A Learning Process

During the coronavirus outbreak, teachers have adjusted their lesson plans, teaching styles and more to develop online classes. Through these changes, they have learned a lot in the process.

Many teachers—including history teachers Sue Ikenberry, Cliff Coates and Marjorie Brimley—have used online resources such as discussion boards and Zoom breakout rooms. “Breakout rooms were a wonderful feature to use,” Brimley said. “I found them to be more effective than a larger group discussion.” 

Brimley has also used many podcasts and live streams in her class. Relevant speeches and presentations that would normally require students to go on field trips have already been posted online, making them available for students to watch. “Everything is being streamed and that has been a huge plus,” Brimley said.  

However, Brimley was disappointed to have to cancel guest speakers and lose in-person conversations, including the invitation for guest speaker and New York Times chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, who was scheduled to come to GDS and speak to Brimley’s class on March 19th. When describing the abrupt cancelation of Sanger’s visit and the lack of time to reschedule, Brimley said, “He has come every year to my class, so this was a huge bummer.”

Perhaps the most difficult part of transitioning to distance learning has been losing moments of conversation between classes or in the Forum. “Those unintended, in-between moments when we end up learning from each other in a real space have been more difficult to capture online,” Brimley said. “At GDS, we are really used to having learning continue not just in the confines of the class, and I think we are all trying to do that, but it’s less perfect than when we were in person.” 

Many students don’t have access at home to the physical resources that the school offers, making it difficult to recreate projects. For example, chemistry teacher Greg Dallinger’s curriculum includes lab time. “What makes science fun is doing experiments, and I can’t send home glassware and chemicals with people to do stuff at home,” said Dallinger. “That’s the part that I miss.” Instead, Dallinger has focused on what he can do virtually, such as Zoom sessions and online assignments.  

Keeping students engaged in class was also an obstacle for teachers. Art teacher Adrian Loving said, “It was a challenge getting the kids to stay motivated.” 

Nonetheless, teachers have been working to adapt to changes caused by Coronavirus and learn in the process. Dallinger said, “I am doing more check-in assignments with my classes and shorter assignments on a more weekly basis because it is easier for me to keep up with how people are doing.” 

Distance learning has also pushed teachers to try new things through a deeper exploration of technology. Loving said, “I had to up my technical game very quickly.”  

The GDS tech team was a huge help to GDS teachers trying to get more comfortable with the online learning platform. “It is not easy to deal with remote tech help for an entire school, and I think that they have done a phenomenal job,” Dallinger said. 

Some teachers, such as those in the history department, have collaborated to adapt to these sudden changes sparked from the pandemic. “Having people in my department who supported me and who helped me figure out how to do it was really helpful,” Brimley said when describing her inspiration for distance learning activities. “I feel really supported and really encouraged, and sometimes helpfully moved in the right direction.” 

Other teachers, such as Loving, had some ideas and were excited to try them. “These were projects I was kind of thinking about, and I hadn’t really been able to implement before.” Distance learning “gave me an opportunity to experiment and try something new,” he said.

Teachers want to incorporate lessons from this spring in the future. Brimley wants to use Google Docs and Google Forms better. She said, “This entire semester has been figuring out what works best for my students and trying new things. It’s just going to be a learning process.” 

Likewise, Loving recognized the value in learning for the sake of learning and talked about the learning process with his students. He said, “I was less interested in how finished and how great the final product would be, but more concerned with the process of learning.”

Moving so quickly to distance learning posed challenges for the GDS community, but it also revealed GDS teachers’ resilience and willingness to learn and grow. Brimley said, “I feel like GDS is this ship that can weather things and can be interrupted, but the lesson keeps going.”