life outlook, virtual school

2020 Education

2020 is a tough year. This is a gross understatement, I know. Despite your politics, your beliefs of the world pandemic, and your expectations of how everyone should be handling and reacting to these issues, every day 2019 activities look a lot different in 2020. And they will continue to look different into at least the beginning of 2021. I am not going to argue politics or pandemic statistics. I want to discuss what I have seen happen to the education system. Specifically, my district, and my kids’ school – where I have skin in the game, so to speak.

I have seen friends post articles highlighting failures in 2020 education, react negatively to measures various school districts have adopted, and generally rant about anything that does not match their opinions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to voice those opinions in the USA. My experience has been challenging but I see a lot of positive, creative, inclusive intent and effort in the district administration, school administration, and the teachers.

I wrote about the beginning of this school year earlier.

My twins’ middle school adopted the theme “Unchartered Waters” using recognizable pirate music for this school year. The school administration and teachers utilized this to preview the new virtual learning methods and policies leading up to the beginning of the school year. There were tasks in addition to obtaining the regular school supplies like bringing in the laptops assigned last year for software updates and webcam activation to support virtual learning. The school was patient and prepared to handle technical issues related to the laptops, regional outages, and learning curve hiccups.

I became first line technical support, school time referee (uh, twins), coach, and tutor. I listened to many classes to get a feel for the teachers and the methods being taught. I also attended the virtual back to school night using both boys’ laptops simultaneously.

Many teachers are utilizing recorded videos to help illustrate lessons taught. They sure beat the film strips of my school days. I have even watched a son keep up with a video exercise circuit. There are also online surveys, practice problems, textbooks, articles, and assignments to engage students and reenforce lessons.

I have heard teachers routinely remind the students to have their camera on, ask the class and at times specific students if they have questions, remind the students about deadlines and their office hours for help. My district has middle school classes live 8:30am – 2pm. 2pm – 3:30pm is for asynchronous work and asking for extra help from teachers.

The school had a plan. Each class requires a warm up assignment as proof of attending live/recorded by 11:59pm of the class meeting day. With most classes meeting every other day that is 53 warm up assignments per class per marking period. I made the calculation when my sons were concerned when they missed 1 out of 3 questions. Some subjects have LIFT assignments, test study/practice optional assignments before each test. With a LIFT grade at or above 80, a failing test grade will be brought up to a 60. A passing test grade will be given 5 bonus points. Several graded assignments and some quizzes give the students two tries and let them know which questions they missed.

I saw where a teacher took the top 10 missed test questions, reviewed the related material until all the students understood, and then had the students do 10 questions. For each new question correct, 5 points were added to the test grade.

I have heard teachers patiently answer a question repeatedly because students waited to ask their question and ignored questions and answers before their turn.

I have had increased email from the school and teachers informing me of deadlines and times to pick up distributed materials and instructions for new downloads requiring a school parking lot visit for school network direct access.

I have seen innovative and adapted assignments and projects. Scientific method was taught with making and flying paper airplanes made of three different paper type materials. There have been scavenger hunts for items that match the current lesson. The events of this past summer were tied to events post civil war in social studies. Another project built a laptop stand out of a few pieces of paper. It really held a laptop!

My favorite project so far was a 12 inch long bridge made of balsa sticks and glue. A video was made of the bridge’s strength test. Plastic containers filled with water were weighed and then placed onto the bridge until broken. The teacher required the strength test be over towels on a water proof floor. Thank you!!! I sent pictures to my father, a civil engineer, and he was impressed too.

This is middle school for well, middle schoolers. So virtual learning offers different methods for typical middle school behavior. They figured out how to have the webcam on, the volume just loud enough to make sure not to miss a survey, quiz or dismissal, and do homework. Of course a fabulous grade or early dismissal must be celebrated in the face of the one still in class. Frustration is equally shared loudly.

There are requests for school time cell phone access to take better pictures of projects, videos of projects, and use a calculator without opening a new tab. Teachers have plenty of practice spotting cell phone useage. They just can’t physically take the phone now.

I hear complaints of classmates sitting through PE, asking too many questions, and skipping class by using a background picture of themselves. The middle schoolers clearly adapted.

Yes, middle school administrators and teachers certainly had to up their game to deliver lessons virtually and catch the usual middle school behaviors. Our district is currently scheduled to return to in person learning, for those families that agreed and committed to do so, in February for middle schoolers. That will require a whole new set of skills and procedures for administrators, teachers, parents, and students. I can’t wait to see what these talented school administrators and teachers come up with next! It will also be interesting to see what 2020 initiated lesson and procedure changes continue post-pandemic. School administrators, staffs, and teachers, YOU ROCK!

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