As members of the IB World, SMARTPREP and ManageBac are commited to helping students, educators and parents cope with the effects of COVID-19. Schools that are confronted with closure have needed to adapt, almost on the fly. The aim of this blog series is to provide a share point for the measures that are proving effective. We’re in this together.

I feel it is important before I start, to give some background to my situation as it has an impact on how I have dealt with the educational ramifications of COVID-19. For me it started in late January as I prepared to return to Beijing from London. Due to fly out of Heathrow on the 25th, I got the news that flights to Beijing were suspended. I re-routed and landed in Perth Australia on Feb 2nd and started online teaching on the 5th. Believe me when I say that it has been the steepest learning curve I have experienced, and now is a good time for me to reflect on the adjustments that have to be made by teachers, students and administrators alike.
About Gillian Williams Gillian is a teacher at Keystone Academy, China, former member of the ES&S Curriculum Review Team, IB Senior Examiner and Team Leader for ES&S paper 1, workshop leader and member of the IB Global Mentoring Team, author of SMARTPREP IB ES&S, and co-author of the Oxford University Press IB ES&S Course Companion. Learn more about Gillian

I work in a boarding school in Beijing – that fact has significant impacts on the relationship we have with the students. In a boarding school you see the students all the time and we are their second home – the loss of which has affected many of them. Also, of relevance is the fact that I am an experienced (read older) teacher with extensive IB experience and online teaching. In my current position I teach DP ES&S and TOK and I have a small advisory (homeroom group) of G12 students who I guide through CAS. Part of the job is to try to keep them sane and calm through all this.

We all have lesson plans and are ready to teach our students face-to-face but believe me it is a whole different game when things go digital – so here are things I have experienced that may be useful to others

  • The online resources the school uses have grown exponentially as our IT department has been working their tails off to help everyone deliver meaningful lessons in all the different subjects. As a school we use the Microsoft suite and pretty much everything in it, we are trialling Zoom for lessons and summative assessments, and we use ManageBac to set work and communicate with parents.
  • In addition, I use Padlet which (when it is going at full speed) is great for discussions, the DP section of our school has the Kognity textbooks and that makes setting and checking reading easy. Additionally, I use the SMARTPREP IB App and the exercises feature.
  • We use the timetable that has been in place since August last year, so we have known times to teach and be in contact with students – that works if you are in the “right” time-zone.
  • There is a lot of discussion about synchronous and asynchronous lessons and the jury is still out on that. Some authorities say to stick with asynchronous, others disagree. As a school we have opted for 1 live session per cycle (we do a six-day cycle!). At first this worked well, but after 6 weeks the students are struggling with the scheduling – especially the grade 11 & 12 students who want to work to their own schedule. Getting them online at 8am is a challenge and a half.

So how to keep students motivated:

  • I schedule the live lesson later in the day (as late as I can), but this is difficult when we are spread across different time zones with some being 15 hours out of sync with China. My live sessions are on Teams and the chat facility allows us to record all lessons and meetings so the students can play catch-up if needed.
  • I use screen-share so it is kind of like teaching with a board and I can explain things to my students. Any online resource is ideal to show content.
  • There is a chat column where they can ask questions if their internet is slow and the mics are not working well.
  • I make it personal to them – I ask specific students how they are doing, are they stuck with anything?
  • It’s important to set reasonable workloads and deadlines so they are not over-burdened. I make sure our worksheets are very explicit with no weird abbreviations in them – I did really badly with that at first!
  • I try to always be online for scheduled classes so students can ask questions when needed, they then feel you care and are committed to them and their learning.
  • I chat with my advisees using WeChat (very popular Chinese chat app) at least once a week as a whole group. And we talk about what we are going to do WHEN we see each other again – their main concern is “Can we go out to dinner together?”. They really need some sense of the idea that the end is in sight and normality will resume.

How to deal with screen tiredness:

This really is an issue for all of us – students and teachers alike. I am pretty sure my eyes are going square! I think this is where working asynchronously makes sense because of the flexibility it offers to put the devices down, do other stuff and then come back to the lesson later. I talk to my students about what else they are doing away from the screens and how important it is to keep their passions going – like music, reading, yoga etc. For my sanity I cycle every morning, though it is summer here, so it is lovely to get out and breath the fresh air and see wildlife.

Grade 12 panic about exams:
This blog was written before the IB decided to cancel the May 2020 exam sessions.

This is a huge issue for G12 ES&S students. They are 6 and a half weeks into online learning, and have as long to go before the dreaded external exams – in our case IB exams. This has been uppermost in my mind when deciding on what to teach them; so here goes:

  • At first, I had to get the final content covered which fortunately did not take too long. That is when I found out how much I use abbreviations.
  • I used the Kognity book for thorough reading and the SMARTPREP IB App to review the content as bite-size pieces, question after question. I set activity sheets based around that. Then the content was discussed in the live lessons.
  • Since then I have been alternating past exam paper practice with revision exercises.
  • This approach is to encourage the students that things will be fine by May – I honestly do not know if that will be the case but they have to think positively. And if we feel that May looks uncertain, then better if they don’t see us doubt and worry.
  • IB has helped tremendously by extending deadlines for IA’s and changing requirements in some subjects.

You can read part 2 of this blog here.

Help students study from home. Request free school-wide access to SMARTPREP IB App here or contact ManageBac support for technology to help cope with the isolation rules enacted to combat COVID-19.