Article

April 3rd, 2020

Teaching in the age of coronavirus: Week 1 — The start

CoronavirusEducationOnline LearningSocial StudiesU.S. history
Photo credit: Maximillian Re-Sugiura

 

By Sari Beth Rosenberg

“Welcome to my apartment, it is also my classroom now,” I joked as my students popped up, one-by-one, on the Zoom screen. 

In less than a week, 75,000 New York City public school teachers, myself included, converted our curriculum into a remote learning program for our students. After a week of rolling out this brave new world of online instruction amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, the whole experience still feels surreal. However, I am inspired and impressed by how our entire school community has come together to completely convert to online learning.

After a week of rolling out this brave new world of online instruction amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, the whole experience still feels surreal.

In a previous post for PBS NewsHour Extra, I shared how I used my teacher Instagram account (@sariteacheshistory) to stay connected with my students before we set up our remote learning program. I hosted a few Instagram Live lessons where we continued the AP U.S. History curriculum, including a lesson on civil liberties and Japanese Internment during World War II. I was pleasantly surprised by the student discussion in the chat, however it felt odd to not hear my students’ voices. 

Photo courtesy: Sari Beth Rosenberg

The basis of my school’s remote learning program has been centered around Google Classroom. Therefore, this part of online school has not been too harsh of a transition. In addition, my students were already used to turning in their homework assignments every day as well as receiving an occasional message or update from me. 

Related: Educator Voices: How the coronavirus pandemic will change education

However, after one week of Google Classroom being the main mode of communication, students felt barraged with nonstop messages, updates and Zoom meeting invitations. It was as if they had graduated from high school to life as a corporate executive, without an executive assistant, in one week.

So all the teachers, myself included, have been working at limiting the updates and uploads. I cannot say that they are feeling less overwhelmed by messages and homework assignments, but I am hoping that everyone will get into a more comfortable rhythm by the end of the second week. (Also, if any of my students are reading this, sorry about flooding your inbox!)

Students felt barraged with nonstop messages, updates and Zoom meeting invitations. It was as if they had graduated from high school to life as a corporate executive, without an executive assistant, in one week.

The most challenging adjustment has been figuring out how to deliver classroom instruction. For the first week, I gave my students classwork (primary sources and documentary film clips with guided questions) to complete in the morning for the 25 minutes allocated to my class in the school schedule. I have also created some Zoom videos where I narrate my slides, but I am still trying to figure out if they are necessary and helpful for my students. (Do they need to hear my voice reading the slides to them?) 

However, I have had the most success in teaching my students via Zoom. For my first Zoom class, I quickly realized that it was not the best idea to merge two classes together into one room. I also learned why all students should be put on mute upon entry. However, students were happy to socialize with one another for the first time in over a week, so I viewed the first Zoom class as our online icebreaker.

For my second Zoom class last week, I broke the students into their class sections (I teach two AP U.S. History classes) and structured the class on 1950s culture and counterculture around 6 discussion questions. 

How do you think the Cold War abroad led to a culture of conformity in America?

How did tv, advertising & suburbanization contribute to the growing “homogeneity of American culture”?

What were some of the criticisms of the conformist culture of the 1950s?

Evaluate the extent to which the 1950s was a decade/age of political, social, and cultural conformity. 

All the students had prepared for the class, so we were able to engage in high-level conversation around these questions. Some students chose to chime in using the chat feature, and I read their comments out loud to make sure their voices were included in the discussion.

I also learned why all students should be put on mute upon entry. However, students were happy to socialize with one another for the first time in over a week, so I viewed the first Zoom class as our online icebreaker.

Our other Zoom class last week was a test review and students took the test I created using the College Board’s AP Classroom site. I plan on getting feedback from students on the test when we have our next Zoom chat. I also started to greet the students every morning with the agenda as well as a song of the day. Friday’s song was “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. I figure this will be a way to create some structure and positivity during this chaotic and disconcerting time for all of us. 

Although I am doing my best to keep teaching and challenging my students, I will never be able to replicate the magic of teaching in a classroom from my laptop in my tiny Manhattan studio apartment. However, as I prepare to start Week 2 of online school,  I’m looking forward to seeing my students’ faces, and avatars, appear in my Zoom classroom as we start the unit on the Civil Rights Movement.


Sari Beth Rosenberg is an award-winning U.S. History teacher and writer. Her most recent media appearances include The Skimm’s Back To School series and Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum.” Last year, she wrote the #SheDidThat series for A&E Television Networks/Lifetime, daily women’s history posts and videos as well as numerous other publications. Sari helped write the new Global and U.S. History curriculum for the New York City Department of Education with a small team of educators. She also recently contributed to a forthcoming edition of the Hidden Voices curriculum. Sari is also a frequent curriculum consultant at New-York Historical Society, recently contributing as the Teacher Developer for the “Hudson Rising” (2019) exhibit. In March 2019 she was awarded the Paul Gagnon Prize by the National Council for History Education.  Sari has been teaching U.S. History at the High School for Environmental Studies, a public high school in NYC, for nearly 18 years. Find her on Twitter & Instagram @saribethrose, her teacher Instagram @sariteacheshistory and at saribeth.com

 

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