Amy Wright teaches Algebra at Gus Garcia Young Men Leadership Academy.
On our first Monday back “in school,” I felt a strong need to communicate my care for my students after witnessing the Gullett Geckos parade through my neighborhood. But the parade model just wouldn’t work for my teaching position in a middle school, Gus Garcia YMLA, in a large geographic area. I grabbed some of the new tools that I’m learning about–Zoom and Blend–and just took action. My Algebra I students and I had our first 45-minute “Class Check-In” on Zoom Tuesday afternoon.
About 11 students logged in, of my 62 students. I was, honestly, surprised at how many got word that the event was happening and managed to get online. We have a number of barriers that might have made this effort completely null–not the least of which is that my students are 13 and 14-year old boys who are not in the habit of checking their email accounts. I sent notices out in a variety of ways–email, a class-wide BLEND announcement, and individual BLEND notices to students’ BLEND inboxes. I posted the Zoom meeting ID, along with directions on how to login, in a new BLEND module that I named “Zoom Meet-Ups” on a page dated for our first meeting. I anticipate adding additional dates–even before we try to start back up with teaching and learning–because students said that they wanted this form of connection to continue.
The event itself was pretty low-key. Students just talked about what they were up to, how they were spending their days, and how they felt about school being cancelled. Every student learned how to log in to zoom, use a few of the tools, and see their classmates through the video function. They talked about practicing their band instruments and playing video games. I snuck in two little “thought exercises” about exponential functions, in the form of “Would you Rather,” when it was quiet for a moment. Throughout the 45-minute meeting, more students were joining in, as they were calling and texting each other about the event. They explained to each other how to navigate BLEND to get the login information,and taught incoming students the functions in Zoom that they were using during the meeting. At the end of our time together, I asked if students wanted to do this again, and they universally agreed. I told them to check email, and log in to our BLEND course, for information about our next meet-up.
I know that these steps will serve an educational purpose–that, because of this early effort to use Zoom to gather together, students will be more inclined to engage in content through Zoom when we go to an online teaching model in the next several weeks. But more than anything else, I felt that sense of connection that moved me to tears standing on my porch watching the Gullett faculty show their love and concern for their elementary-aged students. This Zoom meeting was for my community of learners! And I’m all in with facilitating my students’ support of one another through this crisis.