While a dusting of snow kept teachers and students at home Tuesday, it didn’t keep them from teaching and learning.
Hall County and Gainesville City school districts both canceled school Tuesday, but students in both systems were able to participate in a form of at-home learning.
In Hall County Schools, this is called School at Home.
“We’ve had actually hundreds of communications in a variety of methods,” said Kevin Bales, Hall County director of middle and secondary education. “The Hall County Twitter feed has actually been overwhelmed by different student challenges, and behind the scenes we’ve had a lot of students accessing teacher Web pages to get assignments.”
The district’s Twitter feed provided challenges for students, with the promise of Starbucks gift cards as rewards. Challenges ranged from math problems and trivia questions to requests for original artwork.
Sarah Bell, Gainesville chief academic officer, said students in the city also have a number of options for at-home learning.
“We utilize several different software platforms that can be used to reinforce skills and allow teachers to monitor progress,” Bell said. “Assignments such as research papers and projects can also be assigned via email and text and then completed at home.”
The Gainesville school district also recently began the transition to becoming a “Google district,” which Bell said means teachers have online Google classrooms to post videos, notes and practice options for students.
Bell said teachers in the city also have a variety of opportunities for professional development at home. These options include curriculum development and online modules provided by the Georgia Department of Education.
“These modules allow teachers and leaders to self-select courses that develop deeper understandings of how to work best with different learners or how to design quality assessments, for example,” Bell said.
Betsy Elrod, physical education teacher at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry, said she is even able to provide P.E. assignments for students from home.
“To be honest, I had some doubts about doing P.E. from home at first, but it has turned out to be a great experience for me, and I believe my students as well,” Elrod said. “I have already started receiving emails from parents letting me know their children are working hard and enjoying being active. I’ve been told that the P.E. activities have been a nice break from the academic work in their other subjects.”
Elrod said she communicated throughout the day with her students via Twitter and her teacher website. The website provided different activities for upper-school and lower-school students and had links to videos of exercises and stretches to do at home.
Bales said the flexibility involved in School at Home means there’s something for every student.
“We’ve had some teachers and schools utilize inclement weather folders or packets for students in hard copy form that were sent home,” he said. “So we’ve used a wide variety of methods taking place.”
Similarly, Bell said some at-home learning options for Gainesville students have a “paper-and-pencil option.”
“As we have conducted research this year, we have determined that a fairly large percentage of our families do have access to the Internet — about 80-90 percent,” Bell said. “However, we certainly want to be sensitive to the fact that not all students can complete online work, or that when the power is out, students cannot work online at all.”
Bales said at-home learning is an “organic process,” but so far he’s very pleased with how the teachers and students have used it.
“Of course, our preference is that students be at school every day,” Bell said. “However, when that is not possible due to inclement weather or illness, at-home learning provides the means for students to continue their classwork and for less of our precious instructional time to be lost.”