Teaching in the eye of the pandemic

Watching our Term 3 second a day video, you’d be mistaken for thinking it has been business as usual here in Singapore schools.

Reading groups took place, science experiments were observed and maths tests were marked.

What the video had trouble capturing is what happened since late January in Singapore, as different regulations have come into effect to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Events, sports competitions and trips canceled.

Mandatory temperature screening.

Children absent on stay notices.

Physical distancing of learners – moving from collaborative space to individual furniture

Physical distancing has meant we’ve had to change how we’ve taught, sometimes at short notice.

We also watched as different places shut down schools, businesses, and even entire nations in response to COVID-19.

At the time of writing, over 85% of children around the world are currently home from school.

Schools have remained open in Singapore  (with restrictions) and our attendance has been high throughout the term.

Yet COVID-19 was an ever-present feature of life here, swirling around us like a ferocious storm.

How do you teach in the eye of a hurricane?

Check in on your people

The interconnected nature of communication may mean that students find out the news at school. In the immediate aftermath, those from the area will be worried about the safety of friends and family members. Make it possible for them to check in with those back home. Others may bring the news to school. Create time to ask members of the community how they are doing and really listen to them.

Acknowledge what has happened

Most international schools have in their mission and vision statements about embracing multiculturalism and educating for peace. Yet how often do world events such as Christchurch mosque shooting, March 4 Our Lives, Climate Strike go unnoticed and unacknowledged by schools in a rush to get through curricula?

We took time to acknowledge that feeling disappointed at canceled plans, anxiety about catching COVID19 and scared about the future is a normal response to the pandemic. While we pursued the unit of learning we had originally planned, we also responded to the needs of the children.

The Unit of Inquiry on the Side

There were a lot of questions.

Children often bought in newspapers to discuss what they had read. We did some science experiments, explained new regulations, how our actions were flattening the curve, the importance of physical distancing to stop the spread and why some class members were dropping in Google Hangouts to join our lessons.

Regrettably, we had a few conversations about stigma that has risen alongside the disease.  It was important to balance easing anxiety by talking with the children about COVID-19 but also giving time to regular school routines to help everyone feel safe and secure.

Keeping Connected

One of the many challenges we have faced this term is keeping children who might need to stay home due to a family member arriving from an affected country or a weekend visit that got caught in the net of changing regulations. One thing we have found has worked was having a robust digital learning environment.

Our Year group is 1:1 iPad meaning that everyone is working on the same device purchased for them by their parents.   We’ve selected only a few apps that we use well throughout the year – the iOS apps, google suite, one note.  This set up has enabled children to quickly use their device as a way to capture and share their thinking.

Workflow for learners and teachers has also been a key part of our strategy. Since the start of the year, our year group has used Showbie to collect learning assignments. Teachers can give either verbal or written feedback which the children can act on providing evidence of learning.  Showbie also enabled us to identify children that appear disengaged and follow up with learners either in person or online.

A learner on campus collaborating with a learner at home on Google Meet

We also added Google Meet to our ecosystem for children serving stay home notices to join in on lessons and keep some connection with school.

How this system might hold up in the event of a long-term campus closure is hard to predict. This term enabled us to learn from the experiences of others, test out some of those systems if we experience a closure going forwards. Rather than delivering content, we see our ecosystem facilitating teachers to engage with learners (and learners with each other).

On our last two days of term, we transitioned to online learning, before our two week spring break. Our learners were eagerly connecting with each other and submitting assignments started earlier in the week for feedback. We honoured their efforts through our weekly tradition of shout outs for creative thinking or solid effort, but this time put it on YouTube.

What’s Polio?

On the last day of term, I shared a workbook from 1948 sent to New Zealand children during a polio outbreak to the class.

The first question out of the children’s mouths was ‘what’s Polio?’

In the space of my parent’s lifetime polio has gone from a virus globally feared to one unheard of by this current generation of children.

The question represents not only a triumph of vaccinations but also a timely reminder that previous generations have endured hardships and emerged smarter.

We will too.

I reminded the children of artwork we created that hung above our class when I taught this cohort in Year 4.

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 8.30.15 PM
A proverb that hung over our heads two years ago has special significance now

A waka (canoe) with the proverb he moana pukepuke ekengia e te waka.

A choppy sea that can be navigated.

Now we are in choppy seas but if we work together, we will eventually navigate to calmer waters.

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