Teachers from Garfield, Miltona and Carlos Elementary Schools explained how they’ve transitioned their classrooms to hybrid and distance learning options this fall at the Alexandria School Board meeting Monday, Nov. 16.
Carlos kindergarten teacher Kristen Schmidt described her classroom setup, explaining how distance learning students engage in direct instruction through live Google Meets for every subject throughout the day. During work time, her co-teacher is available to help with small group instruction for reading and math.
Miltona science teacher Chad Gilbertson has his distance science class setup similar to an in-person class. He uses a split screen with his Smart TV and computer monitor to see all the students at once while also sharing his lesson resources in presentation mode.
Gilbertson starts with informal check-ins with students and takes time to develop personal connections with them. He said it’s been more challenging to connect with students on a social and emotional level when he’s not able to interact with them in person.
“It’s been an adventure, but it’s been really good,” Gilbertson said.
His teaching includes a review of the previous class, connection to the day’s lesson and another mini-lesson. Students then have a chance for discussion, work time, questions and feedback.
After Gilbertson, the board attempted to tune into a Google Meet portion of the night with Joe Hurlbut, a fifth grade teacher in Garfield.
It took a few minutes to work out some technical difficulties, but as Sansted said, “This is normal in the world of distance learning.”
Once he was able to connect, Hurlbut opened his two separate computers and showed the school board what a virtual learning experience would look like from the perspective of a student tuning in at home.
He has a microphone in his ear so students can easily hear conversations in the classroom, and the students’ voices on Google Meet are projected from the smart board speaker.
“This allows us to have whole-class discussions, whether they’re in person or distance,” Hurlbut said. “Our goal is to make it equitable between the two, make it so that no matter what the setting is that they are learning from, that they are able to continue to do their learning just the same.”
He has two screens so that one presents what he’s writing on the board and the other shows all the faces of those attending class virtually. Ten of his students come in person while 22 are distance learners.
When technical difficulties do happen, Hurlbut has a calendar on his website containing all the links to previously recorded lessons and assignments given each day.
Although Schmidt, Gilbertson, Hurlbut and other teachers are each incorporating online resources in different ways, they’re all figuring out what works best for their respective classes.
“The level of technology integration matches the level of the child,” Miltona Principal Troy Wunderlich said. “They interact with the students just like they were there. I’ve had firsthand experience with two of my children, and just watching teachers from other buildings handle it too has been amazing just to see that compassion and that interaction happening through a screen.”
When the board was asked if they had any final questions or comments, school board chair Dean Anderson said, “We stand in awe.”
In other business:
The board approved two grant applications. A $10,000 grant application was submitted to West Central Initiative to support programs that care for, serve and educate children whose service delivery has been impacted by COVID-19. Another grant application for $9,000 was submitted to United Way of Douglas and Pope County to support the Discovery Middle School study skills program.
According to district policy, the board was also required to approve the submission and acceptance of any donations and grants to the district that exceeded $1,000. Some of the grants this month included support for the Alexandria FFA to help make a positive impact in farm communities, sports teams to allow the livestream option for games and study skills programs for at-risk students.
Darcy Josephson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, presented a few curriculum and program modifications for the 2021-2022 school year. Three new classes were added, two course titles were altered for clarity, one class description was changed to reflect the content covered and one was restructured to be offered for students in higher grade levels. The board approved the first reading, and they will revisit the modifications again in December before the final approval.