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Digital Transmission

JPS Prepares Teachers For Distance Learning With Students

Public Speaking teacher explains an assignment during a recent Zoom class with her students.

“When you are sitting in my room, in my rocking chair, you can easily hold the book up so everyone can see it. But when you get into a Zoom situation, what do you need to do? Yes, Megan, what are you doing with the book?” asked JHS Public Speaking teacher, Barbi Price.

Megan showed her classmates on Zoom how to hold the book so that everyone could see the pictures in the camera. Mrs. Price’s students are reading a children’s book aloud to practice skills such as enunciation, pace, vocal variation, and eye contact. Mrs. Price’s distance learning (DL) class is part of the “new normal” for teachers. JPS Technology Integration Specialists, Jason Kathman and Jeff Kresge are supporting her, along with other teachers.

“Having spent 24 years working in social studies, I saw how learning can be enriched through the use of technology to create rich class discussions, creative and meaningful projects, and fun ways to bring new voices and ideas into the classroom,” said Mr. Kresge. “When school went to DL, out of necessity I pivoted from eyeing things through a social studies lens to helping teachers of all stripes deliver their material to kids. I knew it would be fun helping teachers see the limitless potential to bring new tech elements into their classes.”

Mr. Kathman and Mr. Kresge took on-line courses on quality distance learning and created two classes – the first an investigation of the theory behind online learning and the second an integration of that learning into the lesson or unit the participants would use this school year. They adapted the material for access by all JPS teachers at the beginning of the academic year. The course covers six topics tied to effective distance learning – synchronous vs. asynchronous learning, social- emotional learning, communication, engaging assessments in a DL setting, community building, and student engagement.

Their initial task in the first weeks of school has been to help teachers get technology up and running smoothly. As they move forward in the year, they expect to move from questions like “How does this work?” to deeper questions such as “How can I better engage students?”

“Jason and I see it as our job to help teachers realize their vision for what a classroom could be, while instilling JPS students with greater ability to work collaboratively, creatively and with persistence,” said Mr. Kresge. “Our teachers have worked so hard this summer in order to reinvent the way they deliver lessons. With in-class teaching, no two teachers will deliver content the same way. DL is no different – what works for one class may not work for another. There is no single recipe for success, so families should expect that not all classes would use Zoom. Not all classes will use Google Classroom or Seesaw. When Jason and I taught together, we covered the exact same U.S. history content, but did so in vastly different ways. Because our skill sets are very different, so too were our classes. Online learning is much the same.”

Persell Middle School Spanish teacher, Lauren Petro, started distance learning with her students last March.

“Like them, my current goal is to find, create and utilize a myriad of digital resources and tools that pique interest, maintain engagement, instill autonomy and teach real world skills necessary for success in bilingual and multicultural interpersonal interaction. Personally, I have found this new challenge both daunting and fulfilling…’practicing’ what I ‘preach’ to students about the importance of growth through lifelong learning. A notable change from last year’s distance learning is heightened focus on Social Emotional Learning along with my content area. Now, more than ever, I see students express sentiments of isolation, worry, confusion and stress that must be acknowledged and addressed. I use Google Forms both to mark attendance and open lines of genuine communication with students. If intrinsic motivation and academic success are end goals, interconnectedness and emotional wellbeing are my primary stepping-stones to reach them.”

Ms. Petro also took professional development classes over the summer.

“All of our PD over break was offered remotely,” said Ms. Petro. “In retrospect, I have come to find that my role this summer as a distance learner prepared me very well to teach my students in our hybrid setting this year. Experiencing firsthand what made my own learning more seamless and meaningful reflects now in what tools and tips I employ in both physical and remote classrooms. Likewise, remembering all of my confusion and uncertainty during some of those sessions is a gentle, very necessary, reminder for me to show flexibility, empathy, and encouragement to students during these unusual times.”

Her classroom is designed for collaboration using second language skills to communicate ideas and opinions, problem solve and foster interpersonal bonds that bridge diverse cultural and societal gaps. “Interpersonal” has usually been synonymous with interaction through physical proximity, an option that simply isn’t feasible right now. To accomplish the same objectives in new circumstances, she has been using apps and digital platforms that allow real-time whiteboard brainstorming, breakout discussion rooms, digital task cards with instantaneous feedback, informal competition and virtual field trips. Spanish language and cultural resources online such as YouTube videos, music and podcasts offer authentic cultural nuances that speak to students’ diverse interests.

Ring Elementary School second grade teacher, Allen Thomas, is also ready to take on distance learning with his students.

“In March when this pandemic first hit I was caught off guard, as all in the field of education were, but I had enough electronic sources up and running in my class that my students could work remotely from home. My colleague Chris Collins and I discussed what if we don’t go back? We began to plan for the long run and started using various online platforms to get instructional materials and information to our parents and students. My platforms of choice were Google Slides, Remind and Zoom. I used those apps to create a virtual classroom where I posted embedded prerecorded lessons and activities, as well as links to various educational websites. I now know the pros and cons of certain apps, what works well remotely and what doesn’t and as a result took that information and used it to really guide my instructional decisions for this year.”

Mr. Thomas also attended professional development that focused on asynchronous and synchronous teaching and learning, whole brain teaching, guided reading, online classroom management, Google suite for education, Zoom and technology integration.

Mr. Thomas engages students during lessons to foster interaction with classmates, and just make learning fun. He uses strategies such as vocal directions mixed with hand gestures (thumbs up/down, claps, snaps), inflections or call outs (whoop-whoop, yup), full body movement (up, down, jumping, dancing), head motions and songs/chants/cheers. In the spring, Mr. Thomas’ class shared photos and videos of completing instructional tasks whether via scavenger hunt or a simple science experiment to keep the “classroom family” culture alive. He also incorporates fun academic lessons based not only on the core curriculum, but also on student interests that have direct correlation to real world skills such as cooking/baking (measuring and fractions) and ELA (school appropriate student created songs/raps and stories).

“Now more than ever teachers, students, and parents need our wonderful community to cheer us on and set a positive tone,” said Ms. Petro. “Perception is the lens through which we all define our reality; viewing current challenges as opportunities for growth and unity rather than insurmountable obstacles can make the 2020-21 school year the year that we thrive together in the face of adversity. We are all a team and the community is an integral teammate.”

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