On Monday evening, Bridget Archer put on a giraffe outfit, grabbed a beverage in a giraffe mug, sat on a couch with a couple of stuffed giraffe cohorts and prepared to start streaming live on Facebook.
No, it’s not some sort of COVID-19 cabin fever. Her daughter’s favorite book is “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by Giles Andreae, and the O’Rourke Elementary teacher decided to “dress the part” during her nightly reading on Archer’s Library — a recurring Facebook video series she’s been sharing since schools closed March 17.
Archer said she went to work that last day and the world was normal, and then by 4 p.m., it wasn’t. Teachers were suddenly learning how to set up Google classrooms to teach their students remotely, but Archer, who teaches fifth grade and leads a science and engineering student group, wasn’t sure how some of her classroom techniques would transfer to online assignments or paper packets sent out to students.
“We were in the middle of a chapter book that they had with them. So, I went home that night and set up a Facebook page, which I didn’t really know how to do, but managed to muddle through,” she said. “We’ve kind of been building the ship and plugging holes as we’re going. The first video was shot completely sideways.”
Archer is one of several teachers around the Mobile area who have been using the internet to help students stuck at home remain engaged and continue learning through videos, readings, experiments and other activities online.
None of these videos are required by the district — teachers have just been doing them to help parents wading into homeschooling and to stay connected to the students while they’re away.
The Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) has been consolidating and highlighting videos like Archer’s on the “I am MCPSS” Facebook page, and there are typically at least a couple of new posts every day, sometimes more. The content of the videos includes everything from P.E. teachers sharing workout routines and outdoor game ideas to readings like Archer’s, science experiments, art lessons and even instructional cooking videos.
One post was just Leinkauf Elementary teacher Frinzetta Boman singing words of encouragement and letting the students know teachers missed them being in the classroom. It’s been viewed over 1,000 times, and the “I am MCPSS” page has amassed nearly 2,500 followers in less than two weeks.
“We really do have the best teachers in MCPSS. They cannot be with their students during the school closure, but they want their students to know they are thinking of them and that they love them,” MCPSS spokesperson Rena Philips said. “It is during times like these that you are reminded how important the teaching profession is and how tight that bond can be between a teacher and a student.”
Teachers in other school systems are also navigating a new normal, too, as many get ready to start full-scale online classes when students return digitally on April 6. In the meantime, though, Saraland Elementary Principal Stan Stokley has been making his daily announcements over Facebook — keeping parents informed and keeping the students at home entertained, as well.
Librarian Sara Smith said Saraland teachers have already sent home materials and are offering online instruction that’s easy for parents to use, but she wanted to add to that with a series of “library challenges” on the school’s Facebook page. She typically works with students in the second to fifth grades, so the activities cover a broad age range. She has also tried to avoid posting videos of her just reading along to a book online.
“One of my focuses in the library is teaching research skills, so I’ve been trying to incorporate that by picking topics students are generally interested in — things like tsunamis, koalas, volcanoes,” Smith said. “Our school has a database of books through the Accelerated Reader (AR) program, so the students are responsible for reading a certain book and then they can post answers to questions in the videos using their parents’ Facebook page and they can go and do the AR test online.”
Smith said she hopes this kind of extra content can help engage students who might otherwise be sitting idly, playing video games and losing touch with books. In addition to Facebook, Smith has also created a Google site for the library with reading recommendations, read aloud sessions and art lessons.
For a lot of teachers, making this kind of additional content for students is something they’re doing on top of their normal classwork, and raising and teaching their own children at home. However, some teachers have mixed those roles together by making their children co-stars in the videos they make for students.
That’s what Mary Green, an art teacher at Mary B. Austin Elementary, has done with her oldest daughter.
Green is one of two teachers running the “Mary B. Austin – PTA Art” Facebook page, which has been uploading daily art content for students at home. In her most recent video, Green and her daughter worked on drawing a snail that was inspired by one they’d seen in the backyard the day before.
“It can be challenging managing it all. My oldest daughter has several hours of school each day that she needs help with and then I have a 3-year-old running around, but I know most parents are juggling at least one child and often a job and other distractions,” Green said. “They originally asked us about doing something on Facebook Live, and I said, ‘Unless you want every video to end with me running after a screaming 3-year-old, that might not be the best idea.’”
Most of the videos so far have focused on drawing and coloring, and Green said that’s because she wants them to be accessible to any child who wants to follow along. She said not every child is going to have access to painting supplies or clay, especially when their parents aren’t even able to get out and go shopping.
There’s also an important interactive component to what the students are doing, and Green said parents are encouraged to share pictures of their children’s artwork with the community on Facebook. That kind of connection and feedback can keep students motivated, Green said. It can motivate teachers, too.
“It’s nice to see the students when you’re not with them and see that they’re doing art, and they can see each other’s work, too,” Green said. “It’s nice to have something that reconnects you to your students and makes you feel like you might be doing something good during all of this, even if it’s just an art video.”
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