Translating An In-Class Activity to a Virtual Activity

I recently tried to translate an in-class worksheet-based activity to a virtual activity and I thought I’d share how that went.

I’m currently participating in a CSAwesome Professional Development cohort and, as part of the PD, I worked with a few other teachers to teach a lesson to the other members of the cohort. I had ownership over adapting the part of a lesson centered around collaboratively completing this worksheet:

(Source: CSAwesome Unit 1 Lesson 5 Maze Activity Sheet, publicly linked from the CSAwesome Runestone book)

In the lesson plan, this activity is completed in-class with students working collaboratively to accomplish this task, with the final result submitted before the end of the period. Imagining how this task might fit in my own in-person classroom, I identified a few key components I would want to emphasize with this activity, which I also want to preserve when I try to translate it to a virtual activity:

  • Formative for Me – by walking around and listening in with students, I get a feel for what my students understand and whether or not I need to reteach or enrich when needed.
  • Formative for Students – since this is done in-class, I can provide immediate feedback to students on how well they understand the concepts needed to solve this task
  • Collaboration – this is another opportunity early in the year to emphasize collaboration norms and the benefits of seeing different perspectives. This activity is particularly good for this, since there may be other ways to solve the maze that you might not see individually.
  • Quickly Scored – because this is done in-class with me walking around, and because it’s collected all at once, it’s easy for me to quickly look over the results and determine what adjustments I need to make for the next lesson. I also imagine I wouldn’t ‘grade’ this assignment – maybe for participation, but definitely not for correctness.

Looking at the list above, the first thing I realized was that turning this worksheet into an asynchronous activity would not accomplish any of these goals. I wouldn’t get any formative data about how the lesson went in a timely manner, I couldn’t provide immediate feedback to help students learn, students couldn’t easily collaborate, and it’d be a pain to collect all the materials & score.

Instead, I wanted to preserve the “in-class, collaborative” feel to the activity while we met synchronously. I knew we’d be using a platform that had breakout rooms, so I knew I wanted to use that to my advantage. Here’s what I did:

First, I had to change how students engaged with the worksheet. Since this was no longer something they were completing with pencil-and-paper, I needed to find a digital way for folks to annotate & show their work on this document. I wanted to avoid ‘drawing’ or ‘annotating’ tools since drawing figures with a mouse doesn’t look great and distracts from the actual content of the worksheet. Instead, I separated “solving the maze” into two distinct tasks: deciding on a path through the maze, then filling in the values through the maze:

In the top box, students use the paint-bucket / background tool to highlight the boxes they plan to use for the path through their maze. Once they’ve decided their path, they fill-in the bottom empty maze with the numbers generated by following the path. Here’s an example from testing it out with other teachers:

The second thing I did was, rather than leaving this in a single Google Doc for students to make copies of, I put the worksheet into a single Google Slide presentation that everyone could edit (click through the slideshow below to see all the slides):

(Make your own copy of the slides here)

During the actual lesson, I told students they would be in breakout rooms with 1-2 other people. The room number they were assigned corresponded to the slide they would be working on (so Breakout Room 2 works on the slide labeled Group 2). Working together, they would solve the task by directly editing the slide. They wouldn’t need to share screens, since everyone has edit access and everyone is looking at the same document – when one person makes a change, everyone sees it.

Using a single Google Slideshow and having students work on this in breakout rooms let me do several things:

  • Collaboration is easy and immediate – once students know which slide they need to be on, they can start working together right away.
  • Since we’re all looking at the same slide document, I can navigate between slides and see what students are doing. This is the most direct analogy to “walking around looking over shoulders” that I’ve seen while working with students in Zoom.
  • Similarly, because I can peer around on slides, its easy for me to quickly see if a group is veering off-track. If I notice that, I can pop into their breakout room and give them some immediate feedback so they can course-correct and keep working.
  • Lastly, since all the work is housed in one place, it’s easy for me to collect and ‘score’. I’m not managing inconsistent documents from all my students; just this single file with everyone’s work.

In other words, this process still lets me hit all of my goals from before. It’s formative for me, since I can see student work on the slides. It’s formative for them, since I can quickly pop-in to a breakout room and provide guidance. It’s easily collaborative, since we’re all working on the same slideshow. And, it’s easy for me to ‘score’ since it’s a single slideshow with everyone’s work.

And – it had the added benefit of making a full-group shareout easier to manage. Students can also see each-others slides, so its easy for me to say “Let’s take a look at what group ___ did and hear from them”. The Math Teacher in me felt callbacks to the 5 Practices of Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions – I felt myself falling into those same grooves of selecting and sequencing and connecting between the work students were showing in these slides.

So – that’s pretty much how I went about it. Looking at some of my other in-class tasks from this past year, I think I can adapt this process to those same assignments & tasks. And, if you happen to be in the same boat – trying to translate collaborative in-class activities into collaborative virtual activities – then maybe this process will work for you too.

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