Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School fifth-grade math teacher Roni Pettit holds office hours for her students – even though neither she nor her students are in her office, or even the same room.
Grandview Heights Schools began remote learning March 30 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Since then, Pettit has invited students to office hours for 30 minutes a few times a week.
It’s a time when her students can link up not only with her but with their classmates via Google Meet.
The number of students who participate in the sessions varies from day to day, Pettit said.
“I’ll ask them if they have any questions and there are a lot of days when I’ll hear, ‘no questions,’ ” she said.
But the students do engage with her and with each other, Pettit said.
“They just want to see their classmates and they want to see me,” she said. “They’re missing being in school and being with each other.”
With Gov. Mike DeWine extending the closure of Ohio’s school buildings through the remainder of the school year, instructors in Grandview will continue to use modern technology to teach and interact with their students.
Pettit has been participating in the Ohio Blended Collaborative, a consortium of 23 school districts from around the state that uses online courses built on the concept of blended learning.
Blended learning is a method of teaching in which students learn via a mix of electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face teaching, she said.
“I’ve been working with other teachers from the Olentangy School District to put together a fifth-grade math course that incorporates blended learning, so I felt much better prepared when we had to go to remote teaching,” Pettit said.
Before the pandemic hit, Pettit said, she already was setting aside 15 minutes of each class period for blended learning.
“I had the class as a whole working on some math problems and I would make a video they could access if they needed some help or guidance about the math concepts that allowed them to work through to figuring out the answers to the problems,” she said.
In the videos, Pettit said, she would review the concepts she had already taught live and in person in the classroom.
While most students were working on the problems, Pettit would use the 15 minutes to meet with other students to work with them individually or in small groups.
The use of video now is a regular part of the remote classroom for most Grandview teachers, including the fifth-grade team, Pettit said.
Each week, fifth-graders use Schoology to access their week’s assignments and videos their teachers have made providing their classroom lessons, she said.
“It’s like we’re standing in the classroom going through the material, except we’re doing it via video,” Pettit said.
For her April 23 office hours, students had few questions, Pettit said.
“So we ended up doing some fun estimating activities,” she said. “It’s something other fifth-grade teachers will do when there aren’t many questions from the students.”
The teachers also hold one virtual get-together with students in their homerooms each week, Pettit said.
“The homerooms are more of a social interaction, just a chance to say ‘hey’ and see everybody,” she said.
During the week of April 20, students in each homeroom were asked to show a baby picture of themselves and share a story about their earliest memories, Pettit said.
Grandview Heights High School science teacher Caleb Evans is using video to take the place of the in-class lab work and experiments in physical science, chemistry and astronomy.
“There are some experiments that would be too dangerous for them to try at home without supervision, or they wouldn’t be able to find the equipment and materials they need to do the work themselves,” he said. “So I go through the experiments at my home on the video, explaining it all along the way.”
But just because they are stuck at home doesn’t mean his students can’t do some experiments themselves, Evans said.
“There are some things they can do at home, just using common items you can find in the kitchen or around the house,” he said.
Evans said the at-home experiments include making “elephant toothpaste,” a bubbling foam that resembles toothpaste being squeezed from a tube, using a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, water, yeast and soap along with food coloring.
Another process involves pouring cooking oil, water and food coloring in a bottle and dropping an Alka-Seltzer tablet into the mix.
“It causes a really cool lava-lamp-type effect,” Evans said.
Students have a variety of ways to access each week’s assignments and objectives, he said.
“On Sunday night or first thing Monday, I’ll post a video update giving verbal directions for the week of what our goals are for Monday and for Tuesday and so on,” Evans said.
Students also can go online to get the week’s objectives or access it via the Schoology calendar, he said.
Evans posts videos on YouTube teaching material that students can access through their Schoology account.
“I try to keep each one fairly short, about five or 10 minutes long, so it’s not too overwhelming at one time,” he said.
He’s available for virtual office hours for most of the morning each weekday.
“Students can arrange to meet with me online and I try to space the appointments out every 30 minutes so they have plenty of time to interact with me,” Evans said.
Another online tool students can use are study guides their teacher has prepared.
“The study guides are broken down by units. Right now, we’re looking at chemical reactions in chemistry,” Evans said. “Four or five sections pop up under each unit and there can be anywhere from five to 10 questions for the students to answer – whatever I think they should be able to complete in about 10 minutes.”
The study guide gives real-time feedback on whether the students have answered the questions correctly.
“If you can only answer four out of 10, that gives you an idea that maybe you need to study that unit a little more,” Evans said.
The closure of school buildings is providing a challenge to both students and teachers, he said.
“We’re all doing the best we can,” he said. “One of my biggest concerns is the mental and emotional health of students, not just their physical health. A pandemic is not stress-free, that’s for sure.”
Each week, Evans said, he’s asking his students to submit a short video to him using Flip Grid, a nonacademic platform.
“It’s just a two-minute video where maybe you’re letting me know what’s going on at home or suggest a movie I should check out,” he said. “It’s that one-on-one connection with the students that I’m really missing. These videos are a way to keep that connection going outside of the classroom.”
There’s no doubt students and teachers are losing something important by not being together in the classroom, Stevenson Elementary School second-grade teacher Barb McCauley said.
“But we have some tools available to us now that makes it a little easier that we didn’t have just five years ago,” she said.
Grandview extended its 1:1 initiative to every grade level at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year to give every student access to an iPad or Chromebook, she said.
“That’s made the switch to distance learning less impactful for our students,” McCauley said.
The second-grade team at Stevenson has worked collaboratively to provide students with assignments that involve not only instruction but activities that engage youngsters to build, design and create, she said.
“We want them to be active and not just spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen,” McCauley said.
During one recent week, second-graders were asked to pick a photo, map or artifact they could use to help tell a story about how something has changed over time, she said.
“It might have been a picture of a ship and they could talk about how modes of transportation have changed over time,” McCauley said.
Second-grade teachers are scheduling Google Meet sessions with students – sometimes the whole class and sometimes with smaller groups – to maintain the important social interaction that is part of the regular school day, she said.
“I usually have a couple of questions to ask them, just about what they’re doing at home, to get them talking and sharing,” McCauley said.
McCauley lives in Grandview, so the separation between her and Stevenson students is not as acute.
“I’ll be sitting on my porch and a student will pass by walking or on their bike and they’ll wave,” she said. “I run into a lot of students when I’m out taking a walk or have run up to the store.”
Virtual learning isn’t ideal, but it’s the hand that’s been dealt, McCauley said.
Many of her young students are taking the virtual leaning in stride, she said.
The use of technology “is their world. It’s not really my world, so there’s been a lot of learning for me,” McCauley said.
Her fervent hope is that school will return to normal in the fall, she said.
“I really miss seeing the students, from all grade levels, in the classroom and in the hallways,” McCauley said. “I miss hearing their stories and seeing their excitement about being at school with their friends.”