Children's relationships with technology and streaming devices have changed over the last few years. While there used to be one electronic device per household, nowadays, babies play with tablets and youngsters get their first smartphones at an earlier age than ever before. While scientists are still studying the effects of screens on our brains, there was no question in anyone's mind that youth would adapt quickly to online learning.
However, although Generations Z and Alpha are technology natives, they are not immune to screen fatigue: double vision, trouble concentrating and stiff necks are just a few of the symptoms of the post-internet "sickness."
Parents/caregivers, teachers and school administrators have adapted to the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the result is an overwhelming amount of screen time for everyone. Distance learning may be easier or harder for some, especially middle school students, whose natural curiosity makes it harder for them to sit in front of the computer screen for long periods of time.
To help educators find creative solutions to keep students engaged in learning, here's a list of tips for fun activities for virtual classrooms:
To start the day, a game or warm-up exercise that involves physical activity is recommended to get the energy out and fully wake up the minds of your pupils. Creating other opportunities for movement throughout the day is also essential, as their attention span tends to lower as it gets closer to mealtime or the end of class. Theater or storytelling games are a perfect way to merge entertainment and movement, as well as games like Simon Says, Freeze or Musical Statues.
- Interactive Game Apps
With applications such as BrainPOP — which offers more than 1,000 animated shorts — teachers can make the most out of technology for creative assignments and generate quizzes on a variety of topics. Kahoot! is another website with millions of games geared towards students of any age, which may be a fun resource for evaluating what kids have learned after completing a module.
- Visual Elements
For educators, apps such as Flipgrid and Genially may be used in conjunction with other class materials to create visual supplements such as infographics, videos, animations and interactive images. With Flipgrid, students themselves can even record videos to show their progress.
The upside of distance learning is the facilitation of visuals and presentations, so teachers should make the most of it. These interactive learning structures can be beneficial in the case of students with disabilities.
- Classic Games
Whether as ice breakers or just a fun way to end the day, don't discard the possibility of playing some of the classic classroom games just because you're using Zoom or Google Classroom. You can adapt games such as Bingo, Mad Libs, I Spy and Charades to utilize for online classrooms.
We Are Teachers, a website with many resources for educators, collected a list of fun games to play during class.
- Movement and Studying
Aside from a daily warm-up, it is good to keep children physically active throughout the day as much as possible. Ideally, the curriculum would have a physical or movement component when free time allows for it. According to the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) article titled How to Combat Screen Fatigue in a Virtual Learning Environment, an example to achieve that goal in class is to "pair review of educational content with physical activity (e.g., practice times tables during a walk around the block), and alternate educational time with physical time, when possible."
- Daily Check-Ins
The pandemic hasn't been easy for anyone, in particular young children. Checking in with students to see how they are coping, and acknowledging their struggles and achievements, is imperative to keeping them engaged. An interesting way to do check-ins is to ask each student to share a "rose" (something good) and a "thorn" (something challenging) and a "bud" (something they are looking forward to) with the class.
- Cool-Down time
The same way we use warm-ups to start, students could use some cool-down time to finish. Low-energy activities, meditation or even the daily check-ins can be interesting options for the end of class (and maybe screen) time.
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