SASD educators settling in to virtual teaching

Stoughton High School social studies teacher Pat Schneider works at his home office.

Whether it’s the latest lecture or an interview with a pet cat, Stoughton Area School District educators are finding ways to keep connected with students online during the schools closing.

With virtual learning now in its third week in the district, teachers are starting to find their stride after not having much prep time for such a change.

SHS social studies teacher Nate Nelson said in the past few weeks, educators have been “inundated” with emails about a variety of virtual learning tools, which he and his colleagues have narrowed down to a few that seem to work well. They have set up software to allow students to publish articles for each other to read, set up discussion boards and collaborate and comment on each others’ work.

“I’ve never had more meetings in my life, but it’s easy now with all the tools we have to video conference, or for kids to have interaction,” he told the Hub last week. “They are stuck in their homes, but they can still see each other, still get opinions and learn from each other. And it does force kids to be more independent; they’re not waiting on us to do so much for them.”

Nelson said it’s fortunate that the district has for several years been essentially preparing for a move to virtual learning, even if it happened in a way few could have foreseen.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said. “You can send stuff on Google Docs, and we’re lucky the kids have been one-to-one with their Chromebooks the last two years, so we’re not scrambling to get those out.

“I’ve got three daughters home from school and my wife is working from home, so we’ve got five laptops that could be going from any time,” Nelson added.

The technology has been most helpful in simply letting students see and talk to one another, though, Nelson said. Surprisingly, the lectures have been one of the most popular parts of the “new” learning.

“In the school year, you hear the word ‘lecture,’ and the kids are like, ‘Oh I don’t wanna do this,’ and now they crave it,” he said. “They just want some sort of normalcy. I can see the kids and scroll through and they can see each other, and then I’ll leave the Zoom on for a little while just so the kids can have a little more interaction with each other.”

A surprising effect of distance learning, Nelson found, is that some students who normally don’t do as well in a classroom setting are thriving.

“I’ve seen a lot more interactection with the kids who are D and C students than with the higher level A and B students,” he said. “School is where they get a lot of their positive social interactions, and they want to continue to have that during the school day now that they are cooped up in their homes.”

Some educators, like Kegonsa Elementary School counselor Jake Schultz, have learned to embrace the change, and even have a bit of fun with it, like interviewing his cat for students to watch. He said he tries to attend each class’ virtual meetings on Zoom once a week, and then schedules Facetime meetings with students he worked on one-one-one when school was in session.

“This way we can continue to work on any goals we set,” he wrote the Hub in an email last week.

Schultz also uses the internet to teach social emotional lessons for students to continue to build knowledge and skills.

“Typically what I do is a YouTube video followed with some sort of an activity for students to complete at some point during the week,” he said. “I also have a virtual open door policy where students can reach out if they want to talk.”

Stoughton High School social studies teacher Pat Schneider said being able to connect online and work with students and colleagues is bringing a much needed sense of structure to some unusual times.

It particularly helps after a spring break where people couldn’t really go anywhere, Schneider added.

“We were all going a little stir crazy at our houses already and having school online was actually something we all looked forward to,” he wrote in an email to the Hub earlier this month. “One of the main reasons I went into teaching was so that I could interact with students, and I’m really going to miss that.

“However, we have to make the best of an unfortunate situation, and I know that I am going to learn some things.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.