VAN, Texas — Teachers are the ones in the trenches day in and day out with students.
Van ISD took their virtual day to find out if all their students, especially the ones back in the classroom are prepared to switch to remote learning at a moments notice should coronavirus or something else shut the school down again.
"So, it went pretty smooth. Not a lot of my actually, none of my students really had any tech issues as far as service, or anything like that. So, it went well," said Van ISD teacher Erica Norman. "I had a Zoom meeting with my kids. All of the science teachers were to have a Zoom meeting and I had about 80 kids out of 115 show up. That's pretty good."
Norman teaches anatomy and physiology at Van High School. She says they're trying to keep students prepared and familiar with learning online, so it's part of their daily classroom experience. They use something they called. "a starter," on their laptop.
"Basically, it's a Google form, and it has their vocabulary term and so it asks them at the beginning – where are you learning today? Are you at home? Or are you in person?," said Norman. "So, that's the first question they answer and then it asks them – what period they're in and they click on that. Then, they'll find their name and they click on that. Well, that's how we do attendance right there. And then once they answer that question, it takes them to their vocabulary term. They find it. They define it. They use it in a sentence and so now we have transitioned very easily from attendance to the lesson for the day, so we can talk about that term and then move right into the lesson."
On a normal day, Norman has about 25 virtual learners.
"My virtual kids have access to the same exact things that my in person students have access to," Norman said. "There are a few differences, like sometimes when we do hands on activities, you know, you might have to make accommodations for those kids who are at home, because maybe they don't have the materials, or things like that. However, our CTE Director, Karla Rainey, has really been working on trying to get these kids to come up to the school for some labs."
While some Zooms with an entire class are part of the virtual experience for remote leaners, Van is asynchronous for the most part. Norman says she tries to make lessons as personable as possible.
"I usually have a little webcam embedded inside my lesson, because it makes it more personal for the virtual learner, so they can see my face," Norman said. "I just feel like they're more likely to listen to it if they can see my face."
Teachers also connect with their remote students during their 3 p.m. virtual hour and through a program called Aristotle.
"They can log on and they can take their test and I can see their screen," Norman said. "But I can also see their face. So, it's pretty cool because then I can see where they're going and if maybe they need guidance on whatever they're doing."
Because at the end of the day – it's not just that WiFi connection that matters.
"That is one of the big pushes at VHS (Van High School) is, hey, we're gonna make connections with these students, so that they can learn and so that they know that they're cared for," Norman said.
That applies to both the students learning in class and at home.
Speaking of learning at home, Norman did find a gap she needed to address from their Virtual Day.
"What we've done is we've gone back and said, okay, well, hey, let's talk about our Virtual Day on Thursday (October 8)," Norman said. "How it went, did you have any issues, and we went back through that process of, hey, you've got to do everything that you do in class. You've got to do even if we go virtually."
Norman is already taking those lessons learned to make the next virtual experience better for students.
"Next time, what I'll do is I'll have a video of me going through everything that they need to do for that day, because that seems to make a difference," Norman said. "Kids are visual learners. and if they can see it, and they can hear it, they're more likely to remember it."
Van ISD is allowing students to continue remote learning, but they are asking students who are failing and do not have a medical necessity to return to the classroom.
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