Three teachers at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School are helping their students remain engaged and curious even though they can’t be in the classroom together. Julia Zambrano, who teaches technology, engineering and design (TE&D), worked with colleagues Michelle Mustardo and Amanda Hamilton (who respectively teach art and music) to create a new enrichment website that will allow their students to keep the creative juices flowing while learning from home due to the novel coronavirus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to make changes to routines in one way or another. As schools closed for an indefinite period of time and teachers were forced to move their teaching online, the HBW teachers wondered how they could adapt their material for this unusual new situation. For Zambrano’s engineering class, which is traditionally very hands-on, she had to rethink much of what they do in the classroom. “When kids move home, they don’t have the materials they need,” she explained. “So we were trying to think outside the box, and find a way to offer more choice.”
The result was a collaborative enrichment website that they created through Google Sites and launched on Friday, April 17. The site has a dedicated page for each subject and a wealth of learning resources: ideas for art projects and examples of drawings created by other students; music theory exercises; a link to the Chrome Music Lab; tutorials on how to build, code and run virtual robot simulations; and a paper airplane design challenge, just to name a few.
Students can share their work on the site after creating an account with Padlet. On the art page, for example, a student posted one of her drawings and Mustardo was able to give the kind of feedback that she might provide in the classroom. The teachers will continue to monitor and respond to posts on the site, hopefully providing some of the back-and-forth that may be missing while everyone is social distancing.
Zambrano, Mustardo, and Hamilton also wanted to be sure to give plenty of guidance to go along with the fun learning activities. They recorded videos of themselves that appear at the tops of many of the pages, in which they explain the activities and also speak to the challenges of the current situation: words of support from familiar faces during this strange time.
Zambrano acknowledges that this is a new experience for everyone involved. She told her students, “we’re going to do this together and learn as we go.” Of course, some things were easier to adapt than others. Thankfully the company that she uses for some of her in-class projects also offers virtual robot building, so moving those lessons online was feasible.
The teachers encourage their students to engage with the site, they don’t require it at this time. They plan to incorporate the resource into their teaching as they continue e-learning. The site is open to 5th to 8th graders at HBW, and the teachers hope that students at the school will take advantage of the resource, whether or not they’re currently in any of the classes. (The site is not open to the public; a Verona schools email address is required for login.)
While the move to e-learning has been a challenge for teachers, students and parents alike, Zambrano says that working on this site has given her the chance to collaborate more closely with her colleagues. “This was something positive that came out of the situation,” she said. “The three of us feel more connected as a team.”