BitMoji & Virtual Classroom Backgrounds (Freebie!)

Welcome to this next installment of my blog post series on creating your own Bitmoji or virtual classroom!

In this post we’ll explore one of the most basic elements of building a great virtual classroom- the background! Every classroom needs walls and a floor, even the virtual ones. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest parts of beginning to create your classroom in Google Slides, and the tutorial below will guide you step-by-step through the process.

First, create a new blank Google Slides document. It only needs one slide, and you can erase all of the text boxes and other elements from the slide. Change the “Untitled Document” file name in the upper left corner to something you’ll remember later. Your screen should look something like this:

Now, the fun part- find a background you like! The idea is to go for something that looks like walls- a solid color with trim, wallpaper, brick, etc. Choose whatever speaks to you- this is your classroom, and for once your aesthetic isn’t stifled by the often bland and unartistic choices made by whoever designed your actual classroom. That being said, also keep in mind that busy prints may be overwhelming or visually distracting, so if you go that route you may need to use some elements later on like a giant whiteboard or bulletin board to tone down the print. Up to you!

Where do you find these backgrounds? Google Image Search can be a good place to start, but I’ve also compiled a selection of over 50 possible classroom backgrounds for you to choose from in this FREE download on my TPT store! There’s a wide variety and something for just about every style, and each design links directly to the website where you can download the image for free.

Click HERE to access the free download.

Once you’ve found the wall of your dreams, make sure you save the photo file to your computer. If it’s one of my curated backgrounds, you’ll simply click the “Download” button on the image site. If you found your own on Google Image Search or another site, usually you just need to right-click the image and choose the “Save As” or “Save Image As” option. Save it somewhere you can find it easily!

Next, head on back to your blank Google Slide, which will now take its first step toward transforming into your new virtual classroom! In the Google Slides menu at the top, go to the “Slide” menu and select the “Change Background” option.

A small box will pop up with three options including changing the color, uploading an image, and resetting the background to the theme. Select the “Choose image” option.

A screen will pop up where you can upload the background photo you chose. You can drag-and-drop the photo straight from Finder/ your files, or you can click the “Browse” button to have Google Slides pull up Finder/ your files for you and select the photo from there!

Once you drag-and-drop or select your chosen background image, you’ll see your background show up on the slide behind the tiny “Background” box. Click the yellow “Done” button, and you’re all set!

You now have the beginnings of your own virtual classroom! Stay tuned for the next installment to learn how to deck out your new digital space with furniture, posters, knick-knacks, and all the instructional stuff your students could possibly need!

Intro to Bitmoji & Virtual Classrooms: A Series

While distance learning was a time of stress and turmoil for many of us who were suddenly thrown headfirst into the challenge of digitizing our classes, it’s impossible to deny that this period of struggle resulted in some bright spots and awesome ed tech advances. One rapidly-emerging fad that might have crossed your radar is the Bitmoji or ‘virtual’ classroom.

Virtual classrooms make it possible to create a static ‘home base’ in the digital world, a place where your students can return to for access to all of your classroom resources, necessary information, fun games or activities or videos, and anything else that you might wish to share with your students in a digital space. Virtual classrooms not only help with organization and communication, they help build a sense of community. Students are able to get a feel for your personality through the classroom design, and you are able to incorporate all sorts of elements to delight and excite your students even from a distance.

Bitmojis, little animated versions of you, are an optional but common part of the virtual classroom process. You can use the Bitmoji app on your smartphone to create your own digital character with tons of style choices that allow you to dress up, dress down, or dress to support your favorite team. Then, you can select from a wide variety of Bitmoji poses to add yourself into your virtual classroom! A how-to post for creating your own Bitmoji is coming soon!

This blog post series will dive into the process of creating your very own virtual classroom from scratch. The process is a lot simpler than most people realize, not to mention completely customizable from start to finish. I’ll guide you through each step of the process with tips, tricks, and tons of freebies (digital furniture store, anyone?) so that you can build the virtual classroom of your dreams and create the perfect online space to welcome your students in the fall- regardless of what the school year will look like.

Stay tuned for Part 1, Choosing a Classroom Background, and in the meantime check out this curated selection of Virtual Classrooms to inspire your creativity!

An example of a Health/ P.E. virtual classroom from #SlowChatHealth

A colorful elementary classroom from Glitter Meets Glue

An example of a virtual library from A Sea of Literacy Talk

A bunch of really awesome examples from We Are Teachers

Free PD: Making More Engaging Video Lessons

One of my biggest self-developments during distance learning was my video lessons. Like most people, I’m sure, my previous video lessons for flipped classroom consisted of screencast slideshows that I narrated over. While these get the job done, I knew that they would likely not be enough to hold my students’ interest during distance learning when I wasn’t there to monitor their attention. When our mitosis unit rolled around, I knew I had to think smarter to get my students to tune into a full lesson from the comfort of their homes. This felt overwhelming- I was competing with TikTok, SnapChat, video games, and other flashy distractions. How could mitosis measure up?

Then, I had a creative spark. One thing led to another, and I ended up with a mitosis video lesson of about 25 minutes that nearly all of my students watched!

My first video lesson!

That first successful lesson was a spark that led me to continue exploring ways in which I could take my videos to the next level. Now, I want to share all of that learning with you! I’ve thrown together a free professional development course, designed to be downloaded and completed at your own pace. It’ll walk you through planning and creating your own awesome videos, and there’s a ton of really great (free!) resources for you to explore and use to make your own video lessons. The PD is geared toward iMovie and GarageBand, but you can do all the same things in similar video and audio editing software available on PCs like Windows Movie Maker and Audacity.

You can download the free PD on my TPT store here! My only asks are that you: a) consider going back to TPT to leave a review after you’ve completed the PD, b) consider giving my store a follow to be alerted about future products, and c) feel free to share this PD with colleagues, but only by directing them to the TPT page and having them download it for themselves. This helps me keep track of data and viewership.

I had sooo much fun putting this PD session together, and I really hope you enjoy it and find it useful in improving your practice no matter what next year looks like! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, or let me know what other topics I can help you learn about.

Happy teaching!

GLST Reads: Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Audience: Young Adult

Genre: Realistic Fiction; Video Games

Author: Eric Smith

Tags: video games, streamers, streaming, girl gamers, strong female lead, gender issues, discrimination

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ /5

Release Date: 01/20/2020

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

This one’s for my proud #nerds who love video games, whether playing them or watching others play. The main character Divya is a highly successful streamer known as D1V on the well-known game streaming platform Glitch. The money she makes from ads and sponsors help her single mother pay the bills for their small apartment. She catches a lot of flak from strangers on the internet for being a #girlgamer, which has led her to one important rule she sticks to- don’t read the comments. But as the threats from anonymous online group Vox Populi escalate and things turn dangerous IRL, Divya will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to keep her voice.

Meanwhile, Aaron is still busy juggling writing for an indie video game designer with a summer job as a receptionist in his mom’s private practice while trying to convince her that video game design is a career worth pursuing. It might be easier to make his case if only the guy he’s been writing for would actually pay Aaron for his work as promised. When Aaron crosses paths with infamous-but-private D1V on accident while playing his favorite video game, he can’t believe his luck. Slowly he becomes entangled in her world, which he begins to realize is closer to his than he ever thought. While navigating his own struggles, Aaron works to help Divya navigate hers and begins to learn what it really means to be a good ally.

Filled with a lush and well-rounded set of characters (even the most minor background characters have depth and personality), this is a fun, powerful, and timely read about the struggles girls and women face when they try to participate in activities or spaces traditionally thought of as “for guys only” that accurately portrays the impact of video games and streaming on the lives of those for whom it means so much. This was one of my two #bestbooksofMarch for day 3 of my #30booksofApril bookstagram challenge (@msburrowsclass93) over on Instagram. Highly recommend this book!!!

Commentary: Our Teachers Do Not Look Like Our Students

I recently saw a social media post that made me stop and think. It read, “Social Experiment: If you come across this tweet, reply with the grade you were in when you had your first Black male teacher.”

Immediately, I began scanning my memory and working on the math.

I had a high school PE teacher, a chemistry professor in between my associates and my bachelors, and one Ed Tech professor in my bachelors program.

That’s 3 teachers, and I’ve been in school almost 22 years (counting preschool to grad school), taught by over 95 different educators. To my memory, besides one online class in grad school, I have not had a black female teacher.

I grew up in a relatively large, diverse city. I went to highly diverse schools with students from around the world. And still, the vast majority of my teachers were white.

Not one classmate in my teacher preparation program was black. Only three students in my graduating class were Latinx.

No classroom teachers in my building are black. In fact, only one non-foreign language, non-English language learner classroom teacher identifies with an ethnicity other than White. None of our district office staff are black; the only high-level non-white district employee is the ELL coordinator. Here’s the district breakdown from Illinois Report Card:

And here is the ethnic breakdown of students in my district, also courtesy of IRC:

Over 50% of the students in my district will not regularly encounter or work with a staff member who looks like them. They do not see themselves reflected in our academic, educational environment. People who “do school” do not look like them, come from their background, or understand their culture. Over half our students will have this school experience.

In this regard, my district is not unusual.

In most of America, our teachers do not reflect our students. Not even close. I could explain quite a few different systemic reasons for that.

I could begin at the systemic inequities in teacher hiring practices.

But it might be more accurate to begin with the major systemic inequities in teacher preparation programs.

Or, it may further be accurate to point out the systemic inequities in college entrance and attendance and completion.

But that is predicated on the massive systemic inequities in K-12 education.

And those begin with the systemic inequities in access to quality childcare and preschool opportunities.

And even before that, deficits are created by inequitable access to nutrition, literacy, security, and basic necessities for too many families in a developed country in 2020.

But before a child even reaches that point, we must note the systemic inequities in prenatal care that allow non-white women to have far, far higher rates of miscarriage, birth issues, birth defects, etc. compared to white mothers.

Some of this inequitable care stems from a lack of resources and opportunities, and it stems from a lack of quality education.

Which takes us all the way back to college equity, K-12 equity, and the lost opportunities caused by a lack of teachers of color in our public school system.

This is a giant systemic cycle. Massive. And it’s been running nonstop for well over a century now.

The cycle must be broken if everyone is to have the same opportunities for success in life, if we are to truly call ourselves, “One nation, under god, with liberty and justice for all.” It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but working as educators to break the cycle of class, race, and gender-based systemic oppression is one of the most important things we could ever be a part of.

Public school teachers, college educators, parents and families- we have work to do. It is essential. We cannot remain passive and allow another generation of kids to be locked in this cycle, or we become willing contributors.

We must explore together the steps we can take to make a difference in the lives of our students and communities. We must be willing to have some very, very difficult conversations, complete with intensive self-reflection. We must actively encourage teacher preparation programs to seek diverse talent without sacrificing admissions standards, and we must explore the systemic practices that provide an easier path to teacher certification for people from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds. We must involve stakeholders at every level in our mission to diversify our schools and provide our students with mirrors as well as windows. In providing students with diverse role models daily in schools, students not only understand that education is for everyone, but students are also exposed to a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures, creating a generation that will be more at home than ever in a diverse and welcoming society. This is the future our children deserve now. Together, we have work to do.