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Virtual Teacher Series: One Spot

Nov 04, 2020

The list of lessons learned in 2020 is probably about a mountain high for most of us, and somewhere in the midst of it is all the skills and talents of managing the role of virtual teacher.  It truly is no small feat, and I hope that teachers aren’t the only ones who recognize that fact.

And that’s exactly why here at Teach On A Mission we wanted to do The Virtual Teacher Series.  So that we shine light on not only how tricky it all can be, but how so many teachers are rocking it (they may not describe it that way, but simply because they keep showing up, they are rocking it!).

From understanding your influence as a virtual teacher to reaching for more sustainable workflow to better systems of parent communication, we’ve touched on topics that I hope have brought value to your week and even your experience as a virtual teacher.

My hope for this week’s post is no different.

This week, in the last part of our Virtual Teacher Series, our focus is on a struggle teachers started having back in March, and may still have this school year, but I’m betting you know the value in the system already.  And that is the idea that having ONE spot to go to is better than many when it comes to managing your students' work in the virtual classroom.

The idea of having ONE spot is beneficial for multiple reasons and not just for your students, but also for you.  In this post we’ll discuss what those benefits are and a tool you can use to better manage a certain aspect of your virtual classroom.

It’s all related to a much bigger idea that helps us reach for a bit more sustainability, and that is the idea of minimalist teaching.  Hang in there and I’ll explain.

Let’s get to it.

In a school year that seems to be steeped in changes and uncertainties, our classrooms can serve as a place of constancy for our students.  It can do so if and only if there is a flow to what they do (read more here for a more sustainable workflow) and if they know where to go to access your classroom when it’s outside the four walls of your physical classroom.

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that a classroom can span outside of those walls, but simultaneously is more effective inside them.

But that’s an issue bigger than us, so let’s focus on what we can control, making our virtual classroom a constant presence for our students.

How do we do this?

By minimizing where they do things as much as possible.  Although there are fantastic tools out  there (and I’m not saying don’t use them), there are ways to use them that helps students see them as part of your course and are easy to get to so they can focus on their learning rather than the stress of the structure and getting where they need to be.

This is minimalist teaching.

Knowing what to teach, and using as few tools as possible in incredibly effective ways so as to get kids to mastery.

Reducing all the places of your classroom, which could be all the tools, resources, assignments, etc. to just ONE spot automatically gives your students a sense of familiarity rather than the stress of learning something new (before they even get to the content). 

Well, how do we do that?

In this post I will be suggesting a tool to use for your students' experience and where they “turn in” some of their work.

Now that’s  only one aspect of your teaching life, but hey, we need to start somewhere.

It’s about building one spot for your students to access everything in a way that makes the structure of your course easily navigable (and reduces the number of emails you get asking where something is - eye-roll).

The tool I’ll talk about in this post are from Google.  If youre district doesn’t use GSuite, please know that there are great equivalents through other sources, Microsoft for example, which we give a quick rundown of in our Virtual Teacher Toolkit, in the tool comparison chart.  Scroll down to grab that toolkit.

Digital Interactive Notebook

I’ll be real honest.  When digital interactive notebooks first went big I totally geeked out with all the creativity and possibilities, but I quickly got overwhelmed by it all and made the decision that the overwhelm just wasn’t worth the reward.

But then I thought, what if I can offer teachers a chance to skip the overwhelm and still reap the reward?  Welp, that’s totally my intention here.

Here’s the thing. The teachers who have been through any of my programs, for the most part, know about the binder system I use (shout out to my amazing  Sustainable Psych Teacher members and my Flipped Classroom Formula teachers - miss you guys).  

Well, as soon as things went virtual, that binder system was pretty much shot.  Most systems were shot when everything went virtual, right?!? 😭

Enter the digital notebook.  Some call it the digital interactive notebook, which really is a better name because there are great (and easy) ways to make activities students can interact with without it taking forever or bogging down your workflow.

It’s no new concept, but for many of us, we may be used to the traditional interactive  notebook and not understand how it can go digital.  Well, not only can it go digital but it can be a great place for students to house all of their work in a way that truly assists them in their understanding.

There are entire facebook groups dedicated to the digital interactive notebook that I would encourage you to check out, but, if you’re anything like me, you might be overwhelmed by the idea of creating one from scratch, and by all the ways it can be implemented.

In this post, I’d like to explain how it can serve your classroom and then offer you a free template so you don’t have to create one from scratch.  You just make it work for your course.

Keep it simple

First, it’s just a Google Slides or Powerpoint file.  That’s it.   It’s not some new fancy tool you have to learn.  What’s great is that you can keep it incredibly simple or you can learn all kinds of great new skills inside of Slides or Powerpoint and make it more aesthetically appealing and more navigable much like a traditional notebook… it’s totally up to you.

Once you make the digital interactive notebook how you want it to be both in looks and in its structure, you just assign it on Google Classroom or in Teams.

Be sure to make a copy per student, and select which Topic you would like it to live under if you’re going to make one notebook file per unit which I suggest so that the files don’t get too big and slow for kids.  Depending on how you’ll monitor the work happening in these notebooks, be sure to select the number of points it will be worth as well before clicking Assign.

I’d like to offer some tips to help in the management of these digital notebooks.

  1. Have students access the notebook for the first time at the beginning of the unit and then bookmark it on their device.  This way they know they are in the correct file whenever they access it and they don’t necessarily have to navigate through Google Classroom or TEAMS (although that’s not really hard) to find it.

    See the image above on how to create a bookmark.  Be sure students not only name it appropriately (meaning, an obvious name), but also establish a bookmark folder for your class (they could create a folder for each of their classes) which they do by clicking the drop down arrow, selecting Choose Another Folder, and then New Folder. 

  2. Create a separate interactive notebook file for each unit that you’ll assign in Google Classroom or TEAMS (or any of the other learning management systems).  I’ve stated this tip already, but what I’d like to add is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every unit.  Just  make a copy of the Unit 1 notebook and rename it - that’s it.  Viola!   You now have your next unit’s notebook and can assign it, making a copy for each student.
  3. Organize your LMS (learning management system) feed by Unit.  It doesn’t take much time, and you can do it once and be done with it since when you make an assignment you can choose which topic it goes under.  This will allow your students' feeds to be more navigable and easier on the eyes, meaning easier to find their notebooks.
  4. When you go to grade or check the assignments held inside the notebooks, it’s super easy to click through them, but have it split screened with your Google Spreadsheet or gradebook, for instance, so you can just put the “grades” in once.  When I checked these notebooks, I did so every day or every other day while my students were in class, but the points accumulated - I didn’t enter them everyday.  So I would keep a tally on a spreadsheet and then enter the total at the end of the unit.  In my programs I give teachers the templates to do all of this.

No matter how you use a digital interactive  notebook, the point is that it can in fact serve as one place for your students to both learn and show their learning without the overwhelm of having to do so with hella tabs open.

Likewise, there’s no point in using these in order for a bit more sanity if you’re having to spend hours creating  and perfecting them before you even assign them to students.  This year, at least, it’s just not worth it.  But the benefit of using the notebooks is still there, so I’d like to offer you a template you can take, for free, as well as a video tutorial on how to do some quick edits in order to make it work for your courses.   

The Digital Interactive Notebook template pictured above is available inside of our Virtual Teacher Toolkit which you can grab by filling out your name and email below.  I need your email address in order to send you the template, and then I’ll just be emailing you to let you know when our next blog post full of tips and encouragement comes out - no spamming your inbox, promise.


I also want to offer you this template, taking the creation of the notebook off of your to-do list so that you can focus on what’s more important about the notebook… what’s inside it for your students’ learning experience.

This is the interactive piece of the notebook.

You can do just about anything with the interactive aspect of your notebook, but you can also keep it super simple as well.

Let me show you the structure of mine.

In my flipped classroom, I want my students to have one place where they reference the videos they need to watch, but also where they can do a quick interactive activity like the one shown above.

The next page then is where I’d have students insert a picture of their handwritten notes.  Is this absolutely necessary?  No, because they’ll keep their notes, but it’s a way for my students to show me their notes.  The pages to follow then were where I put assignments like a drag and drop activity, fill in the blank or matching, that I just adapted to work in a Google Slides or Powerpoint file. 

Last tip before we go.  You DON’T want your students turning in this assignment until the end of the unit.  You’ll want to have your eyes on their notebooks throughout the unit, but if they turn it in, they lose access to edit it (at least in Google Classroom they do), so be sure to set up that process - don’t turn it in until test day.

I sure do hope this post has been helpful in a practical way.  Not just to let you know that digital interactive notebooks can serve your classroom in sustainable ways, but that you can now hit the ground running with one because you’ve got a template ready and waiting.


Virtual Teacher Feature

I am so excited to introduce you to our final Virtual Teacher Feature, but also want you  to see the other teachers we’ll be featuring on social media this week.  Each day we’ll feature a new teacher in addition to the weekly features we’ve done thus far.  Don’t miss it on Instagram or Facebook.

Allow me to introduce you to Cristal Chambers, a 4th grade math and science teacher in Cleveland, Ohio who is currently fully remote.  Her remote set up includes team teaching with her co-teacher each day live on Microsoft Teams for 150 minutes per day.  And then Schoology is used for all assignments, student work, and assessments that students do during their asynchronous time which can amount to 150 minutes.  Cristal also uses Clever and See Saw in her remote classroom.

Current struggles she’s working through include helping students through their own tech issues.  Navigating different platforms, not logging in correctly, and just over all problem solving are tricky with the younger ones given they are fully remote.

However, Cristal shares, she’s finding some excitement in learning new tools through Schoology and when creating videos and guided notes to help guide students.  

Tools she can’t do her current teaching job without including her new desktop (gotta love a new computer, and I bet the screen is huge - such a bonus), her HUE document camera (my fav), a microphone, all thing Google, and flipped videos.

She leaves us all with some great advice by stating,

“Flipping our classrooms may not have gone as planned this year with being virtual, but the effort and time spent on the videos/slides/and notes will be invaluable as we make this new journey one step at a time.  It's OK if you need to reach out for help and it's OK if you're not the most techie.  Find your own teacher tribe, a family that lifts you up, encourages you, strengthens your weaknesses and that you can share your strengths with.”

That’s what it’s all about, right?!?  Being in this for the right reasons, and finding people nearby to support you.

Teacher friend, I hope this series has been helpful and at least encouraging for you.  We’d love to have you stick around as we have new and exciting things happening here with my little teacher-support business  of Teach On A Mission.  Our next series, The Sustainable Teacher Series, is going to lead to a very big and fun announcement and I don’t want you to miss it.  To be sure you’re in the loop, grab that Virtual Teacher Toolkit (which subscribes you to our emails) so you’re sure not to miss a thing - including freebies, tutorials, and encouragement.

Until next time,


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