From Bitmoji classrooms to creative desk designs that encourage social distancing, educators are getting inventive in an effort to engage students.

By Maressa Brown
August 17, 2020
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With students resuming distanced learning lessons or heading back into classrooms with masks and physical distancing rules, the kickoff to the 2020-2021 school year looks like nothing we've seen before. Given all the unknowns and anxiety wrought by heading back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are getting inventive with their classrooms and lesson plans in an effort to engage students and make learning as fun as possible.

Here, several ways educators are getting creative in order to make the best of a less-than-ideal moment.

1. A Fun Way to Support Physical Distancing

On her Facebook page, kindergarten teacher Della Larsen gave props to Texas kindergarten teacher Jennifer Birch Pierson for turning her students' desks into colorful trucks with desk screens that look like windshields, in turn making physical distancing more fun and imaginative for her class. "I just love how this teacher made social distancing FUN!" wrote Larsen. Parents and teachers agreed, sharing the post over 100K times.

2. Bitmoji Classrooms and Lockers

Photo courtesy of Nadima Zegar

Teachers heading back to instruct virtually are creating personalized Bitmoji classrooms, individualized virtual environments that double as learning hubs (often hosted on Google Slides) and serve as a landing page for students to find classroom materials and resources.

"After my school announced we'd be remote for first semester, I jumped on the bandwagon and created a Bitmoji classroom to share with my students," says Nadima Zegar-Carr, a high school teacher in Chicago Heights, Illinois. "I plan to use it to post daily objectives, lesson plans, and interactive links and videos. I hope it will make students feel a little more connected and make them feel like they're in a real classroom."

Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Rea

Ann Marie Rea, a teacher based in San Francisco, California adds, "I am excited to add my daily agenda with links to the assignments in Google classroom once the year gets started. I also love that I was able to add our family dog Charlie to it!"

Teachers are also encouraging students to create their own Bitmoji lockers, which are meant to serve as a way for students to introduce themselves and can be incorporated into icebreaker activities for the start of the school year.

3. Cool Video 'Storytime'

Jamie Ewing, a science teacher in the Bronx, New York, is keeping in close contact with students through creative virtual lesson plans and storytime. He's been engaging kids with STEM stories, filled with colorful animations on presentation platform Prezi—such as this one on the Great Barrier Reef (part of a series on the earth's water and the human impact on the water ecosystems).

4. Hula Hoops

Photo courtesy of Academy of Excellence

At the Academy of Excellence pre-school in Jersey City, New Jersey, head teacher and director, Dorota Mani, each student is given a hula hoop in which they build/play while remaining socially distant. The school is also ensuring that each student's desks are stocked with supplies only to be used by that individual student.

5. Handy High-Fives

A second grade teacher from Powhatan, Virginia named Michelle Clark is making headlines for a trick she used during summer school: making a "socially distanced high-five" for each child out of a pizza box cardboard and a stick, according to local news affiliate NBC12. The teacher noted that the high fives are helping bolster social and emotional connections while maintaining a safe physical distance of six feet.

6. Masked Bitmojis

Photo courtesy of Beth Dropick

Beth Dropick, a teacher in Canton, Connecticut, makes it a point to create fun, creative bulletin boards in and outside of her classroom. This year, during which she'll be teaching a hybrid model, there's been twist: Dropick created and displayed a masked Bitmoji style cutout, complete with a real mask, to encourage her students to wear their face coverings.

7. A Virtual Cork Board for Sharing Your 'Status'

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Kapaldo

Chicago Heights, Illinois-based teacher Stephanie Kapaldo teaches sophomore year English and loves an online interactive learning platform called Nearpod. "They have a feature called Collaborate, which is basically a digital corkboard," she shares. "I can post a question and students respond with an image, words, etc. I love the visual aspect of it, and I hope it will connect with my visual learners." Kapaldo also hopes it appeals to students who are shy and less likely to share verbally.

She continues, "I think this could also be used as a quick formative assessment to check for understanding, as an exit ticket, or a daily check-in to see how kids are doing and provide some community building opportunities."

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