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K-12 Teacher Explains what a Virtual Classroom Really Looks Like

So What Does a Virtual Classroom Look Like?

To reach the original blog posting by Lucy Hammel, click here
by Lucky Hammel


When I tell people that I am a teacher, or more specifically, an online teacher, I am often asked, “What does that look like?” or “How does that work?”

Most people, teachers included, have a difficult time imagining how a teacher interacts with his or her students in cyber space. Three years ago, I too had trouble envisioning this process. Today, however, planning and teaching an online session feels as natural as being in any physical classroom. 

Any good lesson includes the following essential elements: focus, activation, mini-lesson, guided learning, extension, and assessment. These essential elements are still essential in the virtual classroom. So, what does it look like? It looks like this:

At 12:00, I log into my online Elluminate classroom. I upload my PowerPoint so that it appears on the whiteboard. The first slide is a welcome slide that includes my name, photo, the course name, and the main objective for the day’s lesson, along with some decorative accents to create a welcoming atmosphere. This is how I make my students feel welcome and provide the overall focus for the lesson.

At 12:30, I share a YouTube video of movie trailer for A Separate Peace.  Now I’ve got their attention. “Did that boy just push his friend out of that tree?” one student types in the chat area. Another writes, “Whoa, this looks intense. I’ve got to read this!”

After briefly posting a reminder of classroom expectations, I share the next slide on my PowerPoint:

After posing each statement, students display a checkmark if they agree or an “x” if they disagree, and they type their responses and thoughts in the chat area. Some students use the microphone to share their opinions, and we have a full classroom discussion going.

Remember that student in the physical classroom who would never say more than two words in a group discussion? He just typed several sentences in the chat area! Every student is actively engaged and participating in one form or another.

At 12:40 I begin the mini-lesson, which involves a few minutes of direct instruction. Using the web tour feature in Elluminate, I share the following introduction and background information for the novel.

At 12:50 I provide an extension for the session by sharing an extra credit web quest assignment.

Since there is a vocabulary test tomorrow, I provide an informal assessment:

After giving students whiteboard privileges that allow them to use the highlighting tool, I give a definition, and students locate and highlight the word in the Wordle.

Most students are not familiar with the word “potable” and they think it is difficult to remember, so I tell them a funny story about my daughters learning the meaning of the word “potable” when we visited my parents in Florida last summer.

At my father’s softball field, they almost drank water from sprinklers that they danced in to cool themselves. Just as one of my daughters opened her mouth to collect the refreshing droplets, one of my father’s teammates cautioned, “Don’t drink that – the water isn’t potable!” The unpleasant smell of sewage was a reminder not to assume that any water is potable. The students chuckle about this and declare that they will never drink water from a sprinkler again. The class correctly identifies all of the vocabulary words, and we share a virtual round of applause.

Finally, to close the session, I push out a five-question quiz that I created in Elluminate to assess students’ understanding of the novel themes, setting and background. The quiz results are scored automatically and appear in my view immediately. I know immediately which students grasped the concepts and which ones did not. Students are dismissed upon completion of the quiz.

Following the session, I remain in my room for office hours, where students can ask questions and receive one-on-one help.

So, what does the virtual classroom look like?

It looks like a place where teachers are facilitators and students are actively engaged and interacting with one another - a place where students are comfortable and safe and still challenged to learn. The virtual classroom is a place where relationships are formed, and where no one is judged by a name brand or a hair style.