With Covid-19 preventing face-to-face instruction, teachers and school systems are struggling to find ways to keep teachers current on changes in education and in providing instruction for students that is meaningful while, at the same time, meeting educational standards.
One of the primary functions of the Guy Fenter education service cooperative (GFESC) is to be of assistance to teachers and school districts in providing quality support for schools. Recently, the coop, like schools, has had to adapt rapidly to meet the ever-changing demands faced as communities go to social distancing education.
Schools have been closed for five weeks. Most students are completing daily lessons through on-line lessons. On-line computer lessons, while providing a platform from which to work, lack the class interaction, time for questioning, and for remediation. In addition, many students do not have internet connections or opportunities to talk directly with the teachers.
With no end in sight, it has become necessary for GFESC to provide assistance and required training to teachers in a format that can reach the teachers, allow them to interact, but still maintain social distancing. Most of the lessons are offered on ZOOM compatible websites where the teachers can see, talk, and interact with other teachers in the region as well as with the instructor. Using ZOOM or similar programs, the instructor sets up a meeting, sends out invitation website addresses, and teachers join in the training from home. Each participant can see, not only the presenter, but all other teachers as well. There is a chat box for questions to fly back and forth and, by a push of a button, teachers can join in the conversation and ask questions. Although not as efficient as face to face instruction, this has allowed teachers and schools to keep up with the state of education in Arkansas and also provided training in the new state initiatives. Most of the required summer professional development will take place in this manner.
Another aspect of GFESC assistance involves specialists to work directly with teachers and students in the classroom. Schools have been closed for five weeks. Most students are completing daily lessons through on-line lessons. On-line computer lessons, while providing a platform from which to work, lack the class interaction, time for questioning, and for remediation. In addition, many students do not have internet connections or opportunities to talk directly with the teachers.
Recently, WAESC Science specialists Amber Cobb and Dr. Curtis Varnell collaborated with Mr. Brian Schuller of the Mena/Dequeen Coop to develop a program to assist students and teachers meet these needs. Called Science at Home, the specialists present a series of lessons to teachers every Monday through the Zoom format. Instruction involves engineering, out-door science, and simple science projects that students can do with their parents at home. Teachers are provided copies of the lessons that they can make available to the students on-line but are also able to duplicate the lessons in hard-copy where they can be disseminated to students through the free-lunch programs, placed in out-boxes at schools, and even given directly to parents through email. Recent lessons included building a tower, making a lava lamp, blowing super bubbles, or germinating plants; all with science background information. The group made short videos of the project and placed them on you-tube for use by students everywhere.
Taking the project one step further, the coop, in collaboration with area schools, set up a This is Arkansas session and studied the science and culture of mountain music. Using Zoom, forty-four students from six school districts participated in the class. Sonya Chilton provided live instruction on the history of the dulcimer plus live music. Students from the region interacted with the instructors and with other students for the hour long program.
Covid-19 may put a damper on education but learning and education continues through the work of dedicated teachers and staff found in our region.