The Covid crisis has highlighted our students’ resilience and adaptability, but it has also showcased the ingenuity and versatility of our teachers. It’s especially the case in the science and agriculture department, where practical learning is a key plank of the curriculum.
Having to navigate a way through the early days of coronavirus isolation – with students locked down at home and teachers instructing from empty classrooms – presented serious logistical and learning challenges. Joeys ITC (Information Communication Technology) department worked tirelessly to ensure the transition to remote learning was a seamless process, as Zoom video conferencing replaced whiteboards and desks as the new normal.
Miss Catherine Wood teaches three science and agriculture classes. Like all Joeys teachers, she treasures the interaction with our boys and values the importance of face to face communication. Her students are used to picking up visual cues and being able to mill around experiments. The first Zoom classes were challenging.
“Their routine had gone haywire,” Miss Wood says. “I had to scaffold a lot more of the instruction because they weren’t getting the same visual input they would in a classroom.”
However, fears of a lack of connection between teacher and student proved unfounded.
“I found my boys loved it once they got used to it. They were asking me questions just like in the classroom.”
Planning and coordinating experiments meant working closely with ICT and involved a huge amount of preparation to make sure the boys would be able to see as much as they normally would in class. “Usually, I would say: “Right, boys, come and stand around and let’s watch what happens.”
Instead, Miss Wood would do a trial run of the model or experiment using video capture, selecting the right angle for viewing, and dealing with fluctuations in light.
“The lighting in a room changes throughout the day, and I had to make sure there was no glare, and if the model was on glass, whether it would reflect. Little details you wouldn’t normally have to consider.”
“I think people have learnt that the teacher does so much more than they realise. It is now considered an essential service”.MS CATHERINE WOOD
She also had to position her iPad and keyboard so they would not obstruct the experiment.
It was a testament to her resourcefulness and professionalism that classes ran smoothly and boys continued their learning progression.
She was particularly impressed with the collaborative project her 9 Science M class did researching the world’s most active volcanoes for a presentation.
In groups of three, the boys worked together from their own homes using Google site share.
“You would get boys from three different parts of NSW speaking to one after another on Zoom without prompting from me. They only had one lesson to put it together. It was fantastic. The initiative they showed blew me away.”
Despite the challenges, digital offsite learning allowed teachers to cater to the individual needs of students in ways they hadn’t imagined. In all classes, there are extroverts and introverts. Miss Wood says Zoom meetings gave boys of different temperament new ways to express themselves. “The reserved boys really liked it because they didn’t have to talk in front of the whole class. They could put their work up on screen and press the ‘face hide’ button as they talked.
“While those that like to talk could go on as they normally would.”
Remote learning will never replace the traditional classroom, but Miss Wood says because of the professional way Joeys implemented the program, it can be an excellent fallback option when circumstances dictate.
“I really missed the rapport and the atmosphere you create in class and the relationship you have with your students. But digital offsite learning allows you a different format that can also be useful.”
Covid has reinforced the value of teachers and their pivotal role in the world: without them, society, and even the economy, wouldn’t function properly. This public recognition has been a source of great pride to Miss Wood. “I think people have learnt that the teacher does so much more than they realise. It is now considered an essential service. They know that without us parents would have to look after our children and they wouldn’t be able to go to work.”
As the country creeps back towards some form of normality, she is enjoying the increased connection and understanding that stems from face-to-face classroom teaching. She admits she missed the ability to multitask that digital learning allows teachers, but believes the upside of the Covid crisis is it has expanded our perception of the way lessons can be delivered at Joeys.
“It doesn’t matter where the boys are now. The same level of teaching instruction can be delivered. It’s just a different way of doing things.”