Online teaching begins

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:00pm
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As physical distancing commences on the island, the Block Island School recently closed its doors to follow safety procedures being implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To continue teaching students, the Block Island School began the week of March 23 with school-wide online learning for the first time in its history.

To gain insight into how it’s done, island teachers were asked if they have been engaging with their students virtually during social distancing, and if so, what activities and lessons they have been sharing with their students.

Mike Petrik, the grade seven and high school English teacher, shared his current activities with his students.

“I am trying to balance digital distance learning with assignments that get students outside and off their computers, especially considering the internet challenges on Block Island. The most interesting digital assignment I've included so far is a scavenger hunt I created for the African American History Museum in Boston, which Google has made available through Street View. Offline assignments involve a lot of reading and responding, and some ‘take a hike’ and reflect assignments that fit nicely with our focus on narrative in some of my ELA curriculum at this point in the year. There are a lot of other interesting things going on in other classrooms, and I am incredibly impressed with the variety of ways my colleagues are adapting their materials and assignments to an unusual mode of learning.”

Petrik went on to add that other teachers in the school were taking on approaches as well to the online learning, with specific focus and instruction through Google classroom.

“[Fifth Grade Teacher/Middle Grades History] Kristie McQuaide is doing some great things with direct instruction and video classes. I haven't looked at it yet but I think [music teacher] Megan Hennessey is also pushing out some content through her Google Classroom. The Google Classroom has been a key for me in making the transition, because the students have been using it all year at school.”

Google Classroom is an online application where students and teachers can organize assignments, manage coursework and communicate. The online classroom allows teachers to grade and edit feedback.

Principal Kristine Monje discussed how crucial and valuable the online Google Classroom has been for the school, especially during this time of social distancing for students and teachers.

The school also provided technology to some of the students.

“We recently gave our students Chrome books, and training to the teachers for the Google Classrooms,” she said.

Teacher Kathleen Hemingway is also using Google Classrooms with her students, sharing access to documents and other online tools with the fifth grade on U.S. History, the sixth grade on ancient civilizations, and the seventh grade on world geography. In these Google classrooms, Hemingway has agendas laid out, along with online games, engaging questions, and links to resources.

It also allows her to communicate with her students.

“The whole online thing has definitely been a learning curve for teachers, students, and family members alike, but I think everyone is rising to the occasion the best they can. For my classes, I have created websites that include a class calendar to help self-pace, materials needed for the work, pictures of resources and posters from the classroom, and fun games they could play that relate back to the topics,” Hemingway said. “The key thing with all of this is flexibility, communication and being able to make ourselves accessible to parents, guardians, and students. A lot of us are also using Google Classroom, different programs to video chat, and text and email to field questions and check-in with students. Speaking for the middle grades team, we have a text group chat that we’ve been using daily to help with technology kinks and bounce ideas off one another. It really goes to show how much of a community effort this entire process is.”

But online learning has some challenges, as well, such as how do you teach art classes when not every student has access to the same materials at home the way they would in the classroom? Lisa Robb, the Art Teacher, shared how she is approaching her art studies classes.

“I personally am trying several different approaches. I've set up Google classrooms, one for K through two, one for three and four, and one for each of the middle school grades and high school courses, as well. In these ‘classrooms’, I've posted assignments and fun activities to keep kids creating. I'm currently trying to work out video conferencing options, first for my high school classes, then for elementary. But, this has been difficult with poor, overused internet. Teaching art remotely has been a challenge in general,” Robb said. “Not all kids have the same supplies at home or the best internet access. It's also near impossible for me to give guided lessons and feedback. But, we're all doing our best to work out the kinks. Fortunately, we live in a time with great online resources and tutorials that can help them (and me) through this. Just taking it one day at a time.”

On Tuesday morning, first grade teacher Lauri McTeague shared her current teaching approach with her young students as she set up times to meet with her students over the internet.

“I just finished an hour of video chat with the first grade. We have a daily morning meeting where we chat and touch base, and we go over a Google slide of the day’s plan, which includes activities and links to sites we have been using in our classroom. We meet at 12:30 p.m. for a story read-aloud, and we discuss how things are going. We continue to improve our craft by the hour!”

Gym Teacher John Tarbox noted he was posting online videos to his Facebook page, encouraging his students to get outdoors and to make use of the environments available to them for exercise.

The videos Tarbox has posted include various challenges for his students to compete in so they can remain physically active during these self-quarantined times.

The diverse videos show Tarbox participating in a Burpee bottle flip challenge, a plank challenge, and how to teach  physical education in a basement.

“I'm using Google classroom for assignments, and short video lectures, and I [post] fun video activity challenges that students can try at home, but I have posted all of them on Facebook.”

Once again, the Block Island School just started its first week this week in online learning strategies, and approaches to providing educational opportunities to the students will be strengthened and defined as the online learning continues, teachers and administrators said.