Teachers face challenges moving to online learning

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | Staff Writer

Facing an indefinite online school experience, Mason teachers are learning to deal with the struggles of putting hands-on activities online

Due to COVID-19, Mason High School had to switch over to online education, causing some teachers to look for new ways of teaching their classes. Courses all across the different MHS departments, from AP Chemistry to Actor’s Studio, had to figure out how to adjust their curriculums to educate their students. 

AP Chemistry often involves labs and experiments that can only be done in a classroom. So when AP Chemistry teacher Monica Schneider learned that she and her student would no longer be able to come to school, she said that she realized that she would have to alter the way she teaches. 

“We’re not planning to put any labs online,” Schneider said. “The good thing about living in 2020 is that there are a lot of virtual labs and YouTube videos that demonstrate the labs that we would have done.  Although we understand that it is not as good as doing an actual lab, hands-on learning is always very helpful, however, right now we have to utilize our online resources.”

Similarly to doing a Chemistry lab from behind the screen, most students can hardly imagine performing a play though their laptops, but MHS Theater teacher Allen Young said that he plans to challenge that. He teaches Intro to Theater, Acting Studio, and Film Making, and said each class presented its own complication when being transferred online. 

“For Intro to Theater we will read a play, as we always do second semester,” Young said. “I’m planning to put students into small groups so that they can get together online and read the play out loud. We’re going to do personal monologues online through Flipgrid. We’re going to do as much normal stuff as we can between now and the end of the school year.”

One particular issue brought up by Young’s Film Making class was that students did not have the proper equipment to make films at their homes. Young said he plans to change the curriculum so that the assignments can be completed with students’ phones and the help of their families. This creative freedom is being supported by the office hours that will be offered from each department all across MHS. 

“We’re going to give them a lot of creative freedom during this process,” Young said. “It’s not the tools that are important right now, it’s the film-making that’s important. We’re trying to come up with whatever way we can that will keep kids making films while they’re not at school.”

Film Making students aren’t the only ones left without necessary materials. Students that are taking Ceramics this semester find themselves in a similar position. Ceramics teacher Karan Witham-Walsh said that although it might be hard for students to receive and communicate their knowledge without the hands-on experience, she is still going to continue teaching them necessary ceramics skills. 

“I’m going to be using a lot of videos,” Witham-Walsh said. “I have a YouTube channel, so I have a lot of demos in video form already. I’m making some specific ones that are very concise and get the information across. I’m not going to be giving them busy work, I’m just going to focus on the skills that I want them to understand.”

When Mason City School announced that they would be closing all of the schools, Witham-Walsh didn’t have any chance to give back projects or let students finish them. Witham-Walsh said that although even teachers aren’t allowed back into the school building, they still want to do anything to preserve their students’ artworks. 

“This transition has been emotionally difficult for both me and my students,” Witham-Walsh said. “So right now I’m just trying to keep things workable in hopes that my kids will have an opportunity to finish their projects.”

Another problem that online education presents is allowing students to be more likely to be distracted. Anatomy teacher Carol Lehman said that she understands that the material she teaches will have to be cut down, in order to maximize the amount of material her students will pay attention to. 

“We have to focus on teaching the most crucial content,” Lehman said. “The work that we will be doing has to be the absolutely essential work, things that are the big picture and important to convey to the students. We need to teach the core ideas to achieve the learning goals that they have to get.”

The amount of content and its presentation are not the only things that will change. Lehman says that the way assignments and tests will be graded and the amount of them will change as well. She said that whether the amount said will increase or decrease depends on the course, yet Lehman thinks that regardless of which way it goes, grades should not be the focus for the students. 

“I think the kids need to worry less about grades and more about learning,” Lehman said. “I think this is an opportunity to see learning in a different way, without being hyper-focused on the grade. Here at Mason, we are very driven to get a concrete result, but this is going to be much more space shuttle and much more about the big picture. So as we proceed we need to think big and go slow.”

With modern advances in the world of technology, teachers are now able to have full-blown online classes by using apps like Zoom and Google Meet. Yet Schneider says that sometimes the technology can be unreliable. Therefore there will be a change in the pacing of the context and when it will be expected. 

“Right now we’re at the mercy of our electronics,” Schneider said. “That’s why another thing that will change is that instead of doing something on a specific date now we will give students a certain amount of time to do several things. So the timeline of things is going to be very different.”

Something that Schneider has noticed is that Mason has been taking the transition slowly, making sure to would out the details. Although Schneider says she is learning more about the technology and how to improve her teaching methods with it, she hopes that when the quarantine ends, people will be more likely to recognize the importance of human connections that are made at school. 

“I’m hoping that people see the value of face-to-face communication and teacher-facilitated lessons,” Schneider said. “I hope people see the value of the school building and the school setting. I hope people notice that school isn’t just for disseminating knowledge. It is also there for creating relationships and making connections with other people.”

Illustration by Aadrija Biswas.