Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

Did School Closures Result in a Suicide Surge… or is this ANOTHER Example of COVID Uncovering a Pre-Existing Condition?

January 25, 2021 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an op ed by Erica Green describing a surge in suicides in Clark County NV that many are attributing to the closure of schools due to the pandemic… and yet, a close reading of the article could lead one to conclude that it is yet another underlying problem of public education that COVID uncovered.

As noted in earlier posts and countless articles, the pandemic has compelled policy makers to at long last face underlying problems that impact public schools. The “digital divide” and the inequities in resources and funding for schools have been in place for decades… but they are now laid bare when schools are closed. Schools have long served as the core provider of balanced meals, social and health services, and child care— yet until the pandemic came along these benefits of universal schooling were largely overlooked or, at best, take for granted.

Ms. Greene’s article described some of the other benefits of schooling. First, public schools provide an opportunity for caring adults to monitor the well-being of students— something that is impossible if a child doesn’t log, doesn’t share their picture on Zoom, or is only visible from the neck up. Second, public schools provide healthy social and  emotional outlets for students. Athletics, music, clubs, or just hanging out on playgrounds are all ways children and teens engage socially and emotionally. Many of the case studies cited in Ms. Green’s article missed those opportunities as much– or more– than they missed classes. Finally, schools offer counseling and health to those who require it— services that are far more effective when they are delivered in person than online.

Finally, the surge in unemployment that resulted from the pandemic in and of itself likely had SOME effect on the well-being of children. As Ms. Green notes, the skyrocketing unemployment in Las Vegas, which is dependent on visitors from afar, led to all kinds of family stress. The impact of unemployment is bad in normal circumstances… but when combined with the closure of schools it is even worse.

The bottom line is this: when schools DO reopen and we no longer have to be quarantined, will we remember the need for funding equity? For digital access for all? For counseling, health, and social services in schools? Will the “return to normal” that results from an end to quarantines result in a “return to normal” everywhere else or will we remember the lessons the pandemic has presumably taught us?

Another Pandemic Positive: The Expansion of Outdoor Education

December 31, 2020 Comments off

Students in Portland, ME may not be getting the academics they need but, as AP’s David Sharp reports, thanks to an expansion of outdoor education, they ARE getting a great education on nature and an imaginative means of coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Portland ME is offering outdoor education in December? What happens when it is cold and it snows? When Mother Nature gives you cold you learn how to bundle up and when it gives you snow, you study snowflakes! As Mr. Sharp notes, Portlands littlest students, the Pre-K and Kindergartners, take their naps “…in hammocks in wool-lined sleeping bags filled with hot water bottles” and the teacher are finding that the students are begging them to go outdoors. And why not? 

“It’s the healthiest, safest place for us to be right now. Anything that we can do to get kids outdoors for longer periods of time is vital. This is where we need to be right now,” said Anne Stires, an outdoor learning consultant and advocate in Maine.

And what happened in a recent snowstorm? 

Cindy Soule’s fourth graders in Maine’s largest city have studied pollination in a community garden. They solved an erosion problem that was damaging trees. They learned about bear scat.

Then came a fresh layer of snow and temperatures that hovered around freezing — but her students were unfazed.

Bundled up and masked, they scooted outside with their belongings in buckets. They collected their pencils and clipboards, plopped the buckets upside down in the snow, took a seat and went to work.

The lesson? Snow, of course, and how snowflakes are formed.

As Mr. Sharp’s article indicates, Maine is not the only State embracing outdoor education no matter what challenges the temperature or weather presents. Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and— based on personal knowledge– Vermont are all offering support for outdoor education… and Portland found that the public enthusiastically provided warm weather gear for their neediest children when they put out a call. 

What will happen when the pandemic ends? If the experience of Portland educators is any indication it will remain:

This is Portland’s first widespread use of outdoor learning, and the goal is to keep it going even after the pandemic.

Teachers are encouraged, but not required, to take their classes outdoors, and a school survey shows about half of teachers doing so.

Soule said her students will never forget the pandemic’s hardships. But she hopes studying in nature will be among their good memories of 2020.

They’re seeing the outdoors around them and it brings relevancy to what they’re studying,” Soule said. ” They will remember that forever.”

Given Portland’s daunting weather it doesn’t seem like bad weather should be an excuse for ANY school district… and given the relative ease of maintaining social distancing and mandating masks (what student ISN’T willing to cover their face in sub-freezing weather?) it seems like a natural way to return to school AND learn some practical life long skills. It seems far more energizing and memorable than starting at blank boxes on a screen! 


de Blasio is Being Sane and Sensible: Acknowledging Mistakes, Looking Forward, and Embracing a “New Normal” Based on Technology-based Personalized Learning

December 12, 2020 Comments off

Two articles I read yesterday morning make me believe that after floundering and fouling up the opening of schools in New York City this year he is doing two things politicians seldom if ever do: he is acknowledging his mistakes and planning more than one news cycle ahead. And from what I’ve read, his plans have merit.

Yesterday mornings Gothamist article by Sophia Chang and Jessica Gould opens with these paragraphs:

Acknowledging the inconsistent and rocky school year for New York City’s public school students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan Thursday to address educational loss and achievement gaps — starting next year.

“The foundation will be laid through this school year to get ready for a very different school year that begins in September,” de Blasio said at his press briefing Thursday. “In September, there will be a new normal.”

The 2021 Student Achievement Plan will commence with diagnostics measuring how students are doing with educational benchmarks in September, said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at the press briefing.

De Blasio emphasized this will not be high-stakes testing, but rather assessments for teachers to understand their students’ needs.

The Gothamist article also referenced the creation of a “one-stop digital learning hub” and the establishment of a “Parent University” in several languages to teach families how to provide assistance to kids, and “intense mental health assistance for school communities”.

A Chalkbeat article by Christine Veiga covered the same ground, but offered an elaboration on the proposed assessments, indicating that they would be formative NWEA-like assessments as opposed to the summative assessments that were the lifeblood of NCLB. In describing the testing protocols, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza indicted he planned to “give more assessments to gauge what students already know” and then “tailor digital lessons to catch students up in subjects where they’ve fallen behind”.

“Can you imagine the power of an individualized education plan for every student?” Carranza said. “Just think about identifying the explicit skills that students need to work on and the plan that we have to help them achieve a mastery of that explicit skill. That’s what we’re talking about with the digital curriculum.”

Ms. Veiga thought Carranza’s plans sounded suspiciously like “personalized education”, which she views as

…an approach that uses technology to tweak lessons based on a student’s progress. The approach has gained momentum in school districts across the country, with the backing of technology and software companies, as well as donors. There are reasons to be skeptical, however.

And she offers a list of those reasons before noting that in some instances in New York City with students who have fallen behind “personalized learning” HAS worked… and the district could use its experiences since the outbreak of the pandemic to inform the methods they can use going forward:

Some of the city’s transfer schools — which serve students who have fallen behind in credits, and often focus on individualized instruction and intensive counseling supports — have impressive records of helping students catch up. Small group tutoring, done well, can also be effective. Asked about tutoring, Carranza said it could be a possibility, but funding is likely a challenge and a wide scale program will require support from colleges and other community institutions.

The education department is proposing making “high quality digital curriculum” available for every school, and a “digital learning hub.” Carranza said more students will now have access to devices and the internet, and teachers have gained new digital skills that should be tapped to help students catch up, even outside of school hours.

The new normal that we’re talking about post-pandemic has really created some opportunities for us to individualize instruction and really tailor instruction for students in a way that we just didn’t have the ability to do back in March,” Carranza said.

I am an advocate of technology-based “personalized learning” and wish that public school leaders had been in the vanguard on this initiative instead of venture capitalists and tech CEOs… But as Mr. Carranza and Mayor de Blasio note, teachers HAVE developed the comfort with technology required to make this approach work. The key to making it work for the students who fell behind as a result of the pandemic, though, is clear: “…funding is likely a challenge and a wide scale program will require support from colleges and other community institutions.

In some respects I think that the challenge of funding– which is unarguably daunting— will be easier to get than support from colleges and community institutions… and harder yet from the parents of students who are successful in school!