Tips for Remote Learning Without Internet Access

Every school year brings technological challenges, but remote learning without internet is an entirely new type of challenge. This learning environment might not have come up when you were student teaching, but that doesn't mean you can't adapt. Consider this: Distance education doesn't just pre-date the internet, people were trying to do it before Mozart was born!

There are students who do not have reliable—if any—internet access. There is no question they are at a disadvantage, but they are still passionate and curious and able to be guided in their learning. Consider these ideas and strategies to ensure that even students on the unplugged side of the digital divide continue to learn.

Learning Game Boards

While everybody is different in what games they like and how they like to play them, nearly everyone can agree that games are fun. Video games, in fact, have become a medium with similar renown to film, with two out of every three American adults playing them!

Remote learning without technology can be turned into a game customized to the student, teacher, and school. Create a game board of learning options and then design rules around the board. For example:

  • You can create a 6x6 board of learning options (“read a chapter of a book,” “play this learning game for 30 minutes,” etc.). The student rolls two dice. The first die gives the row, and the second die gives the column. The student rolls the dice five times every day.
  • Every month, you give the student a blank calendar and about 20 activity cards (one for every weekday of the month). Each activity is a project that takes about a day to complete.

Talk to your students and involve them in the process of making the game board. Since so much agency falls on them right now, what do they want to learn about? What will keep them motivated?

Campfire Stories

Your students may not have reliable internet access, but can they get on a phone? Distance learning doesn't necessarily mean webcam learning. Get the whole class on the phone, and imagine you're all sitting around a campfire at night.

Look for ways to turn "campfire stories" into an educational endeavor that can span subjects and grades:

  • Prior to the phone call, have all students prepare a poem or short story to read aloud.
  • Take turns having one student pick a number. The remaining students (and you, the teacher!) go around asking yes/no questions. For example, "Is the number even?" "Is the number less than 100?" "Is the number a fraction?" How fast can you guess the number?
  • The above game works when teaching about taxonomy or properties of objects, too. Have one student choose an object they can see, for example a notebook or toy, and have classmates go around trying to identify it by asking yes/no questions.

Passion Project

We live in a world more connected than ever. What are your students passionate about? Video games? Have them build a video game. Music? Have them record a song. Soccer? Have them organize a fantasy league. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what the project is, it just has to be something they care about.

This year more than ever, you can guide students through a low-floor, high-ceiling form of learning. So many tasks can take an hour, a day, or a year, depending on 1) how the task is defined, 2) how much the student cares about it, and 3) how well you can shape their interest into creativity and technical mastery. Consider these tasks:

  • Write a book.
  • Start a business.
  • Invent something new.
  • Change a law.

If older students have a passion for, say, jewelry-making and a goal to sell their creations on Etsy, they can spend one hour doing some surface-level calculations on costs and revenue. Or they can spend all year raising funds, calculating profit (or loss), working with an adult who can supervise the money, and distributing their 2021 Q1 and 2020 Q2 quarterly press releases to you and their classmates!

Prioritize Social-Emotional Learning

A high-tech digital classroom where students are sharing ideas is still only an aspiration for many students. But education is so much more than math and language standards.

Use this unique school year for assignments that encourage students to stay healthy and focused—goals most anyone can relate to right now. Assign activities that include time spent playing outside, going on walks, or participating in outdoors activities that are safe for the environment. Alternatively, look for activities that require the student to stay inside and be mindful, such as journaling, reading, exercising, or meditating.

If you're interested in research-backed ways you can prioritize SEL this year, check out the blog our research team wrote back in June, 10 Social and Emotional Learning Strategies for Responding to COVID-19.

Teach Around Entertainment

In some places around the world, students can turn on the TV to get full-on lessons. But even when that’s not the case, look for ways that students can watch educational shows or play educational games. For older students, this can work with non-educational shows, too. Consider having students invest time in learning a video game, then have them analyze how the game is engineered, what story it tells, and whether the game reveals gender bias. Or have students try to list all of the sets, props, actors, and film crew members needed to calculate the budget for their own TV show. Then have them write it!

In particular, teaching around entertainment can lend itself well to a passion project. For better or worse, the need for standards and assessments hasn't gone away. However, all of our assumptions about how and where to assess have relaxed in many places, at least for one school year. There is optimism to be found there. You may not be able to stop a student from playing their favorite game all the time, but you are suddenly empowered to teach around it.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Your students and their situations are unique. Maybe they have internet, but it isn’t reliable. Or maybe they only have internet during certain times of the day. Nothing about this school year is ordinary or ideal. But you have chosen a profession that demands persistence, forgiveness, and above all, creativity, and you have always risen to the challenge. This year will be no exception.

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Connected learning can still happen, even when connecting to the internet is a challenge. Our core content is available offline via our app, HMH Go.

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