E-learning day a breeze for tech-savvy students

Photos by Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Jasper Middle School seventh-graders Maggie Hubster, left, Caroline Kaiser and Izzy Hopf worked on assignments during a planned virtual instruction day on Thursday at Kaiser's home in Jasper. The program allowed Jasper Middle School and Jasper High School students to work from home on assignments and lesson plans that their teachers had prepared. Teachers also hosted online office hours to help answer students' questions.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — Wrapped in blankets and propped up on pillows, Jasper High School and Middle School students had the opportunity to attend virtual classes from home on Thursday.

Teachers assembled lessons, each designed to take students 45 minutes to complete, prior to the special day of instruction, and kids could start working on the material on Wednesday afternoon. They had until 8 a.m. this morning to turn in the e-assignments  — which will be graded like normal work.

The assignments included short English essays, multiple-choice practice assessments, workout instructions for P.E. and short-answer musical reflections for band members.

Izzy Hopf stayed the night at Caroline Kaiser’s house on Wednesday. Hopf and Kaiser are both seventh-graders at Jasper Middle School, and each finished about half of the next day’s assignments before going to bed. They thought they’d fully complete the virtual learning day before noon.

“When you work together, it kind of makes it easier,” Hopf said.

The eLearning Day was officially called a “Flex Pilot” day, which is a program designed by the Indiana Department of Education to support school corporations that are interested in exploring new approaches to school schedules by using eLearning options. When it launched in 2012, six school corporations participated, but that number grew to 28 this year.

Thursday marked Jasper Middle School’s second year with a Flex Pilot day and the high school’s first.

Hopf worked on a math problem during the virtual instruction day on Thursday.

Both Kaiser and Hopf said one of their favorite parts of the experience was that they got to create their own class schedule for the day. Kaiser doesn’t like to do science assignments in the morning, for example, so she knocked them out Wednesday night.

Buses ran normally Thursday morning, and students could opt to attend their schools if they needed supervision, don’t have high-speed internet at home, or just wanted to be around teachers while working on their assignments. No matter where they completed the work, the assignments they received were the same.

“This is brand new to me,” said sixth-grader Jonathan Thurman as he helped a fellow student upload a document Thursday in the Jasper Middle School computer lab. “I watched (an eighth-grader) do it for a while, and they were like, ‘It’s really easy to pick up after you get used to it.’ And they’re right.”

While teachers hosted several sessions of “virtual office hours” throughout the day to help kids with problems they ran into, Middle School Instructional Assistant Beth Gentry said the students are good at helping each other out with technological issues that arise. Hopf and Kaiser said they use their Intel-brand 2-in-1 devices — portable computers that can be used as laptops or tablets — every day at school.

Hopf, left, and Kaiser worked on their math assignment during the planned virtual instruction day on Thursday.

Every student at the middle and high school is assigned one of the devices.

Caroline’s brother, Corbin, is a senior at Jasper High School. He said he hadn’t heard of anyone struggling with the online software.

“It’s pretty simple stuff,” he said of the usability of the online programs. “It challenges yourself to be independent.”

Teachers also participated in three sessions of tech training and personal development throughout the day on Thursday that enhanced their proficiency in various softwares that they can implement in their classrooms.

Jasper Middle School Principal David Hubster said the day is especially beneficial to students because it is a good time management experience and the increased exposure to the technology will help them in high school and college.

“I think it really helps what you’re going to be doing in the future if we start learning the stuff now,” Hopf said.

Kaiser added: “This is helping us get ready for college because the high-schoolers are using them too, so then when they go to college next year they’ll know how to take an online class since we’re doing it already.”

But for as helpful as the eLearning days can be, Hubster said they probably won’t grow too much in number in the near future.

“One of the recommendations we had from the first presentation we went to on this was you don’t want too many,” Hubster said. “I think right now we’re probably content doing one a year.”




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