This guest blog post was a winner in the Blackboard K-12 #BragAboutYourClassroom Contest!

Author: Carol Cochuyt, K-2 Department Head at Clay Virtual Academy

As a Virtual Kindergarten Teacher, the first question is “How do you do that?” It is an amazing process which is enabled through the use of the Blackboard Learning Management System. I find that virtual school actually strengthens the bond between the school, students, and home. This bond is strengthened through the educational experiences we have developed as a school which challenges teachers to meet students where they are and take them as far as possible.

As a school, Blackboard Collaborate allows us to have virtual meetings and common planning time from any location. We can share materials and techniques without travelling to one location. We can also use the Instant Messaging for those quick questions between staff. This eliminates the phone ringing while the teacher may be working in their virtual classroom, or speaking with a student or parent. Our School Staff Area keeps our school resources at our fingertips. It also provides an area for the sharing of formal educational resources we find exciting or informal resources we find uplifting. Like everything in virtual education, it is evolving and showing constant improvement!

As a Department Head, I enjoy the Instant Messaging and Virtual Meeting capabilities. Those are wonderful, but for our department, the most vital use of Collaborate areas, in my opinion, is to join our efforts across grade levels. We don’t have just one Virtual Classroom open to each grade level all of the time. We have Community Rooms where multiple grade levels have constant access points as well. In those Community Rooms we’ve had guest readers with question/answer sessions for Florida Ag Literacy Day. Students recently enhanced plant studies by taking apart a flower together and creating diagrams which included the parts being labeled with students telling the teacher what to write across 3 grade levels at once. We participated when “We Give Books” attempted to break the world record for the number of students reading the same book at the same time. During “Just Read Florida” week, we shared a chapter book across 6 grade levels a little each day, and our Principal finished the book at our culminating face to face activities that Friday. The Community Rooms help us with what I would consider school assemblies. The Community Rooms, because of their multi grade level design, allow teachers to combine efforts for small group instruction. For example, we’ve had reading groups which had advanced Kindergarten students with First Grade students based on skill needs they were all demonstrating. This allowed us to differentiate our instruction, yet cross grade levels. We limit our small groups to 5 students, as that allows everyone, including the teacher to be on camera together.

As a Kindergarten Teacher I love the coordinated efforts of Blackboard and Learning.com. My little students are not asked repeatedly to enter passwords and login information to move from resource to resource in their lessons. Parents also enjoy the smooth and speedy “transition times.” My CD collection of educational music for my brick and mortar classroom is difficult to transition over to virtual education. It is now surpassed by my educational YouTube music. I wouldn’t have believed it even a year ago. The Blackboard format allows me to add new materials at a moment’s notice. I’ve been known to take music requests like this one: “Mrs. Cochuyt, do you have a counting backwards song? I just can’t get it and I really like your songs.” I can serve the needs of the student through the placement of learning options in the view of the entire class, or set it for just that student’s viewing by using the Adaptive Release setting. Standard curriculum is enhanced through the use of videos through

free online programs, like TeacherTube and paid subscriptions, such as, Discovery Education. I can often be “seen” in the classroom through the many videos which I have recorded to enhance the lesson.

Speaking of recording, I LOVE voice boards and voice podcasts where students record themselves. It isn’t all about me! My classroom is about the students! Common Core Standards require speaking and listening skills, and my students record themselves to assist in the development of those skills. They do activities like telling me the answers to open ended comprehension questions on voice boards and recounting stories on a podcast. Nothing like an authentic assessment tool to enhance academic integrity! Also, students can complete evaluation of those skills in the virtual classroom on camera, so, as an instructor, you know if and/or how much assistance was provided. Students can count to 100 on their schedule, and try multiple times.

Students enjoy looking to see the teacher comments when an assignment has been graded. They never know when an avatar from www.voki.com will talk to them. The flexibility of Blackboard allows me to replace the traditional smilies, stars, and stickers with talking and moving animals, plants, and even a comic version of myself! Students can track the assignments they have completed, what is over due, and what is coming up shortly by using our Stay On Track menu button. Parents have constant access to student grades and assignment expectations.

No matter what the reason for a family choosing virtual education for their student, they can expect to be enabled to parent and be informed concerning their child’s education. Parents cannot parent efficiently without the information necessary for making parental decisions. Parents can check on assignment status at any time. They can see what their student is studying at any time and enhance it with conversation in the home. They have a teacher right there to assist with challenges, and to enjoy the celebrations of success as well.

Virtual education is more than an online correspondence course. Our school uses Blackboard as a tool for our students. It is a tool along with many other tools which enhance our student opportunities. We have online activities and lessons, and we have face to face activities and lessons. We have online field trips, and field trips where we actually go to a destination as a class. We celebrate success with class recognition online, and through recognition with face to face award ceremonies. We build a bond you would not think possible without the student sitting at a desk in your brick and mortar classroom every day. I thought I would miss the excitement of the little student running through the grocery store because they saw their teacher. I will not forget one of the first times I walked into a hallway with a student I had not yet met in person. Before the student could actually see me, I heard them say “I hear my teacher. Do you see her?” When I came around the corner, that student came running. I’ve not worried about bonding since. We do have to work on the” walking in the hall rule” though.

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