When Mr. Smith announced in Chapel that we might be looking at a campus closure, he knew to expect groans and eye rolls. From that update, things moved rather quickly with teachers attending back to back meetings to try to prepare for what became the inevitable. The EHS Faculty has approached virtual learning in different ways, using new apps and their resourcefulness as educators to connect to students and keep them learning.
As Brad Telford, Chair of the English Department, puts it, "For English teachers, remote learning offers a great opportunity to reimagine how we engage texts, students, writers, writing, and—most of all—how we form and maintain community. It also forces us to model engagement. To practice generosity. It tests our willingness to try, to try-and-fail, to-try-and-try-again. It's a lot of work. But it's so worth it. When a senior turns in a new, polished paragraph or four juniors get a rush of giggly excitement by making new connections on a classic text via video conference, it means that our work of teaching is finding new forms and new relevance, even in these uncertain times."
In Science, the addition of Ipads, Apple pencils, and the Notability app have helped Chemistry and Physics teachers work problems in real-time, calling on students to provide each step, much like they might at a whiteboard. Chem teachers can post lab results in Microsoft Forms, and record videos of lab demonstrations. Department Chair John Flanagan adds, "Wanting to encourage a wider experience of science, many teachers are assigning more hands-on projects for the kids, like Biology with a handmade birdfeeder that worked well at their homes."
A number of apps hit the sweet spot for teaching a foreign language: FlipGrid works well for oral activities, Gimkit for team building, and Conjuguemos for independent practice. Teachers are being more creative with vocabulary, for example, asking students to use items in their house for learning. According to Amira Kamal, Department Chair, "Students are still singing, interacting, and creating in the target language. We are reminded that language is fluid, and its development and usage is welcomed in multiple arenas."
Of course, History and Social Sciences lends itself well to using the current national crisis in their curriculum. In World History II, students journal either by hand or in a video, documenting what they see in the news, and how everyone they know is responding to what's happening around them. In Psych I's Social Psych unit, students discussed prejudice, discrimination, and racial tensions in the midst of the coronavirus by watching a New York Times opinion piece that interviewed Asian students. They also measured their own implicit biases with the Harvard IAT test. Even virtually, students share their reactions, scores, and responses in a live meeting. Kayla Rogers, Psych I instructor, comments, "It was neat to see students affirming, asking questions, and challenging ideas from their respective homes."
Comparative Government students have been studying the COVID19 outbreak since before campus closed and keeping up with daily tallies of the number of cases in the world and nationwide. They have discussed the impact the virus has had on the governments of China, Iran, and the UK. Toshla Guthrie, Department Chair and AP Psych instructor, loved hosting a "Bring Your Pet to Class Day" as a way to continue to focus on self-care. "It was a nice moment for students to share and talk about how their pets help them maintain their sense of balance and well-being," she notes. Other teachers are adapting their curriculum to the virtual environment, including a story map project in AP World History and screen-sharing thesis statements in AP US History.
Video lessons have been a life saver in the math department. As veteran math teacher Dr. Joanna Papakonstantinou puts it, "We want to ensure students are still learning and will be prepared for their future mathematical endeavors without compromising our rigor. We are fortunate that this is a tech-savvy generation and the kids are extremely flexible. They are taking even more responsibility for their education in this new normal."
Performances and rehearsals are being recorded in the Arts, pushing students to learn new skills like audio and video editing. Some parents have even joined in a dance class or two! The student choreographed dance concert was being filmed remotely and spliced together, as well as choir, band, and orchestra performances, and play rehearsals have been converted to iMovie and Radio Play. Garmon Ashby, Department Chair of Performing Arts, has been excited at some creative ideas. "A medieval mystery plan is using inanimate household objects as actors, and Stagecraft is focusing on comedy and how to conceive, design, and construct sets for it," he says.
In Visual Arts, David Trauba's Ceramics students use the app, Let's Create! Pottery Lite, to stay hands on. In classes like drawing, mixed media, sculpture, and portfolio, instructors sent students home with supplies so they could continue creating at home. Arts lends itself to responding to the world around us, as Advanced Drawing students find themselves doing in a narrative project. David Framel and his newspaper students brought the Knight Times online, with its funny addition of Radish for April Fool's. Yearbook produced the 2019-2020 issue, and Broadcast students create news packages and podcasts from home, stretching their creativity while practicing interview, video, and audio techniques.
Pejman Milani, instructor for Moviemaking and Animation, applauds his students for responding to the pandemic in their moviemaking. "One of the most recent cool things is this: Jack Rambo combines his passion for computer science with animation by creating a generative data 3D visualization of the Covid-19 outbreak using data points from credible sources. Even though we're not sure where this will go, this is exactly the kind of thing I fully support."
Katheryn Ray, long-time Religion Department teacher, appreciates the EHS community and how we stay connected even miles apart. She says, "My students and I are glad to have the work to do, if only to maintain a sense of normalcy and relationship. EHS is accomplishing the impossible: running a complete and interactive school online. We are delivering the authentic EHS experience—Chapel to class, advisory to tutorial—and we are getting better at it every day. I am incredibly impressed by the effort on the part of the teachers and students and staff. The students feel cared for and loved...and they continue to get an incredible education."
Screensharing has been effective when students need to visit the virtual Underwood Library. Librarians Jennifer Succi and Mary Catherine Holliday Jackson have been making guest appearances in different classes to help students with research and citations. "We can walk students through the research and citation process one-on-one when they share their screens with us, and we're finding students are taking the initiative to reach out," says Succi.
Isabelle deBruyker '21 appreciates virtual learning for how individualized it can be. "Remote learning allows me to learn material at my own pace. For example, notes in PreCal are posted on YouTube and I can stop and rewind the video if I get confused. I can ask teachers more questions with the Microsoft Teams chat. The best thing about remote learning is that I learn how to schedule my time better. I also have to have the discipline to follow the honor code and do my work on time. Virtual learning has taught me how to be more independent."
The EHS community continues to engage with one another in over five hundred Microsoft Teams. According to Jay Berckley, Dean of the Arts and Director of Innovation, "We are averaging more than 6,000 classroom messages and chats per day and continue to see upward trends in one-to-one calls and individual chats since the launch of our eLearning programs. There are so many ways for members of our community to find connection and engagement, and the school is doing its best to add as much value in our virtual environment as possible."