September 26, 2020

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Part I: A new normal for teaching; virtual classrooms

Diane Strobel and Lorie Hansen fill bags for preschool students. The bags contain activities for the students to last for the next two weeks.

Morris Area Elementary teachers using several methods for distance learning

Distance learning is going better than expected, except for one thing. Teachers and students really miss each other. That is one of the most shared comments by teachers when responding to a questionnaire sent to them by the Stevens County Times. The Times asked teachers in Morris to share with readers how they are doing distance learning and basically, how things are going.

In many ways, the day is quite structured with most teachers starting out with a Zoom meeting where students and teachers can see each other and talk. Some of them do this for about 30 minutes. Teachers can also use this time to explain some of the daily assignments and where they can be found. 

Each grade level is doing things a bit differently and at the high school level, each course instructor has their own way of teaching. We will break it down for you by grade and subject. You will notice that nearly every grade level is actively using Zoom, Seesaw, Google and other online apps for instruction.

Pre-school and kindergarten

Bags are filled with materials for two weeks of distance learning for preschoolers. They contain books, chalk, shaving cream and lots of things for pre-k learning. Diane Strobel and Lorie Hansen had a hallway lined with Willies bags ready to go to students last week.

First grade

Hannah Plattner responded for the first-grade teachers. She explained that the first-grade students took their curriculum materials home such as their reading books and math workbooks. The students are provided with daily assignments through Seesaw, which is a free online platform that all of the students log into each day using their Ipads. There is a new assignment each day and videos have been created featuring the teachers introducing new concepts and creating different activities for students to complete.

Once a student has completed an assignment, they submit their response to the teacher so they can check their work. The teachers have the ability to comment on the assignments by writing a comment or recording a voice comment. The students think it is pretty neat to hear their teachers voice.

One of the biggest challenges was to figure out how to get all students connected to the internet. Austen Miller, MAHS Tech Coordinator, helped find a solution by working with area businesses to provide internet to students in need.

The students have been having fun doing their work on Seesaw. They have been sending pictures of things they are doing at home, drawings from books they are reading and some even recorded videos for everyone to watch. Mrs. Preimesberger had two students sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her through Seesaw.

There are about 80 first-graders and their teachers have been working together to provide an equitable education for each student. 

Second grade

The Morris Area second grade teachers are using videos, links, workbooks, stories and more for distance learning. One of the favorites for the teachers is Seesaw, where they can send the kids links, assignments, videos and pictures. The students can also use this to turn in assignments. 

Zoom is another way they stay connected with students using the Ipads or Chromebooks provided earlier this year by the school and local internet providers. Heidi Suess, second-grade teacher stated that we have been fortunate to have the generosity of Federated Telephone and others who offer free internet access or wifi to families who didn’t have it during this time. “The saying ‘it takes a village…’ has never been more true. We live in a great community!” Suess added.

Third grade

The distance learning platform for third grade is also Seesaw. Each morning the teachers greet the students with a video check-in and make comments directly to their students about assignments and activities.

Holly Carrington, one of the third-grade teachers, added that even though they can see the students each day, the teachers really miss the students. And likewise, the students are missing their teachers and friends. Carrington added that it is fun to receive feedback from students, get questions and see their creative style showcased in their assignments.

Michelle Stewarts stated “After over 20 years of teaching the traditional way and making changes with updates/new technology this has been quite a change.  I feel good about getting to see and visit with every student twice a week as we are having a class meeting and an individual meeting each week.”

Stewart had a fun demonstration that first week. “We had a gopher trap demonstration during our meeting the other day, as I have a student busy making some money with his brother and helping out dad in his free time.”

Fourth grade

At the fourth grade level, the communication method turns more to Google classroom. In Google classroom the teacher creates hyperdocs (word documents with links to each of the assignments) for each day of distance learning. They also created a recommended, but not required, schedule for the students to complete their work each day starting with a classroom morning meeting at 9 a.m. Zoom video is used for a half-hour each morning to keep the classroom relationships strong and discuss the assignments for the day.

With so many schools across the country using these apps, there have been a few problems getting connected and also with internet speed. Emily Dalen, fourth grade teacher, found it necessary to up the internet speed at her home in order to handle zooming with 21 students.

Dalen added that she read a blog recently that compared a child’s entire education to a ruler and pointed out that this period of distance learning is the equivalent of one-quarter of an inch. “It’s such a minute period of their educational career,” she explained.

Fifth grade

In fifth grade, the day starts with a Zoom meeting at 9 a.m. Not only can the students visit with their teacher and see their friends but they can also ask questions using google hangouts, an instant texting format. 

Fifth-grade teacher, Jill Dybdahl, stated that it is the goal of the teachers to keep it simple. “We know parents are busy working either from home or are essential workers,” she explained. “We have been assigning work that students can complete on their own that is fun and engaging.”

The fifth-grade students had a fun assignment where they used flipgrid to create a video. The first week they were asked to showcase a talent. Students were so creative with this project. “We had students showcasing skateboarding, magic tricks, card tricks, singing, baseball swings, baking, drawing, playing musical instruments, and one student even did a tutorial on how to polish his dad’s tanks on the farm equipment,” stated Dybdahl. “It was fun to see the students have fun with it.” 

Sixth grade

Scott Gonnerman responded on behalf of the sixth-grade teachers. They are primarily using Google Classroom but also Zoom where they are able to see each other and communicate one on one. The students are using some of their textbooks and workbooks, but are also incorporating other means of learning using their Chromebooks. They are tapping into sites such as IXL, Minnesota Historical website and Math Antics.

“It has been going well to date with no major setbacks or problems,” Gonnerman stated. “I am proud of how the students (and parents) have come together to work hard during these difficult, challenging, uncertain times.”

Read Part II here on Sunday.