The Lesson of COVID-19: Learning at School and Learning at Home Must Be Seamless

From the WSJ:

  • "This spring, America took an involuntary crash course in remote learning. With the school year now winding down, the grade from students, teachers, parents and administrators is already in: It was a failure."

Sad to say, that conclusion appears to be justified. So the blame game starts, right? Straight up: we cannot blame classroom teachers. They worked hard; they cared about their students.   

What the COVID-19 disruption made glaringly clear is this: K-12 is still mired in the 19th century, banking on paper-based curricula … but venturing a toe into the 21st century with this computer stuff.  Schools’ copying machines ran 24/7 churning out packets of paper that were manually delivered to students’ homes. Oh yes, schools published lists of URLs on their websites that complemented — somehow — the paper-packets or sent the lists of URLs to the students via the school’s LMS (Learning Management System).  Like we said: we cannot blame classroom teachers for the failure of remote learning.

So, what are schools going to do to prepare for the possibility of school closures or open/closed hybrids starting in the Fall 2020?

  • "As the school year comes to a close, districts are focused on making improvements. Some will use summer break to retool remote learning, provide teachers with professional training to use it …"

No, No, NOOOOO! That’s not what schools should be doing during the summer break! Rather, K-12 needs to step back and think it through and join the 21st century: the problem isn’t preparing teachers for remote learning, the problem is thinking that remote learning is something different than classroom learning, that teaching in the classroom is done one way and teaching remotely is somehow a different type of teaching. That’s not the way to think about it. Rather…

The lesson of COVID-19 for K-12 is this:

  • "Learning at school and learning at home … must be seamless."

Learning at home, then, is just a continuation of learning in the classroom. And learning in the classroom is just a continuation of learning at home.

How is such seamless learning possible? Join the 21st century! Teachers need to use digital pedagogies that employ digital curricula! Time for a concrete example: here then is a timeline of how several classrooms in Michigan used digital pedagogies and digital curricula — before the COVID-19 disruption and after the COVID-19 disruption.

Starting in September, 2019, in Monique Councilman's 3rd grade classroom at Haas Elementary — and in the elementary school classrooms of Dawn Michalak, McAlear-Sawden Elementary School, Billie Freeland, Kent City Elementary, Nicole Andreas, Kent City Elementary, Puja Mullins, Lincoln Consolidated Schools — students used digital Roadmapped curricula for teaching science (aligned with the Next-Generation Science Standards - NGSS), social studies (aligned with Michigan’s MCS3 standards), ELA (aligned with the CCSS), etc.

See Figure 1a for an example Roadmap lesson for 3rd grade science; Figures 1b and 1c show students using Roadmaps on their computing devices in their classrooms. The digital Roadmapped curricula was provided to the teachers, free, by the Center for Digital Curricula based in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. (Spoiler alert: C & E are the Center's co-directors.)

 This image shows a Roadmap digital lesson, a concept map representation, plus 2 pictures of classrooms.

A Roadmap, a type of "concept map/graphic organizer," is just a digital way to implement a lesson of instruction. The nodes in the Roadmap are learning activities; as the students complete the activities they check them off. For the students, a Roadmap provides a visual scaffold for where they start, where they are going, and how they are going to get there. In Figure 1b, some of the students are working, solo, on the same lesson, while others are working on different Roadmaps. Roadmaps facilitate self-regulated learning.

Students can work collaboratively on the same Roadmap. Mrs. Michalak (Figure 1c) pairs up the students before class — the Collabrify Roadmap Platform makes that sort of classroom organizing easy to do. She has found that instead of always coming to her with questions, the students have learned to talk amongst themselves in order to work out their questions.

When Mrs. Coulman needs to be out of the classroom for the day, she creates a Roadmap lesson plan for the guest teacher, and sends that Roadmap out to her students, as well.  Everyone having the same Roadmap ensures a seamless transition to the guest teacher. (There’s that seamless word again!)

Back to the timeline:

  • Schools closed in Michigan on March 16th — but the learning at home, using Roadmaps, continued! Well, it was more complicated — but not because of the teachers, the students or the digital curricula: the districts’ administrators had their opinions and Michigan state politics took center court. For example, for the first month of the closure, teachers were not allowed (!!) to provide curricula to the students; all they were allowed to provide were enrichment activities.
  • So, Team Roadmappers (the five teachers identified above plus a retired teacher and a teacher from Israel, now living in Ann Arbor) pivoted and created BrainVentures — self-contained, self-paced, one hour or so digital adventures in Roadmap format.
  • Then, in mid-April, the state said teachers could provide curricula. While the elementary schools (we have been focused on K-5) scrambled to make paper-packets with lists of URLs for their students that were then manually distributed, the above teachers pivoted back to their classroom Roadmaps. Team Roadmappers scanned the required packets into Roadmaps — but they added more interesting interactive learning activities (e.g., create an animation) and adjusted the learning activities for home learning (e.g., instead of “turn-and-talk” the students used the "phone" (upper right corner) in the Roadmaps to talk through the computer with each other (and/or the teacher) — using Twilio’s Voice over IP technology.
  • And recall, the schools – at the state’s direction – told the students that there would be no grades for the winter 2020 semester. For the classes using packets-of-paper, that meant that school effectively ended in March. Not so for the Team Roadmappers’ classes — they had almost 100% attendance until the end of school in June. And one 2nd grader even asked: “Can we use Roadmaps after school is over?” <Smilely face goes here.>

Notice that we have not used the term "tech tool" or "learning app." (Ok, we mentioned the Collabrify Learning Platform — hush!) We came to realize, as far back as 2006, that:

  • “Schools don’t want technology; Schools want curricula.”

It’s not about the tools — it’s never been about the tools. We forget at our peril:  Teachers are the heart of the classroom, while curriculum is its heartbeat.

K-12 cannot afford to lose Fall 2020. Our children cannot afford to lose Fall 2020. Schools need to take the summer and come into the 21st century. The UMich Center for Digital Curricula is working with 28 elementary schools in Michigan this summer to learn how to use its free, deeply-digital, standards-aligned curricula to make learning at school and learning at home seamless. Make no mistake; this is not easy or quick. But, we are working with dedicated educators who want their children to be successful in the 2020-21 school year!

NOTE: If we have piqued your interest and you want to learn more about Roadmapped curricula, come on down! We offer weekly webinars on Roadmapped curricula. Drop me an email  [email protected] — and visit our website:

Acknowledgements: We (C & E) have the great honor of working with tremendous classroom teachers — teachers totally dedicated to their children and to their craft: Denise Gallemore, Liat Coppel, Wendy Skinner, Kristin Kreiner, Puja Mullins, Monique Coulman, Dawn Michalak, Billie Freeland, Nicole Andreas.