Home schooling during COVID-19

A week into the lockdown and home schooling, here we review what have we learnt from our subscribers around the globe and what can we do going forward to make the most out of this unfortunate situation.

BBC Radio 4

This program covers how UK schools have approached home schooling and the measures they have put into place including resources such as GCSEPod.

Included in the program is our very own Operations Director, Helen Newies who describes how GCSEPod is helping our subscribers continue to guide students through the curriculum so that next year’s Year 11 won’t be behind and schools don’t have the impossible task of teaching 4 terms worth of content in 3! Click on the video to listen.

Dear GCSEPod,

Whatever you are doing if you can keep doing it to keep your site live please do – you are doing an amazing job.

It is not just having an educational benefit but we are already seeing the benefit on children’s mental health and supporting them in keeping a structure to their lives in this incredibly difficult time.

Personally I could not be more grateful – our school community are holding up well in moving to virtual learning – that is due to your resource which is making it manageable for our staff.

My heartfelt thanks,

Julie Rudge, Headteacher

Thomas Alleyne’s High School, Marshalls Park Academy

What lessons can we learn from our subscribers around the globe?

As teachers and students across Asia begin to look forward to getting back to school, countries including the USA and UK are just starting out on their remote learning experience. A lot can be learned from the impressive learning infrastructure the international schools in Asia created at such short notice. We spoke to three schools, two in China and one in Kuwait about how they have managed the COVID-19 situation so effectively and what advice they have for school just starting out on their remote learning experience.

Unlike countries including the UK and US, the decision to close all schools in China came very quickly. As the first region to experience enforced isolation, the pressure on schools was immense. As Paul Kelly, head of secondary at The British International School (BISS), based in Puxi, the historic centre of Shanghai explains, “We had just broken up for the Chinese New Year holiday when we received the call on the Sunday evening to tell us that schools would be closed. Initially the suggestion was that the closure could be for three weeks; we’re now into our seventh week.”

For most international schools, many of the staff and students were overseas visiting their families and had left their iPads and laptops at home. Added to this, as people began to realise that China was a badly effected country, no one was in a rush to return!

The potential of teaching remotely became increasingly challenging.

First steps…

Paul’s objective on the first day of isolation was to find out who had what technology and then to establish an effective communication strategy with staff and students through Microsoft Teams. As Paul explains, “At BISS Puxi we operate a 1-2-1 iPad policy from Year 5 upwards, so we hoped that most students would be able to continue to learn. Thankfully we were also already set up with Microsoft Teams; I found that its features are limited but it’s fairly functional and better than Zoom. The key benefit is that once you’ve set-up your class as a group, you just press a button.”earning strategy.

At BISS, Paul soon realised that its Microsoft Office 365 contract comes with 1 Terabyte (TB) of Cloud storage. This meant that once he’d established a connection, he was then able to upload all the learning material into different Clouds. For example, the English department could have access to their central repository, while the maths department had their own area.

The British School of Kuwait’s (BSK) priority on day one was to set up Google Hangouts for each of the classes; functionality is limited but it has served its purpose. The school already structured its learning and assessment around its virtual learning environment (VLE), so when they were given such short notice of the school’s closure this formed the basis of their remote l

Implementing a structure to learning

As BSK’s science teacher, David Williams, explains, “We wanted to maintain as much of a school timetable as possible, so since the school’s closure, all staff have been making sure they use the VLE every day to give the students instructions on their learning objectives. Each lesson is an hour long, with set learning objectives, study material and follow up activities. While the VLE gives the learning a level of structure we also allow the students to be fairly flexible; some work into the night while others start before the school day at eight o’clock. They seem to be flourishing with the level of flexibility and trust they are being given.”

During the scheduled Hangout time the BSK students can join the conversation to follow the teacher’s guidance and ask questions as they would in a normal classroom setting.

BISS already had a learning system in place; at the end of each day the teachers historically provided a summary of the lessons that the children had attended, including what they’d learned. The school decided to flip this idea. As Paul explains, “Instead of Mr. and Mrs. Jones receiving a note to say that Liam had science in Period 1 where the class learned about the ultrastructure of cells then in Period 2 he had PE, the lesson summary became an outline the learning objectives of each day, what resources the students should use and what homework was expected. Instead of going out at the end of each day, we sent it out at 8:15 in the morning.”

The only problem was the time difference, for the 50 per cent of students who were still based in their home country; from New Zealand to Chicago. Some teachers started recording their lesson on their smart phones and then sending this out to the children.

Autonomous learning

The next step for the schools was to find online learning resources that would allow the students to learn relatively autonomously. The challenge for BISS was to find such systems. Due to the country’s firewall, not all platforms are functional in China; Internet access is good but certain websites including BBC Bitesize are blocked.

BISS already used Kognity’s online textbooks which worked well and ‘Education Perfect’ which provided them with a library of curriculum-aligned lessons and assessments, he also stressed the need for additional learning resources to ensure the students could continue to engage with their studies and educate themselves effectively. A colleague from a sister school recommended GCSEPod, aligned to the IGCSE and IB curricula which turned out to be a resource all three schools used to ‘teach’ and assess the students.

Paul said, “GCSEPod was recommended to us by a colleague at another Nord Anglia school. We had to react quickly and set up the GCSEPod accounts for all of our secondary aged students; giving them remote access to quality content through over 3,000 video Pods covering all areas of the curriculum. Thankfully it was easy to set up and there was no learning curve.”

The British School of Kuwait found that the short three to five-minute video Pods have provided the learning, and the short question banks assess their level of understanding. “We can’t see their exercise books but we can see which Pods they’ve watched, how they have performed on the assessments and whether I need to step in to give them additional support,” explains David. “It’s proving to provide a real development hump for the students, while cutting down on teacher work-load.”

Solving the problem

Of-course none of this has happened without a number of challenges.

One problem experienced at The British International School was that each student needed their own passwords. Most write them in their school diary, but of course these were in their school locker along with their textbooks. For those students still based in Shanghai, Paul had to organise with the school guards so that he could go into school, access each student’s lockers, then leave their textbooks and diaries at the gates. Each child could then step forward, one by one to collect their bags.

Paul warned schools of another problem they experienced. “Students would normally receive lots of positive feedback for their work, both verbal or written, but of course this is harder when they are working remotely.

The solution we’ve found is that GCSEPod provides a list of the top student users, so I’ve been able to write letters to the parents and students in recognition of their high study scores; right now it’s all about motivating them to continue to learn and recognise that it’s no fun working from home.”

In the rare incidence where set homework is not completed by a student, the policy at The British International School is to leave it for a couple of days. If by the third day nothing has been received, the teacher will send the student a nice email to remind them of the set tasks. If still nothing is received the year leader will get involved and telephone the parents.

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“I can’t speak highly enough about how helpful the GCSEPod team were throughout the whole process. Most importantly, teachers and students have found the resources relevant, excellent, and easy to use.” 
Ian Lee, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, China