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Rockwood Teachers Innovate, Engage with Students During Alternative Learning Plan

Teachers around the district are finding new ways to engage with students in the Alternative Learning Plan.
​​To Selvidge Middle science teacher Jane DeLong, the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year almost served as a dry run for what she and the rest of Rockwood School District is experiencing now.

Selvidge encouraged its teachers at the beginning of the year to start integrating Canvas, a web-based learning management system, into their classrooms. Under the Alternative Learning Plan (ALP) for remote learning, enacted for the period of school closure due to coronavirus (COVID-19), digital tools such as Canvas are a necessity for teachers and students.

"My kids had at least been on Canvas and knew how my course was set up so, fortunately, it's not a completely new thing to them," DeLong said. "I'm appreciative that Rockwood is innovative and has been teaching us these extra things along the way, so making the transition from in-person to remote learning has been a lot smoother."

As the ALP enters its second week, teachers and students around the district are adjusting to a new normal. See how some Rockwood teachers are remaking their classrooms to serve students.

Early Childhood
Early Childhood teachers send a weekly newsletter to parents detailing activities they can do with their children.One of the first things Clarkson Valley teacher Julie McFadden did as she prepared for the ALP was send out a needs assessment to parents to get a gauge on what resources her students had available at home. She also made a three-by-three rubric of activities parents could do with their children to fill the gap between the end of spring break and the start of the ALP on March 26.

"A lot had stayed home for a week and they were ready to do activities, and I asked them to send me a picture," McFadden said. "I've been getting great pictures of the kids doing activities, being creative, sidewalk chalking their name, rainbow writing, different things they've been excited about and sending pictures to me that I'm going to put in a page about remote learning that I'm going to put in their portfolios."

She and her professional learning community (PLC) of fellow Rockwood Early Childhood educators created a spreadsheet of student activities that connect to the curriculum, which they can share with parents who are looking for ideas on how to keep their children engaged and learning at home. McFadden holds a live Zoom video meeting with each of her three classes once a week in which the students check in with each other, celebrate birthdays and answer a prompt question that ties in with the classroom curriculum.

As the ALP moves forward, McFadden plans on finding new ways to deliver the content she's used to providing.

"We always do butterflies in the spring," McFadden said. "I'm trying to find ways I can hatch the butterflies at home and video it so the kids can have that experience with me since they won't be in the classroom."

Elementary School
Uthoff Valley teacher Jennifer Williams took her students on a video tour of her barn.Uthoff Valley second-grade teacher Jennifer Williams knew how much her students enjoyed hearing stories about life on her farm. So she decided to continue that tradition digitally during the ALP.

She produced a video tour​ of the barn, introducing the students to her animals and asking them math and science questions along the way. What will the grass seed her family is planting this spring need in order to grow? If Ripley the horse gets three flakes of hay in the morning and at night, Willow the horse gets two and Dinky the donkey gets one, how many total flakes of hay do they use a day?

"This is brand new. I'd never done a video before," Williams said. "I've been thinking of other ones I could do, trying to brainstorm what else I could do that would bring in math or science concepts."

The early days of the ALP have been about reconnecting with students before moving into more focused instruction on essential course outcomes. For teachers who count multiple grades among their class roles, such as Uthoff Valley teacher Kelsey Starr, connecting takes on an extra level of complexity.

Uthoff Valley art teacher Kelsey Starr is posting interactive projects for her students on Google Classroom.She set up separate Google Classrooms for all six grades she works with and has filled them with videos, activities and chances for the students to share their artwork with their peers.

"We're all starting to develop our own ideas and lesson plans," Starr said. "Being able to connect with the other teachers on Zoom has given us a social aspect, and we've also been able to share ideas, so it's definitely been beneficial."

Williams has held readalouds and check-in meetings with her class via Zoom as a way to replicate the classroom experience.

"We are heavily focused on social-emotional learning at Uthoff Valley," Williams said. "This has given us a way to do it through Zoom meetings and messaging students one-on-one, being able to check in on them and seeing how they're doing. We've been really cognizant about making sure we're continuing that."

Middle School
Before the start of the ALP, social studies teacher Rich Blackford made sure to bring some of the more prominent bobbleheads and Funko Pop figurines home from his classroom at Selvidge.

He also snagged his desk chair.

"Keeping a sense of normalcy is important," Blackford said. "I want to have those things on my desk or wherever in our live meetings so the kids can see them and keep in mind, 'Oh yeah, we're in social studies. That's Mr. Blackford's stuff.' I think that's really important for kids."

Selvidge Middle science teacher Jane DeLong is doing live Zoom experiments, such as tattooing a banana.DeLong said that, during her first Zoom office hours, most of the students who showed up did so just to chat with her and fellow students, not to ask any specific questions or elicit feedback. She has also used the Zoom platform to perform a couple of live science demonstrations, such as tattooing a banana.

She has uploaded narrated lessons to Canvas, and she and her PLC partner, Christy Hefele, plan on using their own children as lab assistants in video demonstrations moving forward.

Blackford is also finding ways to present his regular content in new ways. He is recording abbreviated lectures for Canvas and creating interactive online notebooks to help direct students' individual research. He has scrapped an upcoming test on westward expansion and instead turned it into a project.

If Instagram were around in the 1800s, what would the students post if they were pioneers traveling west?

"It's been a tricky balance figuring out how much to give them, not giving too much but still hitting those essential course outcomes," DeLong said. "What's really nice is the kids aren't so overloaded right now. They can actually spend time thinking about things. It's not a rush."

High School
Marquette High chemistry teacher Ryan Bixby has been uploading video lectures to YouTube for years. They used to be supplementary class materials, so students could catch up if they missed a lesson or watch back if they wanted to review.

Now, they're a necessity.

Marquette High teacher Ryan Bixby is using video lectures that he uploads onto his YouTube channel."To this point in the ALP, I've used videos I already had," Bixby said. "I actually have a setup in my house where I record those videos. The plan going forward, because I'll have to make some shorter videos, some more directed videos, I'll be breaking out the video camera and making some more."

His Project Lead the Way biomedical science class, normally a hands-on course, will take even more adjustment. He came up with a list of around 30 prompts his students can expand upon – or choose a topic of their own – for a research project, then plans to create a space in which his students can share their finished work with the rest of the class.

At Eureka High​, environmental science teacher Mandy Kotraba is using Google Classroom to post video notes and using Zoom as a tool to meet with students on their own time.

The goal is to use the digital tools at her disposal to keep the ALP classroom experience as close to the in-person one as possible.

"Most of what I'm noticing when I'm doing these online recordings is I'm saying, 'This is the point in class where I would talk about having you look at this graph and asking you what you see,'" Kotraba said. "They're going to watch these note videos, but I don't think they're going to get the same benefit of hearing kids think out loud and talking to their table partners about what they think that graph or diagram means. I do miss that. I can work a little bit of that in as we get going."