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Free Virtual Resources for Parents and Educators as America Goes Back to School

August 19, 2020 by Kate Michael
Carle Place High School in Long Island, New York. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — As American students head back to school, parents, teachers, and administrators are securing resources to offer safe school environments or transition to online classrooms while maintaining rigorous curriculums. Everyone is striving to keep students’ minds sharp and bodies safe while capturing their attention and engaging their interests.

Planning lessons for classrooms on a normal day can be tough enough. Add in the challenges COVID-19 creates and the task may become exhausting, especially as so many school systems have resorted to distance learning, forcing teachers to learn new technology and instructional communication strategies. Parents, whether they are choosing to homeschool or just trying to complement their children’s education with at-home resources, must manage the added workload as they face their own work challenges. 

In order to help, private companies are stepping up in communities across the country. Businesses are working with individual school districts to develop evaluations, testing, and re-opening plans as well as offering many free educational resources. Parents, too, are finding more complimentary tools than ever for at-home learning. 

With a little searching, parents and educators can find a seemingly endless supply of free virtual learning resources. These partnerships and private business offerings are enabling a safer school year for students, parents, and teachers by providing free access to online learning platforms, digital textbooks, learning software, and more. 

While the pandemic affects physical classrooms, Accelerate Learning (ALI), a private equity backed company, is providing free training and resources to help teachers learn effective distance-learning practices. Zoom is removing the time limit on basic accounts for schools affected by the coronavirus and providing K-12 institutions free access to video conferencing tools needed to run online courses. 

“Having free digital resources available to educators is paramount. These digital resources are the only reason we can run a digital learning platform,” said Julie Woodson, an Algebra teacher at Dacula Middle School in Georgia. “Without apps like Zoom, we would not be able to make that eye to eye contact with our students. Making that connection with our students in the classroom is challenging enough, and achieving it digitally is even tougher. A free Zoom account allows that opportunity to all of my students.”

In certain communities in the U.S., physical school buildings have reopened and private equity backed companies are playing a role in this process. These school systems may be taking advantage of Servpro‘s viral pathogen cleaning program, which is offering hospital-grade disinfectant cleanings to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. 

School Check IN, for its part, is providing software to screen and document visitors. And GoHeath Urgent Care has started a series of free webinars to educate school officials on COVID-19 best practices and methods to develop testing, health monitoring, and risk mitigation protocols. 

“Whether your children are learning from home or back in the classroom this fall, private equity-backed companies are helping them have a safer and more accessible educational experience. Back to school will look different this year, but we’re all in this together,” said Drew Maloney, president and CEO of The American Investment Council which contributed to this article. AIC is an association representing the private investment industry that backs many of these companies, including ALI, Servpro, and School Check IN.

For teachers, Common Sense Media compiled a collection of resources to help with teaching in the virtual classroom, and over 300 education companies have made their subscription materials free. These offerings come in the form of free video lessons, lesson plans, tutorials, mobile apps, audiobooks, foreign language lessons, test prep materials, and other web resources.

Khan Academy — and its new Khan Academy Kids — is stepping in to help those affected by school closures with free lessons in math, science, and humanities from kindergarten through the early years of college. Khan also offers tips, training, and tools for parents and teachers in the online learning space, and the Academy features thousands of videos and interactive exercises to teach a multitude of  subjects.

Google Teach from Home is similarly situated to help teachers set up a virtual classroom, and YouTube’s Learn at Home complements homework assigned by teachers with age-appropriate videos and livestreams. Popular school resource BrainPOP is also offering complimentary animated movies and creation tools to keep students on track with their studies.

Students needing textbooks can access a large free book collection with texts for everything from Art History to Biology and Physics to Psychology. Many are also taking advantage of the National Emergency Library, an internet archive that makes free loans available. LibriVox offers free audiobooks, and Audible is also contributing free stories to kids and teens. Age-appropriate recommendations and read-aloud suggestions are available through the New York Public Library. And if a student needs books in different languages, a great resource for that is the International Children’s Digital Library, which features books from around the world for ages three to 13 in many foreign languages including Arabic, Afrikaans, Danish, and Farsi. 

Basic — and even some more advanced — foreign language courses are freely offered by a number of businesses including Duolingo, French in Action, Talk Italian, and Real Chinese. OpenCulture also has dozens of audio language lessons, including some more obscure offerings, available for free. 

If parents are having trouble helping their students with Common-Core math assignments, MathShack, by Shmoop, auto-generates practice problems in pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry, and these self-paced drills even give students easy to understand performance feedback.

Don’t have a scanning electron microscope at home? The University of Illinois is sharing theirs. Through Bugscope they are letting K-12 students mail bugs to the University for viewing under the microscope via the internet. Experts are also available to answer questions in an online chat. 

Free online lessons and resources extend beyond the basics of math and science. Educators can find options for everything from music education to philosophy, astronomy, and civics. 

And lessons aren’t all seated and still. Physical Education is an important part of a child’s learning, and even in the pandemic, can come in many forms. Master Davis of Musa Martial Arts Academy offers Tae Kwon Do twice weekly from his Los Angeles studio where students of all ages can learn the fundamentals of self-defense. Tiler Peck, principal dancer at the New York City Ballet teaches daily ballet classes via Instagram Live. And Debbie Allen offers a variety of free movement classes weekdays, teaching everything from salsa to tap.

Children can even doodle with Kennedy Center Artist-in-Residence Mo Willems as he shares “Lunch Doodles” drawing episodes every day out of his studio. And for “Indoor Recess,” all ages can join DJ Hesta Prynn as she hosts daily mid-day dance break parties at home with her own six-year-old.

Storytime is taken care of, too, with famous actors reading children’s books on StoryLine, or — if your child is more space obsessed — astronauts are also sharing in orbit, reading Storytime from Space.

For years, Netflix has allowed teachers to stream documentaries in their classrooms, but with many schools closed, the streaming service made its Educational documentaries free to stream for everyone. YouTubeEDU, a subsection of the video sharing site, also has free streaming educational content. Ted-Ed, from the maker of Ted-Talks, has jumped in on the action, offering free curated educational videos from expert educators and TED speakers around the world. 

World-class museums from all over the globe are releasing exhibits free over the internet, including over two million works of digitized art. Students can escape to just about anywhere, from Taipei’s National Palace Museum to The Louvre or The Guggenheim. Thanks to Villanova University, learners can even take a virtual panoramic tour of the Sistine Chapel, zooming in on everything including the ceiling paintings. 

Should “on the go” students want to virtually follow in the footsteps of a favorite literary persona, GoogleLitTrips will mark Gulliver’s — or any other character’s — travels on the surface of Google Earth. Or, adventurous explorers can travel out of this world using EarthLapse to turn an iPad or iPhone into a window aboard the International Space Station. Planetary control is literally at the fingertips!

Businesses are offering numerous resources to structure school days and plans for keeping a detailed daily schedule. Centralized hubs like Buncee support remote student learning by making virtual lesson planning as painless as possible. Teachers can include texts, video, audio, and external resource links, record full lessons, and even create activity templates for students to complete at home. Teachers and parent educators can also make use of resources like PBS Teachers, Share My Lesson, and Curriki to share best practices as well as review more than tens of thousands of free lessons, units, assessments, and multi-media learning resources across all subject areas.

Make use of these free resources and more to make the 2020-2021 school year the very best it can be.

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