Teachers are preparing to interact with students in vastly different ways by giving online instructions, sharing videos and pictures and sending home packets of notes and assignments.
Each teacher has different plans and learning tools they are experimenting with as well as differences from grade level to grade level with ranges of learning styles. The basic guidance on distance learning comes from a 24-page Minnesota Department of Education packet.
On the MDE’s website, distance learning is defined as, “Students engaging in distance learning have access to appropriate educational materials and receive daily interaction with their licensed teacher(s).”
During the first two days of planning on March 18 and 19 Wadena-Deer Creek teachers met with administration and superintendent Lee Westrum to receive direction and guidelines on distance learning, according to high school math teacher Holly Becker. By March 20, teachers were into the full planning process with more independent time, as seventh and eighth-grade science teacher Brad Wollum said.
“I think the spirits are pretty high from the other teachers I’ve been talking to, everybody’s feeling a little more comfortable, the jitters … are slowly settling,” Wollum said.
The settling comes after the initial shock of having no students in their classrooms and teaching through alternative means as well as sorting through the influx of ideas and information, which as Wollum said, “was like drinking from a fire hydrant initially.”
“I would lie if I were to say there weren’t a lot of tears, there were a lot of tears. No. 1 we’re teachers, we are people people, we like to see the students, have that interaction,” Becker said. “We’re used to being in front of students everyday. You’re still going to keep teaching, but you’re not going to see them so … it flipped our world upside down in just a moment’s notice, it was crazy.”
Both Becker and Wollum have no experience teaching online, but have taken classes online or made videos before, similar to many teachers at WDC. As many teachers at WDC and across the nation are choosing to use Google Classroom, the first steps are learning how to use the platform and setting up the classrooms. The classroom has a chatroom aspect where students and teachers can post questions and comments as well as pictures, assignments, videos and links, according to Wollum. Other tools on Google Classroom include feedback capabilities, material lists, to-do lists and calendars, according to Google Support.
“I would say it’s kind of like an educational Facebook in a sense,” Wollum said.
Within the learning process, Wollum and Becker have enjoyed the additional collaboration with teachers, such as testing Google Classroom elements with one another and creatively thinking outside the box.
“It’s been kind of fun to collaborate with other teachers in the middle school, all of the math and English and social studies and science and special ed teachers have gotten together,” Wollum said. “Being this reliant on technology, solely technology, where as we’ve incorporated technology in the past, but having that as your sole contact is a little bit different perspective so it’s forced a big change in a short amount of time.”
One of the ways Wollum and Becker are already using Google Classroom and remind apps is to stay in contact with their students, and for Wollum to update students on the growth of their tomato plants. The plants are part of an experiment with the Canadian Space Agency where half of the seeds have traveled to space and the other half have been on Earth, according to Wollum. He hopes to keep the tomatoes alive for the students.
As a district, relationships have been a goal for K-12 this year, according to Wollum.
“This year Wadena-Deer Creek has really focused on relationships with kids and even though we don’t have that physical relationship anymore … I think all the staff are pretty concerned about our relationships with our kids. We miss them and … I’m sure they miss us too, just as much,” Wollum said.
Becker hopes to keep communication with students open, even sending math memes and check-ins daily thus far.
“The fun thing is I’ve set up these group emails and these reminds and the kids are ready to start learning. I have had students email me can you please send me homework, I’m bored,” Becker said. “Just trying to let them know that we haven’t forgotten them, we are here, we are working really hard to provide whatever we can to them in the coming weeks.”
Teachers are providing lessons online through videos of themselves teaching. Wollum recently recorded a frog dissection for his seventh grade students and is thinking of ways for eighth-grade students to study rocks while at home. Becker also records herself going through note packets for students, which are part of the materials being delivered to students. The math packets will also include worksheets and assignments from their textbooks for a period of two weeks at a time.
“When things are just crazy at least their education in that aspect, they’ll have their paper, pencil math and be able to watch the videos and fill those out with me,” Becker said. “I feel supported in this (by administration) and that does help lessen the stress.”
As teachers and administration are planning for distance learning, paraprofessionals, food service workers, social workers and custodians are working to provide students with meals, child care for essential workers and clean buildings and buses for when students return, all with “students at the forefront of our minds,” as Becker said.
“Everybody is asked to do a lot of new things, the education component is just a very small piece. It’s a big working machine with a lot of moving parts, it’s amazing,” Wollum said.