Leveraging Technology to Bring Homebound Students into Classrooms

Two teachers at our school both have Kevin, a sixth grader, as a student in their class. Kevin went to one of the elementary schools that many of our kids attended. They know him. He’s registered and has a student ID number. His particulars, even his photo, are in the student management system. He’s been assigned to a sixth-grade middle school team of two teachers, Lauren and Bess. But Kevin has an illness that prevents him from coming to school for the present time. He’s going to get better, but he has yet to step foot in our school building. Consider how difficult that must be for this boy.

I know that there are robot-like devices that can be used for kids to attend school under these circumstances. There was an IBM commercial that showed a kid attending school from home while remotely operating a robot that traveled the hallways and even joined his friends in the cafeterias at lunchtime. There was a story on the news in 2014 about a high school freshman on Long Island who attended school using a robot because he was recovering from appendicitis surgery. But his mom works for the company that makes these robots. She loaned one to the school for her son. That was three years ago. I haven’t taken a sick day in five years, yet still no robots.

Here’s where his middle school teachers come in. Bess and Lauren didn’t wait for the robots. They are cutting-edge technology users. That’s not to say that they are always incorporating bells and whistles into their lessons. But they realize that if there’s a way to leverage technology in order for kids to connect with people or obtain information in a way they could not access without technology, then they are eager to incorporate digital tools. They use Flipgrid to give students another way to demonstrate learning without using pen and paper. They use Google Hangouts and Facetime to do Mystery Skypes with kids in other parts of the country or across the globe.

Bess and Lauren jumped in and got Kevin into class using simple, free technology that is available to anyone with a laptop or any device. Using an app called Appear.in that is designed for video conversations and meetings, Kevin joins the class every day via his computer at home.  Bess and Lauren have leveraged technology to bring Kevin into their classrooms every day. It’s incredible and inspiring.

I had a chance to see Kevin in action recently when the sixth grade at our school organized a student-led EdCamp (read more about #KidCamp here). The teachers and students carried a Chromebook around to different sessions as Kevin attended by video conference. He chose what sessions he wanted to join because the session board was posted online for everyone to view. He joined a session I facilitated called “Music: What are you listening to? Let’s talk.” It was so cool to learn about the music my middle school kids are listening to. We used a Padlet to post a link to songs we like and the discussion went on from there. We simply talked about the nature of music and why we love it. Kevin had the link to the Padlet, and he was able to post his own links and share songs he liked. He is an incredible kid.

I think that Bess and Lauren are going to be a little embarrassed that I’m writing about this because they’re not looking for any credit, but it is too awesome not to share their agile use of technology, their willingness to think outside the box, their incredible empathy and love for their students, the love of the other sixth-grade students for their friend, the innovation of Kid EdCamp, and the inclusion of Kevin in the different sessions. How many “Kevins” are there around the world? It’s pretty simple to bring them into our schools and classrooms. It’s great for Kevin. It’s transformative for all of us.

How has your school leveraged technology to bring homebound kids into classrooms?

Donald Gately, EdD, serves as the principal of Jericho Middle School in Jericho, NY. He was the 2016 New York Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @donald_gately and visit his blog In the Middle of Learning.

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