BENTONVILLE — Tobie Jones sat in her kitchen recording a lesson for her fifth-graders, in which she talked about “flattening the curve,” a term that has become familiar in the midst of a virus pandemic.
The fifth-grade science teacher at Bentonville’s Old High Middle School held her laptop up to the camera to show her students a graph. She pointed to the horizontal axis — the X axis — and asked students what it was called. Several seconds passed.
Act 862 of the 2017 legislative session allows Arkansas’ public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to develop plans for an “alternative method of instruction” to be used on days when school is canceled because of emergency or exceptional circumstances. Ordinarily, the plans can be used for up to five days of the 178-day school year.
The Arkansas Department of Education announced last week it is expanding the use of alternative methods of instruction so schools may use them during the three weeks after spring break when schools will be closed because of the covid-19 outbreak.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette
“Ah,” Jones said. “I wish we were all together. Because I know some of you guys would be shooting your hands right into the air.”
She explained the importance of keeping the number of covid-19 cases — the number shown on the Y axis — from spiking too high in order not to overburden hospitals and health-care workers.
“This is why we’ve switched to a digital learning environment in Bentonville,” she said in the video.
Jones, like hundreds of other teachers across Northwest Arkansas, had to transition last week from teaching in her classroom to teaching from home.
That may not sound so bad to some, but Jones and other teachers in the region said the arrangement presents challenges.
“It’s very difficult to be away from my students, because when you’re with them, you can immediately get feedback from their learning experience. I regularly ask my students for their feedback,” she said.
She feels the “intensity” of the school day is heightened, because she’s keeping an eye on her email from morning until night, making sure she’s responding to students’ and parents’ questions.
Jones already has recorded several videos for her students, including two about how humans impact the planet. In one video, she took students on a tour of the solar panels on her home; the next day, she showed students the ins and outs of her electric car.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday public schools will remain closed for on-site instruction through April 17. Jones said she’s prepared for the distance education to continue. She knows what her next five videos will be.
Corrie Tucker, a first-grade teacher at Springdale’s Young Elementary School, said some might think teachers working from home are doing things not related to their job, but that’s not true.
“We’re constantly responding to parents, trying to find new things for our students to do,” Tucker said.
Springdale, like other districts, developed alternative instruction plans for days when schools are closed because of weather or other exceptional circumstances. Springdale students have activities to do in a variety of subject areas.
Tucker was checking her email almost all day, answering a lot of questions from parents about the alternative method of instruction packet.
“They want to make sure they do everything correctly, so they are reaching out to us a lot,” she said. “It’s good too, because it’s opened our communication up a lot more. We try to stay in contact with our parents frequently, but right now, they have to be in communication with us.”
Tucker is also doing video-conferencing with students through the Zoom application so they all can stay connected and see each other. She may read a book or work on some math problems with them during these conferences, she said.
She’s tried to provide her 25 students additional resources aligned with their individual interests to keep them engaged. For example, she has pointed the animal lovers in her class to the Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page, which is doing “Home Safari” broadcasts each weekday highlighting one of the zoo’s animals.
Ashley Traynham, a counselor at Fayetteville’s Happy Hollow Elementary School, said her experience last week talking with kids showed they’re experiencing a range of emotions.
“Some are happy. Some are missing their friends. Some are frustrated with the academic part, needing to figure out how to get into a routine,” Traynham said.
As distance education continues for at least another month, parents need to consider the importance of social and emotional learning and take time to talk about things like gratitude and kindness with their kids, Traynham said.
Alan Showalter, a choir teacher at Springdale’s Southwest Junior High School, learned how to use the Zoom application last week, which he used to meet with some of his students Friday.
“It was great. We even got to sing a little bit on there,” Showalter said. “We caught up on what’s going on, what might be happening in the future. We talked about some of the music we’re working on. They were happy to see each others’ faces and talk to each other.”
Showalter also communicated with students via Remind, a text-messaging application used in education. His classes also use Google Classroom, a web service aimed at simplifying the process of sharing instructional materials between teachers and students.
“That’s an easy way for me to assign work. They can turn it in and I can give them feedback,” he said. “I’ve been assigning something every day for them to work on.”
He seemed undaunted by the prospect of going on this way for a while.
“We’re going to find a way. We’re going to do our best,” he said.
Chelsea Tucker, a fifth-grade teacher at Fairview Elementary in Rogers, said being separated from her students definitely makes her job harder.
“I miss getting to see my students every day and interacting with them,” she said. “I worry about how they are handling all of this change and how it is impacting them. I have had to make adjustments academically, but I also want to teach empathy and understanding during this time.”
Meanwhile, her own two children, both of whom are too young to be in school, are staying home and struggling to adjust to the changes.
“They usually stay with my mother during the day, and they just do not understand why they can’t go see her. This has been a challenge for everyone, and we are taking it one day at a time,” Tucker said.
Each of Tucker’s students has a Chromebook from school to access their alternative method of instruction work digitally, or a hard-copy packet of the work. She uses the Google Classroom platform to push their assignments out each morning at 7:30, she said.
“Students can work through their daily work at their own pace, and I am available for any questions, comments, and/or feedback throughout the day. Google Classroom allows me to open documents students are working on and give live feedback on their work. It has allowed us to stay connected to our students, which is the most important thing right now,” Tucker said.
Her students are working toward the same standards they would be if they were in the classroom, she said. Last week she used Google Hangouts and Google Meet for the first time, which she said are “amazing” tools for keeping her and her students connected.
“We are trying to create as much normalcy as possible for our students,” Tucker said.
NW News on 03/22/2020
- ‘No one to help me’: Special education families struggle with coronavirus school closures – USA TODAY
- Jefferson City Board of Education hold first virtual meeting – Jefferson City News Tribune
- Smethport Area School District introduces education plan, notes firm end of year date – Bradford Era
- Navigating Education at Home – Spectrum News
- Special education inconsistent in California school districts during closures – EdSource
- EDUCATION FOR WHAT? | The Crusader Newspaper Group – The Chicago Cusader
- Hernando schools await governor’s decision on technical education building – Tampa Bay Times
- Police plan education, measured enforcement of statewide stay-at-home order – Press Herald
- Secretary DeVos Announces New Federal Deadline Flexibility for Career and Technical Education Leaders, Allowing Them to Focus on Serving Students During the COVID-19 Outbreak – U.S. Department of Education