Each year, we share our 10 most-read stories. Not surprisingly, many of this year’s Top 10 focused on innovative ways to engage students, digital resources, and online and hybrid learning strategies related to post-pandemic teaching. This year’s 4th most-read story focuses on creating an online elementary program.
Elementary education is the foundation for early learning, providing students with the skills and community they need for future success in school and life. Thanks to today’s technology, helping them start on the right foot is easier than ever – especially with online learning opportunities.
Online learning has become a growing trend among K-12 students, including elementary students. In fact, we successfully launched our own online elementary schools, which grew by 10,000 students over the past four years.
If you are a school or district leader looking to build an online elementary program, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are five steps that helped our teams successfully build and maintain an online elementary program that drives student and parent engagement:
Step 1: Start with the Basics
First, determine the specific goals you want for your online elementary program. For example, do you want to expand curriculum offerings, provide effective flexible learning options for students, or build a personalized program that meets students’ needs? Or perhaps you have multiple goals you want to accomplish. No matter what your program’s goals are, determining and discussing them is the most critical factor when launching a new program.
Then, it’s best to decide how you want your program to incorporate digital learning. Do you want your program to be fully online? What about a blended learning model that combines the use of online courses and resources in a face-to-face setting? Or could hybrid be what works best for your students – combining in-person and virtual days?
Step 2: Focus on your teachers and staff
Your teachers and staff make the magic, so it’s important to focus on hiring staff and teachers who are passionate and excited about online learning. Then, it’s critical to ensure they have the resources, tools, and professional development they need to feel confident and prepared to teach in the online learning environment.
Throughout our FlexPoint and Florida Virtual School professional development, we show elementary teachers how to implement best practices in online learning and create fun and engaging activities for their students online. For example, we encourage our teachers to bring props into their lesson, like they would in a physical classroom. This could be using a guitar to sing songs, puppet animals, and more. The sky’s the limit.
Step 3: Use interactive curriculum and instruction
Elementary-age students have shorter attention spans, which is why it’s vital to provide them with group learning time, like a live lesson, as well as individual time. This also allows students to have more flexibility in their schedule so they can work on assignments at their own pace, or take a break if they need to. Additionally, our teachers provide instruction that requires interaction with onscreen content such as image markers and tabbed panels, so that students feel like they are part of the lesson.
Also, using a curriculum that includes interactive elements such as videos, games, and more, can make all the difference. I highly recommend either creating your own curriculum with these elements, or partnering with an online learning provider, like FlexPoint, to license interactive curriculum.
Step 4: Build a strong community
Even online, it’s important for parents to feel confident that school leaders know their child as an individual and care about their success. There are many ways to build strong connections with parents and students online.
At Florida Virtual School we developed a self-paced onboarding course for parents and students to take before they start their classes to learn how to navigate the online learning platform, find their schedule, look up grades, and more. We also encourage our teachers to schedule welcome calls with parents and students to answer any questions they may have about the upcoming school year.
Step 5: Plan for all scenarios
There are situations that are unique to the online learning environment. For example, what do your teachers and staff do when a student stops responding or submitting assignments? Providing guidelines on how teachers and staff should approach a variety of scenarios it’s important so there is already a plan in place.
To start building guidelines and best practices, I would start by asking yourself and your staff questions such as, “do you have safeguards in place to ensure academic integrity?” or “how will you communicate with families and students who are actively participating in their learning?” And don’t forget questions about technical support and how to support students with IEPs or ESEs in the online learning environment.
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