Tag Archives: remote learning

7 Remote Entry Events in PBL

This is the first of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.

Entry Events

Every project should begin with an entry event to prime the learner’s pump. We want to activate the prior learning inside of our students to launch the project. We also want to get kids excited about the topic that we are about to study. Entry events are a “hook” to the content that is coming and preemptively answer the age-old student complaint, “Why do we have to learn this?”

A good entry event captures both heads and hearts. An interesting problem creates cognitive dissonance while an empathetic situation generates an emotional perspective to the issue at hand. Different students will react more strongly to each, so including both engages more students into the project. Finally, the entry event should connect the content to the community and the final product.

One of my favorite entry event videos is posted below. Watch, laugh, and enjoy the plot twist. But then ask yourself, “What is the final product and community connection?”

Hopefully these teachers did more than just this simulation, but also tied this into a larger purpose. Sometimes rather than being a single experience, entry events are multiple activities that build upon each other to a culminating call to action.

Historically, by which I mean before Covid, entry events included things like simulations, inspiring videos, field work, guest speakers, a controversial article, open-ended science experiments, or a puzzling problem. Many of the best entry events require interactions between student and the community. So how can you launch an engaging project online? Here’s some ideas to consider:

Videos with Back Channel Discussion

Obviously, videos still work in remote learning, but just dropping a video into your LMS feed for students to watch whenever they feel like it, isn’t going to cut it. Make it an event. Schedule a time to watch the video together in live time. Have students active in a chat reacting to it as they watch. Show multiple short videos around a theme. Use videos from various platforms like TicTok, news clips, interviews, or science clips, not just movies or YouTube. Share videos of diverse people reacting to your topic to give them multiple perspectives.

It is important to set the stage. If you just show a video without any background, students may not react much. Instead hype it up by telling students we about to launch a huge project to set up the video before viewing it. Your enthusiasm toward the project launch goes a long way in selling the value of what you are about to embark on.

Video Conference Guests

Many teachers are using video conferencing to invite in guest speakers. One benefit of social distancing is that many adults are working from home and it is actually easier for them to commit to sharing with your class. They don’t need to take time off from their job or travel, but can easily join you for a few minutes.

Guest speakers don’t need to be national scientists or famous leaders. Your local healthcare worker or government official are more accessible and connect the project to your local community. Having trouble finding someone? Ask your students’ parents to contribute personally or if they have a connection in the field related to your project. Many teachers are uncomfortable with networking, but reaching out is a risk worth taking to move your project to the next level.

Virtual Field Trips

I don’t think anyone is scheduling field trips this year. The risks and safety protocols are too big of an obstacle. I prefer the term, field work, which implies that there is a purpose and task to be completed related to the project. But in lieu of physical trips there are hundreds of online options from virtual museums, webcams, or other virtual trips such as Google Expeditions.

Teacher Field Work

Another option is to do the field work yourself. My friend, Sarah Smith and her team go on a trip themselves, interview people, collect data and information for the project. They record their field work and edit it to present to students the information. Is this better than students doing it? No, but it is better than no trip at all. Personally I love this idea!

Home Field Work

Field work can be done at home. Tell students to go outside and collect bugs, leaves, water samples, or whatever else that you are studying. Have them observe patterns in their neighborhood or at the store (if they go). Assign data collection of how much time they sleep, read, exercise, and are online. This kind of field work is personal and relevant. Bonus: you can get them off from their devices and active.


We may not be gathering with loved ones over the holidays as the virus is spiking, but a phone call or video conference with family members is a great opportunity to interview them to get their perspective on a historical event, current event, or cultural viewpoints. Tying content into family history is a powerful way to make it relevant. When students share different viewpoints with each other they can learn to appreciate other perspectives.

Virtual Simulations

Run a virtual experiment or record yourself in a science lab. Use a popular game like Minecraft or Among Us as the launching point. Ask students to design their own (safe!) experiments at home with adult supervision. Have them investigate scientific phenomenon themselves.

No matter what option or combination of options, you choose, an engaging entry event is critical for student buy-in to the project. Few of us consider remote learning ideal, but we can still engage students in relevant work with a little creative thinking.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

5 Social Distancing Group Work Strategies

Many teachers and students have or are returning to face-to-face classrooms with Covid social distancing rules in effect. Wearing a face mask, staying six feet apart, and not sharing materials makes group work and collaboration seem impossible. But there are ways to use technology and our space to still have social interactions and use groups to achieve tasks including Project Based Learning.

Here are 5 suggestions to make that happen. (Sidenote: many of these strategies will also work for online distance learning.) See which ones might work for you:

1. Go outside

One of the simplest ways to social distance is to go into a larger space than the typical classroom. This way students can maintain proper social distancing but still talk to each other. Some schools are using the lines of a parking lot to measure that partners are far enough apart. As a bonus, we know that the virus spreads more inside, so taking kids outside is healthy too.

Teachers can still use talking circles by making them larger. Have student “pass” around an invisible talking stick by pretending to throw and catch it. While outside, students can talk louder so all can hear without disturbing other classes in the building.

If you plan to use outdoor spaces frequently inform students and parents with suggestions that they bring a yoga mat or towel to sit on, plenty of water, and sunscreen or hats. You will also need a backup plan for days when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

I realize that not everyone has this option due to climate, size of school grounds, safety concerns, or even school policies. A compromise would be to move your class to a larger space inside (if available) like a gym, cafeteria, or common space. Other options to consider are getting rid of your teacher desk and having student groups work in the hall. We need to be as creative as possible about where class takes place.

2. Collaborative Technology

For schools that are entirely virtual, technology is how students are working together. If you are teaching in person then use the same tools for collaboration. The Google suite of tools including Classroom, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drawings, and Jamboard offer a myriad of options for kids to work on the same things while physically distant. Apple and Microsoft offer similar tools. Students can work in “groups” collaboratively online while sitting six feet or six hundred miles apart.

Another online tool to consider is Padlet, which allows for easily collecting of sticky notes from students. Think exit tickets or answers to a warmup question. But students can also use it in groups for brainstorming or tracking project process. Google Jamboard has much of the same capabilities.

Upper elementary and secondary students can silently communicate in a document. GDocs has commenting and a built-in chat feature. Students are used to texting so communicating this way is natural for them. Organize group discussions by posting a question in a Doc and having the conversation through writing. You could project it on the board for all to see. It may be awkward at first so try it out with a fun topic before diving into content. One trick that I use in group writing is to have each student write in a different font color to assess individually.

3. Protocols

Many of the protocols that we have used in the past can be adapted to social distancing. You can still use PBL protocols of Need to Knows, 4 corners, gallery walk, and the tuning protocol. Start off Need to Knows individually by listing in a journal or on scrap paper. Next the entire class shares in a GDoc. Finally have a whole room conversation while the teacher writes the top 10-15 on the board or butcher paper.

If you go outside or to a larger space, you can still have students go to 4 corners while maintaining distance. Gallery Walks can be spaced out in hallways or on outside walls of your building. Have students stand by their poster and rotate every 3 minutes in an organized fashion. The tuning protocol can be done via video with a tool such as Flipgrid or socially distanced outside. Another alternative would be to silently look at each other’s work online and leave written comments.

Harvard Project Zero has many Visible Thinking Routines. There are Visible Thinking Routines based on analyzing ideas, working with others, and for engaging in actions. I have created free online templates for many of them that can be used in person or remotely. Almost any protocol can be adjusted for social distancing with the help of moving to a larger space or using online templates.

4. Scrum boards

One of my favorite methods to coach students to manage their groups is scrum boards. Adapted from the business world, they are a project management tool to keep a team and the project on track. The basic form sorts tasks into three columns: to do, doing, and done. In the past teachers have used sticky notes and posters or bulletin boards to create them.

During social distancing use my GDoc student scrum board template or a business tool such as Trello to have students organize their project process online. Make sure that each group shares their scrum board with you to allow monitoring and to use it for conferencing conversations.

5. Video conferencing

Students and teachers working remotely are making extensive use of Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams to collaborate. You can use video conferencing even when students are in the same room. Have every student bring in their own headphones or earbuds to keep the nose down.

Use random breakout rooms to have small group discussions about literature, articles, and classroom content. Combine it with a protocol to have proof of learning for assessment. Use fixed breakout rooms for project work time so that teammates can discuss their process as they work, even if they are not sitting right next to each other.

Most schools will not allow visitors, including parents. Use video conferencing to bring in guest speakers or content experts. Visitors can speak to the whole class via a projector or coach small groups on their projects in a breakout room. Due to Covid, many adults actually have more flexibility in their schedule to make a video visit than when they were working at the office.

Social distancing brings many challenges. Don’t try to implement all of these ideas at once, but pick one or two protocols and online tools to use extensively and slowly add others as needed when students are comfortable.

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.