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Teachers learning to educate from afar

Next week begins the grand experiment of eLearning in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Students will return to school from home Monday. In the meantime, teachers, administrators and staff are taking a crash course in how to deliver education without being able to physically interact with their classes.

We’re talking to teachers, administrators and families over the next few days to see how everybody’s getting ready for the big change.

Today, it’s Crista Cady, the music teacher at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai. If you think of physically interactive classes, music is near the top of the list.

“Not being able to see my kids. Not being able to get hugs every day and not being able to hear their voices, play instruments with them,” Cady said. “I’m wondering sort of how much we’ll have to really review come fall when we’ll be back in the schools I’m predicting. I’ve been calling it the last quarter.”

All school music concerts have been canceled through the rest of the year and music teachers are trying to figure out how to have kids still play together, maybe individually through Skype sessions or in sectionals in Zoom conferencing. It’s tough without a designated music class time.

“This has got so much potential but the variables are what parents work schedules are and how many kids are at home and how many devices do they have and what are the expectations of the district in terms of how much time does each student put into doing their work?” Cady said.

Cady is focusing on lessons and activities kids can do individually at their own pace and time.

“I’ll be maybe reading a book and having them get out their favorite stuffed animal as we learn the difference between, say, like a lullaby and how that feels to rock your body side to side versus a song that’s more like a band march,” she said.

Figuring out the content is only one part of the challenge. Learning the tools to deliver it is another. 

“The district has been really great in terms of helping the staff learn really quickly some digital training,” she said. “Every hour of the day, they’ve had webinars for us on things like screen casting, Zoom basics, embedding video, Google Slides, sharing and permissions in Google Drive, tips for working from home. I mean, so many. You could take a new webinar every hour.”

While there are definite drawbacks to not having kids physically in school, eLearning does offer benefits. No more time spent on classroom management. Teachers can record their lessons without having their attention divided among all their charges or being interrupted for hall passes or bathroom breaks.

Going forward, Cady thinks the skills everyone is learning now will still be useful even after school is physically back in session.

“It’s taking us into the wave of the future,” she said. “I don’t want the face-to-face, brick-and-mortar school type of model to go away but in a situation like this that nobody could have thought was going to have to happen, now we know we can do it, we think."

Cady wants her parents and students to know she’s there for them. Just not, you know, physically.

“We’re all going through this together,” she said. “At this time, we need less stress and not more stress. We’re all here to help each other, we’re all a phone call or a text or an email away. What we’re doing is meant to be helpful for everybody and I’m just excited to see how we’re able to work together and help the kids stay engaged and not driving each other crazy as we’re stuck here in our houses.”

Thanks to Crista Cady for sharing her experience with us. Tomorrow we’ll be talking to a school principal about preparations being made at the building level.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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