Connection key for elementary e-learning

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Holy Trinity Catholic School prekindergarten teacher Mindy Sendelweck, left, drops off a learning package for her student, Cole Fuhs, 5, and visits while standing 6 feet away from Cole and his dad, Greg, at the Fuhs family's home in Jasper on Sunday.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Holy Trinity Catholic School prekindergarten teacher Mindy Sendelweck spent part of her weekend delivering learning packages to her students.

She set the package down on the stoop, knocked on the door, then backed up at least 6 feet. Then, she waited to greet her student and his or her parent when they answered the door. When the door opened, an excited student was on the other side. The kids weren’t the only excited ones. Sendelweck was excited, too. She’s missed her students while schools has been closed due to the novel coronavirus.

“It’s just not been normal,” she said.

Despite the abnormalities, Sendelweck and her fellow teachers have been doing what they can to keep education going for their students. The packets Sendelweck dropped off were filled with the tools she uses to teach her students. Instead of her doing the teaching, however, now it would be the parents.

“I’m giving them family activities they can do together,” Sendelweck said.

One of those activities is playing Simon Says, which teaches students the names for body parts, which they’ll need to know for kindergarten next year.

In prekindergarten, Sendelweck explained, much of the learning is done through play. While she does worry that her students will lose out on the social-emotional learning that comes through playing with their classmates in person, she’s doing what she can to create a similar atmosphere through distance learning.

Holy Trinity Catholic School pre-kindergarten teacher Mindy Sendelweck drops off a learning package for her student, Lydia Knies, 5, center, and visits from a distance at the Knies family's home in Jasper on Sunday. Because Sendelweck missed seeing her students so much, she decided to create learning packages, which consisted of optional school worksheets, coloring pages, markers, Play-Doh and other goodies, and hand-delivered them to her students over the weekend. "It's not the same," Sendelweck said. "I miss seeing them bloom in the classroom, but I hope these packages bring a smile to their faces and show them I'm thinking about them."

On Wednesday, she created a virtual play date via video chat where students got to do show and tell with two of their favorite toys. She also has an email chain going with her students’ parents where everyone shares photos of them completing different games with their children. That’s helpful for both the parents and the kids, she said. The kids get a chance to see their friends in the photos, and the parents get to see how other parents are handling homeschooling.

“I think it’s brought them closer together through social media,” Sendelweck said. “At least we can still connect that way.”

Ferdinand Elementary third grade teacher Amie Weyer holds Google Hangouts with her students so they can all see and talk to each other. The video chat gives Weyer a chance to check in with her students and her students a chance to talk to each other.

“It’s good to just see their smiling faces and get to catch up with them” Weyer said.

After the Hangout, though, the students get to work. Weyer tries to vary her lessons, filling them with video lectures she records, online apps and other videos that let students take virtual field trips. This week, the students are on a virtual field trip to the Cincinnati Zoo for a lesson in reading and science.

“We are trying to really vary what we’re doing with it,” Weyer said.



The big challenge, she said, is making sure she gives her students enough activities to create a quality lesson without making it too long. While e-learning is taking the place of in-person classes while schools are closed, the activities aren’t meant to fill the whole eight hours of a school day.

“They’re still learning,” Weyer said. “As long as their mind is engrossed in what we give them, they’re still learning.”

 

Ferdinand Elementary third grade teacher Amie Weyer holds Google Hangouts with her students so they can all see and talk to each other.


Not having to spend eight hours a day on assignments was good news for Dubois Elementary second-grader Tucker Woolems. Tucker’s dad, Luke, said his son got a little overwhelmed when he saw on Monday the stack of take-home packets that contained the week’s assignments.

“We had to talk to him through the fact that he only has to take it one day at a time,” Luke said.

Tucker is a pretty independent learner, which is helpful since Luke and his wife, Emily, are still working while they’re home. Still, there are opportunities for Luke and Emily to work with Tucker on his assignments. Recently, Luke got out a tape measure for an assignment that required a ruler. For Tucker, using one of Dad’s tools made the assignment a bit more fun.

The biggest challenge, Luke said, has been keeping up communication with Tucker’s teacher to make sure the assignments are getting completed properly and turned in.

“You get to the point where you think you’re doing it right, and if you’re not, so be it,” Luke said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

So far, he said, the teacher has been easygoing and patient with the parents and students.

Another big challenge has been balancing parenting, teaching and working. Thankfully, the packets included several activities Tucker can complete on his iPad, which helps Emily and Luke make time for other tasks. And with everyone home — Tucker’s sister, Brynley, is in prekindergarten — the family has found plenty of time for fun, too. Over spring break, Luke and Tucker carved little canoes that they raced in the creek behind their home.

“We’ve been really enjoying the extra time as a family,” Luke said.

Meanwhile at Tucker’s school, it’s all hands on deck as the teachers and staff are hard at work planning lessons, distributing materials to families and staying connected.

“It is amazing to see all the different apps that are being used right now to keep learning going,” said Dubois and Celestine elementaries Principal Brenda Ferguson.

She and her staff meet frequently via Zoom to share resources and check in about how e-learning is going. Many of the teachers have handed out their personal phone numbers to be accessible to their students.

While e-learning is no substitute for in-person learning, Ferguson said, the experience has shown teachers just how many resources are out there and has forced them to get even more creative with their lesson plans. “I think this will change the way learning happens in the future,” Ferguson said.

One thing the educators want their parents and students to know is that even though they can’t meet face to face, they are still there to support the families. They encourage families to reach out if they need help or feel overwhelmed.

“We wish we could be there with them right now,” Weyer said. “It’s so important that I am making those connections and reaching out to let them know we’re all in this together.”




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