Falling into the breach, public schools are embarking on an unprecedented experiment: with little training and even fewer resources, they switch from an educational system that has been focusing on personal interaction for centuries to one that works remotely.
Diana Greene, the superintendent of the Duval County Schools where Robin Nelson teaches, sent an email to her staff on Friday, March 20, clarifying the extent of educators’ efforts across the country:
“It’s amazing to me that we made the decision to close schools just three days ago. In less than 72 hours, Team Duval switched the entire district to a virtual classroom model at home. We managed to fix bugs . ” Mobilization of food programs, lack of technological equipment, online teacher training and a whole range of problems associated with a change of this size. Three days!
“Three days to create, print and distribute approximately 5 million pages of teaching content. Three days to load classes onto an online platform. Three days to collect online resources so that coordinated teaching can continue. Three days to about 8,000 teachers are training a completely new way of working. Imagine that!
“Three days to conduct a technology needs survey of 130,000 students and prepare thousands of computers for use by students. Three days to prepare school lunches and snacks for our neighborhood buses so that the children don’t go hungry. Just three days to mobilize. ” a community of partners and volunteers who support our schools. “
Some families, like Sadies, adapt reasonably well. Her parents both work from home and are still earning paychecks. When Sadie has to concentrate on her lessons, turn on “Daniel Tiger” for her little sister Kate. There is a garden pool to cool off when classes are over.
But as is often the case in a crisis, it has exposed existing inequalities – between schools, districts and students. Slightly more than half of the country’s public school children come from low-income families and are estimated 12 million Lack of broadband internet access at home.
Robin Nelson, an educator with 10 years of experience, says that one of the students in her class has special needs and needs significant housing, and that the family also has financial problems. “I spoke to his mother. There is still a little one on the way if she hasn’t arrived yet.”
And Nelson notes for this family and many who like it, “Survival is a priority, not shelter for him.” Nelson believes the student may repeat a note. She is also concerned about children whose parents have to go to work and who send their children to open day care centers at home.
She tears up talking about her “babies” and how much she misses greeting her at the door with a punch, a handshake, or a hug. Sadie Hernandez wrote a note and drew pictures to leave on the doorstep of her beloved teacher.
Because of these inherent inequalities, some researchers advocate that public schools focus on making up for lost learning when things return to normal – through summer school and other remedial measures. This requires additional funds, including money, to pay the teachers. Douglas Harris, educational researcher and fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote a post for school districts to focus on catching up time, not distance learning:
“Studies on online learning suggest that students not only learn less personally than in online environments, but that disadvantaged students learn less. This also applies when online teachers have experience and training with online teaching Most teachers will have absolutely no experience with this approach. “
Nevertheless, with its latest guidelines, the Federal Ministry of Education has encouraged the closure of schools due to the corona virus to pursue the distance learning quote “creatively” and with “flexibility”, even if they cannot reach every student in this way.
Reminds everyone that this is an unprecedented situation: “Nobody wants learning across America to come to a standstill because of the COVID 19 outbreak,” the guidelines said, “and the US Department of Education does not want to pass.” on the path of good faith to educate students online. “
The Senate Coronavirus Aid Package, released on Wednesday, includes $ 13.5 billion for schools that continue to pay employees and buy new technologies.
While waiting for clearer instructions, materials, and training, states and counties choose different routes. Districts in the Philadelphia area can use Days of snow left over from the mild winter. In Chicago, teachers only offer enrichment resources to ensure that there is “no new learning”. Los Angeles Unified goes back to an earlier era of distance learning and worked with local public television to connect educational programs with some online resources.
Florida, where Robin Nelson teaches, is an example of a state that has moved quickly to broadcast as much teaching as possible online. This is partly because the Florida Virtual School is located here. This is a public, nonprofit K12 school that has been around for over two decades and has a solid reputation – its students do it as well or slightly better than other students in the state.
Before the outbreak, FLVS directly enrolled 200,000 students, mostly in Florida, but also in all 50 states and overseas. Now they want to double this direct enrollment by the end of April. In addition, the school trains at least 10,000 Florida teachers to switch classes online through live online training and recorded webinars.
“We teamed up with that [state] The Department of Education is working with school districts to support the professional development of district-level teachers, help them start up, and be able to teach students online, “said Courtney Calfee, Executive Director for Global Services at FLVS.
Nelson says she and other Ortega Elementary teachers have cobbled together online lessons from various sources: “They’re teachers who go through and get their materials out and say, hey, PBS has a good thing here …”
Paula Renfro leads the professional development of Duval County Public Schools, the district where Nelson teaches. She says that in this rapid transition, they chose to take the lead with their existing blended learning resource library, including software programs and digital textbooks.
“When we were thinking about what this rollout would look like, we had to provide tools, especially at the beginning, that gave teachers and students a high level of comfort.”
Another important consideration for schools making this transition is how much time it takes each day to try to connect with students live – known as “synchronous” or real-time learning – rather than assigning tasks the students have to do it themselves – known as asynchronous learning.
Where schools and communities have more resources, they seem to be more interested in the synchronous model.
NPR called on Twitter and Facebook. Among the answers were families with students from a dozen private schools across the country who hold live online video chat classes up to five hours a day.
Interestingly, Justin Reich, an online learning researcher at MIT, says that this isn’t necessarily the best approach, especially in the younger classes. “Young people don’t have the attention or skills of leaders to sit and learn online alone for hours every day.”
Instead, he advocates a pattern that is sometimes referred to as “hybrid”, “blended learning” or “flipped classroom”. It’s a combination of relatively short live video check-in meetings and self-directed work. Teachers are available to students via email, phone, text, or any other method suitable for both. If you’re working from a distance as an adult, it may look pretty similar.
This is more or less what Robin Nelson does to those of her students who are able to connect with her. They run a version of the “morning meeting” with Microsoft Teams and conduct video conferencing every morning at 8:30 a.m. There she gives them the tasks for the day.
After that, Nelson will be available for virtual “office hours” from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. so parents can check in. Families also contact her all day long on their smartphones with ClassDojo, a program that she has already kept in touch with. She encourages parents to read to children every day and even take a break.
The Florida Virtual School does something similar to what it calls the “high teacher touch” approach. The tasks should be done in the students’ free time. The teacher gives live lessons via video chat weekly or daily, depending on the course, where students can also talk to each other. In some courses at FLVS there is also a so-called “discussion-based assessment”, in which the teacher conducts a live video conversation with the student to check the championship.
There is a big limitation. According to Reich, this model is mainly based on a parent or caregiver who can act as a coach, cheerleader, IT support and general troubleshooting. Until you may reach late middle or high school, there is no independent computer-based individual school – most students simply cannot develop.
Above all, Nelson wonders why her district has put “a lot of work” into creating an online model when many of the students she calls “their babies” do not currently have sufficient resources to connect.
“Some of them have laptops. Some of them have siblings who share this technology, so it will make it more difficult.” Others, she says, will use her parents’ phone at best. “But if the parents try to work from home or whatever they try, it won’t be a priority.”
These students, who told the school that they were lacking connectivity for the time being, will receive paper homework packages that will be distributed along with free meals from the school dining program. It is planned to collect the packages in two weeks. The district, like others across the country, lends laptops and mobile hotspot devices, but in Duval County, middle and high school students take precedence over elementary school students.
For the paper packages: “Who collects and who rates it? How do these children get feedback on what they are doing?” Nelson asks. “Everything that’s pretty gray right now.” She said that in the first week of 19 students, “I have 12 who work online for at least some (if not all) of the assignments, four who only have packages, two more who have packages but are planning to pick them up. ” a district computer to borrow and a student who is AWOL. “
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