Saint Mary’s School joined the national educational trend of virtual learning days starting March 24, following Spring Break 2020, to continue for the foreseeable future. Through our collaborative technology platforms, and with the benefit of our one-to-one laptop program, 21st-century learning has taken on a new dimension during the global COVID-19 crisis and will allow our school to stay on track with the academic year.
Neither 21st-century learning or virtual learning are new to Saint Mary’s. The school has embraced the benefits of 21st-century learning for years and has employed virtual learning days in response to inclement weather days since 2016. But, this new, prolonged period of virtual learning has upped the game, as we hold full class days, online classes, advisories, and even student activities and class meetings via online platforms.
How and why it all came together
“We are in uncertain times,” says Leslie Owen, dean of teaching and learning at Saint Mary’s. “It was an unbelievable turn of events. And here we sit quarantined and in the first week of a virtual learning environment. If you had asked me in August what I might predict for the 2019-2020 school year, it would not have been this scenario. However, it unfolded, and decisions had to be made quickly. When the COVID-19 health crisis landed in North America, we began thinking about our plans for Saint Mary’s should the situation worsen.
“Before the students left for Spring Break, we knew that, should this disruption worsen, students would need to be ready to learn remotely. We told the students, faculty, and staff to leave school each day “backpack ready” with their computer, school supplies, and any necessary resources to be prepared to work from home.
“While the girls were on Spring Break, we vigorously researched best practices, attended webinars, and consulted virtual learning experts across the country. We engaged in a rapid idea generation protocol to see what we needed to do to move our whole learning environment into the virtual learning environment. Our first design meeting started with, how might we build a virtual learning opportunity that was student-centered, girl-centered, simple to follow, an essential curriculum, and provided structure and consistency in a chaotic time.
“The model we are currently using reflects that deep thought and research. A synchronous model was decided on in order to ensure that we had connectivity with our girls and that we could closely monitor their learning and growth in the curriculum. We have tried to make this as simple as possible. We will follow a regular schedule for the upcoming weeks. Faculty take attendance, utilize the technology tools and focus on the ‘essential curriculum,’ says Dean Owen.
Through feedback and online interactions, students are enthusiastically engaged and pleased that the school year is moving forward on schedule, albeit in a new way.
“We appreciate everything and are happy to be back in school,” commented one student via Microsoft Teams. “It was a bit bumpy at first, but every day gets better.”
Here are just a few examples of this week’s online class activities and lessons:
Melissa Ramel’s 9th grade World History I and 10th grade World History II students have begun working on their “Life in a History Book” assignment in which they tell the story of living through an event that will be included in history books of the future. Podcasts, iMovie, online journals, and handwritten journals are among the platforms they are using to chronicle their experiences.
Stephanie Suski’s A.P. Government students have picked up where they left off before Spring Break, including surveying the campus community with an online survey about current political affiliations and issues. Future assignments will include projects related to the government’s role and response to a crisis such as COVID-19.
Alison Chernin reports that World Voices students are using discussion boards on Canvas to review a novel completed before Spring Break. They are also using the chat function on Microsoft Teams to facilitate Q&A time during class. This week’s class is a writing workshop in which students get some instruction before working on writing to be reviewed in one on one meetings with teachers next week.
In Dr. Laura Grantmyre’s U.S. World History classes on Tuesday and Wednesday, students analyzed World War I propaganda posters using posts on the Canvas discussion board, which was followed by a class discussion in Microsoft Teams about the posters and what they tell us about World War I. In Dr. Grantmyre’s U.S. Government class on Tuesday, students researched what actions the federal government and various state governments have taken in response to COVID-19. Students posted summaries of their research on a Canvas discussion board, and the class discussed on Microsoft Teams what it shows about federalism.
The Chorale, under the direction of Jennifer Moran, is joining the Episcopal Church’s Easter Virtual Choir, a mass virtual choir video to be released on Easter Sunday. The virtual choir is much like a regular choir – everyone sings their parts or plays their instruments and all the sounds, submitted online, are blended in beautiful harmony. Stay tuned for news about how you can hear this extraordinary collaboration!
Music teacher Terry Elizabeth Thompson reports that her piano students have been wonderful in their Facetime lessons this week. Students are moving forward in learning pieces already in progress and in beginning to learn new music. “It’s important, especially at this time, that each student continues to be fully engaged in learning and playing music they love as a much-needed emotional outlet,” says Ms. Thompson. “Virtual learning presents an excellent opportunity to further develop students’ independence in learning new music on their own, using steps in the process with the teacher’s support. Virtual learning also offers opportunities to explore music theory and sight reading.”
“Much like we ask of our girls, the faculty are working from a growth mindset approach and understand that they will be iterating as time moves forward,” says Dean Owen. “Look for future iterations as we continue to listen to our girls, hear from our international students, and reflect on our practice and current model.”