At an emergency meeting of the Oklahoma State School Board on Wednesday, March 25, State Superintendent of Public Education Joy Hofmeister received approval for Oklahoma public schools to be closed to in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. Also approved was a measure for schools to begin distance learning in place of class time.
Schools are to have their distance learning plans in place by April 6, and Marietta Public Schools are preparing for that date.
The district’s distance learning plans can’t replace a full day at school with certified teachers, but is instead intended to provide students with continued learning opportunities without being too much of a burden on parents.
“Many parents are uneasy about the distance learning because they think it will be six or seven hours daily just like regular school,” said Marietta Superintendent Brandi Naylor, “but that’s just not the case. We realize that many of our parents are still working, and we are trying to compress the distance learning into something they can schedule around their work or other things.”
The school will be checking out devices for those who have internet, and are working on hotspots for those who don’t, but many telephone companies have opened up hotspot capabilities on most phones. Alternate paper packets will be available to students who cannot get internet access.
In last week’s OSDE board meeting, Hofmeister stressed that distance learning wouldn’t have the same appearance at every school, or even at every school level.
While some teachers are focusing on web-based activities, others are presenting a more traditional approach to distance learning.
High school teachers are planning to use a combination approach to distance learning, beginning with Google Classroom, which is a free web service that streamlines the process of sharing files between teachers and students. It allows teachers to create, distribute, and grade assignments in a paperless way.
Amanda Faulkenberry, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher will be using videos, demonstrations, and posts.
“For my culinary classes, I’ll be challenging them to try some new things in their own kitchens,” she said, “and in my parenting and childcare classes, we will be focusing on activities like writing children’s books and making homemade toys. My goal is to have some fun while learning.”
Faulkenberry reports that she was already using Google Classroom and was comfortable with the process, but did have one really big challenge with distance learning:
“Videotaping myself and not having the comfort of my classroom was the hardest part,” she said.
For teachers all over the state who are accustomed to having kids with them daily, it is an adjustment – one they’ve never had to make before.
Obviously, high school, middle school and elementary school students are different breeds when it comes to teaching. While high school teachers—and some middle school teachers—can communicate directly with their students, elementary teachers must communicate through parents.
Marietta Primary Principal Ann Rutledge said that most of her teachers are creating Facebook groups for their classrooms to communicate with parents.
“We want our little ones to keep reading and learning,” said Rutledge. “Right now, we’re taking it a day at a time and trying to keep it simple.”
Marietta fourth grade teacher Shari Hallum and her colleagues have plans to use Google Classroom, along with other websites like Study Island, Reflex Math, and Prodigy.
They’ll also have daily math skills, reading, and writing activities. They’re even going to try to do some virtual museum and zoo tours and other fun things.
Hallum has taught for well over 20 years, and this is the first time she’s ever faced a situation like this one.
“This whole process is as much of a learning experience for us as it is for the kids,” she said, “and we really need parents to be patient with us and remember that is new for us, too.”
Elementary principal Dana McMillin echoed that sentiment.
“We are learning this platform alongside parents and students,” she said, “and we all need to be flexible as we embark on this new era of education.”
The key to success with distance learning—communication. Stay in contact with your child’s teachers. Email addresses are on the school’s website, mariettaisd.org.