The 2020 school year has arrived with many unexpected challenges for teachers. On top of preparations of lesson plans, activities, and resources, teachers are now adjusting to teaching online. For educators who are used to engaging in-person and group settings, this is an incredibly challenging time.
One of the biggest challenges for teachers changing to online learning is maintaining a balance in their classroom. This extends beyond maintaining order during class time, although that has also become an increasing challenge. Keeping students engaged involves more work and ingenuity than ever before, and one of the tools to keep students interested is to incorporate offline activities into your curriculum.
Building offline activities naturally into your curriculum can help students who are experiencing screen fatigue, and keep their education varied and interesting. You can also use this opportunity to reinforce the value of in-person resources, curiosity, and exploration in learning. Offline activities have great value for learners, especially right now.
There are many challenges to adjusting to a distance learning teaching style, not the least of which is figuring out how to engage your students in activities when you aren’t there with them. Keeping students focused, making sure they build collaborative skills, and making sure they aren’t losing interest can be daunting. Incorporating offline activities can help bridge some of these gaps.
One major benefit of including offline activities is that it gives learners a break from their screen. At young ages, this is especially important, but regardless of what level you are teaching, engaging students beyond their computer screen is important. One way to give your students a break from the screen is to ask them to utilize their local libraries for some of their assignments.
This can be used for any subject, though it lends itself particularly well to humanities and research-based classes. Libraries are well acquainted with providing valuable, accessible resources, even during a pandemic—and they’re free to the public. Students can maintain safe distancing practices either through e-books or curbside pickup practices and can gain a better understanding of how to effectively use knowledge centers. Ask students to find a book that discusses a controversial viewpoint of a historical event or find a book by a new author to analyze. By actively engaging them in research and decision making, you can also give them a sense of control over their own educations.
Building offline assignments into your curriculum can do more than just expand your students’ sense of learning and give them a break from screen time. It can also help define the culture of your classroom, a major challenge in remote teaching. You can establish a culture of exploration and curiosity by engaging your students beyond their computer screens.
This can be especially important for science- and math-based classes, as they struggle with a lack of in-person experiments and engagement. For these subjects, ask your students to go find examples of real-life applications of the theories that they’re learning. Assign students to observe groups at parks for a group psychology analysis, by noting group dynamics and visible relationships or individual reactions to their environment. Then bring your students together via video conferencing to discuss the individual and group interactions they observed. For science classes, you can have students take a sample of plants with specific growth properties for a report on the local ecosystem.
Even history classes can benefit from some real-world exploration. Have your students visit a nearby historical site in-person rather than just looking up information for their research projects and include details that can’t be acquired by a Google search. They can record their experiences through photos or journal entries and combine these in-person experiences with traditional research on the site. This will help them learn how to develop their research skills by using multiple and varied sources. Engage your students in geo-caching, a nationwide scavenger hunt that often involves local history, as well as a log of the people who have found the cache. They can use a metal detector to take it up a notch, allowing them to find caches — and potentially more — much easier. These will help students connect with both their local history and environments while giving them an active, engaging activity to take part in their learning.
Teachers ultimately want to set their students up for success. Part of this is preparing them for the type of work that they can expect to do when they join the workforce. Students will rarely work alone when they find their preferred careers, but distance learning is an inherently solitary activity. Find ways to include group work in their education to help them collaborate with others and interact with people with differing opinions.
You can incorporate this into offline activities by having students compare and contrast their experiences, or the resources they have found, by group discussions or presentations. This will help them learn teamwork while championing their own conclusions, and research while working together towards a common goal. If you are teaching a science-based class, have them compare and analyze the elements, patterns, or results of their external research. The assignment will help students build critical thinking, research, and collaboration skills. It will also be an opportunity to discuss contrasting data and the value of disparate conclusions in scientific research.
Similarly, you can use literary research and primary sources to create group discussions for your English, history, or art classes. Humanities and art classes also have unique opportunities right now as artists develop new ways to interact with audiences and share their work during the pandemic. As a group, have your students put together a project using a traditional art form, but engage audience members through a digital platform. An excellent example of this is traditional painting, music, or lecture setting, combined with the video or live streaming technology available through YouTube and Instagram. This can blend the necessary use of mass media, online education, and traditional art to teach your students that traditional studies are still important in modern times.
Parents are becoming teachers as they find solutions to the unique challenges of homeschooling, from making sure that a computer is available for their new student, to setting up the house in a more constructive way. Setting up areas specifically for learning can help boost a student’s productivity and focus. Making sure that adequate storage is available with a dedicated desk can go a long way in helping them navigate homeschooling. Using some dedicated cubbies or mini-lockers, in addition to other in-home solutions, can help recreate the school environment for your new homeschool student.
While this is an unprecedented time, the value of offline and real-world learning is more important now than ever. With students stuck inside, finding ways to engage them beyond their screens can help keep alleviate screen fatigue, engage with their local libraries and environments, and build skills in incorporating traditional and digital media.
Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.