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With in-person school closed, art and gym teachers especially have had to adapt and adjust this school year. From curriculum changes and connections issues, it has been a whirlwind of new experiences. Reimagining how classes are taught in a way that engages students has been a challenge.
Distance-learning limits the materials and activities possible, forcing teachers to get creative. In gym classes, this means altering the ways students can practice skills and learn about sports. There is a huge variety of gym classes at WCHS students can choose to take, so maintaining the individuality of each sport while still focusing on fitness is important.
“Some classes are easier to translate to an online environment, yoga and weight training for instance. Others are a little trickier, such as volleyball, flag football and soccer,” Jody Tyler, WCHS volleyball coach, Honors Health and Adapted Art teacher, said. “Some teachers are teaching the class as if students are coaches, so we focus more on the content and less on the movement.”
In weightlifting specifically, classes start off with a community builder, followed by bodyweight drills and a workout. Students in that class are either required to turn on their cameras or send in a video of the class workout via email.
“The reason I took weightlifting class was because I do not have a weight set or any formal equipment at home so I thought it would be a great opportunity,” freshman Rosa Saavedra said. “Mr. Lowe is doing his best to adapt the curriculum by incorporating bodyweight exercise drills. It has been difficult for him because some people have gyms in their basements while others, like me, have very little equipment. He has been giving us choices based on what we have to work with but it is still a bit disappointing that due to the circumstances, I can’t do actual weightlifting.”
Art classes have also had to adjust. Depending on the art class, adapting the content has been both easy and hard. Art teachers have had to be conscious about which materials students have at home and have had to make sure projects are open to interpretation. Although some materials can be picked up by students, this is not always logistically feasible.
“Ceramics is the class that is most impacted. Our teachers are coming up with creative ways to use materials students have on hand at home to build sculptures. Our advanced classes, as well as our studio art classes, have been able to pick up materials and that has allowed teachers to continue without making too many changes to the content,” Tyler said.
On the bright side, a change in art projects has allowed for increased creativity. In a normal classroom setting, the teacher would provide a set collection of materials ready for students, but now they are able to select materials from what they have at home, giving them an opportunity to be even more creative. Some students have the means to go out and buy materials, but others have had to be more crafty with what they have lying around.
“One student created this sculpture in her backyard out of bamboo. She wrapped it together with twine, and it was sort of an abstract sculpture outside, which was really beautiful,” Paul Dermont, WCHS ceramics and AP Art History teacher, said. “Some students have gone more figuratively; they’ve created sort of animals and things out of rocks and leaves and twigs. Some made just absolutely beautiful radial designs, and others were more complicated. One student made this beautiful arch out of stones over a river.”
While it is definitely harder for the visual arts to get materials, the photography classes have had little difficulty replicating projects that would normally be done in person. Assignments in photography are normally turned in digitally, so the process has been largely the same.
“I have changed the assignments some, so that they can all be completed on a smartphone,” Amy Gilbert, WCHS Photography teacher, said. “When we are in the classrooms at school, I have digital DSLR cameras so students can use those, but with distance learning, they need to be able to use smartphones mostly, although some students have cameras.”
Though each class has its own difficulties, all teachers have had to figure out how to best connect with students. It has been harder to get to know students and keep them engaged.
“In volleyball I provide many drills students can use to build their skills, but I can’t assign a game or group activity, which, in a team sport, is vital,” Tyler said. “The other challenge for me, and many teachers, is the lack of a connection with students. We are doing everything we can to build relationships and a sense of community in our classes, but it just isn’t the same. I miss having the time to talk with a group of students during class, I miss greeting students at my door before class, and I miss exchanging smiles and laughs in a casual environment.”
As the school year passes, teachers are adjusting to all the new technology, as well as alternative teaching strategies. Though many have had training during the summer, it has still been trial and error when it comes to using new technology.
“I am learning so much new tech. I am using many of the things in canvas that were not available in google classroom, like the discussion boards, and I am adding more interactivity to classes by starting to incorporate Nearpod,” Gilbert said.
Visual arts classes have had to find new ways to teach specific techniques. Through recorded demonstrations and pre-made videos, it has allowed all students to keep up.
“For me, the biggest challenge is being able to demonstrate things, as I don’t know if they can see me very well with technology. I like to find videos of a particular technique,” Dermont said. “For example, we’re moving on to a sculpture now of the human figure, so I found videos on how to make your own clay, how to attach wire together and how to do different techniques that especially for someone who doesn’t get it the first time, it’s always there.”
Virtual learning has been a huge adjustment, but has definitely taught teachers new skills and strategies. Many of them hope to apply the same activities even when back in school.
“I will integrate more community builders and social and emotional learning activities into classes. Usually we do a couple ice breakers the first few days and then move on, however this experience has taught me that a sense of community is more important than I realized,” Tyler said.
Though this school year is definitely unusual, one thing is for certain: teachers are looking forward to connecting with students in person again.
“I miss my kids. And I’d give anything to be standing in front of a promethean board handing out worksheets – so wear your masks and wash your hands,” Tyler said.