In this day of long-term remote learning teachers across the United States have had to rethink how to best serve their students. While Edison High School was able to conduct classes on the first day, our team had to make major adjustments to our plans in order to keep our students engaged and progressing.
During the first week, our teachers held classes according to our prior Digital Learning Day protocols (established for short-term, typically weather, related incidents). Assignments were given in Google Classroom, students were asked to complete the assignment and turn it in by a specific deadline. For our students, all of whom have a learning difference or disability, this was a dramatic shift from how we conduct in-person classes. Managing multiple assignments and deadlines is a skill many of our students are still developing, usually with the support of an in-person teacher and other supports. In this new digital environment, we noticed even our usually well-performing students had trouble completing the work.
As it became more clear that our established protocols would not work for a long-term closure, we had to reconsider our methods and evaluate how to engage the students while outside the classroom. Our math department has been recording videos and using a flipped classroom for several years now. Our teachers had videos ready online to aid students in learning new topics but it did not seem to go far enough to give our students a real connection to learning while working from their homes.
After considering the tools we already had and evaluating the results from a survey of our parents, Edison decided to use video conferencing tools like Google Meet and Zoom Cloud Meetings to rebuild the school day in an online environment. We created a modified schedule and our teachers now hold virtual classes, check-in with their students, teach new topics and use the power of Zoom breakout rooms to encourage group collaboration projects. Creating a schedule that was realistic for both students and teachers took heavy involvement from the administrative team but was well worth the effort.
The change had dramatic effects. Students have begun to reconnect with their peers and teachers in spite of being in disconnected places. Our teachers are reporting stories of students completing their work again and interested in learning new topics. English teacher Kate Fellows-Russell shares, “The schedule really helps and many kids say that having a specific time to get work done and connect with their friends helps structure the day, many kids arrive early to chat and check-in with the teacher and the other students, just like in regular classes… (students) have consistently told me that they prefer our schedule and feel supported by us.”
We have seen increasing success for the last few weeks, but no single technology tool is going to be a complete transformation of the virtual classroom. Some tried and true methods still work well, even at a distance, such as having students keep a journal for English class.
We, the Edison High School team, hope to share the things we have learned to encourage fellow educators. Over the next few weeks of virtual classrooms, we will be posting video tips and successes from some of our teachers in order to inspire and encourage you. Our teachers, administrators, and technology team are happy to share what we are learning. Together we can make a difference in our student’s lives in such difficult times.
In the words of Dan Keller, one of Edison’s Math and Senior Seminar teachers, "While digital learning presents many challenges, not the least of which is that we're all learning new systems as we prepare to conclude the school year, it has been uplifting for us all to continue to connect. Edison is as much a community as it is a school, and we all thrive on the ability to interact digitally.”
Dr. Troy Spetter
Director of Educational Technology
Edison High School