As teachers continue to prepare distance learning lessons for what is an extended closure, as Gov. Tim Walz discussed during a press conference on March 25, Wadena-Deer Creek elementary principal Louis Rutten noted plans for using Seesaw for assignments as well as caring for students’ and families’ mental health during this time.

“Holding out hope that we can do that (return to the school building) before the summer but understanding it’s just as likely we wouldn’t be able to do that,” Rutten said.

Elementary school

“I think we’re ready,” Rutten said in reference to distance learning, which is set to begin Monday, March 30.

While students at the elementary school do not have issued iPads like students in fifth through 12th grade, Rutten said the distance learning plans focus on using online platforms and that the school is checking with families about devices and internet connections. The main platform teachers at the elementary school will be using is Seesaw, which the school implemented last fall for parent involvement, according to Rutten.

Through the Seesaw app, on phones, tablets or computers, Rutten said teachers invite parents with a QR code specific to their student. Students then receive and submit their assignments with video, audio, text, pictures, shapes, backgrounds and annotating tools, according to Seesaw’s website. Rutten said teachers might share an instruction video and the students’ assignment is to respond to the video, showing their work and explaining the thinking behind their work.

Teachers will onboard students to the various online platforms throughout this week, according to Rutten.

“We do have Zoom video conferencing, that may take a little bit more to figure out for our younger students but I think we’re willing to try anything, I think that’s what many of our teachers have said. They’re learning a lot right along with the kids and our kids are more native to this, these devices and their capabilities, and we’re (laughs) we’re just learning a lot about having to do it,” Rutten said.

With students and teachers alike in high technological gear, paper assignments are a back-up option since the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Health have cautioned schools about virus droplets that could come on the paper going to the homes and coming back from the homes, according to Rutten.

Throughout the distance learning plans and lessons, teachers are learning “to be more thoughtful and concise” as they continue to address Walz’s orders of learning that is “purposeful, meaningful and addressing state standards,” according to Rutten.

“Our learning plan is not intended to be eight hours of instruction per student … it’s not something that can be replacing a regular classroom experience,” Rutten said. “What we’ve learned about good instruction online is that you are keeping it brief and real world, trying to get some learning done but also understanding that there’s social, emotional tolls that we have to keep in mind.”

Rutten emphasized the importance of students’ and families’ mental health, noting that he would rather students know they are cared for and missed by school staff members over completing an assignment perfectly.

“If we’re not as far along in the curriculum as we … would normally have been with the regular school year, we’ll catch them where they are, like we always do, and ramp them up when we get them face-to-face,” Rutten said.

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