The first days of school typically are spent getting to know one another; teachers have new students, students have new classmates.
That’s about all that has been typical as Galveston County school districts start a new academic year virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday was the first day of school for the Hitchcock Independent School District, and teachers and students spent the day easing into the current normal.
“The school day has been good, and I got to meet new people,” Stewart Elementary fourth-grader Alex Tobar said via a teleconferencing app on teacher Terry Dunne’s laptop. “I’ve been adjusting good to the new video stuff.”
Schools ended last school year conducting virtual learning, so it’s not an entirely new concept, but a major change has been the incorporation of different apps into the lesson plan.
“For us, it’s the first day, so we’re using Flipgrid a lot,” Stewart Elementary fourth grade teacher Adrian Moy said. “We’re using that to do get-to-know-you activities. They’re able to video themselves and answer three questions I had posted for them. I’m also allowing them to go to one of their classmates and do a video comment back to them.”
Jamboard, an interactive whiteboard; Padlet, which allows users to post notes on a digital wall; and Flipgrid, a video message board through which teachers can post questions and students can post their responses, are among the web apps being utilized to help facilitate virtual learning.
“I had no idea all those different things were out there, and they’re so user-friendly, and they’re what kids respond to,” Hitchcock ISD Superintendent Travis Edwards said. “It’d be one thing to record yourself teaching a lesson, but that’s not effective. It’s about how we can use the instruction and use the program to facilitate the instruction. It’s almost like a video game.”
When teachers aren’t teaching live, they’re recording lessons to be viewed later by their students. All the technology also has teachers doubling as IT troubleshooters for parents and students having problems with any of the programs.
“Today and tomorrow are kind of get-to-know-you days, and then we start teaching on Wednesday, so we hope all the hiccups are kind of done by Wednesday,” Stewart Elementary Principal Lisa Fain said.
Faculty members spent the summer learning the aforementioned apps and training on how to best teach students through teleconferencing, and all things considered, the first day went about as smoothly has could have been hoped, Edwards said.
“We’ve ironed out a lot of the wrinkles already,” Edwards said. “The teachers went through it like they were a student, and did it from the teacher’s side.”