Teachers Adjust to Remote Learning

April 27, 2020

On Thursday, April 9, Mount Greylock officially started online or “remote” learning. The teachers assigned work and organized Zoom calls and Canvas conferences. Zoom is a video chat platform that, like Canvas and Google Classroom, has been used by many people to stay connected during the pandemic, both professionally and personally. Many teachers were used to the online platforms and used them to update students about upcoming assignments, even before COVID-19. However, some subjects were hard to transition from the classroom to online. 

One of these subjects, P.E., was especially difficult. The Echo talked with P.E. coach Lynn Jordan to discuss more about the transition. 

Gym students are keeping a weekly log of exercise. Kids are expected to average 150 minutes of exercise per week, or 30 minutes per day. This consists of anything from going for a walk to throwing a frisbee to doing a workout. 

“We tried to make it as general as possible,” Jordan said. “Our biggest goal is keeping students active and moving.” 

Along with physical activity, the department also made the decision to have the students complete health work. 

She said the health questions were “low-key” and focused on students’ emotional state during this time. 

The department advises that all students should complete these questions, not just the kids in health class.

“The questions make you think, and you’re checking in with yourself,” Jordan said.

When asked about the biggest struggle of this transition, Jordan said “For me, I know a lot of teachers who struggle with Zoom, Google Docs and Canvas. We had to get familiarized with it.”

To Jordan, the most important part of the work is that it’s meant to be useful, not overwhelming. The goal is to make the work fun, low-stress, and engaging. 

Teachers plan to change up the material every week or so and find other fun activities to assign to keep students upbeat and engaged.

The Echo also talked to Michael Powers, photography and video editing elective teacher. The transition for him was very difficult because the majority of his equipment, his cameras and his editing platform, were at school and not accessible to students. 

“It dawned on me that every household has a cell phone. In fact, most families have several,” Powers said. “I also needed a photo editing app that was easy to use yet powerful enough to do some advanced editing.” 

Powers decided on Snapseed, an app with “a really simple interface” and at the same time, the capability “to do some really neat things.”

Powers has also started using Zoom with his classes. 

“I am kind of excited as I learned how to pair my phone with the Zoom program and will be able to give live demonstrations once again when I become comfortable with it.”

When asked about the hardest part of this transition, Powers said it “was the lack of direction for around two weeks… teachers received emails stating that the education process was going to ‘pause.’ We were told to actually do nothing.”

After a week, Powers said that some teachers started to contact students with “Optional Enrichment” activities, which were recommended by the administration. Later, teachers were told to stop sending these optional activities because students were becoming confused.

“Yeah,” Powers said. “That was tough; not knowing what to do and what not to do for sure was difficult.”

9th grade English teacher Kellie Houle’s classes were in the middle of writing a large research paper when school closed. 

Houle said the entire remote learning phase was in a “holding pattern” to start. At first, the administration told the teachers to just give enrichment opportunities and connect with students. 

Similar to Powers, she said there was a lot of confusion between mandatory work and optional work. Later, once work was no longer optional, the English Department took every class one by one.

“English lends itself more easily than most subjects right now. [Students] can be reading and writing about stuff happening in the news,” Houle said. 

When discussing student interaction, Houle said that “all teachers are going to have some kind of direct instruction once per week, whether it’s interactive or a video.” 

Teachers can record a lesson with a slideshow, or conduct group calls. The office hours are for follow ups and questions on the content. 

When asked about the challenges of remote learning, Houle said it’s hard because students are at different stages of their research papers. 

“I think one of the challenges is that I need to change the way I present the material,” Houle said. 

But Houle is looking on the bright side.“The research paper during this time is ideal because I will have so much extra time to read and look through the papers. I look forward to reading and commenting without having to put an A or B,” she said, referring to the new pass/fail grading method for the fourth quarter.

On the downsides of virtual learning, Houle said “Kids want to interact with each other,” She wants to work on “recreating a classroom climate” with the same kids and the same vibe. “People are missing the connectivity.” 

Houle said she misses having those emotional connections with students, teachers, and everyone else in the Greylock community. “The hardest part is not being able to see the students,” Houle said.

The Echo lastly talked to Chemistry teacher Faith Manary and Biology teacher Sarah Holmes.

Holmes said while teachers were instructed to post enrichment material, she took the opportunity to teach kids about the coronavirus. 

“I posted articles and podcasts related to the coronavirus where students could learn more about viruses in general, the genetics of this specific virus, and how pathogens spread since it is very much related to biology.” 

Holmes’ honors and college prep Biology classes have been using Pearson Realize, an online learning program, that goes along with their curriculum. Her AP Biology classes have been practicing FRQs (Free Response Questions) over Zoom to prepare for the upcoming AP exam. 

Holmes also said there are many online resources that students can learn to continue their labs. 

“Luckily, we live in an age where the internet has allowed people to create virtual labs that normally are used when materials or time are limited in the regular classroom,” she said. 

In her Anatomy and Physiology class, she has linked “virtual dissections” and other links to websites that walk through dissections. 

Manary said that she has been using Google Classroom and Google Hangouts (a platform similar to Zoom) for interactive time with students. 

I have been working on planning an at-home lab for students to do in their kitchens and report on. If it goes well, I may do more of those.”

Manary, like Powers, said the uncertainty was the hardest part. “I feel like I am only able to look one day ahead, because I never know how my students and I will be doing.”

Holmes said teaching without her students is the most challenging part. “…Remote learning wasn’t really a part of my teacher education but the hardest part is definitely not seeing my students,” Holmes said. “They were my first thought when the closure was extended one week and again through May. Life is significantly more boring without them.”

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