May 27th, 2020

Teaching in the age of coronavirus: Week 9 — A new frontier

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


By Sari Beth Rosenberg

This is normally my favorite time of the school year:

  • The days are getting longer and warmer.
  • My students have completed their AP exams.
  • We are one final assignment and one standardized test away from summer break.
  • We usually watch a few history-related films right after the AP exam as a reward for their hard work and as a way to model the final project.

Of course, this year is different. However, I still tried my best during Week 9 to replicate what we normally do in class post–AP U.S. History exam. As I worked out ways to accomplish this goal, a quotation from President John F. Kennedy came to mind. On June 25, 1963, Kennedy delivered an address in Frankfurt, Germany, and said: “For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

Sari Beth Rosenberg teaching her class on Google Meet

Contextualizing Current Day & My Teaching Goals

Since many of my students are behind in my assignments and feel overwhelmed, I made the final assignment optional, though I strongly encouraged participation.

This end of the year assignment fulfills my main goal as a history teacher: I want students to take away the ability to connect the news they read and see every day to larger historical contexts. In a recent keynote for the Second Avenue Learning Virtual Social Studies Unconference, I shared that I feel like I’ve succeeded as an educator any time a former student tells me, “When I read or watch the news, I think about our U.S. History class. It relates to everything!”

During previous (non-pandemic) school years, students presented their “Contextualizing Current Day” projects to their classmates during the final weeks of school. It was my favorite part of the course, as I explained in this speech to my students last year:

Topics last spring included: migrant worker rights, the commodification of “camp” culture, Meek Mill & the disenfranchisement and criminalization of black Americans, eugenics and its legacy in the USA today, the Green New Deal and the history of environmentalism in the United States and the history of colorism.

I will report back in a later post to let you know how the pandemic-edition of the project pans out this year.

A New Frontier in Movie Screening During Remote Learning

To keep up with the tradition of screening a film after the AP exam, I turned to my students for help. I decided to play Forrest Gump and spent one lesson going over the history that would be covered in the film. I quickly discovered that if you try to share your screen on Google Meet while playing a film, there is a lag and echo. So, my students came to the rescue.

They set me up on a program that is familiar to them but a new frontier for me: Discord. Discord is commonly used among gamers, but it is a great hub for any group to communicate through voice, video, and text. It is also much easier to control and regulate privacy on Discord than other programs. In fact, after learning how to use it, I prefer it over Zoom and Google Meet.

Here are some shots of the room that students set up for the class. We all met on Google Meet and then students were sent the link to screen the film on Discord:

As we streamed the film, students set up a section for me to share links to further explain the historical references in Forrest Gump:

Then, at the end of the screening, students were prompted to write a review of the film and connect it to American History. I was amazed by how quickly students commented and also by their insightful analysis. Here is one example from a student:

What I love about this feature is that students can read each other’s responses, build upon what their peers write and comment.

Then, I responded to each student in real time:

My biggest takeaway from the experience: students seemed to feel more comfortable and confident writing their thoughts on Discord than they have on Google Meet or even in the classroom. This phenomenon is most likely because even though Discord might be new to me, it is a part of my digital native students’ natural ecosystem. They communicate on Discord all the time, similar to how my peers and I fired off messages all day long on AOL Instant Messenger in the late 1990s.

As I rounded out Week 9, the lines from President Kennedy’s 1963 address rang true to me. Change is the law of life.

As we enter our third month of online learning, I am not sure what the future holds. However, as long as educators stay open to change by experimenting with new ways to deliver instruction, we will keep the education flowing for our students, and for ourselves! The young people we teach are the future after all, so we should include their advice in how we go about designing curricula as the world changes rapidly around us.

Read more of Sari Beth Rosenberg’s “Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus” blog series here.

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. 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. 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


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