By Cindi Williams
The movie Groundhogs Day, which my family watched a couple of weeks ago, is feeling a little too close to home these days. We are all living it, minus the ability to start every day anew with no consequences. However, there is a lesson I could learn from Bill Murray’s character — TV Weatherman, Phil Connors. About half-way through the movie, it dawns on him that he can gather knowledge every day that makes him more strategic the next in his pursuit of Andie McDowell. As I continue to wake up every day wearing multiple hats — mom, educator, wife, and professional (all at the same time and in the same space), I know one thing will happen no matter what. I will be much more connected to my sons and their learning when they return to school…that is actually a really wonderful thing.
My husband and I have spent this week trying to help my oldest navigate the technology required to take his special education classes at the Reach program at the University of Iowa. The first day did not go so well as we looked for folders and Google docs and passwords. It was more than enough to bring me to tears. But, as the week goes on, it is getting easier and the upside has been our ability to actually look at what he is learning and see what the teachers are asking of him. It also has given me a chance to see how hard the teachers work to interact with him and to get the best of him, which I don’t get to when he’s in Iowa.
I know I am incredibly fortunate to have online school opportunities for my kids and the devices to access it. I have been blown away this week at the herculean efforts underway to make sure that Wi-Fi and devices for every student are not a privilege but an expectation. In addition to a few new awesome resources we are adding to our two previous lists, we also want to highlight non-profits and companies stepping up to provide free Wi-Fi , devices and technical assistance at no cost.
More free, high quality resources from organizations you can trust, sorted by grade and subject, and most importantly are easy to navigate so that your child can learn independently.
After signing up for a new account, families gain access to over 300 Family Playlists including a combination of videos and audio covering a range of topics with over thousands of collaborative activities to do together. Family Playlists are mobile-friendly (no laptop needed) learning activities and include practice games, interactive creation tools, and tutorials. For example, a social studies activity for a middle school student might be a game of “Guess Who” using a primary source and a younger student would go on a virtual tour of their favorite museum. Playlists are available in more than 100 languages and in traditional subjects like math and language arts but are also available in subjects like world languages and even study tools.
A popular way for kids to practice curriculum-aligned math concepts while being engaged in a fantasy-world game! To set up a new account, families will select their state and the appropriate grade level. For younger students, a parent can create an account, but older students can follow the prompts to create their own. Make sure to note your new username and password so you are able to bypass the membership page and continue playing for free. Families can receive monthly e-mail reports, if they so choose, and can even set goals for their child. When the fun begins, students will learn at their own pace and earn in-game badges and rewards to show they’ve mastered skills such as metric conversions, decimals and fractions.
If you are trying to mitigate too much screen time, these printable activity packs (available in English and Spanish) are fantastic. Designed by a leading curriculum designer, the materials mirror the grade level material students are being taught in class. After choosing your preferred language and subject, parents can access the packets which begin with a brief introduction or overview of the concepts covered. For example, a kindergarten math pack starts with “Exploring Numbers to 5” with four practice pages. Even better, there’s a link directly underneath the packets titled “Finished with the packs above?” with additional resources such as practice activities, answer keys, and guides for parents to support their child in targeted skills like measurement, place value, and summarizing.
Learning computer science at home has never been easier. In the wake of schools closing, Code.org launched “Code Break”, a one-hour, interactive classroom with weekly challenges to engage ALL students, even those without computers.
Every Wednesday at 10am PT/1pm ET, Code.org’s founder, Hadi Partovi, hosts a class with a guest and guides students through a different task, from solving a puzzle to making code art or designing an app. Students can participate with a computer, tablet, or phone. After creating a free account and downloading Zoom on your computer or smartphone, students will have access to the link for the weekly class as well as past lessons to keep them up to speed. Students can also sign up to participate in a weekly activity/challenge to practice the new skills they’ve learned.
The family page is a great resource for moms with children who have an IEP or who learn and think differently. Their website is a hub for tips, articles, and other resources for students themselves as well as those that support them. As all students are becoming more familiar with their new learning environment at home, Understood.org has listed some helpful tips to routinize this new experience. Other supports include family activities to keep kids busy at home, work on their focus and important updates related to disability concerns in the new home/work context.
School closures have rocked our kid’s world in ways we understand and ways we do not. The Child Mind Institute is one of the premier non-profits in the country focused on equipping parents to meet the social and emotional needs of students at every age. This website connects families to digital resources such as daily Facebook video-chats with clinicians, remote evaluations and telemedicine, phone consultations, and daily tips for parenting during the crisis. My daily tip was focused on how to be present — an area where I need a ton of work.
Help for AP Parents
The College Board has gone virtual, almost overnight and they are committed to ensuring every AP student is able to not only continue learning but also take the test and get college credit. They have set up a fully staffed, College Board help desk to work with each student who needs Wi-Fi or a device in order to continue learning. Please fill out this simple form and a College Board representative will be in touch with you ASAP. To tune in daily for live AP classes go to https://www.youtube.com/user/advancedplacement.
Three of the largest internet providers (and I am sure there are more) are stepping up to help students learn at home. Spectrum, Cox and Comcast are all offering free Internet services for two months for parents of school age children. The provider is dependent on the service area as well as qualifying for needs-based assistance. Each has a slightly different package, but all are stepping up to make data unlimited and to provide leniency for those who may need financial assistance so that students can access online learning materials.
Here is how to apply:
Call 1–844–488–8395 to apply. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.
Parents can click on the Coronavirus Response button at the top of the home page and then scroll down to the “apply for service” button to access the Connect to Compete service. They are also providing phone and remote desktop support through Cox Complete Care for technology supports. They have a series, in partnership with Common Sense Media, of parent friendly video tutorials on digital literacy.
This link will take you to the Internet Essentials page. When you hit the “apply now” button, it will take you through the qualifications process.
At my house, Groundhogs Day is classified as a “Cindi movie.” I love happy endings. I have no idea if either of my children will want to be in the same room with me when our quarantine ends but I do hope that I will have acquired a whole lot of personal knowledge that will make me a better parent.
Cindi Williams is co-founder of Learning Heroes, a Principal at HCM Strategists, and a former senior official at the US Department of Education, the White House, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She resides in the Seattle area with her husband and two boys.