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Educators Share What’s Working in Distance Learning

I am inspired and encouraged by the innovations I’m seeing in schools and homes across the country. For a time when we are physically social distancing, it has been beautiful to see how people are coming together to take care of our nation’s children.

I want to start a conversation about what you all are finding to be working in the hopes that others can benefit from your experience. Much of what I’ve heard has been about ST Math, but many of these strategies are applicable to any program or situation.

Supporting Students and Families

Unfortunately, school closures have meant a step backward for many when it comes to the digital divide. For underserved students and rural communities, the impact is even greater. 

“There is nothing black-and-white about how to best support our students and families,” said Dr. Barbara Adams, principal at Findley Elementary School in Des Moines, IA. “The gray area is large when one-third of our students are learning English and all students receive free breakfast and lunch.” 

Findley educators distribute supplies

Findley educators distribute supplies

Findley educators and staff distribute food and supplies to families

To achieve equity and resume coursework for students, Dr. Adams told MIND that Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) began with a district-wide survey to determine each family’s need for computers or a wired home broadband connection. DMPS distributed nearly 21,000 laptop computers to students throughout Des Moines during two weeks in mid-April. To fill broadband gaps among student families without high-speed internet, DMPS provided many homes with a mobile hotspot as a temporary solution for immediate connectivity, while also entering into a partnership with Mediacom, the metro area’s largest internet service provider.

Des Moines Public Schools distributed nearly 21,000 laptop computers to students during two weeks in mid-April.

The Austin Independent School District equipped 110 school buses with WiFi and positioned them in neighborhoods and apartment complexes with the highest need for internet access. And a recent article in EdSurge, “Here’s What Schools Can Do For the Millions of Students Without Internet Access,” shared several more ideas that districts, government agencies, and telecommunications companies have advanced. 

Staying Connected

My son thinks the world of his teacher. A few months ago, before all this happened, we ran into her at the grocery store and it was like a celebrity sighting!  He even called his grandma and told her the amazing news that he’d seen his teacher on a weekend!  

I was nervous about the loss of getting to see his teacher, but she, like so many educators across the country, has bridged the physical divide and is very present in our lives through Zoom class meetings, one-on-one Facetime lessons, and supportive social media messages. She’s still a central figure in my son’s life, and I’m so grateful for her!

And she’s the norm, not the exception. At Passmore Elementary in San Antonio, TX, math specialist Noemi Gonzales shared that she “lets the students know that I am continuously tracking their data and successes, [which] has kept students engaged with ST Math. Sending personal messages to classrooms or individual students with kudos as they meet their goals, makes it evident that we care and are their loudest cheerleaders during distance learning. We are all new at this, but keeping the connection with students is a must. Being a co-teacher in Google Classroom has allowed me to keep that connection with students, as their math specialist. They know I’m here!”

Sending personal messages to classrooms or individual students makes it evident that we care and are their loudest cheerleaders.

On Thursday, Piia Pehap, one of MIND’s Education Success Managers, got the honor of joining a session with several first graders from South Clearfield Elementary in Utah. Teacher Tiffany Hatch, M.Ed, established a classroom environment that supported collaboration and discussion long before moving to a virtual classroom, and Piia said it didn’t seem like students had missed a beat.

Piia shared, “It’s clear Tiffany built a community of learners not just with her students but with the families. All attendees seemed undaunted by the tech and once surmounted focused on the task at hand: ‘What’s the math?’ By sharing their screens of hurdled puzzles all learners participated in discussion of their solutions, strategies, and encouragement of each other; amazing!” Tiffany says her students love ST Math, and the feeling is mutual - we are so impressed by the education she is providing to her students despite the physical distance.

Leigh Boland, a math coach at Meadow Brook School in East Longmeadow, MA, has been tweeting each day about JiJi’s adventures. 

And there are so many I haven’t talked to that are publicly celebrating the hard work students are putting in from home. Here are a few more tweets that have made my heart smile the past few weeks:

Teachers Learn from Each Other

One awesome side effect of all this has been the opportunity for more collaboration between teachers, and Lindsey Henderson, K-12 math specialist at Davis School District in Farmington, UT, is facilitating this.  She had the great idea to hold daily webinars where she invited teachers to share tips and tricks or tools that they found particularly helpful. She recorded all the webinars and assembled them in a playlist, which have been very popular with math teachers across her district. 

Coffee-with-Linds

This is hard to teach remotely, but we’re in this together. 

Student Engagement and Academic Rigor

I am grateful to work for a non-profit that is positioned to help during this time. Working full-time and being a mom of two rambunctious little ones, I know firsthand the importance of education being engaging and meaningful.  Karrie Marciniak, a third-grade teacher at Mackensen Elementary in Bay City, MI, shared: “When the kids are using ST Math they feel like they are playing games. I love it because they are learning to ‘think’ and ‘solve’ in unconventional ways. All the while, though, they are mastering standards required for third grade, filling in missed standards, and some have advanced beyond their current grade level.” 

The kids feel like they are playing games… [but] they are learning to think and solve in unconventional ways.

Ms. Marciniak also described growth in her students’ conceptual understanding and an increased ability to persevere and work through difficult problems. She added, “The kids can see how many puzzles they’ve solved during one log-in session. This is very exciting for them.” 

And this has been true across the country. As we’ve all seen, the New York metropolitan area has been hit very hard by COVID-19. David Marks, an educator at Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, told us, “The community around our school in particular was a hotspot and the stories reports I've been hearing from my wife (an ICU nurse) have been difficult to hear. Nonetheless, we've implemented a fairly robust remote learning program. As part of it, we've been doing remote support for ST Math. Connecting with students over ST Math has now become more than just an academic exercise for our students. It now provides a therapeutic purpose as well. Of all of the programs we use, it lends itself the most for human connection."

Our children will learn so much through this time, both academically and emotionally. Let’s keep sharing what’s working in our quest to support our children. What’s working for you in your home, with your students, and with your teachers? 

Dorene Uhrich

About the Author

Dorene Uhrich is Vice President of Education Success at MIND Research Institute. She holds an M.Ed. in Education and Human Resource Studies with a Specialization in Adult Education and Training from Colorado State University.

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