Teachers at Roseburg High School have continued to educate students remotely, as the schools remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Science teacher Kristin Brooks and theater teacher Christina Moroney answered questions via email about distance learning and how it’s different this year.

Teachers are hosting online classes from inside the RHS building.

The News-Review was denied access onto campus to see how teaching took place. The News-Review was also denied virtual access into the classrooms.

Superintendent Jared Cordon said the district’s priority is “on the safety and well-being of our staff and students” and access to Zoom sessions is allowed only to family members “to protect student privacy.”

Brooks wrote that in some respects she feels like a new teacher, as teaching science remotely has been very time consuming and challenging.

“The learning curve has been very steep,” she wrote. “The biggest takeaway for me has been that we can do all of the same things we did when students were in the building with us, we just have to get creative and do it in a different way. As science teachers, we know that students must do labs and activities to grow their critical thinking, inquiry and engineering skills and to deepen their understanding of science content in general. This has been a great challenge.”

The science department has been working to create experiments for students learning at home and trying to find experiments that students could do at home that would mirror the ones they’d usually do at school.

Another thing that added to the steeper learning curve for Brooks, was the new curriculum the school adopted this year. “Not only are we learning about that, and working as a team to lesson plan, we are having to move that curriculum into Canvas,” she said.

Canvas is the learning management system the school district bought this year to create a centralized learning platform for all courses.

For Moroney, the transition has been a little smoother, as a lot of the focus on social-emotional learning is one that comes naturally to a theater course.

Moroney wrote that she starts every day by checking in on her students. “2020 has been hard on everyone and it’s important that students have an outlet to express their feelings, both positive and negative,” she wrote.

The theater classes are mostly project-based and Moroney said that she likes to spend no more than 20 to 45 minutes with students on Zoom each day, so they can work on those projects and assignments.

Moroney shifted to teaching students more about acting on film, rather than on the stage.

“It adds to their repertoire of skills, but would not necessarily be a focus when we are in person,” Moroney said. “There have also been a lot of new ideas about how to make performances happen online, and how to direct actors for online work as opposed to onstage work. These are also skills that are brand new to my students, and would not have come up if we were not in a position to utilize them.”

The Roseburg High School Theatre will be streaming its first show, “Bad Auditions on Camera,” via Broadway on Demand at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 and 24, and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 25.

Brooks said the way schools were forced to move quickly in upgrading technology will be a benefit for students long term.

“At RHS, we were extremely excited to work in our Zspace lab with students last year,” she wrote. “Beyond that resource, we have been in need of more technology on campus.” She added that the proficiency of staff and students is improving each day.

What’s been hard for both teachers is not seeing the kids in person.

“We all want kids back, once it is safe to do so,” Moroney wrote. “Something that most people may not realize is that, from the teacher’s perspective, the job we normally do is not the same as the job we are doing now- teaching in person and teaching online are different, carefully-developed skill sets, and most of us have never developed our skills in teaching online until recently. As a result, it’s like being a first-year teacher again in some ways.”

Brooks wrote that, especially early in the school year, she struggled to get a quick read of the room to see how students are doing.

“In person, the teacher can circulate in the room and immediately see responses of students and assess understanding,” Brooks wrote. “This virtual learning environment is different. As the year has gone on, I am learning to use tools that achieve that same outcome, quick assessments. Zoom polls, Zoom reactions, Canvas discussions and the use of anonymous open-ended responses on Padlet have made a difference for me the last several weeks.”

Douglas County met the state health metrics to reopen to in-person learning on Sept. 9, but Roseburg Public Schools opted not to reopen at that time. As of Friday, the plan was to bring the high school students back to campus on a hybrid schedule on Nov. 2.

However, since the county and the state COVID-19 cases have been climbing, it is unlikely that schools will open to students in November. Cordon suggested during his superintendent report at Wednesday’s board meeting that a new date to consider would be Jan. 25, 2021, as it would be the start of the new semester.

State officials have said new health metrics will be released by the end of the month. It is not clear what those new metrics will look like.

Brooks and Moroney both said the level of education through distance learning students are receiving this school year is much higher than it was the last year.

“The spring was essentially ‘crisis teaching,’” Moroney wrote. “We were all caught off-guard and desperately trying to put together lessons for students when none of us were prepared to do so. So, we did what we could at the time, given our training and resources. This fall we were much more prepared, in part because our administrators ensured we had lots of opportunity for training and troubleshooting before starting up with students.”

Moroney said she took several weeks’ worth of workshops over the summer to get ready to teach her courses online. In addition to Canvas, a learning management system the district invested in, and online videoconferencing software Zoom, she uses Flipgrid where students can record videos of themselves and others can respond in video format.

Brooks works together with the other science teachers to streamline lesson plans for students across the different classrooms.

Brooks wrote, “It is so wonderful to be back in the building with the science department working together to lesson plan and focus on how we can support our students both with respect to their social emotional wellbeing, but also working on how we will move them forward on their journey through science here at RHS. Being able to conversate with my colleagues and check in between classes or on prep regarding lessons is such a powerful part of our work and was greatly missed in the spring.”

Another thing that changed is that last year students were graded on a pass fail system, but this year students will receive letter grades again.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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