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Schools Go Online for Another Month, Experts Tell Us How Teachers, Parents and Students Can Make It Work

Photo: Clément H @clemhlrdt
Photo: Clément H @clemhlrdt

The coronavirus pandemic has schools and colleges figuring out how to pivot to online learning. That’s after the Florida Department of Education announced yesterday that schools will stay closed for a month. 

K-12 students won’t go back to class until April 15, while college students won’t have to be back on campus until the summer semester.

The Florida Department of Education says funding normally used in classrooms will be reassigned to help kids get laptops and internet access.

Parents may hold their students back a grade level and should be prepared for the school year to be extended through June 30.

Students with IEPs or individual learning plans, may have services delayed until the summer.

Florida Education Association Vice President Andrew Spar says with these changes in mind, going online is the right decision. He says some districts like Miami-Dade County have already made sure every student has a laptop and wifi access.

But he says even with these preparations in place, online learning can still be challenging to pull off in real-time.

"You've got students who may forget to get onto the computer, may choose not to get online. How is that going to be handled? You have, of course, our youngest students, our pre-K students, our kindergarten students, our first grade students who are getting online."

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And he says there's a lot of research that shows online learning isn't ideal over long periods of time unless it's combined with other types of instruction.

Spar says that's where parents play a critical role, especially if they're working at home.

He says they can make sure their children are logged on when they need to be and ask them follow-up questions throughout the day about what they're learning.

"What did you learn today? Can you show me what you learned today? What was the most exciting thing you did today? Is there a way we can go online and learn a little more about that?"

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Spar says parents can also review what their children have already learned during the school year. He recommends sites like "Share My Lesson" that have free online activities and lesson plans for every grade level.

He says several educational publishing companies are also putting resources online for free. He says there's ABC Mouse for younger students and Scholastic and the College Board for older learners.

Rollins College Endeavor Center's Nancy Chick says teachers are also thinking about new ways they can continue to make lessons new and engaging albeit less hands-on.

"We are working hard to figure out how to adapt the ways that we teach: small group discussions, whole class discussion, laboratories, lectures, think-pair-share partners into various virtual environments. So, it’s something different."

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Chick says teachers need to continue to be responsive to student needs, maintain visibility and interaction, and be transparent in the online environment.

She says there's research that shows that after crises like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, teachers also need to be flexible with grades and assignments and honest about the emotional distress many students might be experiencing.

"Don't maintain the status quo. They wanted from their professors acknowledgement of the circumstances, maybe even talking about it in class. Bringing into course materials what's happening in the world as relevant."

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Chick recommends teachers go online to Facebook groups where instructors from around the world are sharing resources. She says she's part of a group called "Education Temporary School Closure for Online Learning."

She says she's been able to connect with the page's more than 92,000 members to talk about best practices for taking learning online this Spring Semester.
If you'd like to listen to the story, click on the clip above.

Danielle Prieur is WMFE's education reporter.