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!

Unlocking the Joy of Math: Homeschool Pre-Algrebra Curriculum

Getting my son to do formal lessons has always been a struggle. He never sits still for long – unless of course he is building with Legos. He would rather be outside slaying dragons with the sword he built with his Papa or hunting down lost Incan treasure with his whip coiled at his side.

Recently he exclaimed, “Mom, can I do my math on the computer? I really like Unlock Math and I want to see if I can do it myself.” This caught me by surprise and brought a smile to my face.

We received access to the Unlock Math Pre-Algebra curriculum in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

unlockmath

Don’t miss the special promo at the end!!

Unlock Math

UnLock Math has literally unlocked the joy of math for my son.  He logs onto his personal account and listens to the video lesson (about 5-7 minutes long), completes a set of practice problems, completes a set of extra practice problems if he feels he needs to, and answers a challenge question.

The best part is that I can immediately see how he has done on his lesson, see which ones he needs to work on (if any), and look at his grades…they’re all saved for us!

Pre-Algebra Scope & Sequence

The pre-algebra program covers the following skills and has several lessons for each:

  • Whole numbers
  • Integers
  • Variable and expressions
  • Rational numbers
  • Fractions
  • Equations
  • Inequalities
  • The coordinate plane
  • Decimals
  • Percent
  • Polynomials
  • Triangles
  • 2D geometry
  • 3D geometry
  • Analyzing data
  • Stats and probability

Interactive Homeschool Math Curriculum

UnLock Math offers an excellent interactive math curriculum with several features that were appealing to my son.

1. Video Instruction – Students learn with high-quality and entertaining video instruction in a safe virtual learning environment. The video was a nice change from our usual textbook approach.

2. Focused – When the student enters the practice problems or quiz portion of the program, they will only see one question at a time. This helps to focus their attention and prevent them from being overwhelmed with a whole page of problems at one time.

My son has Nystagmus so his eyes are constantly moving. He did have a little trouble with the font size during the practice problems or quizzes. We found though that we could easily enlarge the screen image from our drop down ‘View’ menu.

3. Variety – Students will encounter a variety of different question types that truly assess what they have learned and retained in ways that multiple choice simply can’t.

4. Flexible – Students can practice as much or as little as needed to reinforce concepts covered in the videos. In the concepts that my son was familiar with and grasped easily, he was able to jump ahead to the challenge or unit test, rather than be restricted to practice problems.

5. Challenging – At the end of each lesson were challenges or bonus puzzles.  These logic problems challenged him to use the problem solving strategies covered in the lesson in different ways. He really enjoyed this part of the lesson and rarely skipped them.

6. Assessment Feedback – Parents can avoid the hassle of grading homework and tests with UnLock Math’s automated grading process. What I loved best about this process was that upon submitting his answers, he could click on “View Details” and each problems would be solved step-by-step.

If he got a problem wrong, he was able to read through the solution and identify where he went wrong. In some cases, he simply misinterpreted the question. Having this solution provided him with clarity and reduced his frustration.

Connect with UnLock Math for more information: 

UnLock Math Discount and Giveaway

I have been impressed with the UnLock Pre-Algebra course, and I’m happy to let you know that you can purchase a subscription for the special introductory price of only $349/year.

**Use discount code iHSN to get 30% off through March 31, 2014!**

UnLock Math is giving away 100 FREE one-month subscriptions to UnLock Pre-Algebra. Enter below for your opportunity to win!

Can Algebra Be Fun? It Can with Standard Deviants Accelerate Online Learning!

My kids have always enjoyed math. Like many homeschoolers, we continually move forward developing their skills and competency in the subject at their pace. Since my daughter began to learn algebra, I noticed that her pace has slowed down significantly.

I began to see a level of disinterest develop and that concerned me. How can I assure that she doesn’t loose her enthusiasm? How can I help make algebra fun for her? 

We received access to the Standard Deviants Accelerate online learning library in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Don’t miss the special promo at the end!!

SDA

Online Learning Resource

When I shared with my daughter the online learning resource, Standard Deviants Accelerate, she lit up. This was a change from the book work she had become accustomed to and the perfect way to engage her. She loved the videos – the humor and music were just what my pre-teen needed to reinvigorate her enthusiasm for the material.

She had no difficulty navigating the online learning environment.  Each chapter was divided into several lessons and tabs across the top provided clear points of reference. She could also easily jump forward or back between topics if she wanted to revisit something.

In addition to a short Pre-assessment, each chapter begins with The Big Question that the student is asked to keep in mind as she works through the material. At the end of each lesson, the student is prompted to revisit this thematic question in the Written Answer assignment.

Each lesson within the chapter is divided into a range of well-balanced assignments to provide students with different outlets to demonstrate their understanding. The lesson opens with an engaging Video that breaks down content and provides in-depth instruction. The Vocabulary for each lesson is also highlighted and students can click on the speaker icon to hear how the term is pronounced and to listen to the definition. 

Some lessons also include a drag and drop Diagram to test knowledge using a visual component. A multiple-choice Quiz follows each video and is uniquely designed to re-teach material by replaying clips corresponding to questions that have been answered incorrectly. This immediate feedback and individualized instruction helps assure the child masters the material.

Critical Thinking questions at end of each chapter are customized according to student’s quiz scores, and prompts student to apply and analyze knowledge. Post Tests at the end of each chapter and at the end of the subject continue to check knowledge and are customized according to student’s prior quiz performance.

Project Based Learning

My daughter loves projects and as a result, we have generally steered away from online courses for this reason.  What my daughter most enjoyed about the learning platform within Standard Deviants Accelerate was the Group Activity at the end of the chapter. This hands-on project allowed her an opportunity to demonstrate her mastery of the material by teaching what she had learned to her parents or peers.

In the Group Activity, students are asked to select one of the chapter topics and to teach a specific audience.  When my daughter was working through the chapter on Algebra Functions, she selected the topic of ‘Trendlines’ and her selected audience was a group of ‘Game Players’.  She was thereby asked to break down the topic and reconstruct it in the form of an educational game.

She absolutely loved this assignment. She really put her heart into it as it enabled her to use her creative energy to share her passion for math.

algebra_game

Easy-to-Use and Affordable

The Standard Deviants Accelerate online teaching system guides homeschool students through complete courses with clever instructional videos. My daughter was laughing at the humor used to make difficult topics like polynomials and quadratic equations fun and easy to understand.

The SDA program designed for middle and high school is easy-to-use, providing instruction and enrichment for core subjects. SDA will teach and re-teach, allowing your student to learnprogress, and then master a subject, requiring little time from parents.  Parents are provided with grade reports, red flag alerts, and editable scoring rubrics to aide them in facilitating their child’s learning progress.

There are a variety of subjects to choose from including:

  • Biology
  • Geology
  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition
  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Government & Economics
  • US History
  • English Composition

LaptopBed_600X600
The Standard Deviants Accelerate program is also affordable. Core subjects are just $99/year (or $24.95/month).  AP subjects are just $14.95/month.

For a limited time, Standard Deviants Accelerate is offering a FREE 6 month full access to ALL 14 subjects on SDA for homeschoolers. Sign up by November 15th!