Select Page


RE@LGuest Blog: “Teaching & Learning in the Pandemic: Helpful Tech Tips! See My “Digital Interactive Notebook” Ideas for Students! – Ellen Schafer

by | Aug 23, 2020 | RE@L StudentCorner | 0 comments

RE@L-logo_Corp_TM_New-Tag_8-15-17_CMYK-300x127What’s on every teacher’s mind these days? You won’t need three guesses, will you?

97072893_10158262815607692_3850258341993381888_nGuest Blogger and middle-school teacher, Ellen Schafer, has many useful tips to help both teachers and students (and families) during these difficult and challenging pandemic times. Read on:

If you were a teacher in the 2019-2020 school year, then you would have discovered that it is very hard to teach in a pandemic. None of us had done it before and we were all given a few days notice to flip our classroom around from in-person to virtual.

I was given two days to get ready. Some teachers were given three weeks. It still wasn’t enough. Either way, teaching in a pandemic is hard and no one I know wants to do it again. Fast-forward now through summer 2020 and COVID-19 is still here and school is starting again. Many districts are doing something different this school-year. It’s likely many of us will be using online-virtual instruction during this coming school year.

imagesIf you think teaching virtually is hard, imagine how learning virtually can affect our students. Some students were excited to be able to sleep in and learn at their own pace. But, as the pandemic continued, that excitement wore off, and sad to say, so did their motivation to learn.

Students found it difficult and tiring sitting in front of a computer or tablet every day, and now unable to socialize with friends.  Many found that learning this way proved far less effective without interaction with other students.

In our new world of teaching and learning, we were turned upside down!

IMG_4448Summer has given me time to think about and learn new ways to engage my students. Perhaps, others can use these tips this fall with their students, whether learning in school or at home. I hope that, if you are teaching and learning virtually like me, these ideas will help keep students engaged…. and also having fun while learning!

Here’s what I look forward to doing this fall with my students: we will implement Digital Interactive Notebooks or DINs in my classes this year. I’m surprised that I haven’t been using DINs for years, but new ways require new tools. These interactive notebooks are a catalyst to better learning and to better teaching. Why? Students play a major role in their own learning. 

I believe DINs are creative, engaging, and fun for students to create and to interact with others, while learning needed content. Teachers can create these DINs using Google Slides, Microsoft OneNote, Canvas, PowerPoint or any other interactive learning platform that your school/district may use.

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 3.17.32 PMI have created my DINs on Google Slides and will be able to share the DINs through Google Classroom. Each student will get a copy from my master version. With an extension called “Slip-In-Slide” from Google Suite, I can push out new slides to the end of their DIN. This timely input helps their notebook continue to grow.

Here’s a sample of what a DIN looks like. With their own personal DIN, my students can:

  • Click on links to helpful articles or videos,
  • Create “thinking maps” using Google Draw
  • Drag objects around for a vocabulary matching activity,
  • Take their own notes after reading a passage in whatever color and font choice they want,
  • Decorate their pages with school and age appropriate stickers pulled from the internet and so much more.


  • The best part is since it is all online in their Google Classroom™ account, I can check their progress simultaneously as they are working. I can provide feedback and answer questions before they complete their finished product.
  • DINs also eliminate the risk of COVID because I don’t need to stand right next to them completing their notes or collecting their physical notebooks to grade them.

Want to try DINs with your students? There are helpful YouTube tutorials online, and other websites on how to make one. Search “Digital Interactive Notebooks” and you’ll find multiple options to choose from. (Click on the graphic to the left for some useful videos). I also recommend joining a DIN group on Facebook. Within those DIN Facebook groups are subgroups related to specific subjects if you only teach one subject or need something specific. Here’s a helpful Facebook DIN link: click here.

The camaraderie of teachers working together virtually to create these DINs is spectacular to witness. Most teachers who join these online teacher communities are sharing their creations for free…if you just ask for it.

If you are looking for DIN tips, start with your own school and find like-minded teachers who want to spread their DIN tips. If you’re tight on time (who isn’t?), your school may allow you to purchase a pre-made DIN set on “Teachers Pay Teachers,” and other teacher resource sites.

imageMy school year is starting in-person, masked-face-to-face. Families will have the option to keep their children home for whatever reason.That’s where their DIN comes in!  This new tech tool allows students not in my classroom to learn along with their classmates who are.

No matter what we do and what we try, teaching and learning during a pandemic is an unwelcome challenge. Let’s work together. Let’s stay in touch. We will all need to work together as a virtual team. You will find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @the_makerspace_maker. 

TMMfinalV1In closing, I will also be launching my brand new blog at: on Labor Day. See my link by clicking the graphic at the left. Come and join me. There, I will be sharing my new lab ideas on makerspaces and STEAM content.

I do enjoy teaching middle school science and engineering, so I look forward to exchanging my new DIN ideas with you and interested others. 

So, let’s share our ideas as a Virtual Tech Team! I’ll be ready! I hope you will be too. Please, pass it on to others!

Let’s work together this school year! In the meantime, let’s enjoy what’s left of our summers!”

Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 10.38.35 AM

Ellen Schafer
 Middle School Science and Engineering Teacher, St. Joseph’s School-WSP

Thank you, Ellen Schafer, for your many helpful tips and your pictorial story on “What I Did with My Summer!” Yes, for some teachers, summer is already over!

Teachers everywhere will soon see and hear their students’ stories of summer.  

May this challenging school year be filled with their DINs of Learning.

RE@LBlog Readers! Want to help teachers with YOUR comments? Click HERE . 





Randy Nelson & Dale LaFrenz


/// Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L, Inc and one of the founders of MECC, Inc - the Minnesota company that brought “Oregon Trail” and more than a hundred products to millions of K12 students across the world. HIs RE@L Inc continues to serve K12 as a LearningProduct "launching pad" for schools, online learning and the rapidly growing STEM market. /// Randy Nelson recently joined RE@L as a BlogMeister and Director of Education for RE@L's new STEM-based LearningProducts. Randy has long been an advocate for more positive, effective changes in K-12 teaching and learning, from his teaching days to his former career as a Superintendent who positively reformed the school district of LaCrosse Wisconsin.w