Last week Loudoun Museum invited local educators to share their experiences with teaching and learning during quarantine to be featured in our weekly blog. Our first guest blog is written by Mandie Sayers, a social studies teacher at Auburn Middle School in neighboring Fauquier County about her experience with incorporating pandemics and distance education into her curriculum.
I never thought I would be teaching about responses to pandemics in context. In fact, pressed for time last fall, I scrapped my original lesson plan on how global events may necessitate local action. I planned to revisit it later when my 7th grade civics students began their unit on county government. This topic always fell rather flat. I hoped viewing global crises from the perspective of our county would provide context that would finally make this topic click for my young students. I put the guided notes at the back of my cabinet and left the stacks of local newspapers to accumulate on the worktable. Global crises-- pandemics, the economy, terrorism --they would have to wait.
Early in 2020 as the reports of the coronavirus in China became increasingly prevalent on CNN10, a student news broadcast we view once or twice a week, I felt the urgency of revisiting the topic. At that point, my 7th graders and I discussed how localities in China were taking action in response to widespread disease. The term pandemic only entered our discussion in a “what if” fashion. Even then, I could feel the nervous tension from some students, the worried panic of others, and for others, keen interest and curiosity. Every student responds to stressful news or discussion differently. As their teacher in the room, I can offer calming words, rational insight, or ask probing questions to help each student manage their response to what was escalating into the global pandemic we are experiencing today. When asked what our localities would do “if” the coronavirus became a pandemic, my students responded: “Make vaccines available!” “Quarantine sick people” and “Shut down schools!”
While my 7th grade kids jested with that last suggestion at the time, they certainly never expected their speculation to become their reality. When we left on March 13th, I sent them home with all the photocopies I had made for the upcoming unit and expressed hope that I would see them again on Monday. If not, we are prepared and I would be in touch through the internet. I too was speculating. How would our state and locality respond? The Governor’s response was swift. This left our county to address unprecedented circumstances with school and local government operations. While we waiting for the plans to be laid forth, I connected with many students online with optional lessons. For some of us, the digital space and perseverance in teaching and learning helped us maintain our sense of normalcy and cope with what otherwise is an unsettling situation.
As of this week, teachers have officially commenced online instruction with the guidance of the county and state school superintendents. On an individual level, preparing the online lessons or working with technology has been relatively simple. What I cannot find through my computer is what I miss in all of my social distancing, the interpersonal connections. While we can do virtual meetings, the context is different than working together in the same room. I miss my ability to gauge so many things about my students just by looking at them and making on quick adjustments. Are they engaged with the lesson? Do they understand the directions? Is the topic too easy or too complex? Is discussing a pandemic peaking their anxiety or their interest? Now I see them only through their words on a screen, but at least we are still connected.
With the digital veil between teacher and student, new avenues of learning opened to our students. I have been able to present students with enriching options I would not normally have time for amidst the usual end of year reviewing and testing. I am enjoying tapping into my creativity to construct learning experiences that tie together home and school. After learning about the US Mint locations, students sifted through their family’s coins for rare mint stamps. After studying global trade, students created a chart or a map showing where all the items in their house were made. After reviewing the levels of federalism, students could bake a layer cake (so much baking going on!) and explain federalism to their families before dessert. I want them to see opportunities to learn are all around them and learning goes far beyond the walls of our school or the limitations of this pandemic.
Teachers, parents, and students are finding creative ways to interact, teach, and learn in these unusual times. Preserving these experiences is important for the collective memory of our community so that we learn from the hardships and find strength in our resilience. This is the very core of our mission at the Loudoun Museum- to preserve local history in perpetuity for the benefit of our community today and in the future.
We want to hear your story! Upcoming blogs will feature local educators and their experiences- please consider sharing yours with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Distance Education Blog Submission.