Oasis Academy staff quickly adapts to distance teaching
They were given two days to switch their classes to an online format.
And they delivered.
Since late March, Oasis Academy and the rest of the schools in the Silver State switched to distance learning because of the state government’s decision to end in-person instruction. Depending on the class or grade level, some teachers had more challenges than others.
But they have been able to adapt and put the needs of their students ahead of the pandemic’s grip on the state.
For Eric Grimes, who teaches high school, his students have been using Google eSuite, which has eased the transition to the distance learning program. Grimes said feedback has been positive because of the structured format, including specific class times and accessibility to teachers.
“A huge positive was how quickly the staff was able to set their classes up for the online format,” Grimes said. “Literally, we were told the school was going to this format and two days later, we were ready. Another positive was seeing just how adaptable students are. The majority of my students took to distance learning like we had been teaching this way all along.”
Among the challenges, though, staff collaboration has stood out for Grimes.
“The high school teachers have lunch together where we bounce ideas and questions off each other and provide feedback to one another,” said Grimes, who also misses the in-person interaction with his students. “Though the distance learning format, we don’t have that in-person face time. We do have video conferencing, but it’s not the same.”
Amy O’Flaherty, who teaches middle school and has been reading stories on the school’s Facebook page, said one of her biggest challenges has been keeping the students excited and engaged. Technology, like Google Meet, has made the transition easier with the interaction and commenting on individual progress.
“In the classroom when we’re all together, we can move around and change the pace with much more fluidity. The communication is much more natural,” she said. “Teaching virtually is a whole different ball game, so we have had to adjust and learn different techniques to reach the kids in a meaningful way.”
Still, O’Flaherty has been able to find a way to inject fun into her virtual sessions while taking time out for her students to show off their pets.
“During my live sessions, we always take a little time during the week to show off animals, have younger siblings come on and say hello and look at things students have made throughout the week,” she said. “It’s been so nice just letting them show me a glimpse of how they’re getting along at home.”
For Dana Barton, who teaches choir, technology wasn’t used much in her classroom because the experience is organic and face-to-face. Barton admits she’s not savvy with technology but said the school, in particular, Mike Kelly, has been great at assisting the teachers and getting their distance learning set up.
“Another challenge has also been trying to switch gears,” Barton added. “But I just keep thinking about what will make the kids happy and take their minds off this tricky time.”
Barton wishes it were possible for her students to sing together over Google or Zoom but so far, she hasn’t found success.
“When using a platform like Zoom, you really can’t have more than one person talking or singing without it messing with the audio connection,” she said. “We’ve had to adjust by experiencing music in different ways other than singing together. Analyzing choral arrangements and having discussions on different aspects of music and choral pieces have been a direction we’ve taken.”
The positives outweigh the negatives for Grimes, O’Flaherty and Barton.
Grimes plans on taking advantage of the electronic formats in his classes.
“Generating quizzes, tests, assignments and class materials is easy and can be shared with the entire class, or classes, with the click of a button,” Grimes said.
Although students can’t sing together in person, Barton noticed a greater connection with each student.
“When you’re using an online platform for teaching and discussion, I’ve noticed that I have a greater connection to each individual,” she said. I’ll read their comments to different assignments and get a greater perspective into who they are.”
O’Flaherty has been pleasantly surprised how her students have adapted and continue to work hard and stay engaged, as if nothing changed. She said the challenge has also revealed how to appreciate things that may be taken for granted and the support from the school has been instrumental.
“We know now that we can make almost anything work,” she said. “The support from other staff, especially administration has been wonderful. They have gone above and beyond to encourage us, answer questions, and just do everything it takes to make sure the students have what they need. They have always done that but during this time, I can see the extra dose of positivity the administration and other staff are putting out there.”