For most students, the importance of simply saying “hello!” to classmates every morning really can’t be overestimated. Making that connection with friends sets the tone for their entire day of learning. Now, with some students present in the classroom, and others working from home, teachers have to be creative to keep those small, yet vital, connections alive.
At Spencerport High School, teachers Amy Jean Sweeney and Theresa De Mattia work hard to give their students this feeling of belonging and community. Sweeney runs a Department for Exceptional Children 12:1:2 class, and De Mattia a 12:1:3 class, for students in grades 9-12. Although their classrooms are distinctly different, they both include a mix of students learning in-person and remotely. The two teachers are able to share many strategies for bringing their students together. Both use web-based platforms, like Nearpod, and online games and quizzes to help facilitate synchronous learning. Remote students can log into a lesson and see exactly the same thing as students in the classroom. They can collaborate, ask questions or submit answers just like everyone else.
The teachers say that hands-on science experiments are especially loved by students, so they plan their respective lessons early. They collect all the materials remote students will need for their next science class, and classroom counselors or aides drop the packages off at the students’ homes. “This way, all the students are able to perform the experiment the same way at the same time,” said De Mattia. “They get to share the hands-on experience.”
The educators have also found ways to engage students and relieve the monotony of screens, including movement breaks and the occasional silliness. “People walking by in the hall often see me dancing in front of the screen,” said De Mattia. “You just go with it. It’s an interesting time to be a teacher.”
One of the most effective low-tech tools they’ve discovered is a wheeled craft cart. Sweeney said, “When remote students Zoom into the class, we put the laptop on our cart and wheel it around the room, moving it so the students can actually see what classmates are doing. They can chime into the discussion whenever they want to. It’s a small thing, but it makes learning feel more inclusive for them.”
“We have home-based kiddos who are very social; who really miss connecting with their classmates,” said De Mattia. “Moving the laptop through the room to give them a view of each friend is an opportunity for them to say hello to everybody. It’s very meaningful for them, just making that little connection.”
Feature photo: Teaching assistant Shelly Williams (left) brings two remote students, Angel and Perry, (via Zoom on a laptop) closer to the action as teacher Theresa De Mattia demonstrates a science experiment.
This page: Alex practicing a money math lesson on a whiteboard with De Mattia, who holds a laptop with remote students watching.