By Justin Seward
St. Michael’s School had a year’s worth of preparation with its technology systems and as a result, students have had a seamless transition to their new learning environments at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right off the bat we had our Google classrooms functioning,” said Jill Weatherhead, a Grade 1 teacher at the school.
“They were already set up since September. It was a fairly easy transition that way because so many of those platforms had already been in place.”
The technology that the students in Grades 7-9 are using is called Edwin, a Nelson Canada learning ecosystem, which allows students to have equitable access to high quality learning resources that are delivered through a 2-in-1 laptop.
“It has all the textbooks online,” she said.
“It has a massive data bank of videos of tutorials. It’s integrated with Google Classroom. Students can be reading an article, watching an interactive video and taking notes on their Google doc at the same time.”
The program also offers audiovisual capabilities so students who have reading difficulties can hear everything and there is a speech capability tool for those students who find typing or writing hard and it speaks to the kids and writes out their work. Students also have access to a dozen other apps that coincide with Edwin.
Weatherhead highlighted We Video as one of the alternative apps where students can create a “seamless video” as she termed it and ranges from a video slide show to a documentary.
There is also an essay writing app, math game to name a few more.
Zoom is being used as well to communicate with teachers and students.
“They can show their learning a lot of creative ways,” said Weatherhead.
“Edwin has been a really wonderful addition. It just took remote learning to the next level because the students didn’t have a huge transition to make with that.”
The younger grades have gotten accustomed to Class Dojo.
“It’s a platform that allows us to communicate with parents, track behavior if you like, as well as submits assignments really easily through a device,” she said.
“The Class Dojo is a communication platform geared for younger students.”
Weatherhead said a goal of the school was to have “compassion over curriculum (and) just knowing that there are so many stresses and unpredictability that families are facing.”
“We really wanted to make sure that we maintained our relationships with students and that they were feeling capable and competent and in control of their learning.”
The school’s challenge has been the uncertainty of the situation.
“We heard a big statement at the very beginning saying ‘every student will pass.’ Well that’s a very generalized statement that is really hard to put into fact. Are you talking about a Grade 12 student who’s struggling? Are you talking about a first grader who is flying by? Everybody is facing the uncertainty. That’s the biggest challenge because we’re constantly shooting at a moving target.”
Back in mid-March when schools closed, staff sent a video of greetings to the students.
The school has also had the opportunity to make phone calls, do drive bys of students’ homes and visit if necessary visit them in safe ways.
“The St. Mike’s teachers have done a fantastic job of communicating-every day and factual,” said Stephanie Hlady, a parent of two students at the school.
“Our school is very technologically advanced with our junior and senior high students having a laptop or a chromebook, so roll out of the online work has been easy.”
Hlady says all teacher are “on call” during the school day.
“I especially appreciate the innovation and creativity in regards to our options week and the ‘outside library.’ Wonderful.”
Jared Van Es is a Grade 12 student and is enrolled in Chemistry, Calculus and Social Studies and like a lot of students has been adjusting to using Google Classroom.
“At first it was kind of difficult and really different compared to learning in person,” he said.
“But for myself it’s been reasonable and doable. Specific areas, I would say just the layout and the ways in which they (the teachers) can assign due dates and prescribe different class work versus information. It’s a good way to organize everything teachers have to manage.”
What he has enjoyed the most about the technological option is he can learn at his own pace.
“I’ve been enjoying being able to take breaks when I need to … I like the self managing, that’s probably my favourite part,” he said.
Assignments are being submitted and marked through Google Classroom and Class Dojo and there is an entrance open at the school where students can submit a hard copy of their work.