Covid Diary: Merrill Middle School

covid diary
(Image credit: Unsplash: Zoran Borojevic)

Ellie Foust is 6th grade science teacher and team specialist at Merrill Middle School in Denver, Colorado. Merrill Middle School is a “delightfully diverse” midsized middle school with more than 580 students from 30 countries speaking 25 different languages. The school is fully virtual for the semester, with the exception of the PLEX, Newcomer, and Multi-Intensive Support classrooms. The district live streams classes Monday to Thursday, with Fridays as asynchronous learning days.

Tools being used

The necessary tools to teach in this environment are: 

  • A productive learning management system to house student work and materials (we use Schoology) 
  • An interactive slide deck to be able to formatively assess throughout a lesson (we have Pear Deck) 
  • A video conferencing tool that allows for interaction and collaboration (we use Zoom) 

Other great tools are:

Screencastify. I create screencasts so students can rewatch instructions, or to give tutorials for asynchronous days. I don’t know how many times I have had students ask me how to do an activity, and I can email them the screencast within seconds. This has been a total time saver for me :) 

Edpuzzle. With our asynchronous Fridays, creating a flipped classroom with Edpuzzle is a tool I keep in my back pocket. 

Flipgrid. Making sure students give and receive effective feedback from their peers is essential in my PBL classroom, and Flipgrid makes it easy for students to watch others’ work and respond. 

Project-Based Learning (PBL). While not necessarily a tool, but more of a framework, PBL has been a complete gamechanger for me, and I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t mention it. 

Developing project-based learning units for and with my students using PBLWorks Gold Standard Design Elements and Teaching Practices has kept us all sane. Through my projects (even online), my students have been engaged in their learning, they have developed necessary skills of self-management, agency, giving and receiving effective feedback, and have retained the content in a deeper more meaningful way. And, as an added bonus, I am enjoying teaching through the lens of PBL. 

Biggest challenge

Building a culture of community and caring within the online environment has been difficult. I thrive on relationships with my students, and you don’t realize all of the “little” moments--the conversation in the hall, the joke on the playground, the drawing given to you after school-- are not happening on the same level. Creating the culture takes A LOT more thought and work in the online setting. 

What are the advantages of teaching in this environment? 

I am able to formatively assess my students and address misconceptions in real-time. Utilizing the interactive Pear Deck and being able to see my students’ work as they are completing it has allowed me to give the just-in-time feedback my students deserve. They consistently ask for feedback when we are working, and the results have been positive. 

How are teachers being supported? 

Our leadership team is trying their hardest to balance what the district is asking them to do and what they know is best for students and teachers. They are promoting self care and checking in with us. 

How are you supporting your students? 

Every adult in our building has advisory time every morning for 30 minutes. We are able to check in with our advisory group, and work on social-emotional learning, as well as community building during this time. We have also been able to bridge the gap between home and school way better this year, using advisors as the first point of contact for the adults in our kids’ lives. 

How are you supporting your parents and families? 

Our district has done a great job of getting the necessary technology into every student’s hand, as well as having several drive-through sites to pick up breakfast and lunch for any family in the district. There have also been several surveys sent by the district to gain as much feedback as possible on how remote learning is going for students and families. 

Did anything unexpected happen (good or bad) during remote learning that can now be used as a teachable moment for others? 

This moment in time has been a huge wake up call in terms of equity in access to technology and internet. Everyone should have access to the tools they need to succeed in our interconnected society. We educators have known this, but I think the pandemic has brought to the forefront how vital schools are to the success of a functioning society.  

Anything else you'd like to add about your successes and challenges being a teacher during the pandemic? 

I knew this would be tough, but there is no tired like remote teaching tired :) I appreciate the work that all our communities have done to come together for the benefit of our kids and learning. 

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