Distance learning continues, school ‘not closed’
When Gov. Gina Raimondo announced on April 23 that students would not be returning to school this year, it marked one month since Block Island School students had been going to class online.
Principal Kristine Monje noted the Block Island School has not cancelled its classes, and “the school is still actively working.”
Each grade level has its own teaching complexities, said Monje. “The high school has been concentrating in online coursework, and elementary has been focusing on reading and packet work,” she said.
Kindergarten teacher “Debbie Hart and I deliver packets to elementary children each Friday,” added Monje.
Teachers at the Block Island School have had to adjust their ‘normal’ schedules to meet the needs and requirements that arrive with distance learning. Teachers Jayne Conway, Susan Gibbons and Shannon Cotter-Marsella shared their insights about the reconfigured schedules.
“I wish there was such a thing as an average day! Finding material that I can use in a virtual format, and includes the information I would like to get across to my students, has been a challenge,” said History Teacher Jayne Conway.
“I’m on my computer around 7:30 a.m. putting up assignments for the day. The rest of the day, I am grading and reading assignments, and answering questions and feedback to the students. I try to be finished with my work by 2:30 or 3 p.m.,” said Gibbons, who teaches anatomy, biology, chemistry, and physical earth, and space science I and II for the high school students.
“I am still currently trying to follow my science curriculum. I have sent home science equipment and materials for the kids including living milkweed bugs, red wiggler worms, and microscopes. One of the benefits of having smaller classes is you pretty much have enough material for everyone to use,” said Cotter-Marsella. She is currently teaching 5th, 6th, and 7th grade science, and 6th grade English Language Arts.
Conway said her teaching style had to change to accommodate the online learning formats.
“I’m trying hard to maintain some sense of normalcy, but yes, my teaching style has changed dramatically… They may be able to watch the video clip I would have included in my lesson if we were at school, but I’m not there to put it into proper context. They can’t ask the spontaneous questions they normally would,” said Conway.
Cotter-Marsella said she has received assistance from fellow teachers and students on what works best for this new learning experience.
“My teaching style has definitely changed for online learning, but meeting with most kids everyday allows me to try and maintain that face-to-face connection. Even with the face-to-face, poor connection, and screen clarity still make it hard to really connect and fully support. We are all getting better at the technology, and the students are often teaching me as much as I teach them about it. Planning is much different too, and has to be presented in the Google Suite instead of in the front of a classroom. Kristie McQuaide and Kathleen Hemingway helped me learn so much in a short amount of time about how to organize my lessons and present my information. It would have been so much more frustrating without their support,” said Cotter.
Gibbons has been utilizing online videos and sources to keep her students on a forward path.
“In science, there has been extra reading and video assignments through Khan Academy, Youtube, and online sources. I will share 15 to 20 minute long videos to the classes, and create a series of questions for the students, based on the online videos. In the past week, we had an assignment for Earth Day. The students observed outdoor species for the science class, and to get them outside. I let students pick the time of day to work on their assignments. I let them choose what time of the day to finish their assignment… creates independent learning. I have one assignment a day, duable within 24 hours,” said Gibbons.
Being away from the students per social distancing orders, Conway added how much she missed seeing her students in person.
“I truly enjoy what I teach, but I went into this profession because I love working with my students. Not being able to see them every day, connect with them on a personal level... that’s been really hard,” said Conway.
Island students also shared with The Block Island Times their perspectives on what they are currently learning, their experiences with the current distance learning, and what have been positive and ‘fun’ outcomes in distance learning:
Q: What are your thoughts and experiences with the current distance learning?
“It is going well and I feel like due to us not having a teacher in front of us talking to us, we have more work then we would at school in some classes.”
— Blaize Hatfield (8th Grade)
“We are making houses in art class. We are assigned activities and send the photos [of the houses] to the teacher.” Weber said they use materials in their house for making the houses.
— Rowan Weber (4th Grade)
“I think it is going good. I think since we have a smaller school it’s probably better than other big schools. I feel very organized with the schoolwork and I don’t feel like I’m having an overload of school work, there’s not too much pressure. I’d still rather be in school, I like it better there.”
— Abigail Willi (5th Grade)
“I think for what it is, it is as good as it can be. It can be hard to get in touch with a teacher or for the teacher to explain because of the teachers’ varying schedules. It’s been only a little over a month, [but] the time has felt much longer.”
— Daniel Cullen (11th Grade)
Q: What has been helpful to you, in completing and finding assistance with your studies in distance learning, and what activities have you been enjoying in your studies?
“When we have a Zoom meeting, it helps me get everything straight and figured out. It’s nice when teachers post all their stuff on one website.”
— Blaize Hatfield (8th Grade)
“Some of the math is pretty fun, and I like seeing my class and teacher in Google meets once a week.”
— Miles Willi (4th Grade)
“In terms of which class has been successful, in anatomy we are memorizing terms in that class through online sources. We watch online videos and memorize at home.”
— Daniel Cullen (11th Grade)
“The science stuff, we have done experiments and we got composting worms to take care of.”
— Zane Turner (5th Grade)
While distance learning may produce difficulty at times and in certain situations, the students and teachers have been adapting to these strange and foreign times, pushing forward and growing from the challenges.
“We have a lot of students who are doing an amazing job. They are learning independence and new skills – managing schedules, learning how to reach out and ask for assistance…. We have been active in the island community, and I give credit to the students and teachers for adapting” under these new circumstances, said Gibbons.