How Can I Help My Child In School When Everything Is Virtual?

I recently received this question from a parent:

What I would like to see you write about is the electronic evolution in schools in which nothing is on paper anymore, no text books, work books, etc.

I’m struggling with this especially for my middle schoolers where I can’t ever see the breakdown of a grade or my kids’ actual work. I just see the grade, and so I have no clue how to intervene or what to help them with. How can I help my kids with concepts in this new environment?


Virtual Frustration

I was not surprised to receive this question. Today, every public school in the United States has access to the internet and at least 97% of teachers reported having computers in their classroom (from National Science Board). Some schools are even moving to the popular model of issuing a computer to every student. And a majority of teachers are still reporting they still don’t have enough technology teaching tools as they need.

The research does not match our nation’s increasing appetite for technology. There is limited research out there that actually points to greater achievement with increased technology tools in the classroom, and the research that does exist points to limited increases.

So then why are we pushing forward with more technology?

  1. Technology often makes things simpler for teachers. For example, SMART boards make interacting with power points and papers quick and easy. Plus you can save what you wrote and share it with your students. Another example is online workbooks, like IXL, which frees up time for teaching printing out practice problems. It even tracks progress!
  2. Students do need to learn how to access and use technology for society (however, I think the tech being used in classroom is not actually doing a fantastic job at this yet).
  3. There is a status symbol involved with a school that has laptops in every student’s hands.
  4. It’s better for the environment and often school district’s pocket books. Text books and paper are expensive!

However, there are some problems with how we currently interact with technology. The first, and already brought up point, how to parents interact with this new system? Additionally, most teachers don’t have enough training to actually use these devices efficiently and effectively. And many teachers end up following back on these devices when they are swamped (whereas in the past students would pull out some independent work or reading).

Plus my personal beef with technology in schools: Putting a kid on a computer does not simply make sure they are prepared technically for life. Students need computing skills such as Microsoft Office, Google docs, typing skills, coding skills, basic hardware skills, how to differentiate good and bad articles/news, internet etiquette and safety, and how to actually use technology creatively. But I digress…

How do parents help their children on a virtual platform?

  1. Parents are HUGE education influencers. If you are concerned with a lack of communication associated with technology reach out to your school, your teachers, and your school board. You might feel powerless at first, but schools definitely listen. You need to become your local lobbyist.
  2. Talk to your teachers. Most online textbooks/workbooks also come with some type of tracking and reporting system for teachers. Ask the teacher for those reports.
  3. The follow up for the #2 is to be ready if the teacher does not know how to access the reports. This is VERY common. Teachers don’t get enough training on their tools. Ask to come and help access it or ask for just a screen shot/picture of the assignment.
  4. Find out if there is a way to access class materials from home. Many online tools also offer the ability to see what your student is learning at home.
  5. Additionally, ask your teachers if there is a way to report weekly or bi-weekly on assignments. Not just what is due, but an actually way to SEE the assignment.
  6. If you school’s programs do not have these features, they seriously need to consider a different curriculum. There are so many options today that it’s absurd to not have access to everything. Tell your school district that issue.
  7. Remember that teachers are over worked, have a ton of students to manage, and are probably communicating with 20 other parents at the same time. Stay polite, but stay on them. Keep asking and working with the teacher to see how you can access the materials.
  8. When your child works on homework, be with them. They might seem engaged on their technology, but they may just be goofing off. If they were bored with their paper and pencil, they will probably be bored on their computer.
  9. If you need help accessing the online materials, ask if someone at school could do a demonstration. Most likely you’re not the only parent struggling.
  10. Have your child show you what they working on and how to access their homework. I can’t tell you how many times kids have told me, “I know how to do it.” And then when I asked them to show me, they only knew part of the directions or were doing something weird.
  11. Consider teaching your child some of the skills I mentioned above yourself or from an additional course. Those are invaluable.

In Summary

It’s not going to be easy. Transitioning to a virtual environment has growing pains. But if you continue to communicate and stay involved, it’s doable. Be brave to speak out.

You may also be interested to read other ways to empower and support your child in school from this article. Or check out Education Week’s article that reviews several different technology supports and research.

Have any other tricks to staying involved? Comment below.

Or if you have an educational question, contact me!

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