Learning About St. Nicholas Day: Hybrid Style

 St. Nicholas Day is coming December 6, and it is a holiday I always teach my students about.  Normally, as I shared in this post, I usually have students leave one of their shoes in the hall, and then "Saint-Nicolas" leaves a treat in each one.  This year that's not really feasible with social distancing and what not, and some of the students learning completely virtually.  After talking to my colleague Robin, who teaches the 8th grade students, we decided on a plan to introduce the holiday that accommodates our hybrid model.  We will teach students about the holiday this coming Monday and Tuesday (we have 60 minute block classes so it takes two days to see all students).  I will be sharing the slideshow below, which is only a part of my lesson for the day [edit 11/30/20:  added a slide to explain the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus] (email subscribers will have to view the post on the blog to see it):

Next, students will watch this video, not so much for the language, most of which is above their comprehension level, but for the visuals it provides (again, email subscribers will have to view the post on the blog to see it):

As for treats, every student who is a hybrid learner only comes into my classroom one day a week.  On the day they come in, they will receive a piece of paper with a clipart photo of a shoe filled with treats (so they don't have to remove their shoes), and a treat.  Virtual students will have their treats mailed to them.  Even though St. Nicholas day is not until Sunday of next week, we have to teach students about it on Monday and Tuesday, otherwise students in the earlier cohort would not understand why they were receiving treats.

Although it's not how I normally do it, I am happy we have come up with a way to continue with this fun cultural tradition and include it in our curriculum.

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How I'm Using Nearpod for Hybrid Learning

I've been using Nearpod for several years now (click here for a post I wrote back in 2015 about it), but since the transition to hybrid learning, I have found it especially useful.  While it's not perfect (I'll share some of its shortcomings here as well), it makes it easy to engage students both in the classroom and at home.

What I Like About Nearpod

I Control the Slides

Being able to control the slides is essential for hybrid lessons.  In a traditional in-person setting, this doesn't really matter because students are viewing the slides on the Smart Board, so of course I control them.  For an all-virtual lesson, if I want to share a presentation and control the slides, I can share my screen.  But the way I'm set up in my classroom for hybrid right now, things get a little tricky, because I've got some students in the room, viewing the presentation on the Smart Board, and then others logged in on Zoom, who can see the Smart Board, but can't always read small print.  For those students, I need to provide them an alternate way to view the presentation.  If I give them a PowerPoint, they could potentially get off track as to what slide I'm on.  Plus, if I have a slide with a question on it and then a subsequent slide with the answer, students could see the answer before I am ready for them to see it.  Using Nearpod and being able to control the slides solves that problem.  Plus, with my new clicker, which works with both PowerPoint and Nearpod, I am moving through slides more easily than ever.

Time to Climb

Time to Climb is a game embedded in Nearpod.  You input a series of questions, students pick an avatar, and then they move up the hill if they get questions right.  It's fun to see their little avatars climb the hill!  It's great to have a game right within Nearpod that doesn't require an additional code, which saves time (although it takes a minute for students to choose their avatars).  Here's a video of it in action (email subscribers must view the post on the blog):


With so many students attending the lesson from home, it's essential to employ comprehension checks that ensure engagement from all students, and the polls and quizzes that you can embed in Nearpod do that easily.  Again, they are already logged into the Nearpod, so it makes using them seamless.  Above, I polled students on what city they were from.  There was no right answer, but in answering they were engaging with new vocabulary.  I love the wheel which breaks down how many people chose which answer.

Draw It

In the years leading up to covid, I had ditched traditional mini whiteboards and dry erase markers because it was so time consuming passing them out and collecting them and the students were constantly doodling on the whiteboards.  Instead, I was having students use the whiteboard app on their school-issued device to draw or write answers to prompts.  Now, again with hybrid lessons, the Draw It feature in Nearpod has become more useful than ever in being able to view all students' responses.  Below, a student's interpretation of "Je ne sais pas !"


Matching is another great way to formatively assess students during a lesson.  I like how you can use images to avoid the use of English.

What I Don't Like About Nearpod

As much as I love Nearpod, there are a few things about it that really frustrate me.

Little Control Over Design

I suppose this could be a nit-pick, but Nearpod is limited in its design options.  You get much more control over font size and choice in PowerPoint, Google Slides, or just about any other presentation program.  Now, of course, you can import PPTs or Google Slides, but that's an extra step if you are creating a Nearpod lesson from scratch and the slides are imported as images so you can't go back and edit the text or placement of other elements.  It just seems strange to me that they allow such little control.


Recently Nearpod has experienced some glitches and downtime.  I've been lucky that none of these have occurred while I was teaching, but it's frustrating when you're trying to work on a lesson and the site is down.

Can't Go Over Time to Climb Answers

The only way to go over the answers to Time to Climb is to exit the presentation and look at it in preview mode.  I find this frustrating.

One of My Recent Nearpod Lessons

I recently used a Nearpod lesson to provide a little comprehensible input to my students.  I introduced (or reintroduced) my students to the characters from Frozen and stated some facts (some of them true to the movies and some that I made up), then students played Time to Climb to review.  Here is the Nearpod (email subscribers will need to view the post on the blog):

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National French Week: A Virtual Culinary Experience

National French Week looked a little bit different this year than it normally looks.  Click here for a glimpse of how I've celebrated the occasion in a pre-covid world.  This year I really wanted to put all my energy into a virtual taste test as a means to introduce cuisine into the curriculum.  At the end of the school year, students always say the opportunities to try new food were the most memorable moments of my class, and I didn't think it was fair to the students simply omit food from the curriculum this year.  Since consuming food in the classroom setting is not feasible at this point, I knew it would have to be done virtually.  First, I provided students with this list of recipes and treats from the francophone world.  I asked all students to either prepare or purchase a dish or treat to consume during class on a Wednesday, which is our virtual day.  I told students that if they were unable to get to the store and purchase something for any reason to let me know and I would provide them with a treat.  On the day of the taste test, I put students in breakout rooms and gave them some guiding questions to discuss their food.  I went around to each breakout room and chatted with the students.  Most of them seemed quite happy to be consuming a treat during class!  I asked students to send me photos of their food.  Here is a little slideshow I made to commemorate the occasion:

In some classes, if time remained, I showed some of the videos in the playlist below:

As a follow up, students were asked to watch the videos in the playlist and then answer the following questions:
-Did you enjoy your dish?  Was it similar to anything you have tried before?  If so, what?
-What's one dish another student brought OR that you saw in the videos below that you thought you might like to try in the future?
-What's one interesting piece of knowledge you learned from the videos?
-Finally, please provide feedback on how the virtual taste test went.  Understanding that having food in the classroom isn't an option right now, is this how you would most enjoy incorporating food into our lessons, or do you have suggestions for improvement or an alternate idea?

Here are some of the comments students left in their follow up:

Students also made some great suggestions for improvement.  A lot of students said they would prefer we did not do breakout rooms because they wanted to see more food.  I had chosen the breakout rooms to encourage students to feel more comfortable sharing and presenting.  One student suggested I make a Flipgrid assignment to accompany it (I've just started using Flipgrid this year and I love it!).

Overall, students said they were pleased with how this turned out and look forward to doing it again, but all things being equal, they'd really love to be able to eat in the classroom again!

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Establishing Norms in a Hybrid Setting

Last fall I blogged about my experience establishing norms with my students (click here to read about it).  The idea came from a blog post by Annabelle Allen, aka La Maestra Loca.  This year I knew I couldn't do the lesson the same way:  having students write on the chalkboards wouldn't work (no sharing of materials and half the students are attending class via Zoom) and students cannot gather in groups in the traditional way.  I still had the students establish norms, but I modified the lesson to suit our school's current hybrid model.  To start with, I made sure my students understood what a norm is.  After all, it's not a term 12 year olds use very often!  Students often struggle with norms vs. goals, so I gave some examples (from another class, so as not to give them too many ideas!)

Students, like last time, first had to jot down their hopes and dreams in a Word document.  In other words, what they hope to accomplish through their study of French.  Then, students in the room were put in breakout rooms on Zoom with students at home to try to devise three norms based off their hopes and dreams.  I was able to come around the room and see how the breakout rooms were going since most or all of them had a member who was in the room.  Most students used the chat feature to accomplish their task.  After awhile, I combined breakout groups and had the larger groups come up with four final norms.  Then, they picked someone from the group to communicate those to the class.  When everyone returned to the main Zoom room, I started a collaborative whiteboard.  The representatives from each group listed the norms on the whiteboard.  Then students stamped their favorite norms.

After the first three classes, I decided the whiteboard was too disorganized, so I switched to Socrative.  Using the Quick Question feature, I told only representatives to type in their norms.  Then I removed answers that were either duplicates from other groups or not really norms.  Then everyone was asked to vote on their favorite two norms.  This made it a lot easier for me to see which norms were the most popular.

After all this, I looked at the votes and stamps and determined what seemed like the four most prevalent norms and presented them to the class and posted them on my Canvas page:

Overall, this worked just about as well as the previous version, although, having students actually interact with each other in person is always preferred.  Ultimately, my experience has been that when you ask students to reflect, their values and goals are more often than not aligned with the teacher's.

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