What’s it like to teach during a pandemic?

 The day does not begin with a school bell or announcements on the PA system. Instead, by 8 am, teachers’ computers, laptops and tablets are booted up and the LMS (Learning Management System) is launched and tested. 

“Space Squirrel” is also briefed so he/she knows what to do once the kids come online. 

You’ve spent the weekend researching and organizing digital resources. Some are short videos you produce yourself to introduce, review, or reinforce a skill you’ve taught “live” the week prior. You’ve had to master new programs to do this, and your trusty cam (camera) has had a workout over the weekend.

Feature Short Video: Sister Patrice adds BIG numbers!

Starting Page on LMS Google Classroom

That done, you remotely prepare the three laptops in your classroom, which is ten miles away in the nearly empty school. It’s still early. At 8:30 am, the “Team A” kids, who attend school in the building on Mondays and Tuesdays, and learn from home on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, will enter the building. They will be greeted at the door for a fever check, a big squirt of hand-cleaner, and confirmation that they have their masks on.

Last year, this classroom was a place for 273 kids to learn science, technology, engineering, arts, and math doing group hands-on projects. This year, we’ve had to shelve the “group projects” entirely. So, the classroom is now where six of twelve 3rd and 4th graders will work, sitting 6 feet apart, wearing masks and washing their hands nearly every hour. 

The camera laptops are strategically placed. One gives you a view of the left half of the classroom, the other a view of the right half. The third laptop is a little one that can be moved near students who might need your “presence” for learning, reassuring, or managing behavior. It’s not quite the same as standing beside the kid who’s struggling, but it’s a close approximation.

Each learner, both at school and at their own home, has a “Chromebook” to use. The Chromebook has a camera and mic built in.

Back at the convent, meanwhile, in “Mission Control,” after conferring (confuring?) with Space Squirrel, I am setting up my own rig to run three monitors and a homemade document camera. This allows me to tie together my six “full time remote” students (who are at their homes), my six “full time face-to-face students” (who are in my classroom with a teacher aide) and me!

Our original plan was to have one of our Dakota language teachers co-teach with me- he at the classroom, translating into Dakota, and me at home, teaching math and reading/ language arts in English. 

Unfortunately, by the second week of school, he was out with COVID and has not been able to return. So, I have gone through a long list of one-day subs (which required my being at school from 7 am- 8:30 am to set up the tech and brief him/her in, then going back home to teach). 

As of this past Monday, though, I think we’ve finally got someone who will stay with me for a while! Yay!

Above is part of the rig at the convent. Below is the document camera I created from an old iPad that was useless because it couldn’t be upgraded. I got it for free from school and gave it a second life!

And, what about the amazing teacher running “Mission Control” and coordinating these young astronauts of NASA (Native American Space Academy, of course!) 

She’s here too! (And, jeez, does she ever need a HAIRCUT!!)