(Posted April 1, 2020)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
With schools closed since mid-March and Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent announcement that they will remain closed through May 1, teachers are working to find more and more ways to educate and engage their students from afar.
For many, like A.J. Woods, fifth-grade math teacher and high school head football coach at Southeastern Local Schools, that means delving into new territory.
“I’m not technically savvy. I’m learning everything on the fly,” Woods said from his home, where he has been keeping in touch with students primarily through Google Classroom.
The free web service allows teachers to create, distribute and grade assignments digitally. Students log in using their school email addresses. For the first 10 school closure days, Woods used Google Classroom in conjunction with paper copies of lessons he sent home with his students prior to the closure.
“Every day, I post notes and examples for the students that relate to their hard copies,” Woods said.
Starting April 6, he’s going all digital.
“I will post videos of myself and also post links I find online that relate to what the kiddos will be working on,” he said, adding that he will be broadcasting from his garage.
Another resource Woods has found to be helpful is an online curriculum called IXL. Students log in, he refers them to a specific course, and then he watches how well they do. They earn or lose “smart points” based on how well they answer questions and solve problems. The program shows students how to correct their mistakes, and Woods chimes in, too.
“If a kid is struggling or the whole class is struggling with something, I can see it on my end, and I can send a video or email out to help them,” Woods said.
To preserve a sense of routine and give students a chance to let loose a little, Woods hopes to continue to set aside time each Friday for fun. “Prodigy,” a game in which students travel through a virtual world, earning points and rewards for solving math problems, tops the fun list.
“Kids really like it. If they had a choice, that’s the one they would do every day,” Woods said.
As for the coaching side of his job, Woods is embracing technology there, too. This is his first year as head football coach. Using Google Classroom, he sent his players a video in which his fellow coaches introduce themselves. He also uses the service to post suggestions for players’ daily schedule, covering everything from workouts and nutrition to schoolwork and helping around the house.
When DeWine announced the extension of school closures to May 1, Woods split his team into seven groups of five, with a senior in charge of each group. It’s up to the seniors to text or email their classmates to see how they are doing and make sure they are keeping up with their routines.
And of course, there are good old fashioned phone calls.
“I’m calling kids daily, on the school side and on the football side. Seems like I’m on the phone all the time, but these are different times,” Woods said.
Like his fellow teachers and coaches, Woods is on the lookout for other inside- and outside-the-box solutions to keeping students and athletes engaged and in touch with each other.
“I’m open to ideas,” he said.
David Shea, Southeastern Schools superintendent, said staff members are utilizing a wide variety of resources to do their jobs. ClassTag, a free online tool for parent-teacher communication, is getting a lot of use. Many staffers are using Zoom, a popular video conferencing service, as well.
“We just have to keep learning about new distance learning opportunities,” Shea said.
All of the district’s high school students have school-issued computer. Several students in grades K-8 signed out Chromebooks to use at home while the schools are closed. The majority of the district’s students have Internet service at home. Shea noted that Wi-Fi is available in the high school’s main parking lot; no password is needed.