My First Virtual Classroom: 5 Tips to Design Your Own

As my own children have gotten older, I have gradually taken on more work “outside the home”. I have substitute taught, tutored, and taught a variety of classes online. As I have begun to teach more virtual classes, I have missed having a classroom space for learning centers, resources, and motivational posters.

For the past few years, I have contracted with VIPKID to teach English to children in China. Most recently, I have been teaching a variety of online science classes through Outschool. While I have been able to build relationships with my students and their families and find joy in teaching, a “classroom” space was the one missing component.

To provide a cohesive place to gather all the resources I share with my students and to aid in communicating with their parents, I recently developed a virtual classroom. It’s been so much fun!

Features of My Virtual Classroom

The virtual classroom provides me with a way to immerse my students in the content and maximize the learning time I have with them each lesson. With a handy video tutorial by Thomas Blackmore I was able to set up my virtual classroom in under an hour.

For my virtual classroom, I’ve decided to only activate a few items this week to challenge my students to find the hidden activities. For my “Junior Naturalists” class, one of the features leads to the document where the students and I share our nature journals. Another leads students to a digitized version of Leonardo da Vinci’s journal.

Next week, I plan to add more active links and perhaps a couple of additional objects to my classroom and an ongoing “What Can it Be?” type of activity with either a microscope or telescope. I also plan to add audio messages in the near future.

I have so many ideas on what else I would like to try within my room! For now, I will share my top five tips for designing your own virtual classroom.

Five Tips to Design Your Virtual Classroom

  1. When inserting images, use “png” or “transparent” in your search query to find objects that have a transparent background. You might also consider Lunapic. Lunapic is a free website where you can make the backgrounds of many images transparent, recolor, or add all sorts of effects.
  2. If you can’t find an image in the exact color you desire, first go to Format options in the menu above (or right-click on the image). Then select an option from the Color menu that appears on the right panel.
  3. If you use Chrome and you want to use your Bitmoji, I suggest adding the Bitmoji Chrome extension. This way you can insert images directly into Google Slides. Alternatively, you can create a file folder with Google Drive and download your favorite images. This helps if you plan on attaching audio files to your Bitmoji (see tip 4). Unfortunately, you cannot copy and paste your sticker from the Bitmoji extension and then add audio to it.
  4. To add audio to an image of your choice, first add the audio file to your slide. Then click on the audio icon and click Replace Image which will appear in the menu bar above. Then either search for the image in Google or upload an image. If the new image is not square, parts of it may be cut off. To correct this, click on the “crop image” icon and adjust the bold, black cropping handles as needed. 
  5. For any objects that you wish to keep stationary (i.e. the floor) I recommend that you add those to the slide master. This will clean up your canvas. With several images, it can get crowded and difficult to isolate a single image to make changes. To access the slide master, click on the Slide – Edit master. Keep in mind that the images you place in the slide master can not be linked to a URL or an audio file.

Mastering Mandarin Language with eChineseLearning

Learning a language can be an experience that transforms your life. It provides a competitive edge in career choices and opportunities for personal enrichment through travel and building relationships with new friends.

In our homeschool, my children chose to learn Mandarin Chinese at an early age. It has since become a focus of our curriculum. Recently, my daughter prepared for the Chinese Language and Culture AP exam and now my son has taken on the challenge.

I received access to an eChineseLearning class in exchange for an honest review and I was compensated for my time writing the review. All opinions are my own.

One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to work with a native speaker. A native speaker provides you with the opportunity to learn a variety of useful phrases, sentence structures, vocabulary, and the proper tones. The more you engage with native speakers, the more you learn.

This rule has been proven to be effective for many language learners. I am confident it is the reason my daughter was successful. Finding a native speaker is not always easy, however. Especially if you live in a rural area as we do.

I have picked up a few Chinese phrases over the years. I have always wanted to learn more though. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a short conversation with my kids in their target language?

Learning Mandarin with eChineseLearning

I was delighted to learn of the online lessons available through eChineseLearning. Perhaps now I could begin to learn what the kids are saying when I hear 妈妈 (māmā)?

My first lesson was with Bonnie. It was just like sitting down for a cup of tea in our favorite coffee shop. Meeting for the first time, our conversation focused on getting to know one another as she gently corrected my pronunciation and guided me to express myself.

I had explained in advance that my goal was conversation, it was less important for me to learn how to read the characters as I know I do not have the time to invest. I simply want to be able to chat.

E: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.)

B: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.) 你好吗? (Nǐ hǎo ma?)

E: 我很忙,我很好。(Wǒ hěn máng, wǒ hěn hǎo.)

Bonnie pointed out that the conjunction 但 (dàn) would be useful in this situation to join these two sentences together. I listened to her example and repeated,

E: 我很忙,但是我很好。(Wǒ hěn máng, dàn shì wǒ hěn hǎo.)

B: 你是美国⼈吗。(Nǐ shì měiguó rén ma?)

E: 对。(Duì.)

Positives of eChineseLearning

Our lesson continued for thirty minutes though a typical lesson is 50 minutes in total. We took turns using the vocabulary intermittently as either a statement or a question.

She did a great job of allowing the conversation to flow as naturally as possible considering I know very little. She was able to scaffold the lesson and made adjustments to the lesson according to my needs and level of understanding.

As a VIPKID teacher, I am familiar with online language learning. Just as my students have a workbook from which they can study between our online lessons, eChineseLearning provides textbooks. With guidance from the teacher, a study plan is crafted.

Students have the option book their lessons with a favorite or regular teacher but are also encouraged to work with a variety of teachers to develop their listening comprehension skills.

I was very impressed with the quality of the lesson and am excited to continue developing my Chinese language skills.

Negatives of eChineseLearning

While eChineseLearning is good in many ways, it has disadvantages too. All their lessons are conducted with a teacher on a one-on-one basis, so I have to say they are not cheap. It might not be suitable for you if you do not want to spend a lot of money on learning Chinese. However, if you are very serious about learning Chinese and have a strong specific goal, eChineseLearning is definitely worth a shot.

Stay Strong Campaign

eChineseLearning students and teachers send their wishes for people fighting the coronavirus around the world. I was touched when I watched this video – they want everyone to know that we are not alone.

Best wishes for people fighting the coronavirus around the world!

This is a great time to begin language lessons. Currently, eChineseLearning provides three campaign offers:

#1 Not Satisfied with a Lesson? Don’t Pay for It!

If you are not satisfied with a particular lesson and your request is reasonable, eChineseLearning will provide you with a free make-up lesson.

#2 1-Month Free Lessons to Give Away

If you purchase or upgrade a course package during the campaign period, you will get an extra month of lessons (two lessons per week) for FREE.

This offer is valid for new, current and former students.

#3 Refer a Student and Get Two Months Free Lessons and $100 Credit

If you refer a student to eChineseLearning during the campaign period, you will get extra month of FREE lessons on top of the existing rewards (1 month Free lessons plus US$100 credit), which means you get 2 months of FREE lessons and US$100 credit in total.

What are you waiting for? Come join me. ⾛吧! (Zǒu ba!) – Let’s go!

Looking Back on My Years with VIPKID

Nearly two years ago, I signed my first contract with VIPKID. My original intent was simply to make a little extra money.  Our family aimed to live a debt-free life and we were intent on paying off our mortgage.

I also expected to develop a broader perspective of the world of education. Yet, I had no idea just how much it would change my life. While it started out as a side hustle to earn extra cash, I have fallen in love with teaching all over again.

Rediscovery

I first began my teaching career as a student teacher when I was yet in college. Since then, I have volunteered to teach aboard (summer 1993 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico), served as an elementary science specialist,  and taught every grade but high school. I have been a substitute teacher and currently teach professional development courses online for other educators.

I have taught homeschool co-ops and have lead hundreds of students on nature walks. I have also worked in informal education settings – teaching natural sciences at the estuarine reserve and marine life center. And would you believe, I am now my son’s Scoutmaster?! 

I have focused so much of my energies on homeschooling my own children in recent years that I have missed having direct interaction with students and the fulfillment that comes from cultivating those relationships. VIPKid has helped me rediscover this joy. 

I don’t invest my time and energy into something just because it’s a job. I do it because it’s my passion. I must admit though, working from home in the comfort of my favorite pair of leggings is pretty hard to beat. 

Personal notes from my students

Building relationships

To build a rapport with my students, I generally spend the first few minutes of the class intentionally getting to know my students. This is especially important with students I have not taught before. I ask probing questions to learn about their interests. 

As I leave feedback for parents, I ask for input about how I can customize  lessons to better suit their child. I am a more effective if I am able to make the lessons more personal. I believe strongly that this personal touch and extra care for the families with whom I interact has helped me to develop a close friendship with several of the parents of my students.

Through conversations we have shared over time, either through the VIPKid platform or through WeChat,  we have discussed not only their child’s education, but we have also shared insights about our unique cultures, traditions, and beliefs.

My own children have been learning Mandarin Chinese since they were in preschool and as a family, we traveled to China in 2013.  I am familiar with the culture yet the relationships I have developed with my VIPKid families has enriched my life exponentially.

Are you seeking employment?

If you have a bachelor’s degree (no matter the content area) and experience working with children, I strongly encourage you to consider VIPKid. The hiring process has been simplified and there are a wealth of resources to help you get started.

I would love to help coach you along the way. My personal referral code is EVA000007 – reach out to me with any questions.

Five Benefits of Online Classes & Five Classes I Recommend

Online classes are becoming more and more popular. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an online class is defined as “a formal education process in which the students and instructor are not in the same place.”

Online classes include pre-recorded tutorials and videos providing step by step instructions on a variety of topics. As they pursue their independent study projects, my kids have watched hundreds of these type of lessons on YouTube – whether she is learning to tie a new fly, improve her watercolor techniques, channeling his inner Indiana Jones, or learning to code a Minecraft plugin.

Online classes also include direct interaction with the instructor and occasionally live instruction either through a virtual classroom or occasionally through Skype. In fact, when our language tutor accepted a position in Indiana, our Mandarin classes transitioned from live in-person classes to classes delivered via Skype.

onlineclasses5 Benefits of Online Classes

Whether you are a seasoned homeschooler or your children attend public school, I have outlined five advantages of online learning that will persuade you to consider alternative approaches to education.

1. Learn Whatever You Want

The great variety of online programs and courses is a huge advantage of this type of education. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you want to study – you can always find a suitable course or even a degree program that you can follow from home.

2. Comfort

Forget about attending classes for hours and sitting in an uncomfortable chair. When you opt for an online course, all lectures and needed materials are provided via online platforms, so you’ll easily access them from the comfort of your home or via the subway as you commute into the city.

3. Self-Paced

Most online classes are self-paced. This means that the student can start completing the targets at any time and she can arrange a learning schedule that meets her individual needs. Many even allow access to the material for a year or more.

4. Less Expensive

While the actual cost varies from one program to another, online courses are generally always less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Many online courses are completely free of charge. MIT, for example, offers all course materials online without any charges. Though free courses don’t usually come with certificate of completion, they are still more than useful for anyone who wants to learn from prestigious educators.

5. Achieve Your Goals

Taking online classes allows you to work toward your goals at your own pace. As homeschoolers, this is something with which we are very familiar. Upon completion of online classes and tutorials, students can frequently take assessment tests to prove competency in the subject and even receive college credit.

Tips for Success

Not everyone has what it takes to succeed in the non-traditional setting of online classes. They will test a students self-discipline, time management skills, and ability to learn independently.

In face-to-face classrooms, there are reminders to finish projects or assignments. Frequently, students are graded for simply showing up and participating. This is not always the case in an online class. You should thereby learn to login regularly to see what has changed or been updated, or who has replied to your posts. This is especially true if the course is graded or provides a certificate of completion.

Online Classes I Recommend

Art History with Alisha

Art & Mixed Media

Mixing with the Masters is one of several mixed media workshops by Alisha Gratehouse that we have enjoyed. Each week, we receive an email with a private access code to a video lesson. The necessary materials are clearly outlined and a list is provided in advance. Upon receiving the email, we simply gather our materials and jump in.

What I love about these online workshops is that I can pause the video at anytime or “rewind” if I need to see a technique demonstrated again. With lifetime access, we can work on our art projects whenever we want and at our own pace.

In addition to the art lessons, Mixing with the Masters includes:

* A short biographaphical video on each artist
* Printable PDF study guides
* A weekly student “challenge”
* Printable patterns and templates
* Inspirational quotes by each artist
* Suggested books, videos, and websites for further learning
* Private Facebook group in which to share students’ works of art

Hanbridge Mandarin

Foreign Languages

We have had the opportunity to try a variety of online foreign language courses. Hanbridge Mandarin and Middlebury Interactive are our two favorite. While both are very different in their approach, they each provide opportunity for students to develop proficiency in a foreign language.

Hanbridge utilizes a virtual classroom and live interaction with a native speaker. Middlebury uses an immersion approach similar to the well known Rosetta Stone. Both incorporate videos, stories, and games throughout the lessons. Students are completely submerged in the new language from the get-go. They must listen, speak, read and write in the foreign language.

Bright Ideas Press

North Star Geography

North Star Geography, is written by Tyler Hogan and is designed to give students a deep understanding of how geography impacts all of us —with real-life applications for college, career, citizenship, and ministry. You will love the open ended approach that allows you to mold the program to how you homeschool. I love that the program is flexible – providing schedules for one-semester, one-year, and two-year options.

Whether you build your own atlas, create unique hands-on projects, dive into a research quest, or set off on a fieldwork itinerary, you will find North Star Geography packed with a wide variety of learning options for every student’s interests. My favorite components of the textbook are the sidebars that provided us with a variety of cultural diversions. We also loved creating our own atlas and geography picture dictionary.

Through the online class, each of the book’s 16 lessons is available to download individually, along with the activity directions, map work, memorization, research questions, and note-taking pages. When you’re done with the lesson, take the quiz online and get feedback instantly!

The North Star Geography Online Class includes:

* Hands-on activities and projects
* Map work, memorization, and geographic research questions (with answers!)
* Quizzes, a final exam, and a grading rubric for the homework
* Reproducible outline and reference maps, note-taking pages, and graphic organizers
* Audiobook version of the Student Reader

 

Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.netMr. D Math

Mr. D offers both Algebra I and Algebra II as well as a variety of other courses including SAT Prep. On a weekly basis, students work through the material and develop mastery of the math concepts, while also learning to manage their time, coursework completion, tests and grades.

My daughter loved the Mr. D Algebra 1 course. Her experience really helped to build her confidence.

I really like that every problem is worked out clearly. If I make a mistake, I can see where I went wrong and it helps me improve.

Mr. D Math Self-paced Online Curriculum includes:

* 12 chapters of video-based instruction (Mac and PC compatible)
* Coursework for each section of each chapter
* 12 chapter tests
* Two semester exams
* A comprehensive solution manual
* An online gradebook
* Enrollment in the Mr. D Math virtual learning center

Students who want guided instruction in addition to the Self-paced Online Curriculum can register for a full academic year of live Online Class Sessions via the Mr. D Math “virtual classroom” (August – May). Each class meets once a week, and there are several days/times to choose from.
The Mystery of History Online Academy

The Mystery of History 

The Mystery of History provides a historically accurate, Christ-centered approach to world history for all ages. In the online course, author Linda Lacour Hobar takes junior high and high school students through The Mystery of History Volume III: The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations in two online class options: live and self-paced (recorded).

The Mystery of History Online Academy includes:

The Mystery of History Volume III Student Reader and Companion Guide in e-book format
* Recorded weekly videos of live classes led by Linda Lacour Hobar to view at your student’s convenience
* Automatic quiz grading
* One full year of learning (18 months of course access)

LIVE classes of The Mystery of History Online Academy with Linda Lacour Hobar begin on August 30, 2016. There are two options 10-11am CST or 2-3pm CST, both on Tuesdays.

Build Confidence and Success with Mr. D Math

I can not begin to tell you how much we LOVE Mr. D Math. It has made a world of difference to my daughter as she has begun to tackle the tough advanced algebra concepts.

I received access to these online math courses and I was compensated for my time in writing this post. All opinions are my own.
Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.net

We had been using Life of Fred since she completed the elementary math concepts presented in Singapore Math. The self-directed approach has been very good for her and until recently, it has been all she has needed. She has begun to struggle with some of the concepts, however, and I have been unable to help her.

Now that we have discovered Mr. D Math, I am confidant that she can continue to work at her pace and find the support and guidance she needs to be successful.

Mr. D Math Algebra I and II

When we began the course material, I enrolled her in the Algebra II course presuming that this would be a good match for her based on the work she had previously completed. As she got underway with the live class after the holiday break however, we discovered that though some of the material was familiar to her, there were some concepts with which she struggled.

I was very pleased that Mr. D reached out to us after class and shared that she would be better suited for the Algebra 1 course. It was clear to me that he had spent time with her in the live session and was able to assess her skills. He was gentle and encouraging, explaining that it is more important to learn the material than to just move on.

We thereby made the switch to Algebra 1 the following week and she was much more comfortable. Jumping in mid-year, she was able to catch on immediately.

Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.netBenefits of a Mr. D Math Online Course 

Mr. D Math offers two options for each of the online courses: 1) Online Curriculum + Live Classes, or 2) Online Curriculum only. The online classroom and lesson materials are easy to access and require very little preparation.

My daughter likes to print the course work each week and to work through the problems as she watches the corresponding video. Thereafter, she checks her work with the solutions guide. “I really like that every problem is worked out clearly. If I make a mistake, I can see where I went wrong and it helps me improve.”

She really enjoyed the weekly live class and felt it was a key component that she had been missing previously. She was able to ask questions – especially important when parents struggle with this level of math – and work through the trouble spots with guidance.

Most importantly, Mr. D has an excellent rapport with the students and learned their names very quickly. When students answer questions in the live class, only the teacher sees the student answers so there is no risk of a timid student feeling like others are watching her.

My daughter is able to maintain the same level of independence with her work as she has come to enjoy and her confidence is growing knowing that she can reach out to Mr. D if necessary. I highly recommend the online courses from Mr. D Math.

Mr. D Math Curricula 

I encourage you to check out all that Mr. D Math has to offer.  Classes range from Pre-Algebra up through Pre-Calculus, as well as SAT and ACT test prep courses.  Extra help sessions are available, as well as emailing questions to Mr. D throughout the week.  Take some time to browse the site to discover all the math and test preparation courses available.

Facebook   ~  Twitter   ~  YouTube

Exploring Digital Animation with Pixar & Khan Academy

STEM has always been a major part of our homeschool curriculum. As my children have gotten older, their interests have only strengthened in relation to math and sciences. They have both expressed an interest in computer programming and we have dabbled a little with different curricula (Homeschool Programming) and online resources (Khan Academy).

Exploring Digital Animation with Pixar & Khan Academy @EvaVarga.netIn addition to computer programming, my daughter has also become interested in digital animation and graphic art. For Christmas she received a Wacom tablet and has spent many hours learning how to create elaborate graphics. Her work has even won two different t-shirt design contests!

She also loves Japanese anime – some of her favorites are Sword Art Online, Hunter X Hunter, and Fairy Tale. It was no surprise when she expressed interest in learning how to animate her own illustrations.

We were thereby very excited to learn of Pixar in a Box, a collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Khan Academy, This free course sponsored by Disney, is a series of video lessons, interactive exercises, and hands-on activities.

The course materials will enable students to discover how the academic concepts they learn in school enable Pixar filmmakers to create new worlds, animate unique characters and tell stories through animation. Although designed especially for students in middle and high school, these resources are available to learners of all ages, completely free of charge.

There are presently six topics in the course:

  • Environment Modeling
  • Character Modeling
  • Animation
  • Crowds
  • Sets & Staging
  • Rendering

Each topic begins with a design focused lesson that doesn’t require math concepts beyond the elementary level. The goal is for people of all ages try these lessons – to first get you creating things with interactive tools while exposing the connections to mathematics.

The second lesson dives deeper into the concepts involved and are designed to increase in difficulty so that students can attempt more advanced material. Each lesson is designed to take approximately one hour to complete and includes hands-on activities to extend the lesson.

Exploring Digital Animation with Pixar & Khan Academy @EvaVarga.netWhat I love best about Khan Academy is that the course material is self-paced. We can pick up a lesson at any time and work through the material at a pace with which we are comfortable. There is no deadline and thereby no pressure.

We look forward to integrating this course into our curriculum more fully in the near future. She’s already begun a story board for an animated show of her own.