Education Technology

Tips for Surviving the School Year, Whatever It May Look Like!

Posted 08/13/2021 by Jessica Kohout (@MrsKohout)

The last year and a half has been really hard for many of us in education. We dealt with so many big changes in such a small amount of time. We learned new ways of doing our jobs and connecting with students. As we venture into the uncertainty of what another school year will bring in the age of COVID-19, I am still hopeful that I can connect with my students and provide numerous learning opportunities.

A few of years ago, I wrote “Tips for Surviving the First Week Back at School.” There are many things in there that are still accurate, but I have some new suggestions in light of today’s current situation.

Here are five ways to make sure that this school year is better than before!

1. Build relationships with your students
Whether you start school virtually, hybrid or in person, it is so important to get to know the students in your classroom. We need to know who they are as people and what their interests are so we can make our content relevant to their lives. Being able to correctly pronounce each student’s name is the easiest way to show that you care about them. I have started using ed tech tools that allow students to record themselves saying their name and to give me an introduction to their interests. This allows me to go back and listen to learn their names and a little more about them.

2. Build skills for the future
One of the things I missed most was hands-on learning when I was virtual and hybrid last year. I am hopeful that this year we can complete STEM Projects together. I want to foster collaboration, creativity and critical thinking with my students. Incorporating STEM projects into the content is very easy and fun for students. Editable student and teacher documents are provided, and some even have videos to help teachers starting out.

Student testing their “mood” using the TI-Innovator™ Hub
Student testing their “mood” using the TI-Innovator™ Hub and TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculator.

This next school year, I want to expose my students to coding and engineering design. The new TI-84 Plus CE Python and TI-Nspire™ CX II graphing calculators now have the addition of programming in Python. I have spent my summer working with 10 Minutes of Code for Python to better prepare myself for introducing Python to my students.

Both 10 Minutes of Code and STEM Projects provide an entry point for students (and teachers) without any experience to feel successful and build skills for their futures.

Smiley face drawn using ti_draw module in Python
Smiley face drawn using ti_draw module in Python from 10 Minutes of Code, Unit 5, Skill Builder 2.

3. STEM-ulating simulations
Being prepared is one of a teacher’s superpowers. If we have to go back virtual or hybrid, or if a student needs to be out for an extended period of time, I have added simulations to my “bag of tricks.” Science Nspired, Math Nspired and 84 Activity Central all provide activities that can easily be adapted to do at home or in the classroom.

In my hybrid biology class last year, I would take a simulation like “Zombie Apocalypse,” from the STEM Behind Hollywood page, and share my screen using my TI-Nspire™ CX Teacher Premium Software. We would go through the simulation as a class and discuss. I would also take screenshots of graphs and images and upload them along with questions into a quiz in our learning management system or Google Forms to check for understanding.

Hybrid setup to demonstrate activity
Hybrid setup to demonstrate activity for students at home and in the classroom.

Canvas Quiz
Example of data and questions loaded in a Canvas Quiz, our district’s learning management system.

4. Share your passion
Try to incorporate what brings you joy into the classroom. If students see how excited you get about something, maybe they might be interested or at least feel they can share their own passions too. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. After all, don’t we want to provide a safe space for our students to feel like they can be unapologetically themselves too?

5. Set boundaries
I felt like I worked constantly for 15 months straight from March 2020 until the end of the 2021 school year. I was getting burned out. I made it a point to prioritize time for myself and set appropriate boundaries between work and home life. I set timers when I needed to shut my laptop for the day. I also prioritized time for things that I enjoyed, like running, reading and family time.

Remember: We have been through a lot in the last year, but each year is different, and this year can be better than before!

About the author: Jessica Kohout has taught all levels of biology, including AP® Biology and marine science, at Reservoir High School in Howard County, Maryland. She is a T³™ National Instructor and sees technology as a great way to help students make real-life connections with science. Follow her on Twitter @MrsKohout.