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How teachers are making eLearning the new normal

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - As thousands of schools accept eLearning as the new normal across the United States, teachers are forced to adjust their lesson plans without losing that in-class feel.

Luckily schools in the area already have eLearning options available but that’s primarily used temporarily for snow days. So, for long periods of time like now, teachers are forced to rethink how they do things.

“We just try to keep it very consistent because we know that just like in the regular classroom, students thrive with a set schedule where they can know so all of our days look similar but the activities are different,” Lindsay Helman, a 4th-grade teacher at Mary Frank Elementary in Granger said.

Their school days are a little different now with schools closed until May. Their mornings still start with songs and dances, but it’s now online. Their standard curriculum of math, reading and science all included in a slideshow with directional videos made by teachers.

Although the lesson plans have had to be compressed so that students will be able to finish, Helman said that with help from other teachers and the school corporation, they are working with what they’ve got.

The biggest hurdle is getting the in-person interaction with the students.

“Schools are all about that relationship between the teacher and the students and when you move to an online platform for it, you miss that connection and so teachers have had to become very intentional about adding in those personal touches,” Helman said. “From bitmoji's to videos of teachers teaching to using platforms like flip grid to where you can have different videos going back and forth.”

As for the lesson plan, well kids have the option to start whenever they want. Although it’s made so that kids start in the morning, if parents are working, it can also be done in the afternoon as well.

“We have a slide deck that has everything they need in one place and they just go through the deck,” Helman said.

Switching to eLearning is a hard task for many teachers around the country.

“We had a basic understanding how to move the learning platform online but having said that when you have an extended break like this where they’re staying at home, you have to rethink and visualize it in a different way,” she said.

In St. Joseph County, several school districts already had an online learning system in place for snow days but with schools closed until May, this quickly became more long-term.

From math, English and science to special PE and music classes slides sent out by the teacher show the student exactly what they are tasked to do for the day.

“We have a lot of videos of us giving direction or we've done tutorials creating videos and we found some fun with some Snapchat filters because who doesn't want to see their teacher as a talking french fry,” she said.

Helman said it’s important to make sure students have that face to face direction along with covering the normal curriculum.

“In all honesty, the transition is really hard on kids and I think at first kids might have thought yay no having to go to school but it's a big transition and I think we really need to focus on their social-emotional needs and making sure that they feel,” she said.

Making sure the kids are okay, through calls, Zoom meetings and fun video’s intertwined with instruction.

“Having those ways that where you get your face in front of the students is so important,” she said. “The great thing is I see both sides because I’m a teacher creating content but I’m also a mom having seen my children going through this and watching them and to see their faces light up every time their teachers post a video or a picture I mean it you can see that that connection still exist there.”

At the end of every class is a time to reflect on the lesson, another way teachers are making sure students are in tune with their emotional well-being during this time.

Obviously, online schooling is a harsh transition for both students and teachers. The big question is what effect will this have on our kids?

Helman says they put lesson plans on slides but even with video direction, it does take kids a little while to figure things out so teachers are having to compress what they normally would be able to teach in a classroom setting.

“School is much different than an online platform and they're not getting as much direct instruction from teachers,” she said. “So, we might have slight gaps but there is nothing that I don't think that our teaching force can't work with. I mean they're doing an incredible job with having little to no notice in order to kind of transform education.”

She said that she has never seen anything like this before, school corporations and teachers teaming up to bring adequate lesson plans online.

So is eLearning a good substitute for the real thing? Well temporarily. Helman says that face to face direction is very important not only to effectively teach kids but for their emotional well-being, too.

“Nothing is going to be a replacement for being in a classroom and connecting but having said that there is some amazing learning going on and just like every industry right now we are making the best of what we have,” Helman said. “I don't think that we are providing content that is busywork but that it is intentional and it is quality and it focuses not only on their academic progress but also their well-being and those social-emotional topics.”

Schools are supposed to be back open in May, but with daily updates and increasing coronavirus counts, nothing is certain.

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