Easy (and Free) Tech Ideas for Home School or Distance Learning Classrooms

Easy (and Free) Tech Ideas for Home School or Distance Learning Classrooms

integrating technology easily and free for your remote and distance learning classroom

I have always enjoyed infusing technology into my upper elementary and middle school science classrooms to spark engagement and motivation among my learners. Finding a balanced approach to hands-on learning while infusing digital components was something that I felt kept kids engaged and pushed boredom away.

       Fast forward to March 2020 and now this is a necessity to be able to teach in my classroom. Remote or distance learning overnight became something that was needed in order to continue teaching students and a way to continue earning a paycheck during a time when all non-essential employees are told to stay home. Despite loving technology, it is still a lot to take in. Below, I shared some of my favorite tech tools and what I use them for to help you make better decisions in your classroom.

Zoom: Zoom is a FREE online video conference call program. It’s super easy to use. Check out this handy walk-through document. I am using this to have face to face communication with my students. I set up a weekly video call with the students to join. Only those with the link can join, so it is safe. If students cannot join, the meeting is recorded (parents and students are aware of this) so that other students can view it later.

       As I get more comfortable, I can use it to teach as it has a screen share feature and a whiteboard feature, both of which will make teaching much easier.


I love to use this as an option to have students summarize or explain rather than having to write a response. Learn more about what it is here. Again, it is a free feature. It is also a safe
Using flipgrid as a tool to communicate and assess grade 4 5 6 students in the home school or remote distance learning classroom.
because only those with the code or link can join in. I love using this in the classroom because it allows students to show what they know in a creative way. Students do not have to simply respond in writing. They can create a face to face video or get creative. Students that don’t like to have “facetime” can hold up an illustration, their notes, a diagram, etc and then respond. There are so many ways to get creative to help students. Read more about them here.


Kami is another FREE program that lets users annotate and write
Kami is a PDF writer that can be used on worksheets in the home school and digital remote distance classroom.
on PDFs. This is a great tool to use if you haven’t gone digital yet. If you have PDF worksheets or assessments that you want to send the students, but you are unsure of how they will complete it and submit it back, Kami is something you should look into. You can read more about its features here.


Brainpop always has SOME free features but for the time being, they are opening their site up to everyone. I love Brainpop for many reasons. I use it to introduce or summarize a topic. I like using this site because it contains short, easy to digest videos that do a great job of appealing to students to teach the concept. You can read more about how I use Brainpop in my classroom here.

Edpuzzle: I love this site to also use to introduce or review a concept. Edpuzzle takes videos and allows you to embed questions within them so that you can assess student comprehension. There are premade videos that you can use or you can make your own. Again, this is a free program. You can also access my free states of matter Edpuzzle by clicking here.

Quizizz: Want to assign a fun review? I call this the quieter, easier to use sister of Kahoot. Take homework up a notch by using Quizizz. Quizizz has a homework feature that allows you to assign it through your Learning Management System. I prefer to use this for a variety of reasons, most notably because time is not a factor. Many of my students have an IEP that allows for extra time. Quizizz does not put these students at a disadvantage. Practice by using my Quizizz on the skeletal and muscular human body system by clicking here.

I hope these tech features will help you in your remote distance learning classroom if you have additional questions, feel free to comment below! 

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    5 Lessons to Teach Earth Day All Year Long

    Five Lessons to Teach Earth Day, Every Day!

             Earth Day was first recognized in 1970 after Senator Nelson pushed for the world to take care of the earth. Since then, every April 22 global initiatives are coordinated on this day to find ways to drive transformative change for the planet and the people living on it.

             As a science teacher, it is of high importance to recognize Earth Day in the classroom, however, I do not wait until April 22 to teach about the environmental problems of our planet. The following ideas and videos are great for Earth Day, but they can be used at any time of year. Days before break, as sub plans, or days when you have a modified schedule are perfect times to squeeze in reminders of why it is important to take care of our planet.

    Here are some activities and ideas that I use with my own students.

    Midway, Island

    Midway Island is found northwest of Hawaii. It is well known for its location during WWII, when the United States was able to use the island to help, ward off Japan. Now, Midway Island is known for the number of plastics that are washing up on its island and killing much animal life. Albatross, (WHAT IS IT) have their second-largest colony on this island however if you look along the beaches and nesting areas of the birds, you will find them littered with plastic and dead carcasses. As they decompose, you can see that their bellies are filled with plastic.

             This video is about 8 minutes in length and is a good launching pad for classroom discussion. Students will view that many of the plastic products washing ashore are things they use every day such as toothbrushes. The amount of plastic on the beach is astounding. After showing the video and unpacking the different talking points to the class, I then launch into a conversation about how we can solve the problem. We brainstorm together and then I have students work in groups to further explore solutions to our plastic problem.

    Ocean pollution distance learning activity for Earth Day NGSS


    Pangolins are cute scaly mammals. They are the only mammal that is covered in over one thousand scales. The scales are used to protect themselves however their scales are also what makes them the number one most trafficked mammal, with all 8 species currently on the endangered species list. In the past decade, over one million of them have been poached. Their scales are said to everything from arthritis to epilepsy to stomach disorders. However, there is no science to prove that this is true. Other factors that are contributing to its endangered status are habitat loss and a slow reproduction rate.

    After showing students the video on pangolins and having a class discussion, I connect the video to ecosystems. Since many people haven't heard of pangolins, they may not understand its importance in our ecosystem. In light of the recent CoronaVirus pandemic, this species is under attack even more as some people believe the pangolin may have caused the spread of the virus. Students research what pangolins eat and where they live. They will create a food web and then remove the pangolin to allow others to see the importance of this mammal in our world. 

    Coral Bleaching

    The Great Barrier Reef is a well-known coral reef in Australia. It is actually 3,000 reefs that are spread across the coast of Australia that takes up about the size of Italy. Over the years from pollution, global warming, and overfishing, the beautiful reefs in Australia (and other places) have started to bleach. This means they are losing their colors which puts them at great risk of dying. Scientists first noticed it during the summer of 2014 and since then it has spread to coral reefs all over the world.

             Throughout the 8-minute video, students will learn about coral reefs, what coral is and how it is made up, as well as factors that are contributing to its loss. Students will also be introduced to climate change and how it is affecting the reefs.

    After watching this video, group the students and give each group discussion cards with questions on them. Students will discuss major topics in the video. Depending on how much time is allotted, have the students work together to research what methods are being done by individual communities to minimize the human impact on the environment, in this case, coral reefs. Students could then argue for or against whether they believe the methods are helping or hurting the environment. 

    Air Pollution

    Air pollution is something that is not talked about enough. A tiny percentage of air pollution is natural. Students may identify volcanic eruptions, dust storms, or wildfires, as a form of natural pollution, however, much of the pollution is on us. Toxic smoke from factories, smoking, and car emissions are ways that we are causing air pollution in the environment.

             In this 6-minute video, students will learn how burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. This, in turn, causes a host of problems. Smog develops which not only hurts the environment but also causes health problems. According to the World Health Organization, over 2 million people die throughout the world from air pollution. Students will also learn about ways to reduce air pollution.

    An activity that can be used to drive this point home is to first create a cause and effect chart with the students. Identify causes of air pollution and how this affects the world. Students can then research the health of their area compared to New Delhi, India. New Delhi is listed as an area that is in poor health because of air pollution in the area. Students can also compare the conditions of the area to their own and brainstorm possible ways to reduce air pollution in their community.          
    Students will learn how humans change their environment. The video takes students through a normal day and identifies different ways that humans have changed the environment to make life easier such as using natural resources like wood and water. They will learn that every living thing has an impact on the environment.

    After watching this 5 minute video, I would have students create a list of ways that humans positively and negatively change their environment. This list can lead to a class discussion as students defend why they think it is helping or hurting the environment. Students can also research to find out the amounts of water that is used in their area. According to the video, NYC has 3 billion gallons of water being used each day. Students can compare this amount to their own area. 

    I hope these activities are ones that you can easily implement into your classroom. As we enter the need for a digital age, I am adding options to more lessons and activities to allow you to easily distribute them to a distance learning remote classroom or to use in a home school setting. Please let me know what I can do to make this aspect of teaching easier for you.  
    Distance learning ideas to teach earth day in the grade 4 5 6 science classroom

    Looking for more specific Earth Day lessons? Check them out here

    How to Teach Students about Viruses and Outbreaks

    With news of the coronavirus all over the television, it can be difficult to not have a conversation about it in your science classroom. Bringing current events into the classroom is always an engaging experience for students but it can also cause teacher anxiety as you gauge the best practice to bring this information to your students without creating stress for them or upsetting parents.

    The most important lesson to teach to your students is that many of the viruses can be killed by using soap and water. Practicing good hygiene can help reduce the risk of infection and better your chances of fighting it off, should you become infected. Many of the lessons are designed around this knowledge.

    Here are more ways to cover this sensitive topic with your students:


    Brainpop has a free video that gives a nice overview of the coronavirus. Tim and Moby are gentle, lovable characters that students identify with. The information is presented in a short video that will answer many questions that your students have. You could use this at the end of a class period to reduce the number of questions afterward if that makes you uncomfortable.

    Comic Strip: If videos aren’t your thing, this comic strip, which includes 3:45 minutes of audio from NPR might fit the bill. Again, it is a good source to give information to your students without causing panic in the classroom. 
    Students will understand the basics of the coronavirus and ways to prevent it. This could also be a reference that you put on your homework website so that students can access it whenever they want. Students can share the information with their parents to help calm fear with facts at home.

    Graphing Skills: Who doesn’t have students who need practice with graphing skills? Turner’s Graph of the Week has us covered with this graph that compares the outbreak of the coronavirus to other epidemics. Students can compare the data and teachers can use it as a platform to discuss the severity of the illness. Oh, guess what? This one is a freebie too!

    Discussing Racism Attributed to the Coronavirus: While this could make a controversial topic much more sensitive, it is important for students to understand that racism should not be linked to this virus. Students should not avoid Asian-Americans because they think they automatically have the virus. Even if this aspect of the topic is too much to go into on its own, you may want to subtly cover this to calm irrational thoughts or stereotypes.

    Hands-on Activity with Germs: One of the topics that continue to be threaded through all of the discussions on viruses is that personal hygiene needs to be taken care of. Simply handwashing with soap and water can kill most viruses, including the coronavirus. Although students and adults learn this at a young age, often they forget to take this simple precaution. 

    One way to remind the students is by using Glo Germ or glitter. Glo Germ is a liquid lotion that will appear under a blacklight. This substance is easily transferrable from person or object so it is a good way to mimic how germs move.

    When using this substance, you can either tell the students ahead of time. Then ask them to wash their hands and use the black lights to see how thoroughly they wash. Or you can use it by spreading it on your hands and touching various objects in the classroom, shaking hands with students, touching their books, etc and then bring out the blacklights to explain what you were doing.

    Either way, students should see the spread of germs and connect with the thought that germs can and will spread unless they are killed with simple soap and water. Students enjoy using the blacklights and have a great time with this activity.

    If you don’t have access to Glo Germ or blacklights but have glitter,
    especially extra fine glitter, that will work just as well. When using glitter, I like to emphasize how germs are spread. Putting glitter in the palm of your hand and then simulating a sneeze will illustrate how germs pass through the air and can infect people.

    Students can also have glitter on their hands and see the struggle of removing it without the use of soap, (using just water).  

    I hope these activities will help you feel better prepared when teaching a topic about viruses and illness. All the ideas above are free to use. You may have to put a few things together but they will all give your students factual information about the virus. If you would like something that is ready-made, click here to access my lesson the coronavirus.

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      Social Emotional Learning Activity to Build Relationships with Your Students

      bullying social emotion learning activity to build community and character in the grade 4 5 6 7 classroom

      I can still remember as if it were yesterday sitting on the after school bus having just attended an extra help session for math. It was a long day, I was tired and none of my friends were on the bus route near my house so I just put my head against the window and was relaxing.

               Unfortunately, that peaceful afternoon ride was disrupted by another boy, a known bully, in my grade.

               I wasn’t the most popular girl in school but I also wasn’t an unpopular person. Years and years later, I realized that much of the reason I couldn’t always be myself was because of the anxiety I suffered so I often liked to blend in and only let true friends know how I felt.

               So here sits the boy in my grade that I never really liked not romantically just not as a person. He wasn’t nice, he was rude and there was no reason for the rudeness. Today, I guess it was my day to be his target. My crime? Not being fully developed on top. Ugh.

               His behavior was terrible and if it happened today, I would tell him off. But because of that fact, I doubt it would  happen today. I do know that even though I was not bullied or made fun of often, this memory STILL pops into my head, even 15 years later into my career as a teacher.

               This is why one day I lost it with one of my seventh-grade classes. 

      Their comments to one another were disgraceful. Calling each other “fat pig”, “stupid”, “shut up” among whatever was said that I couldn’t hear. The prior memory popped into my head and I knew that I needed to do something to stop this behavior. I didn’t want one of my students to have a memory like I did pop into their head and have it something negative about my classroom.

               So what did I do? This was an easy exercise that yielded results better than I could have ever imagined.

      Gather the following materials:
      •        Chart paper
      •        Pencil
      •        Scraps of different colored pieces of paper
      •        Glue

      Prior to the activity, I sketched out a heart across the chart paper. I wrote above and below the heart,

      using social emotional learning activities to build relationships with students

      The "Do Now" that morning was simply to take 10 scraps of paper. The students were immediately engaged. They had no idea what we were going to do.

               Class started and I told the students how that morning I was cranky. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and gave my husband an attitude for no reason at all. I asked who else could identify with this and had students share their stories. After a few stories, I then told the students I felt bad. I said things that I shouldn’t have and it wasn’t right to my husband. While I knew he would forgive me, I hurt his feelings and that wasn’t nice of me. I then asked the students if anyone ever said something to them that hurt their feelings. I gave students time to think and then told them to write it down.

      "On the piece of paper, write down anything that was said to you that hurt your feelings, something that you said that you knew hurt other people’s feelings, or something you say to yourself to hurt your own feelings".

      I really wasn’t sure who would take this seriously. While we all know certain students in our class who will, would the students who this activity was REALLY geared toward take it seriously too?

               They did. They all did. My students floored me. They apologized to each other through the notes, they told me things they said to themselves like “You don’t deserve to be here”, they told me things that were said to them by people outside of the class that hurt. Some students cried. After the strips of paper were read, we crumpled them. We did this to say, it's out there and will never happen again in this room. 

               While I wasn’t quite expecting the emotions that were stirred during this activity, it was one I will do each year. There were follow up conversations to be had and check-ins with students but since I did this activity in my classroom, the words that are being used are not ones that will hurt us. 
      Words hurt us anti bullying SEL activity to promote kindness in the classroom

      I urge you to try this simple activity in your classroom, especially if you feel the classroom climate is a negative one. Not only will it help to become a positive place, but it will also strengthen the bond you have with your students which is so very important, especially in this day and age. 
      stop bullying in the classroom by showing students appropriate ways to act in front of one another. Empower students to speak up for one another in this community building activity to promote a kind classroom environment.

      Looking for more ideas to develop relationships with your students? Click here to read this two-minute idea

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