Community and Meaningful Learning: A Story of Connection, Learning, and Love in a Time of Separation
Faced with the sudden shift to distance learning, I found myself facing a multitude of worries for my students- how would I continue to teach them, support them through a computer, how will we stay connected with each other? My students also faced worries as their worlds drastically shifted- will I still see my teacher, where are my friends, what about our class projects and traditions? It took time and energy and quite a bit of trial and error, but despite each obstacle- our class continues to learn through fun projects as well as direct instruction and laugh together as our classroom community continues to be strong.
One of the biggest worries was handling instruction and delivering curriculum to our students as we are facing two months of distance learning. While nothing can replace the instruction happening together in our physical classroom, my students continue to learn as our entire school adopted an online teaching model that allowed for the continued direct instruction. Separated into small groups, each child is given an hour lesson during which phonics, math, and reading are being taught. We are reading together, learning new sounds, and were able to pick right up with our math lessons. Of course, we still make time for games, dance breaks, and yoga!
During our online lessons, it remained important to model our classroom learning model as closely as possible. For my class, this meant including themed learning days and project-based learning opportunities. While there are obvious limitations over a computer, we learned to be creative and take advantage of the unique opportunities that come with teaching from home. This week my class had a “Mystery Recipe” learning experience where students had to solve riddles, read clues, and complete math problems to unravel a recipe for dog treats! As they solved each clue, I would add the ingredients and finally when our treat was completed, my dog Waffles tried them out! Needless to say the activity was a huge hit with the kids and my dog!
Another unique advantage of learning from home is the ability to have different spontaneous learning moments. During a “field day lesson” in my backyard, students conducted a “sink or float” experiment and helped me sort trash and recyclables after we finished our reading unit on taking care of the earth. But the greatest learning moment came from students sharing their own backyards, specifically their gardens. The class got to learn about different plants, what different plants need to grow, and got to engage with each other both answering and asking questions throughout the garden tours!
As we made the transition to distance learning, it became clear that students were very concerned about continuing classroom traditions. One of the most loved traditions in our class is “Experiment Thursday” and “Fun Friday”. Now I wasn’t sure my students would enjoy watching me conduct experiments through the computer, but continuing that tradition meant a lot to them and also provided a sense of normalcy and routine. It has also been really fun to see how my students are still just as engaged in our experiments now as they had been before!
The most important component to our distance learning program has been the intentional time given to each child to have a check in with a teacher at least once a week. Not only do these check ins provide an opportunity for academic support, they provide a chance for each child to share how they are doing, the exciting things they have (most popularly pets!), and maintain that relationship with each student. These check ins have brought so many wonderful moments- such as becoming the student while my student “teaches” me, becoming part of the team creating a machine that will hatch dinosaur eggs, participating in car races, singing songs together, and getting very detailed information on every pet (I can even tell you where some of the pets like to go to do their business) my students have!
Sure we experience our fair share of technical difficulties, rough days, and derailed lessons when a new toy or enthusiastic dog makes an appearance. But our school has strived to continue educating, supporting, and engaging with our students. The ability to stay so connected and show our students how much we care, has made all the difference in staying connected despite being physically so apart.