School buildings in the Stoughton Area School District will still be on pause after spring break ends next week.
Not so for students and staff who used to fill them.
Though the buildings are closed indefinitely to the public since Monday, March 16, due to the coronavirus pandemic, school will be back in session Monday, March 30 – though it’ll be from a different vantage point.
Ready or not, the era of “virtual learning” has begun – a new normal for educators, students and parents, after the order by Gov. Tony Evers to close down schools across the state indefinitely, for the duration of the public health emergency.
Students in grades 6-12 got a few days off last week before virtual learning started for them Thursday and Friday, March 19-20. Starting next week, they’ll be joined by students in grades K-5, who will have around two hours of online curriculum.
The district has been trying to supply all students without internet or computers at home with devices, district director of curriculum and instruction Kate Ahlgren told the Hub last week. Some teachers are already working on video instruction, including some live sessions, she added.
“The range of the way students will experience (technology) varies dramatically by grade level and teacher,” she said.
At the elementary levels in particular, educators are looking to create “purposeful and substantive” learning experiences for students, but also lessons that care for their social and emotional well-being. Ahlgren said using online conferencing tools like Zoom are one way to keep classrooms connected, and credited teachers for adapting to the new technology so quickly.
“There’s a remarkable tenacity and sense of purpose on the part of our teachers, despite all of the complexities of our new reality” she said. “They were right away willing to learn new ways.”
Stoughton High School science teacher Deanna Arnold has been busy during the past week or so creating resources for teachers to use the online platform “Schoology” to create virtual classes.
Teachers post class materials every morning and then help support students throughout the day in completing them. Each teacher holds “e-contact hours” where they are accessible to answer any questions that students have about the material.
“It has been truly incredible to see how many people, students and staff, have embraced these ideas and the immense support everyone has been offering to one another,” she wrote the Hub in an email.
River Bluff Middle School sixth grade science teacher Tim Resier said what amazed him most during the process of transitioning to virtual learning was how quickly it all happened.
“We met with students for a regular day of instruction on March 12 – little did we know that may be for the last time this year,” he wrote the Hub in an email. “By March 19, we were fully online.”
Reiser said grades 6-12 students were already using district-issued Chromebooks to access at least a portion of their studies, so teachers received staff training to get online learning ready to roll out. The trick for him is how to adapt a hands-on laboratory classroom to the virtual world, which he said meant going back to the basics.
“(It’s) what a student needs to do to be able to demonstrate knowledge of a core concept, and how they could do so with basic materials lying around their home,” Reiser said. “It couldn’t be a common set of supplies, as I couldn’t guarantee that all 100 students have that set at home.”
He said being able to video chat with students has been a help, both in terms of instruction and just human interaction.
“These virtual meetings allow the students to ask questions about their work and they get a chance to talk with their classmates providing a little bit of normalcy,” Reiser said.