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Our classroom in virulent times:Key tips for teachers and students.

The world a year ago.

I still remember when I learned about the first case of Covid-19 in Chile. I was working at the Academy with my colleagues, when we looked at the TV in the reception hall and heard the terrific news: Covid had arrived from Southeast Asia. Immediately we started discussing how to procced, and it wasn’t long before we implemented public health measures, like greeting with our shoes instead of shaking hands, putting up antibacterial gel, [more measures] always with a touch of hope. I thought that it would be over by Christmas, just like WWI soldiers. And like men in the trenches, everything became still once the pandemic, and the subsequent curfew arrived at Rancagua. No more presential classes.

But we weren’t going to allow a little pandemic to stop us from doing what we do best: to teach with love and fun. Before the storm, we started searching for a viable way to have online classes, we had a little practice from 2019 protests with Google Meet, but after some research and experimenting with every possibility, we settled on using Zoom. It was challenging at first, learning to use a different platform, to move the classroom from our Academy to the virtual world, and to give our students everything we got.

Don’t be afraid of facing the unknown.

No matter how dark things seem to be, there is an opportunity to seize.

Learn and Persevere.

In our virtual classroom, many things were different. Sharing a screen and showing slides just reading without interaction with our students doesn’t suit our way of teaching. Where is the fun in that? Where is the love in that?

We need interaction with our support material; to underline, to make emphasis, to ask questions! Zoom incorporates a way to annotate when someone is sharing screen, but it wasn’t the same as writing the whiteboard with a marker, so a huge improvement for me was to have the appropriate hardware, thus a really good investment was to buy a tablet with a pen, it’s more comfortable and it adds fluidity to the class.

We are teachers, and having the right tools is key to improve our work.

Probably one of the most deciding factors in learning is to keep focused in whatever you are assimilating into knowledge. At every moment your brain receives an astronomical number of stimuli, and it’s near to impossible to control all of them. Nevertheless, in a classroom you can control most of them, choosing appropriate decoration and limiting external sources of input (like your phone!), that way it’s easier to notice the teacher inviting you to have fun learning.

In an online reunion, sitting in front of a screen, with multiple tabs open (music, Instagram, Facebook, Google, etc.) and people going in and out of the room it’s hard to replicate the same conditions as the classroom, so here are some advices to reduce external interference.

· Use Fullscreen and keep open only what is needed for your class. (Close Discord, WhatsApp, Steam, and others!) It will be better if a surprise notification catches you after your class is over.

· Create a dedicated study place: Look for a place reliable internet access, remove distractions, and make it separate from the bed or the sofa. A clear distinction between study and relax will help you focus.

· Implement shorter classes and frequent rest: our attention has a limited span, so shorter classes maximize learning time and prevents boredom.

The fundamental way in which we implement ADA model is through classroom interaction, the interaction between the teacher and the learners, and among the learners, in the classroom. In a physical classroom there are many paraverbal expressions which a teacher can use; just by looking at a face you can know if a student has questions, if he thinks that everything is too easy and wants a challenge, observe their hands and know if he is bored or impatient, listen to their voices and notice the subtle changes that tell you if you need to explain once again or not. This is what I miss the most about presential classes, because when you are meeting a new group of students not everyone has their cam or mic on, and what are going to do? Give up? We don’t do that here. Anyway, here are some tips that really helped me out:

· Turn on your camera and microphone: the most direct way to solve the above problem, encourage your students to do this as well.

· Use didactical tools like polls and quizzes: When you ask and give choices, it’s easier to get involved in the class and can be used as a starting point to clarify concepts or ask questions. Besides, a quick quiz can be used to break the ice, most useful when meeting a new group.

· Address questions to specific students instead of asking to the whole group: When a student doesn’t answer questions addressed to the group in general, and doesn’t participates in the class, a resource you can use is to ask him something. If you use this method with every student in the class, they’ll start expecting your questions, encouraging them to be always ready to answer, because they never know when it’s going to be their turn.

· Use facts to check if student understand: Have you ever asked, “Did you understand everything?” only to hear a feeble “Yeeeeees” as answer, only to find out that they didn’t understood the topic fully? A way to get around this problem is to consider understanding as an objective, factual variable. Ask them to apply their knowledge solving a quick exercise or answering conceptual questions!

As the months went on and on, our lives in social distancing turned monotonous, working and studying in the same place, in the same position, same desk, same routine staring at the screen day after day, and this took it’s toll on our minds. Seriously, I thought I was trapped in the “Groundhog day”. We can make subtle differences to cope and feel a little better in this regard:

· Set clear delimiters to indicate the start and the end of your working day: For example, I started my day with a coffee, and ended it taking my glasses off and changing into more comfortable clothes. This way you can finally relax after classes/work, similar to the joy of coming home after school, everything works better if you designate a place to study as indicated before.

· If everything looks too monotonous, move some furniture around! It will help you keeping your workspace fresh and invigorating.

When we are toddlers, we learn to use our bodies to interact with the world, we practice making sounds until we are capable of speech and we crawl until we learn to walk. Right now, our cellphone and computer have become an extension of our bodies, and as such, we have to learn to use them at their full capacity. A year ago we were toddlers, but today we are kids, full of questions and curiosity. Embrace the thirst for knowledge, dare to learn!

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