CBCS teachers adjust to e-learning format for their students

“We all really miss each other”

By Kendra Walker

Five weeks into a distance-learning format that will continue through the rest of the school year, Crested Butte Community School teachers are adjusting to e-learning teaching methods and coming up with some creative ways to stay connected with their students.

While some teachers had previously used the Google Classroom learning platform for assignments pre-COVID-19, most teachers agree there was a big learning curve when the school closed and everyone had to quickly transition to virtual tactics.

Fifth-grade teacher Camille Polster sends “huge props” to Katie Gallagher, technology integration specialist, and Shari Sullivan-Marshall, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

“They have been integral in creating the environment that we all have, which is a pretty positive one and pretty rich in instruction. Katie has vetted everything for us and found the best way to present information to the children and Shari has gone out and found different resources without the need for a subscription. I feel really fortunate to be a part of our district where I feel we have such tremendous support from both the administration and our families. I think that’s key to making it work as smoothly as it is.”

Using Google Classroom, teachers are sharing videos of themselves giving out assignments or teaching lessons and sharing daily morning greeting videos, recording from either their classroom or their home.

Teachers and students are also using the Flipgrid platform, which allows them to post videos and respond to each other. Classes will often participate in real-time video calls over lunch or a snack so they can hang out together virtually and check in with each other.

“Some teachers are getting super-creative with costumes and fun visuals,” said CBCS library media specialist Beth Tagliareni, who has been giving tech support to teachers. “They’re doing a great job in building their relationships with their students in this format. It’s a cool moment for tech and innovation in education.”

Given the limited circumstances, teachers are starting to hit a stride and have noticed the same of their students. “I’m impressed by what everybody is doing and how we’ve adapted,” said Polster. “The kids really jumped on board with positivity and they’re doing their assignments. The families have all come together and rallied to support their children.”

Most teachers have tried to pare down the assignments with the understanding that their students’ engagement will not be the same as if in the classroom.

Teachers have also mixed it up so the students can unplug away from the computer, especially for the younger students who aren’t as tech-savvy.

Spanish teacher Meredith O’Connor has been recording herself reading children’s stories in Spanish so kids can listen. Social studies teachers are having their students draw maps and create graphic short stories on the French Revolution.

Kindergarten teacher Kelly Picarro invited her students and parents to join an April challenge to work on a goal every day, such as run a mile, do yoga, do 15 jumping jacks or practice handstands. “Kids are posting pictures of what they’re doing, families are more involved and we’re trying to support each other and encourage each other along the way,” Picarro said. “It helps them reengage and it provides an opportunity for the kids to apply their skills and knowledge more easily to their home and neighborhood.”

With special subjects, such as art, physical education and STEM, teachers are giving out assignments that make it easier for kids to do around their house, where they may not necessarily have the same access to gym equipment and art supplies.

Art teacher Elise Meier has been assigning art projects that focus on making and creating art, rather than computer art. “I can’t assume kids have access to clay or paint or even colored pencils, so everything that we’re doing is a skill that can be done with just paper and pencil or things you can collect around your house,” Meier said. And while she misses the opportunity for students to sit together and share each other’s work, Meier has taken advantage of the Flipgrid platform, where students can video themselves with their project and record what they like about their peers’ work.

“At least we can share our work with each other and keep the conversation going, and keep thinking of ideas,” Meier said. “In my world that’s just as important as being able to draw or paint.”

Physical education teacher Sandy Robinson, while still encouraging her students to get outside if they can, has been focusing on fun and lighthearted challenges that minimize screen time and are easy to do at home. “I didn’t want to do a yoga or fitness class and have kids stare at the screen for a half hour,” she said. Some challenges have included doing tasks like brushing your teeth or combing your hair with your non-dominant, “lazy” hand, and practicing balancing objects you can find around the house on your hand. Robinson has been filming herself demonstrating the challenges, including fun music and editing in her videos.

But as expected, the distance learning has brought on a number of challenges for teachers as well. More screen time, having to quickly learn the online platforms and managing all the technical difficulties have been common obstacles for teachers.

Many teachers are also balancing teaching along with assisting their own kids navigating the online learning. Distance from the kids has also been difficult. “It’s hard because I’m not there to answer their questions right away,” said third-grade teacher Emmy Luna. “It’s challenging but I’m trying to make lessons interactive and fun.”

A positive result Robinson has noticed in the new learning format is the unexpected participation. “A lot of the kids who I’m hearing from every week are kids who don’t usually stand out or speak out in class,” she said. “There’s a group of kids who don’t always get noticed enough, and I feel like I’m getting through to a lot of those kids.”

Teachers also recognize the amazing support they’ve received from parents, who are juggling working from home, their kids and staying healthy. “The feedback I’ve gotten from parents is they’re getting to work with their kids on a different level and see a little picture of what they’re doing at school,” said Polster. “The families have all come together and rallied to support their children. But we all really miss each other.”

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