students studying water conservation with the Metro Water System and other community partners. Ultimately, the focus is not the tool but how it connects students to experts and methods that support learning.

With this short-term book study, the teachers showed what it takes to tackle technology-infused project-based learning. Their growth was visible in their understanding and comfort level with project-based learning unit planning and implementation.

Many teachers began the book study feeling uncertain about project-based learning and how to implement it. After the study and creating a mini- project-based learning unit with other teachers from their home campuses, most reported a shift in understanding and level of readiness to use project-based learning in their classrooms.

Implementing project-based learning is challenging, and it takes time for teachers to develop the skills and understanding to facilitate student learning in a new way. While this change does not occur overnight, the teachers from MNPS set fabulous examples of how to tackle project-based learning implementation.

IDRA EAC-South can be a free technical assistance resource to schools in the U.S. South. Visit for more information.

February 12, 2021 Edition

Educational Leadership in Unpredictable Times

It is safe to say, no school principal expected the job to be easy. But schooling during a pandemic can make the most experienced principal feel like a novice.

Prior to COVID-19, IDRA led leadership coaching in several schools with a focus on equipping principals to be visionary leaders, student advocates, instructional leaders, collaborators and risk-taking innovators to improve student achievement. Even though the pandemic brought extraordinary challenges, these leadership skills provide the foundation for effective principal leadership in such a chaotic time.

This year, principals across the country strove to demonstrate calm amid a storm. School administrators have to diligently foster hope and encouragement among their staff. This means creating space in new ways to check in with faculty, staff and community members and to listen to their perspectives while honoring their contributions.

Building trust has become a priority as misinformation spreads and correct information changes regarding not just the virus and health precautions but also state and local policies affecting school operations.

School leaders of course must stay up to date with public health conditions and local responses. Teachers and staff look to their leaders as models for healthy behaviors and disease mitigation.

Effective leaders take steps to remove irrelevant duties and lighten the task load to make space for new responsibilities and work environments teachers face. This includes providing flexible deadlines to prioritize the most important duties.

A particularly large challenge many people working remotely continue to struggle with is the sense of constantly being on the clock. For the sake of their staff and long-term impact, leaders must define realistic boundaries and adhere to them.

It is important for leaders to be observant and know the needs of the people they work with. Empathy and authenticity are competencies that leaders demonstrate and model to influence and help others to lead. Building meaningful relationships, providing emotional support, and offering a space to provide comfort when in distress shows that leaders are willing to talk through concerns. It is crucial to lead with empathy, strive for flexibility, and model behaviors that prioritize the health and well-being of the people we work with and serve.

Many of the methods teachers used in the past to support students are not possible right now. They need altered systems to help them engage students, promote attendance and promote learning. Leaders can provide coaching and mentoring to promote professional growth for adapting to this new environment and preparing for the next school year.

Effective leaders create meaningful ways to connect with families to explain safety measures and academic expectations and to assure families that the school’s structures are in place. It is critical that leaders have a listening ear for family insights, concerns and partnership for students’ progress.

Students must have access to rigorous curriculum and lessons that prepare them for college. This has not changed during COVID-19. Assessment and monitoring should be ongoing to determine mastery. With genuine support, students will master the academic concepts, high expectations and objectives of each content area.

In education, the principal is second only to the teacher as the individual who impacts student success the most. With the skills and strategies listed above, principals can strengthen teacher and staff resilience and advance student academic outcomes – even during a pandemic.

December 10, 2020 Edition

Science Comes Alive by Generating Interest and Promoting Inquiry-Based Learning!

by Dr. Stephanie Garcia

Generating interest and promoting inquiry is a major, initial component of project-based learning (PBL). Want to hook students into a new science unit or project? Try introducing a discrepant event. These are “attention-getting, thought-provoking events that purposely challenge students’ confidence in what they know” (Boss & Krauss, 2018). There are tons of websites and online videos to bring in science demos and discrepant events into your classroom.

A simple example in elementary and middle school science classrooms is a buoyancy or density demonstration. You can ask students the following: “If two 12-ounce cans of soda are dropped into a tub of water, will they sink or float?” Students may predict they both will sink or float, but you will actually get different results with a diet soda and regular soda. The regular soda has more grams of sugar, while the diet soda has less sugar (artificial sweetener). The regular soda has more density than water, so it sinks. The diet soda has less density than the water, so it floats.

This type of demonstration makes students question: What’s the difference in their composition? If they have the same volume, why aren’t they both responding the same way? What is the difference between aspartame and regular sugar? What is an example of different objects that have the same volume, but their different masses could make one sink and another float?

Students’ interests can also be hooked through role-playing or storytelling events. You can leverage technology easily if students are able to manipulate science simulations in a game-based learning strategy or through (virtual) field trips. Discovery Education has a long list of virtual field trips for free!

I once worked with a class of seventh graders on an inquiry-based project about our local aquifer and water quality. I posed the problem: “Indicator species are dying!” Through virtual field trips with local geologists suspending into our local aquifer, students realized this was a major problem for their community. They came to their own conclusions right away: If indicator species, such as blind salamanders, living in our aquifer are dying and going extinct, then that could mean something is wrong with our water quality.

Through this interesting, real-life scenario, the students felt they needed to take action. This was the beginning of a wonderful inquiry-based project where students came up with real-life solutions after consulting with professionals and urging our city council to make changes in our community.

You can use other engagement-based strategies throughout PBL and science learning experiences in efforts to sustain interest and inquiry. Mariana Aguilar identifies essential factors for student engagement based on current research (Aguilar, 2020; Aguilar, et al., 2020).

  • Whether in distance learning or in-person learning settings, engagement is defined by the design of the system, demands of the content, and the quality of the teacher. All of these factors impact the student’s learning experiences.
  • A strong classroom culture, online or in person, includes positive and productive relationships. Students are willing to ask questions and go outside their comfort zone. Teachers can use communication tools to help maintain these positive and productive relationships.
  • Teachers should activate student’s prior knowledge and stay within their zone of proximal development (ZPD). This helps the educator leverage what students know to build on the content and sustain their engagement by staying in their zone of rigor (challenging, but supportive).
  • The teaching and learning experiences should be relevant and relatable. Pop culture references help, as well as real-world challenges.

The PBL approach is a perfect solution during these times of distance learning. With varied school schedules and formats, PBL can be extremely successful in virtual settings. It keeps students engaged and challenged, as well as producing high-quality work that demonstrates their understanding. Contact us for more information and to schedule a professional development session.


Aguilar, M. (2020). 4 Essential Factors for Student Engagement Based on Current Research. 10 Minute Teacher Podcast.

Aguilar, M., Sheldon, K., Ahrens, R., & Janowicz, P. (2020). 2020 State of Engagement Report. GoGuardian.

Boss, S., & Krauss, J. (2018). Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age. Arlington, Va.: International Society for Technology in Education.

Discovery Education. (2020). Virtual Field Trips, website.

The Owl Teacher. (2020). Why You Should Be Using Discrepant Events. The Owl Teacher blog.

November 19, 2020 Edition

Making ELAR Alive with Virtual Experiences

by Dr. Nilka Avilés, Jeanne Cantu, Gerald Sharp

Building literacy skills in English language arts and reading lessons is a challenge for online instruction. Teachers seek ways to offer students opportunities through whole group and small group activities in reading, analyzing texts, and writing and ways for students to share their own thoughts with peers. Following are some strategies for making ELAR come alive online.

When choosing both literary (narrative) and informational (expository) texts for students to read, identify books and stories from culturally-relevant sources. When students see themselves in a text, they engage with it more deeply and connect with characters and settings.

Ask questions from texts requiring higher levels of thinking and analysis, such as the author’s purpose, character motives, and other possibilities for a character. As students share differing points from the same text, they can see avenues to explore in their own written answers.

Following an introductory lesson to a unit or topic, create opportunities for students to interact in small groups. Using your online platform, such as Zoom, Collaborate, or Microsoft Teams, form groups of four to five students who will work together on assigned projects and cooperatively discuss their thoughts and ideas.

Other times, you can set up a discussion board or white board where students can respond to a teacher-posted question. Students then comment on each other’s responses. They also can keep a digital notebook where they record their responses to a reading.

Provide multiple ways for students to display their responses and written products. Students can use graphic organizers or posters, for example, to show understanding of a topic. Then you can set up a virtual gallery walk where students can view each other’s products and comment on them.

For a writing activity, you can set-up a Google Doc so students can collaboratively write a composition. Additionally, you can assign a project to a group of students where they, cooperatively, design slides for a PowerPoint or Google Sheets presentation and then present that to the whole class.

Seek opportunities for training on online tools for virtual courses so that you can have options for different learning objectives. Practice using different tools for collaborative writing, group sharing, project development and demonstrating mastery. See below for resource links.

Online Learning Resources and Tools

Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR)


Depth of Knowledge Questions

Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix

October 28, 2020 Edition

Models of Instruction to Help Students Interact and Engage in Hybrid, Face-to-Face and All-Remote Settings

by Dr. Paula Johnson, IDRA EAC-South Director

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the globe, communities are still adjusting. For many students this means getting used to attending school from their homes. And for many teachers, this means transitioning face-to-face lessons to a virtual presentation.

Not surprisingly, so many of us are concerned about our students’ ability to stay focused. After all, their computers are not only portals to the world; they can also lead to endless possibilities of distraction.

Over the years, I’ve honed my strategies for keeping students engaged online. As a career education teacher at an online school, I have valuable experience leading an online classroom. That’s why I want to share four tips that will make your lessons come alive online and grab your students’ attention.

Use Interactive Activities

Now that students are no longer sitting in front of you or with their peers in a classroom, you have to find new ways to encourage interaction. Fortunately, there are many activities you can incorporate into your lessons to foster an engaging and interactive learning environment.

First, consider starting your lessons by directing students to a discussion board. The questions I ask students as the class begins may not always be about the material. Instead, I ask stress-free questions like their favorite book or movie, which warms them up before we jump into the lesson.

Collaboration boards serve as a useful tool that enables students to view and respond to classmates’ messages. Though they are not seeing each other face-to-face, these boards allow them to engage in shared discussions together.

Another helpful tool that I love to use are breakout rooms. In a brick-and-mortar classroom, you would typically separate students into smaller groups and have them spread out and work together. It is just as easy online. You can place students in virtual meeting rooms where they can chat and brainstorm together and strengthen their teambuilding skills.

Encourage Engagement and Questions

Engagement is not easy, but it is a necessity.

I have found that to increase engagement in the class, I have to ensure that students understand every lesson. By creating short instructional videos to walk through assignments, everyone can get on the same page, and they can re-watch a segment until they grasp the main ideas or concepts.

Then, you can turn around to the students. Supplement your lessons with interactive activities that engage them in the material. For example, I occasionally create FlipGrid pages to provide a visual component to lessons.

Also, when students engage with the content, be sure to encourage questions and ongoing discussion. It can be intimidating for students to ask questions face-to-face, and for some students this anxiety increases in a virtual setting.

Making Testing Fun… Yes Fun

Online school defies some of the traditional concepts we have when it comes to teaching. So, as you modify your lessons, consider unique ways to test students’ knowledge of the subject.

Make sure you are presenting the material in an applicable and identifiable way. Test their knowledge as you move along by including polls and discussion questions. Another favorite is to include games that are relevant to the lesson.

For example, I use PowerPoint-based games like Jeopardy and Family Feud. These programs are already familiar to them and gets them engaged in the game from the start. Using an all-time student favorite, Kahoot, helps as well. The competition among students can be fierce, but they learn the material at the same time in a fun and interactive way.

Embrace the Virtual World

The virtual world provides so many opportunities to enrich student’s education. But also recognize that some students will need more guidance than others. As a CTE teacher, I know my students understand computer systems, but not all students have that same background. Serve as a guide for those who need help.

And not all students have to be STEM-focused to thrive in an online classroom. There are plenty of online resources for teachers of all subjects to use to build their lessons.

Moving Forward

As schools transition this fall, some teachers are returning to a brick-and-mortar classroom while others will remain on the digital path. Either way, I urge you to consider the lessons learned and continue to incorporate that into your teaching plans moving forward.

Online education can make your lessons come alive and really get students excited about learning. At a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world, helping students focus with engaging, informative lessons, is key.

Online Learning Resources and Tools

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have organized an online community of practice that is working together to develop a set of lessons and resources to teach students about mathematics concepts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The site includes activities that guide teachers and parents in helping students make sense of the global medical crisis and how it has affected our lives. Visit the Coronavirus and Pandemics Math Resources site.

PreK-8: BrainPOP engages students through animated learning videos, games, quizzes and activities.

Grades K-6: Cool Math 4 Kids offers lessons and games that make math fun.

Grades: 6-9: PBS Math Club from PBS Learning Media. Middle schoolers will love this engaging video blog. Each episode covers Common Core Standards and uses pop-culture references to make math learning culturally relevant.

Grades 6-12: challenges students to think critically about math through real-world topics that students can relate to.

Grades: 6-12: VirtualNerd has more than 1,500 recorded video lessons ranging from middle-grade math through Algebra 2. Lessons are in bite-sized chunks and include links to additional videos for students to review background knowledge.

October 14, 2020 Edition

Hispanic Heritage Month – An Identity Preface

While Hispanic Heritage Month closes on October 15, the importance of culturally relevant pedagogy continues year-round. This month has been a special time to celebrate the cultures and histories of all diverse communities, including identities that intersect with Hispanic heritage.

Hispanic is an ethnicity, but many do not identify as Hispanic. Identity is intersectional, so we should also be inclusive of celebrating the cultures, histories and contributions of Mexican Americans, Chicanos/as, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorians, Hondurans, Latinos/as, Chileans and more.

Identity is not linear, singular or fixed. As we learn more about our heritage and history, we discover a new part of our identity. As Gloria Anzaldúa said, “There is no one Chicano language just as there is no one Chicano experience.” The same is true for other identities.

Hispanic Heritage in STEM

Since women of color are often overlooked in STEM subjects and grossly underrepresented in the field, IDRA’s STEM and gender equity specialist, Dr. Stephanie Garcia, has been showcasing a STEMinista (Latina in STEM) every day of Hispanic Heritage Month. Below are a few STEMinistas and a brief summary of their contribution in STEM. They are a few of many that serve as an inspiration and trailblazer in STEM.

Born in Puerto Rico, Olga D. González-Sanabria was granted a U.S. patent for her innovation. Her long cycle-life nickel-hydrogen battery helped power the International Space Station. She became the highest-ranking Hispanic at the NASA Glenn Research Center.

Frances Córdova earned her Ph.D. in physics from Cal State. She studied white dwarfs and pulsars at Los Alamos National Laboratory, authored more than 150 published articles, became chief scientist for NASA, president of Purdue University, and a director at the National Science Foundation.

Gabriela Mistral, literary pseudonym of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, was South America’s first Nobel Laureate. Her poems had many themes, but one was nature. She wrote about nature in the Poem of Chile. This is a great example of STEAM (art integrated in STEM).

Ynes Mexia is a famous Mexican American botanist who received her degree at U.C. Berkeley. She discovered two new plant genera and 500 new plant species.

Rebeca Guber is a famous computer scientist from Argentina. She taught at the University of Buenos Aires and co-authored Elements of Differential and Integral Calculus. She also co-developed the first computer in Argentina!

In 1944, Enriqueta González Baz became the first woman to graduate with a math degree in Mexico from the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and she co-founded the Mexican Mathematical Society.

Dra. Helen Rodríguez Trías was the first Latina president of American Public Health Association. She brought national attention to the HIV and AIDS crisis and exposed inequities in healthcare. She was also an associate professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Ellen Ochoa is the first and only Hispanic female astronaut. She recently retired from her NASA director position in Houston. She was a mission specialist and a flight engineer, and she conducted robotics development.

These incredible contributions all connect to computer science, biology, mechanical engineering, aerospace and aviation, medicine and literature in STEM. Educators should find creative ways to acknowledge and authentically connect these mujeres pioneras (women pioneers) and their contributions to the STEM curriculum. This work is important because we want our future STEMinistas to see themselves in the field.

Said beautifully by Gloria Anzaldúa: “Do work that matters. Vale la pena.”


Antiracism in Science – Infographic

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, book by Gloria Anzaldúa

11 Women scientists who should be in the Texas K-12 science standards, just to get the ball rolling – Infographic

See more STEMinistas via Dr. Stephanie Garcia’s Twitter account @STEMinistx.

October 8, 2020 Edition

Language Development in the Virtual Classroom

Equitable and rigorous education today remains a challenge for teaching unique populations, including English learner students. Challenges range from technology access and connectivity, to designing instructional plans that meet the individual needs of English learner students via distance learning. However, the disruption of traditional education due to COVID-19 can also offer some unexpected benefits.

Strategies to support students’ language and literacy development during remote and hybrid learning

  • Staying in contact with students should be a major priority: Teachers should connect via phone, text or live video with students on a routine basis to provide support or necessary instruction. Many students rely on school as a place of stability. Distance can be challenging for many of them. Teachers should ensure that they are always communicating with their students and families in a language they can understand. Educators can set up consistent meetings, office hours, or check-in one-on-one as necessary. Focus on maintaining supportive relationships with students and their families, beyond instructional content.
  • Consider multiple ways to make content interactive and engaging: Teachers can provide individualized learning experiences utilizing accessible materials and multiple modalities. This could include PowerPoint, YouTube, photos and illustrations, sentence strips, a small whiteboard, and common household items. Develop projects that provide differentiated options for students and families, to foster engagement, creativity, and build on student strengths. Design tasks that focus on the connecting next steps for growth related to students’ English language development.
  • Identify relevant materials to send home: This can include student textbooks, worksheets and any aids they may need to do their work. Educators should determine if the current curriculum has a digital integrated or designated EL component and prioritize using this curriculum (TNTP, 2020). Provide families with multilingual prompts for conversations they can have with their students about what they are learning (Skibbins, 2020). Ongoing conversations with families should involve educators setting time aside to communicate with them and gathering constructive feedback so that they can continue to refine their students’ learning experiences (Robertson, 2020).
  • Educators should be proficient in online tools: An important step for helping students learn remotely is to understand how different virtual tools and resources can assist learning, especially when not all students necessarily understand how to use these programs on their own. The focus should be on how tools can best support teaching and learning, not on the tools themselves (Robertson, 2020).

Sample activities for English learner students and teachers in virtual learning environments

  • Have students upload a video of themselves reading a book to the classroom space or film themselves explaining how they solved a math problem. The teacher then responds with a short feedback video with comments or questions from the class.
  • Have students interview a family member and create a presentation to share. Students can present the content in both English and in their home language, including photos or videos from the family member. Classmates can comment in both English and the student’s home language.

Strategies for teachers of English learners during hybrid or remote learning

  • Create presentations in multiple languages using captions or an online translation tool. Allow students to respond orally or in writing.
  • Produce a Google Slides presentation with visuals on a content topic and include resource links for students to use to learn more about the topic and add to the subject within a shared document. Alternatively, assign students a topic related to the unit and then get together with their peers to create a group presentation to share with the class.

Additionally, some parents may not have the technological proficiency that would enable them to easily communicate with their student’s teachers. Staying in touch will require patience, persistence, and understanding. Use this time as an opportunity to find multiple ways of communicating with parents of your English learner students to maximize learning during this time of remote instruction. Teachers, students and families are in this together!


Distance Learning for ELLs: Planning Instruction, by Kristina Robertson, Colorín Colorado

6 Key Considerations for Supporting English Learners with Distance Learning, by Heather Skibbins, SEAL

Supporting Multilingual Learners (MLLs)/English Language Learners (ELLs) During the COVID-19 Shutdown, TNTP

IDRA Supplemental Bilingual Early Childhood Curriculum

Semillitas de Aprendizaje offers a unique bilingual set of early childhood materials.The classroom set includes:

  • Teacher Guide (Manual de Maestro)
  • 10 Big Books (abridged)
  • 10 Storybooks (unabridged)
  • 15 Math Books
  • 20 Cartitas – Letters Home, with activities related the Semillitas de Aprendizaje stories
  • Storytelling & Storyreading Videos DVD

See video clips from the DVD with examples of storytelling in Spanish and story reading in English for one of the 10 Semillitas de Aprendizaje stories.

Learn more about IDRA’s Semillitas de Aprendizaje curriculum including sample classroom lessons and scope and sequence

September 24, 2020 Edition

Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA Resources

Modern Day #Sheroes 

A few years back, President Barrack Obama celebrated the contributions of women is space science, such as Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson and Grace Hopper, acknowledging that they inspired not only him but others in their pursuit of reaching excellence through a science career in spaceflight.

Maria Caballero, a NASA engineer at the Armstrong Flight Research Center, advises girls to pursue careers in the STEM field stating: “Never give up and do not allow anyone to put you down. Even if you do not see women represented in some careers don’t let that stop you.” She attributes her motivation in the pursuit of her career to her mom, Katherine Johnson and Margaret Hamilton.

In 2017, Margot Lee Shetterly’s best-selling book and film Hidden Figures were launched to inspire more women to be the brains behind the greatest maneuverings of spaceflight. They were great mathematicians and computer science majors who helped propel humankind into space. (See NASA’s From Hidden to Modern Figures site.)

NASA’s Women of STEM website features the work of great women scientists, including women of color. It includes profiles and videos of women in STEM, technology, engineering, math and space.

Implications for In- and Out-of-School Settings

IDRA was recently invited to collaborate with the Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA (GSAWN) initiative to incorporate its incredible resources into IDRA’s Texas Chief Science Officers program activities. The initiative’s goal is to support community-based organizations to engage girls and their families in STEM through the GSAWN activities and digital library.

The resources, exhibits and NASA interactions with subject matter experts help increase awareness and knowledge about our universe and foster STEM identity in girls. Almost 70% of youth participants said their experiences with the GSAWN resources helped them think about new jobs they might be interested in pursuing. These range from an aerospace engineer, space scientist, astrophysicist and astronaut.

Teachers can find activities to use in virtual settings along with posters, exhibits and recorded webinars. Also see NASA’s Hispanic Heritage Month site).

September 17, 2020 Edition

Classroom Tips for Safe Zooming

Virtual tools for distance learning have become critical to ensuring schooling can continue during the COVID-19 pandemic for students with access. While there are multiple online meeting platforms, Zoom has become the virtual meeting platform of choice. According to DMR Business Statistics as of April 30, 2020, there are 300 million daily meeting participants on Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms. Zoom alone has 200 million individual account holders, and well over 100,000 schools are using it.

Since March, Zoom experienced customer growth of 354%. With so many users, it is no wonder that hackers turned their attention toward it as well. The term Zoomboming did not exist in 2019, and it is a cause of anxiety and concern to teachers everywhere. According to Wikipedia Zoombombing or Zoom raiding refers to the unwanted, disruptive intrusion, generally by Internet trolls and hackers, into a video conference call.

Here are some tips to help keep your class safe from intruders.

Make sure you are using the latest version of Zoom

As with all software, security and user experience is constantly being enhanced, but it can only help users who update their software regularly. Set a date like the first of each month to check for updates.

Set up classroom norms
By setting up norms and expectations your students will know what is required of them. Most students want to follow the rules, they just need to know what they are. Review them regularly at the start of a virtual session, post them in the chatbox or show them on an opening screen as students wait for class to begin. Examples include:

  • Mute your mic when you are not speaking.
  • Raise your hand or wave if you would like a turn to speak.
  • Ask questions in the chat.
  • You (do or do not) have to keep your camera on.

Do not share your Zoom link or code on social media or another public platform
To communicate an online meeting to your students, post the details within your learning management software, classroom email or a class calendar appointment. And consistency is key. Using the same method every time will reduce student stress from the guesswork of finding the right link and will reduce incidents of students missing class.

Request that students use their full name for identification and attendance purposes
Before virtual meeting begins, remember to ask your students to use an acceptable, agreed upon moniker. As students log-in they will have the option to input their name. If you have set up a waiting room then only those whom you recognize will be allowed to join the meeting.

Use Zoom’s handy set up tools when scheduling your class or meeting
Create a waiting room – A waiting room allows you to only let those whom you recognize into a meeting. You can adjust your notification settings so that once instruction has begun, the system will notify you of latecomers in the waiting room.

  • Set a meeting password – Meetings should have a password to limit outside entry into your class. You can customize the password to make it easy for students to remember.
  • Set a link as “recurring” – This reduces your workload and keeps students from having to find a new link and password each day.
  • Set screen sharing to “host only” – Make sure the box is checked to default screen sharing for the host only. You can always change this during the class to extend privileges as needed to meeting participants.
  • Turn off the annotation feature – If you are using a whiteboard feature within a virtual meeting software turn off any shared annotation features until needed.
  • Restrict other features as needed in host controls – Only allow participants access to the features they require for a successful meeting. For example, you can disable private chat and turn off file transfer if you don’t need students to share files through the chat.
  • Disable “allow removed participants to rejoin” – This will permanently expel a participant from your meeting. They will not be able to rejoin the meeting they were removed from. During your discussion of meeting norms with your students, let them know that removal from a meeting is permanent for that meeting.

Act quickly to deal with intruders
You don’t have to shut everything down the second you see possible trouble. Sometimes, a student is using a different computer that shows a log-in name you don’t recognize, or a young sibling wants to be a star. If you do have an issue, you can:

  • mute one or all participants (which is also useful if you’re hearing echoes or family conversations),
  • turn someone’s video off, put everyone else on hold (click on someone’s video thumbnail and select “Start Attendee On Hold” to activate this feature), and
  • Remove unwanted or disruptive participants (from that “Participants” menu, mouse over a person’s name, and click “Remove”).

September 9, 2020 Edition

Learner-Centered Digital Badging with Distance Learning

Digital badging represents a skill or accomplishment someone attains through formal or informal educational experiences. A teacher, for example, can create digital badges for students to earn in their class, and students can show off their badges as milestones they have achieved in their course.

In addition, museums can create digital badges for students to earn after they complete a series of activities or trainings the museum has designed. Outside of the classroom experience, digital badges can be displayed on a student’s LinkedIn or Tallo profile so future employers, colleges and universities can view the students’ skills and accomplishments (much like they would on a resume).

Recognition and Reward for Teachers and Students
Naturally, people tend to learn and perform when they are valued for what they do, their efforts are recognized and rewarded for their time and efforts. Digital badging in education enables the learner, whether it be an educator or a student, to learn and receive a badge for their achievements.

Digital badging in education has traditionally been district-led and teacher-centered, meaning district administrators determine the technology skills teachers should learn for effective technology classroom integration and then outline the digital tasks a teacher must complete to earn each badge. This has recently expanded to much broader uses and have been adapted for all 21st century learners.

Both teachers and students can benefit from digital badges, especially during this time. As the pandemic forces us to work online, we all must expand our working knowledge of multiple software applications and virtual learning platforms. Digital badging offers opportunities for both teachers and students to demonstrate ongoing development and share their accomplishments in a digital portfolio.

Digital badging, when done well, is a learner-centered endeavor. Students can pick and choose the resources they want to learn more about. This type of learner-centered approach enables them to pursue their interests. They can learn at their own pace while also creating a digital artifact that signifies that the learning has occurred.

Using Digital Badging During A Pandemic
Whether in or outside the classroom, educators can create meaningful and challenging experiences for students to engage in virtually. A great example is how the San Antonio STEAM Council is creating a citywide effort for all students to earn digital badges through a platform called The goal is for students to expand their skills online and earn badges from school districts, non-profit organizations and other institutions across the city. All San Antonio students can create a free account and begin earning digital badges by sharpening their workforce skills or diving deep into learning any content that interests them. (See Future Ready SA’s Digital Badging 101 flier created by Up Partnership).

How Teachers Can Earn Digital Badges
Most educators earn digital badges from a credentialing administrator, such as their school district curriculum or technology department; professional development institutions, such as TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association); education agency; local educational service center (in Texas); or actual software or application training sites. FlipGrid and other virtual platforms, for example, may offer micro-credentialing and other professional development via digital badging.

How Students Can Earn Digital Badges
Educators do not need to rely on any outside organization to offer digital badges to their students. Teachers can easily create digital badges on Google Docs and upload these awards via Google Classroom or whichever learning management system they are using this school year. Students and teachers can also use, which is a free and easy to use digital badge creation tool.

See this short tutorial on how to create a digital badge board in the context of a social studies class. (04:30 min)

September 3, 2020 Edition

Using Choice Boards in the Virtual Classroom

Choice boards are instructional tools educators can use in any content area or grade level. Examples vary, but two popular types are Menu and Tic-Tac-Toe boards. These graphic organizers consist of different tasks, activities or projects students can choose to complete to demonstrate their understanding of the learning goal. Teachers typically include brief instructions and deadlines. If a board is project-based, teachers often will include a rubric to communicate the expectations of one or more projects on the board.

Choice boards are easy to implement in virtual learning settings. Teachers can easily create one on a Google Doc with embedded links and posted into their Google Classroom with the deadline and grading scale. Each problem or activity can build in opportunities for students to practice a certain skill or apply what they have learned in a more rigorous activity.

Teachers can purposefully design a choice board to chunk the unit or learning goal into each option. They also can organize their choice board to include non-negotiable tasks to ensure all students are evaluated on a particular skill or content application.

Use of choice boards encourages differentiated learning because the options can be designed for beginning to advanced learners and can include specific learning engagements for English learners and students with accommodations.

Most importantly, choice boards encourage student agency and autonomy in their learning experiences. Although intentionally designed by the educator, students still choose learning experiences based on their own interests. It is important to include varied tasks that excite students and render creative engagements with the content.

See this quick video as Dr. Stephanie Garcia walks through how to use choice boards. (2:00 min)

Explore more ideas…

Choice Boards, Menus, & Tic-Tac-Toe

Interactive Tic-Tac-Toe Menu Choice Board Template in Google Slides,

Meeting the Challenges of Remote Learning, by Debra Shapiro, National Science Teacher Association

Volume & Surface Area Choice Board