By Lupe Fisch
The recent Snowmageddon (I can hear Mid-Westerners’ mocking laughter) gave The Downtown School an exciting opportunity to flex our beta muscles. With the first two snow days, it occurred to us that keeping students safely at home and continuing their learning didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Thinking about the joy that snow days inspire(especially in a city that rarely gets them), we wanted to balance learning expectations with play and family time.
Of the six days of closure we ended up having, we asked students to do some focused work for two of them; and thus was born the virtual school day. For the first one, each teacher created approximately 30 minutes of work for each class; and students were asked to do that work between 9 a.m. and noon. Teachers stayed connected and were able to field questions through email and Google Hangouts. The second virtual school day was a little more relaxed, with required work in one or two classes and optional work in the rest.
The initial results are heartening. About half of all students participated in both, and only a handful experienced technical difficulties. The feedback we solicited from students gave us some food for thought for the next round. At the top of what students enjoyed about these days was the opportunity to learn from the comfort of home, including staying in PJs, listening to music while they worked, and having snacks within easy reach. They also appreciated the self-paced nature of the work, the opportunity to be a little productive during a day off and being able to communicate readily with teachers . As we refine this model, our areas for growth as teachers include making the required work more easily accessible and clear, including more flexibility in the time students are required to work; and having a streamlined and consistent protocol for getting teacher help.
Online teaching is a different beast than the brick-and-mortar classroom, and we welcome the opportunity to refine our skills in this area. We are lucky to have students that see themselves as our partners in this endeavor.