With school buildings closed for the next few weeks, educators are delivering their lessons online.
Before the governor closed schools, Grand Haven and Spring Lake educators already started discussions about what online learning would look like in the event that would happen. On March 12, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mandated that all of Michigan’s K-12 schools close for three weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Currently, Grand Haven and Spring Lake schools are expected to reopen April 13.
On the last day schools were in session, March 13, educators worked to send physical materials – such as devices, chargers, worksheets and books – home with students and provide an understanding of how schools and teachers would communicate during the shutdown.
Spring Lake Public Schools Curriculum Director Scott Ely said the bulk of instruction remains with books, paper and pencils, but devices are used for receiving and turning in assignments, as well as communicating with teachers.
Ely said it was fortunate to have a final day with students before the shutdown because it gave educators a chance to discuss what instruction would look like and send the children home with extra materials. Ely said one kindergarten teacher recorded a video and had her students practice accessing it so that they knew how to do so from home.
Ely said he was impressed by the district’s staff as they worked to be purposeful and calm, despite many unknowns.
Before Grand Haven students left for the shutdown, elementary schools checked out 5,765 library books, while White Pines Intermediate School checked out 1,512 books and Lakeshore Middle School checked out 750. Teachers also sent home books from their classroom libraries, said Mary Jane Evink, the director of instructional services for the Grand Haven district.
Grand Haven’s secondary grades are using Google Classroom to communicate and send lessons. With Google opening more features for schools during the extended break, educators are also using Google Hangout to host a live session to ask questions and provide updates. Teachers can also record and post a video of them teaching a lesson, Evink said.
Students in grades 3-12 have Chromebooks and have already done blended learning between in-class instruction and online assignments, Evink said.
Students in Young Fives through second grade weren’t sent home with their iPads, but they were sent home with tangible learning materials for reading, math and writing practice. Evink said those devices aren’t set up for home use.
Additionally, Evink said they created an at-home learning plan for elementary students, and their goal is to maintain learning. She said they don’t want to put parents in a position where they have to teach right now, and they encourage students to read.
“It’s the best way to maintain your growth,” Evink said.
Expectations of students vary per grade level. At the elementary level, educators want students to maintain through reading, writing and math practice. At the middle and high school levels, Evink said they don’t consider it unreasonable to extend learning and introduce new material, while also being mindful about being flexible for educators and students.
Evink said they don’t want to miss an opportunity for students to maintain or learn. She said they asked educators to develop a consistent plan across subjects and grades, and they don’t want students or staff to feel overwhelmed.
While schools are closed, Evink said it’s important for educators and schools to continue checking in with students and families to maintain the “community” they’ve built.
Since having one-to-one technology for the past several years, staff and students have already used a platform for online assignments, but it was always in conjunction with in-person instruction. Ely said it isn’t the same amount of work that’s done face-to-face, and the expectations vary with each grade level and course.
Educators are also working to address social-emotional needs during the break. Ely said they’re working on keeping educators and students routinely connected.
Evink noted that the amount of work students are doing now might feel like more work than they previously completed at home because the work had been split between school and home. She said it might feel overwhelming if they try to tackle work that’s meant to be spread out over a few days.
So far, Evink said they’ve received positive feedback, but they’ve also heard from parents about not sending too much work and asking too much of them in a short time.
Evink said they’re working to fulfill the requirements of the rules and regulations for providing instruction for at-home learning, and they’re trying to be responsible for students and families.
Ely said they know mistakes will be made along the way.
“Our clear goal is to be better by week four than we are today,” he said Monday.