Innovating Virtual Learning (OUR SCHOOLS MAGAZINE: NOVEMBER 2020)
Secondary education already had the R-7 Online Academy structure in place, but following schools’ closure in the spring, elementary educators needed a virtual version to mirror the high quality of in-person learning. Mrs. Kristen Whipple, first grade teacher at Underwood Elementary, served on the team that had one month to design the curriculum for the first quarter.
“We focused on the design of the content, not the delivery, knowing that we could design things that the Online Academy teachers could use, edit, make their own and push out to their students,” Mrs. Whipple says. “It gave them a framework that they could implement.”
To achieve their goal, the team members collaborated, relied on each other’s strengths and encouraged each other. They used their expertise and empathy to develop the curriculum.
“I had to shift my brain to think because I’m a mom of a first grader also so I had to think about what is realistic for my child to be able to do at home but still keep with the rigor of an in-person kid,” Mrs. Whipple says.
Mrs. Korie Boenker, instructional technology specialist, and her team supported the process, sharing best practices and serving as a resource. The district’s preparedness put it in a prime position to tackle the project.
“We were so fortunate that our district had some forward thinking about learning with technology years before now that we were already one-to-one [with student computers],” Mrs. Boenker said. “We already had a learning management system, Schoology, and our teachers knew how to utilize that. Because of that, we are taking kids well beyond where we could have almost even imagined last winter.”
Adapting Music Instruction
LSR7 music teachers are capitalizing on an opportunity to make virtual instruction more meaningful.
During the spring school closure, teachers tested the SmartMusic web program, which streamlines music practice by giving feedback on performers’ rhythm and music reading. Students can also send recordings to teachers.
“I am able to focus on the skill and the pedagogy of how to play an instrument, and SmartMusic is able to support me as my students practice,” says Ms. Gail Rowland, orchestra director at Hawthorn Hill Elementary and Summit Lakes Middle School. “I am also able to provide them not only solo literature but also orchestra literature so they can be a soloist in SmartMusic or they can play along with an orchestra sound in SmartMusic, so it’s creating a virtual environment until we are able to get back together.”
The program reflects the district’s appreciation for the arts.
“LSR7 values music education,” Ms. Rowland says. “They value feedback and the need for kids to get instant feedback. They realize teachers teach the tools and the tools support our students, but we are ultimately there to be the guides. SmartMusic is a tremendous investment in our students.”