March 4, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Part II: A new normal for teaching; virtual classrooms

A screenshot of Dylan Viss's class last week during a YouTube discussion time.

Morris Area High School greets distance learning with unique ideas 

Things get a little more difficult and require extra creativity in the various courses offered at the high school level. Some subjects, such as band or physical education, find it hard to use some of the online resources. However, they are continuing the education process in unique ways.


Kristine Liljenquest has found that preparing lessons for distance learning takes much more time than her normal prep time. “I know my lessons have to be relevant, and meaningful, if students see this as just busywork, they will give up and shut down,”  Liljenquest explained. She added that students are doing a fabulous job emailing and calling her with questions. She has integrated recorded lessons using smartboard, document camera, microphone and youtube. Google Classroom, Google forms, docs, slides sheets and many of the add-ons that go with them are also being used.

Liljenquest has found that teaching later in the day works better as there is less traffic on the sites. For students who do not have internet in their home, she has been doing private Spanish lessons over the phone and sending homework through the high school office.

Her students enjoy the Zoom online classrooms so much that they are participating multiple times in a day. Here they practice speaking Spanish which shows their interest and motivation to keep learning despite the obstacles.

She ran across an interesting Spanish learning program called “Overcome the Barrier.” This program allows students to do live zoom sessions with native Spanish speakers their own age to practice conversation. Their partner provides them with oral and written feedback. Then it is her students’ turn to be the teacher and the native Spanish students practice English to help strengthen their skills. She added that Overcome the Barrier has been so helpful and supportive and offered her a very affordable price due to the pandemic.


Andrea Denardo stated that she created a Google Classroom for her fifth through seventh-grade band students. The third-grade teachers post her music assignments on their Seesaw weekly plan. Since she has so many band participants, she does not see them all, but is in constant contact with them through email and on Google Classroom. 

Denardo had a humorous thing that happened when she shared a Google Form incorrectly. She had multiple people editing it at once and it changed the whole form to something crazy. Names were added, questions were deleted, it was a mess. She ended up making a whole new form. It was a learning and growing process for her but a great way to learn something new each day.

“I’m just really proud and impressed with how well the students and parents are doing during this time,” Denardo stated. “I know it isn’t easy (I have kids of my own,) but they have done an outstanding job of doing what’s asked and asking questions and I’d like to thank them for their support and effort. It takes a village.”


Kelly White teaches ninth grade English, eighth grade English and Film Analysis at MAHS. She has created assignments that are all online. Her students are engaging in online discussions about the novel they are reading. Ninth graders are reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird and Eighth graders are reading ‘Footsteps of Crazyhorse.’ 

She has also learned that waiting until later in the day works the best to connect with online platforms. They have found that the best time to get online is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

White also has a child in fourth grade and shared a story about April Fool’s Day. “When a student clicked on their teacher’s zoom link, it brought them into a different teacher’s zoom,” she stated. “The kids were confused until the teacher said ‘April Fools!’ As a parent of a 4th grader, I appreciated the normalcy of an April Fools joke.” 

“In case the students haven’t heard it yet, we miss them!” 

Social Studies

In Social Studies the teachers are using a curriculum to promote independent thought, multiple experiences and varied ways of expression. Jim Greenwaldt is using PowerPoint in Civics and YouTube videos on particular topics in Economics. Greenwaldt, Thomas Howden and Peg Rinkenburger made video lectures of the chapters in Civic class so the students still get to hear “our beautiful speaking voices.” 

Howden stated that “the changes teachers have had to make are like turning an airplane into a submarine; it can be done but it takes a lot of planning.”

One of the biggest problems is students who have not had contact with their teachers. Howden added that students need to get in contact with their teacher soon if they have not done so. However, Peg Rinkenberger stated that they are fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know the students and for the students to know what the teachers expect.

Rinkenberger would normally spend the hour before school greeting students and having coffee hour in her classroom with some of them. She has continued that tradition in a virtual way. “We bring our own coffee and sit around chatting about what is ahead, Rinkenberger explained. “That has been important to me to continue the ‘coffee hour’ when kids can come and just chat or hang in the chatroom and listen to those who do. I miss the kids. I miss them a lot.”

Greenwaldt added that he feels bad for the seniors. “They are missing their senior spring which will never be replaced. The seniors do understand the reasons for distance learning but wish this would have never happened. I let them know that change allows us to reach our untapped potential.”

Howden stated that the timing of this pandemic is rather ironic since they were just studying the middle ages in World History class and one of the main topics was the Bubonic Plague that crossed the planet. 


YouTube, Ed Puzzle, and CK-12 are some of the platforms used to teach Science. Dylan Viss has also been using Flipgrid and Zoom to collect video responses from students. In anatomy and physiology class the second semester usually involves dissection. He said that he does the dissection in a Zoom meeting and students are able to identify muscles and organs along with him, as well as ask questions.

Kevin Pope used Flipgrid for his seventh-graders asking them to do short videos to explain questions or create discussion posts. “Many of these videos have been absolute day brighteners,” he said. “They have let me enjoy the fun quirkiness that I miss from my seventh graders. It has been great to see the smiles and personalities of my students again.”

Viss has also found that a few students are now completing their weekly workload. In this case, they are doing their best to communicate with those students, other teachers and special education staff, parents, and administration.

Testing is another important part of learning. Rinkenberger explained that she asks a parent to proctor the tests for the students. The students send her a photo of themselves with one parent holding a sign saying that they were supervised during the test. “I will say, these students have some very good looking families,” stated Rinkenberger.


Math is also using videos with specific math content and examples along with providing homework assignments. Shelley Messner uses Google Hangouts and Zoom to stay connected. 

Joey Fragodt stated that he has not heard a single complaint and that some students prefer this method of learning because they can do it at their own pace and when it fits their schedule. However, this is the same reason why some students will struggle. It will be difficult for students who struggle without routines and have poor time management.’

Messner added that Peg Rinkenberger has been coordinating fun video clips to send out to the kids. She has also enjoyed the “bombing” of zoom meetings by the kids’ pets. 

Special Education

Erin Gillespie stated that her Special Education students are exceeding her expectations and she couldn’t be more proud. She misses seeing her students every day and the social interaction. She never dreamed that when they left school on March 13 that they wouldn’t be back on Monday. Not having closure was one of the hardest things. That and the fact that she said her butt is sore from sitting in front of a computer for such long periods of time!

“Teachers are putting forth 110 percent effort to make the best out of this situation,” she added. “We are all trying our hardest to ensure all students learn and grow.”

“I am using a variety of technology for our current distant learning,” stated Mary Holmberg.  “At times I will have my cell phone, IPad and laptop, all within my reach. Google classroom and email are methods to guide and deliver information.  It is important for me to use Zoom, as it visually connects me to my students. We need to continue building positive relationships with our students, even if we can’t see them face to face.”

All of the teachers responding to the questionnaire have the utmost respect and thanks for students, parents and guardians through this time. Peg Rinkenberger stated that it has been a huge opportunity for growth. She has been challenged and working to meet the challenges head-on. However, she is also looking forward to some time when she can put her computer aside for a bit during the long weekend.

“Having a teacher or para right by your side can’t be replaced on screen,” stated Jim Greenwaldt. “A hug or a personal high five doesn’t seem the same as an emoji. I would also like to thank all the parents who have been working with our students. This has been both challenging and rewarding. I have had some parents say they can’t wait for regular school to start and are much more appreciative of what educators are doing in their children’s lives.”

Read Part I to the story about how distance learning is going at the elementary school level here.

Katie Erdman