Teachers begin transition to alternative learning
April 9, 2020
WORLAND – Washakie County schools along with schools all across the state have begun the transition to "alternative learning," which has resulted in schools in Washakie County School Districts No. 1 and No. 2 to transition to mostly distance or adapted learning.
Both schools have adapted their learning plans due to the recent spread of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) in Wyoming and across the country, and have since begun the transition to primarily online learning as requested by the state.
Schools were asked to close on March 16, with Worland closing March 16 and Ten Sleep on March 17. This was the result of a request to promote social distancing in communities, which has since seen more than 200 cases spread across Wyoming.
Distance learning has caused grades third and above in both districts to transition to primarily online learning tools such as Zoom, a video conferencing website, and Google Classroom which has served as a basis for assignments to be done online. Students below third grade have virtual learning and activities they are able to do, but are assigned more hands-on activities to sustain their learning.
With the recent announcement by Governor Mark Gordon, alternative learning is set to last through at least the end of April, but may end up lasting through the end of the school year dependent upon the growth and spread of the coronavirus across the United States and Wyoming.
After the initial closure of the schools, Worland teachers were given time for one week to work on plans for distance learning prior to spring break, and they started the new learning methods Monday, March 30.
TEACHERS GATHER FOOTING
This transition is not easy for most teachers and students alike however, as teachers have found it hard to find ways to create engaging content for their students, as well as schedule times to hold Zoom sessions or help students when they need help. In a technologically-advanced age, this transition has bumps that have led to some struggles for teachers as they try to teach their material to students who are not even present.
"Some of them I haven't seen for almost three weeks now, since we communicate through e-mails and the occasional 1:1 Zoom meeting," Worland eighth grade science teacher Angela Richardson said. "Nothing compares to seeing the smiles on your students' faces each day, to listen to them converse with their friends, to have light-hearted conversations with them in the morning before the bell rings."
With science being a primarily hands-on subject and Richardson's students just starting their chemistry unit, she has been saddened by the fact that she does not get to hear the different reactions from her students as she shows different chemical reactions to students. Instead performs the experiments for them as they watch on video as they do not have the materials to perform such activities themselves.
The transition to technology has left some teachers unsure as to how to prepare certain plans, or find different ways to keep students occupied in their courses such as high school drama teacher Rick Dorn.
Dorn is finding different project-based assignments for his students to work on, as he would find it difficult to host a 45-minute lecture for his style of class each day. He does plan on being available via email and Zoom at scheduled times. He has found it hard to build relationships with his students.
"I'm not sure how to be the teacher my students need via a camera or pre-recorded lectures. I'm the teacher who students visit in the hallway or in free time to tell me about their lives, I'm the coach/director who stays after school to prepare students for competition or performances, I'm the teacher who tries to have discussions with classes about modern events or funny quirks of history," Dorn said.
Dorn did note that while the Worland speech and debate team were minutes away from attending the state meet last month before it got cancelled, it is now set to be held virtually in a couple of weeks over the last weekend of April.
One thing that every teacher has in common is their love for education and helping students learn in any capacity. Middle school social studies teacher Joe Winkler has found encouraging ways to continue to keep in contact with students through email and Zoom, and help them in any way that he can.
Many struggles have come in front of teachers recently as they have attempted to adapt their learning plans and help their students as best they can while still building relationships.
"If teaching is about relationships, this is sabotaging my best tool; I didn't realize how much this is bothering me until I saw a student outside of school in the neighborhood, and I found myself trying not to choke up just checking in with the student in person." Dorn said. "Bottom line is I miss my kids, I'm heartbroken that I'm losing this valuable time with my seniors; how do I make this right?"
Teachers are expected to continue distance learning as long as there is an order from the governor requiring schools to be closed, which at this time is set to run through April 30.