Now over a month into our absence from on-site education, most Cobb County School District teachers have settled into a routine of sorts with digital learning. While many elementary and high school teachers are using online meeting tools like Zoom and Skype to teach their class, some middle teachers are exploring new ways to keep their students’ attention.
The Cobb educators have found unique and creative ways to interact with their students and keep them engaged in the learning process.
Although middle schoolers are learning to be independent and accountable for getting their work done, they still need direction and access to their teachers for questions. They also need to connect with their friends and classmates on a regular basis. Teachers at Floyd Middle School have found various ways to fulfill these needs.
“Our team provided hard copies of work to all students before the closure,” said Rochelle Wilson, a 6th grade English and language arts teacher. “We chose a novel study because it would be familiar to students and easy to take offline.”
In addition to making sure her students had access to the coursework, Ms. Wilson also made sure her students had access to her during digital learning.
“I provided the students with my Google Voice phone number before the closure, and I conduct virtual meetings with my students and make myself available for one-on-one appointments,” she added.
In fact, Google Voice is a favorite technology for many teachers.
“The most helpful thing I did was create a Google Voice number because the students had a lot of questions early on,” said 7th-grade social studies teacher Kelly Gantek. “We sent them home with paperwork, and with Google Voice, they could contact me with questions.”
Google also provided students with limited access to technology another option to show their teacher what they are learning.
“Some students have even submitted assignments via Google Text due to a lack of technology,” the social studies teacher explained. “This has helped all of them to continue learning while still getting the support they need.”
To supplement his lessons, Earth Science teacher Shahin Kashef has been recording weekly YouTube teaching videos in addition to utilizing other platforms.
“We use Nearpod to create engaging lessons and to help our students become successful,” Mr. Kashef said. “We also use traditional tools like Choice Boards to empower our students when they are completing assignments.”
Some teachers, like 7th grade Life Science teacher Dr. Kyndra Stovall, have gone way beyond to connect with their students.
“Before leaving school I told my students that I would set up TikTok and Snapchat accounts,” said Dr. Stovall. “They thought I was kidding, but a lot of them follow me. I post science questions and content on there, as well as try the latest dances and overlay them with science content that I dubbed ’15-Second Science.’”
There is also the fact that this year’s eighth-graders will be rising up to high school in the fall.
“When talking to the students about academics,” explained 8th-grade math teacher Stephanie Bedenk, “I try to stress the importance of having less or smaller gaps when they go to ninth grade.”
Understanding that there are many other concerns on her students’ minds, Ms. Bedenk tries to keep things “real” with her students.
“On my zoom calls, I share about my life at home just like I shared about my life at school,” she said. “I show the kids my dog, and they see my to-do list of house chores on the wall behind me. I want them to know we care about them as a whole child and not just their math progress.”
At Lovinggood Middle School, principal Derrick Bailey mentioned that teachers at his school are using many methods to stay connected with students.
“An eighth-grade STEM class is designing and developing an app about force and motion that other students can use,” he said.
Like teachers across Cobb, Lovinggood teachers recognize the importance of maintaining a dialogue with students.
“Two of our teachers have sent hand-written letters to their students and included return envelopes for them to write back,” said Mr. Bailey. “Many are using online social circles to keep students connected and address social and emotional learning. And each week, the community votes for Digital Instructor of the Week, and there is an opportunity to win an Amazon gift card.”
While students mostly have questions about their coursework, parents have many other questions during this time of social distancing, especially with the end of the school year in sight. At Lindley Sixth Grade Academy, principal Dr. Denise Magee has been corresponding with parents directly.
“I held two live Community Check-Ins with parents to address questions about digital learning,” she said, “as well as other concerns, like access to the building to pick up/drop off school items and field-trip refunds.”
The decision to close the District on March 13 came suddenly for everyone, and there was very little time to prepare. Teachers and students are learning the process together and getting more comfortable as each week passes.
“Given the limitations we know everyone faces,” said Ms. Wilson, “I’ve been very pleased with how many students and parents have been reaching out and participating. It’s what my students and parents need right now, and it’s working. And, that is the best possible outcome we could hope for at this time.”