Lansing teachers get creative for online learning

Lansing High School, like all schools in the county, has switched to remote learning amidst coronavirus concerns, requiring some creative solutions to a new normal.
Lansing High School, like all schools in the county, has switched to remote learning amidst coronavirus concerns, requiring some creative solutions to a new normal.
Photo by Matt Montague
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School has been out for a month now, and online learning is in.
We asked three teachers at Lansing High School how they’ve adapted their teaching to try to meet the education and social needs of a quarantined student body. (Next week, we will hear from their students.)

Jessica Stratton has taught studio and digital art at Lansing High since 2004. At first, she was panicked by the thought of teaching art remotely.

“I literally bought gallon-sized bags and packed drawing pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, copier paper, drawing paper and a set of oil pastels for every student in my studio art classes,” she said. “I boxed them up, and the bus drivers delivered them.”

Andrea Schneider has taught science, specifically physics and astronomy, at Lansing for eight years.

“I had spent the week previous looking at the resources I had access to through the district,” Schneider said. “The day we closed, I had students all log into online accounts that I had created for them ‘just in case.’ Over the course of the first weekend, I was able to put together a plan and send it out to the students.”

Dan Ferguson has taught the Lansing sophomores global history for 22 years.

“For at least the last 10 years, my course has had an online presence,” Ferguson said. “I have my own YouTube channel, so I can post anything audio or video I need there. This allows my materials to work across any platform. A lot of kids are using their phone, so anything phone-friendly is key. Most weeks, I post ‘office hours’ and time shift from mid-morning to evening to catch my larks and my nighthawks.”

Students have asynchronous (on their own) and synchronous (online live classes) teaching, Schneider said.

“We communicate through email regularly, and they receive a weekly schedule so they can plan ahead,” she said. “There are video lectures of myself that I have recorded and there are online labs that students can complete in Google Docs.”

For live classes, Schneider said she uses the school-approved Google Meet app.

“Here we can discuss ideas,” she said. “We can answer each other’s questions and use the new content in practice situations. And ‘office hour’ time is offered at least once a week, so students can contact me through video chat individually and get focused help if needed.”

Ferguson said he’s borrowed ideas from every department at his school.

“They are amazing people,” Ferguson said. “What has also been helpful is having an administration that trusts us to do what is best for kids. We are being told to adapt, innovate and do what works, but most importantly, we are being told to keep connections with students.”

Stratton said she is leaving much more feedback than she has in the past.

“The state told us to make the work ‘ungraded,’ so I am writing mini-narratives to each student in response to what they turn in,” Stratton said. “I actually prefer that dialogue over a numeric grade.”

Stratton described the reactions of her students.

“Some students are superstars in this environment,” Stratton said. “I post an assignment, and just a short time later, they have completed and returned it. This is the minority. Most students are turning work in late, and, unfortunately, I would say I have not gotten anything from about a quarter of my students. I worry about those students the most. There will be huge gaps in their learning that will be highly evident as we start the next school year.”

Ferguson shared a similar sentiment.

“I can create anything I want, but if the kids and the parents are not willing to buy in, or engage, there is not a lot I can do to force them,” Ferguson said.

To that end, Ferguson said the Special Ed and support teachers are “truly, truly amazing.”

“They are taking the work I create and breaking it down to meet the kids of all levels on their caseload, just as they would if we were still in session,” he said. “If it were not for them, some of the students that would struggle the most in this environment are really doing well.”

Ferguson said online education can never meet the needs of the majority of students.

“Some kids really like the sleep that they are getting, many like the time shifting that occurs,” Ferguson said. “However, many freely admit that they miss the personal interaction with their peers and with their teachers. … Live class time is precious. This is the place to discuss concepts, check for understanding, share ideas, and answer questions.”

Schneider said her older students, who are going to college soon, are already independent learners, so they’re not struggling as much with online learning.

“I am receiving a higher percentage of assignments completed from students since they cannot leave their homes,” Schneider said. “They are engaged during synchronous learning times. The quality of the work is just as high and, in some cases, higher.”

She does think that this is causing problems for their non-academic lives, though.

“They have lost access to a huge part of their support structure,” she said. “Their classmates, teachers and counselors are who they talk things through with, vent their issues to and share their joys with. Perhaps when we get back together, we will appreciate one another’s company even more.”

Ferguson admitted that he misses his students.

“I miss seeing the smile on a kid’s face when you greet them as they walk into your class, the eye roll you get when you tell the same corny joke you told their older brother or sister five, 10 years ago,” he said. “I miss the community that we have at LHS.”

Stratton said it will take a while to recover from this - “years.” And Ferguson said he fears what comes next.

“The inevitable economic impact of all this may cause some to think that if school can be done virtually, then why not move more of it online, thus saving money?” Ferguson said. “Research shows that online education really only works for a few and highlights socio-economic divides for many. …
The last thing we should be doing is encouraging our young people to be more personally disconnected.”

Schneider said in the meantime, food service workers and drivers are making sure no family has to worry about an empty stomach through these challenging times. Ferguson shared his appreciation of their and others’ efforts.

“I hope the lesson we all take away from this, is that we truly need each other,” Ferguson said. “Lansing High has always been a place to grow that sense of community. I would hate to lose that.”

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