Teachers adapt for stay-at-home lessons
April 16, 2020
Wahkiakum School District may have closed their doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in the community, but teachers, including the high school teachers profiled here, are reaching out from their own homes using technological and traditional resources to draw students back into the classroom, one constructed in their own homes and in their own minds.
Since Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a statewide order to close public and private schools throughout the state, WSD Superintendent Brent Freeman, administration, staff, and teachers have gone into high gear to figure out not only how to feed students throughout the week, but how to keep them moving toward their educational goals.
"There's a misperception among some that teachers and students were given an early summer vacation when Governor Inslee decided to close brick-and-mortar schools for the remainder of the year," said Don Cox, who teaches History at Wahkiakum High School. "That couldn't be further from the truth. What's been going on since the schools were closed on March 13 is the development of plans to take everything online, something my colleagues and I have been working hard at doing."
His U.S. History class had been scheduled to take a field trip this spring to visit the forts that protected the Columbia River during World War II, but after Inslee's announcement, Cox started thinking about how to continue with the plan without ever getting on a bus.
"The problem was solved, thanks to Google Maps, YouTube, and other sites that take us places without ever leaving home," Cox said. "I just had to tweak the parameters of the activity a bit."
"Recreating activities for online engagement isn't difficult; what is more challenging is keeping students engaged outside the classroom," he said. "I try to encourage students by shaping activities to the current world situation. For example, in my Honors U.S. History class, one activity involved rewriting Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches..." speech to make it seem as though he were speaking about Covid-19 instead of Nazi Germany. In my American Government/Global Issues class, students compete to see who can come up with the most bizarre news story dealing with peoples' responses to the pandemic. These would be things like the Australian researcher getting magnets stuck inside his nose, or the leader of Turkmenistan fining his people for wearing masks in public. My wife and I recruited a few of my English students into a reading club when we came across Year of Wonders, a work of historical fiction looking at a village during England's plague year of 1666. I find that you get the greatest interest when you show the most relevance."
"What surprises me in all this is the number of students who want to engage," Cox said. "I have a freshman, for example, who wanted to do some of the activities I'm putting out to my juniors and seniors, just because they looked "fun"! Another student begged for a follow-on activity because she'd enjoyed the initial one so much. Although you'll probably not get too many teenagers to admit it, most of them actually want what we have to offer them. Curiosity about the world isn't dead with this generation, at least not yet."
Teachers are working solo and in teams to make contact with all their students. They have been keeping track of each contact, and Freeman has a spreadsheet he can go to when a parent calls, wondering why no one has reached out to his or her child.
They have been.
"For me, this initially meant emailing and calling students and families," Kaitlyn Kincaid, a math teacher at Wahkiakum High School said, "but it has evolved over the last couple of weeks."
She emailed a link to a Google Forms survey to all students and their families over the past weekend, hoping to learn several things. What kind of access did students have at home to a computer? What is their internet reliability? How did students want to engage in their learning? Would they prefer Google Classroom, emailed assignments, paper packets, or textbooks? Did they have any challenges she should be aware of?
Kincaid has already received several responses from her students, and she will be reaching out to the families of the ones who have not responded, in order to ascertain "what supports are needed."
"Social media plays a big role in our society and the lives of students," Kincaid said, "so I created a private Instagram account for my students. I post updates and reminders so that they are informed of what is going on. I have been and will continue posting in Google Classroom."
While researching ways to engage students, she found herself going to YouTube frequently when she had a question about one thing or another. The medium inspired her to start her own YouTube Channel, "Math with Ms. Kincaid."
She posts tutorials there, admitting that the videos are more general at the moment, but she plans to start posting math lessons next week.
Meanwhile, there are students and families in outlying areas who through no fault of their own, do not have reliable internet access.
Kincaid is creating packets and preparing a textbook and students can either pick them up later this week or go with the school district bus drivers, who are already delivering meals.
"These packets will include calendars, options for communication, lessons, and practice," Kincaid said. "I am available to students by phone, email, Instagram or Zoom to answer any questions they may have about the lessons."
She also has office hours through Zoom to provide support and answer questions.
"Students can join by accessing Zoom on the internet or by calling into the meeting using a phone," Kincaid said. "In order to keep these meetings as secure as possible, and so that only students and families have access, a password is required and I approve people before they can join. The safety and well being of my students is definitely a top priority."
"These may not be the best of circumstances, and this experience brings its own unique challenge, but it has been amazing to see the district and community pull together," Kincaid said. "We have staff making sure students are fed and that they get the tools they need, such as textbooks and packets. Our teams have been working on collaborating to support students as best as we can. It is certainly a learning curve for all of us. I am grateful to be a part of such an amazing team."
"I miss seeing my students' faces everyday, but I am optimistic that we will all come out of this stronger than ever before."
"My plans are evolving and changing daily as I try to figure out what will work best for my students," said Jeff Rooklidge, who teaches science and robotics.
"Normally during this time of year, my Biology and Environmental Science students are engaged in survey work and monitoring and data collection on migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway," Rooklidge said. "Students learn about some of the billions of birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway in search of nesting habitat, food sources, and favorable climate conditions, etc. Students are often involved in monitoring our Wood Duck artificial nest boxes on the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge, a program that was initiated by Andrew Emlen over 20 years ago. In the past, students have taken field trips to the refuge and other areas along the Columbia River to photograph and document nesting sites and species arrival. They have even taken kayak trips in past years with local experts Andrew Emlen and MD Johnson to learn about migratory birds.
"With covid-19 and the Stay at Home order, these options are no longer possible," Rooklidge said. "This is my Plan B. I am designing a unit in which students learn about bird biology from their backyards and local neighborhoods. I am sending home learning opportunities to support student understanding about flight adaptations, feeding, nesting and courtship behaviors that enable birds to be so successful and valuable to our ecosystems. Students will photograph, make observations and collect data about many of our local bird species including:
"Purple Martin scouts who have been arriving from the Amazon rainforest this spring and searching for nest sites; Rufous Hummingbirds who have been arriving from the wintering grounds in Mexico and Southern US to the Pacific Northwest, some traveling 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during this migration. These are just a couple of the many species of birds that students will have the opportunity to research, document, observe and learn about.
"I am sending home support learning materials to help students gain a basic background in ornithology to prepare them for project research at home."
Rooklidge is communicating with students via text, phone calls, emails, and FaceTime. He is exploring Zoom, as he considers whether to use it for classroom discussion, but he's discovered that "low bandwidth levels in the Elochoman Valley are presenting tough challenges for this method of communication so far."
Spring Break was just last week. Meals were provided throughout, but it remained intact, a vacation from education for students and teachers.
Audrey Petterson, who teaches English at Wahkiakum High School, is learning to use Zoom for the first time, and shares a similar struggle with Rooklidge and some of their students: "the limitations of...home internet."
With unreliable internet at home, Petterson will have some Zoom classes and Zoom office hours, but she plans to give students weekly schedules for activities through Google Classroom for those with internet and packets to be picked up at the school on Thursdays and Fridays for those without.
"Pre-break was crazy madness, trying to connect with families, finding the ways that different students and families could or would respond, always considering individual circumstances and social emotional learning," Petterson said, "We care about the students. It's hard to understand how they are when we don't hear from them."
From the beginning, Petterson asked her students to journal, in order to "reflect on this exceptional time," with specific focus on initial thoughts and healthy habits.
She also asked them to align something they were doing at home with a common core standard, but it turned out to be a more difficult task, and without the motivation of grades, Petterson didn't get a very big response.
While some students will need to be contacted for missed work, others are looking for more to do. Like Cox said, there are students who want to engage.
One such student was thinking outside the box when he asked Petterson if pursuing fiction writing might be a good way to develop his argumentative writing.
"I thought that was cool," Petterson said, admitting she gave him the long answer.
On April 6, during Wahkiakum's Spring Break, Governor Inslee extended the statewide school closure through the end of the academic year.
"Now that we've returned from Spring Break and know that face-to-face contact with our classes won't reoccur this year, we're building up to continue providing differentiated instruction for all," Petterson said. "Some days, it seems like trying to custom-build a vehicle for each student while driving it, but we are working on meeting the challenge."
More recently, there was another shift in their approach, "Every student will need to participate to the extent they are capable."
Petterson is teaching AP/College in the High School classes, honors classes, and is an advisor for the senior class. She's not only working every day to stay in touch with her students, but she has also been reaching to the latter group to make sure they're in line to graduate.
"I miss the students," Petterson said, echoing an earlier sentiment. "I know that they miss each other."