7 Things To Know Before You Live Stream Your Classroom

     If you're thinking about, or even required to, live stream your classroom, there are seven important things you should consider first.

1. Live streaming leaves teachers open to privacy violations.

      Live streaming your classroom puts students and teachers at risk of sharing personally identifiable information. Two federal laws work together to protect students. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) place strict limits on what information a school can collect and share about students. Anything considered personally identifiable information (PII), including images, is on the table. Violations can cause districts to lose funding.

     A loophole is that schools can share "directory information" without a parent's consent, including a child's:
  • name
  • address
  • telephone number
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • height
  • weight
  • dates of attendance
  • major field of study
  • participation in sports activities and teams
  • degrees and awards
  • previous schools attended
     That's a lot of personally identifiable information! The safeguard for parents is that schools have to inform them of what directory info they plan to share and give them a reasonable time to opt-out.

     All of this puts parents in the driver's seat, as they should be, when it comes to sharing information about their child. 

    There are countless ways that personally identifiable information can be accidentally shared during a school day. A birthday chart, small groups of students based on an IEP, a SPED teacher coming to the door to pick up a student, even calling a child's name could all be deemed unintended violations. 

     Consider your own privacy as a teacher. Everything you say or do, every private conversation with a child or another adult will be filmed and possibly overheard.

2. There's potential for misuse by viewers.

     Live streaming your classroom into a home opens everything that is said, done, or seen to those who might misuse it, including pedophiles. We were only a couple of weeks into distance learning during the COVID-19 quarantine when several instances of sexual photos, racist comments, and other vulgarities came into virtual classrooms without warning. We even gave it a name: Zoombombing.

     When you live stream your classroom, it is open to anyone who can access the stream. Parents, students, and guests in the home can record you, screenshot you and your students, and then manipulate it for wrong purposes. They can criticize, critique, and share on other social media that you don't even know about. Children's images have even shown up on inappropriate websites. Once it's on the internet, it is there forever.

     The most common distance learning platforms are highly monitored and controlled. Schools vet them very carefully. However, no streaming service is 100% safe. If you can stream it, they can hack it. The more you stream, the more hackable content is available and at risk. 

3. It's not always conducive to teaching K-12.

     Educators are trying hard to make it all work. What I'm hearing from teachers who live stream is that when they're standing so they're always in front of the camera, they are no longer teaching naturally. 

     Most K-12 teachers are not lecturers. We move about, interact with our students, refer to visual aids around the room, and work with small groups. Standing in one spot in a classroom is not natural, comfortable, or helpful to students.

4. Teaching in two different formats is ineffective.

     Teachers are learning new ways to teach. Recording yourself teaching lessons, called asynchronous learning, helps students because they can rewatch the clips multiple times when it's convenient for them. Synchronous learning, interacting in real time with students over a video conferencing platform, supports building relationships - especially important during a pandemic - and a more natural give-and-take like in the classroom. 

     Some districts are allowing - even requiring - teachers to use both formats simultaneously, calling it a "blended" or "hybrid" model. Teachers are reporting that it is frustrating at best, and ineffective at worst. It seems that both groups of students are at a disadvantage.

     Students online at home are bored and unengaged while waiting for classroom tasks to be completed, for recess, or for lunch. There is a good bit of downtime during a typical school day. Imagine being a remote learner and having to watch the stream for the whole day. 

     Students in the classroom must wait for the remote kids to have questions answered, get directions for digital responses, and have their fair share of the teacher's time. 

     To further complicate an already difficult situation, at least one district expects online kids to be brought into small groups. So we'll have small socially-distanced groups of kids around a table with one or more laptops sitting on the table with a child's head onscreen. 

     Teachers are finding it an unrealistic task to track engagement and understanding of their remote students while also having students in front of them.

5. Inadequate technology can create problems.

     It's no secret that many classrooms and students don't have the technology they need. Sometimes students don't have wi-fi available at home or can't afford devices. Classrooms may have to share limited devices with the rest of the school. This alone makes live streaming far more challenging.

     The lack of adequate technology shows up in other ways. If there is a fixed camera in the classroom, the teacher may very well be tethered to one spot during the day. A noisy HVAC system can make serious competition for a teacher who is wearing a mask. 

6. Protocols may be hard to remember during emergencies.

     The best protocols in the world are useless if they're not followed. In a classroom emergency, teachers tend to react immediately to assist the child. It's likely that they will forget to turn off, unplug, or mute technology for privacy's sake. This means that misbehavior will be streamed online, as will medical emergencies, personal embarrassments, and emotional moments.

7.  Teachers will live with the pressure of being observed all day, every day.

     Being observed by an administrator is a judgment on not just your content presentation, but on your dress, your manner with kids, your tone of voice, your content knowledge, and a myriad of other elements. Most workers in any field are observed, of course. But, all day, every day? 

     The stress of being observed nonstop by anyone who is watching, most of whom aren't educators, will be tremendous. It's likely that many teachers won't be able to stand the pressure. Always being on stage, always having to perform at 100% will be overwhelming. 

 Consider carefully.    

     None of these points are to criticize live streaming as a concept. Communicating and collaborating virtually is keeping businesses afloat, giving isolated people a vital window to the outside world, and helping us through an extremely difficult time in our country. 

     It's important that educators consider the risks involved before diving in. If you'd like a one-page quick reference sheet to share with administrators and planning committees, CLICK HERE. 


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The 3 Most Important Things To Do If Your School Closes

We are floundering in uncharted territory. Our nation is struggling to make education work as COVID-19 forces schools to close.

Who thought at Back-to-School Night that a global pandemic would affect our health, our future, and our day-to-day?

Bonus: Download free Math Choice Boards here.

What To Do Now

It's too late to go back and be proactive. What we need now are ideas to support kids and their learning when we can't be together in school as usual. Here are 3:

1.  Protect your own family first. People must get to work to support their families, but not at the risk of teachers' lives and their families. Go to school for as long as you believe it's safe. When it's not, stay home.

2.  Plan hard copy and online lessons now, even if you haven't been instructed to. I was expected to prepare a week's worth of substitute plans at the start of each school year. It took a crate to hold them, but OMG, they were a lifesaver! When my kids or I got sick unexpectedly, I just asked my team teacher to pull them out for the sub.

     If you have digital capabilities, start creating lessons now. If you'll do strictly paper lessons, gather materials that support your curriculum. Whether you use digital or paper lessons, keep these parameters in mind:

          A.  Keep assignments simple; many kids will be with babysitters, grandparents - or alone - with no one to ask for help.

          B.  Explain everything; without immediate access to you, kids and parents can get confused easily.

          C.  Know that you won't grade some of the at-home work. You can't know who is getting help or how much.

          D.  Avoid teaching new material, especially for young children. Even with digital tools, the give-and-take of being with our teacher is invaluable.

          E.  Focus on engaging review work, not busy work. We want kids to think, practice, and grow, but not struggle. While it's great for schools that have amazing technology, the reality is many schools aren't set up for that. Much of what teachers send home will be paper-and-pencil.

          F.  Families are stressed now. Being out of school, possibly quarantined, maybe even sick, is tough. Schoolwork may not be a priority. Make the work do-able.

          G.  Depend on fun, creative, low-stress activities. Consider journal entries, reading a book, color-by-code puzzles, and creative writing.

          H.  Avoid overwhelming families. Schedule each day's work for them, plainly marked. If they work ahead, fine.

          I.  Homes aren't always equipped like schools. They may not have 1:1 devices, construction paper, markers, rulers, and other tools we take for granted. Be careful of the requirements for each assignment.

          J.  Give special attention to your students with special needs, accommodations, IEPs, and 504s. It will be impossible to give them a routine school experience at home without you. Reach out to the administration, colleagues, EC specialists, media specialists,...all of the people who can help you prepare appropriate lessons.

          K. Communicate clearly with parents and allow them to communicate with you.

3.  Prepare to spend some time each day devoted to school. Return parent emails, call or email your students, work on plans for your eventual return to school. It'll keep you in a routine and feeling productive.

In A Perfect World

If this happens again - heaven forbid - we'll be ready. We'll:

Be Proactive - Providing safety, health, and remote learning for entire school systems is unprecedented. It's a bigger problem than a single teacher can solve. Before the next school year, policymakers and administrators will carefully set protocols in place. They will address equity for special needs students, children who don't have food or supervision when they don't go to school, students who don't have wi-fi or devices for online lessons, and standardized testing.

Plan - With policies and protocols in place, teachers will work with colleagues to create both online and hard copy activities for at-home learning. We'll revisit assessments and grading. We'll send encouraging messages to our kids. We'll be ready to go if the worst happens.

Prepare - We'll have papers copied, packets packed, and online assignments ready to access. We'll practice with kids for online access and activity completion. On Back-to-School night, we'll tell parents about our plans.

I hope there's not a next time. But if there is, it'll be smoother sailing!

We'd love to have you join our group over at Growing Grade By Grade! You'll have access to my FREE Resource Library with materials that can help you support kids in the classroom.

Subscribe here and join us. You'll receive Math Choice Boards for grades 3-5. 

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Budget Hacks For The Most Effective Lesson On How Germs Spread

     I'm always looking for elementary science activities that are:
  • easy
  • affordable
  • engaging
  • hands-on
  • pretty much student-led
  • something we can use in real life
     One of the best is to buy that glow-in-the-dark stuff, Glo Germ. You paint it on kids' hands, have them wash, then look at their hands under a black light. They quickly see how hard it can be to get their hands clean. When you connect the Glo Germ to real germs, it makes a lasting impression on them.

     We did this in my science classes until the cost stopped me. I wish I'd known then about these budget hacks. It would have allowed us to benefit from the activity without the budget.  

The Experiment

     First, use a cotton swab to spread some of the Glo Germ on each child's hand. Use a clean swab for each child so you're not dipping contaminated swabs back into the bottle.

     Next, let kids see their hands under the black light. If you're doing a written piece, have kids record their observations.
     Have kids wash their hands. Don't emphasize washing really well yet. 

     Look at their hands under the black light again. They'll gasp at how much glow is still left! 

     Make the point that the Glo Germ is behaving like germs, not making us sick, but staying on our skin. Send them back to wash their hands and check under the black light again. 

The Extensions

     1. You might want to extend the lesson with hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Do they clean our hands any better or worse?

     2. An even more impactful extension of this experiment is to see how far one person can pass germs.  Start by swabbing one student's hand with Glo Germ. He's student #1. Have student #1 touch student #2. Student #2 touches student #3 and so on. Each child checks their hand under the black light. We were 10 kids in before we had trouble finding the glow!

     Emphasize that germs are passed from person to person in the same way.

The Budget Hacks

     What to do if you have no budget for Glo Germ and a black light? We can still make it happen! 

     You need 2 things: a germ substitute substance and a way to see it on kids' hands.  Consider these pairings:

     We ended by reviewing some ways we've learned to wash hands properly. One suggestion is scrubbing for the length of time it takes to silently sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself. We also had a frank discussion of places we pick up germs: the bathroom, doorknobs, other peoples' possessions. It was a  real learning experience all around!

     I'd love to know how these hacks work for you! Enjoy your science and stay healthy!

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