Amy Dawson is the eighth-grade math teacher at Trumansburg Middle School. In a normal school year, she would have three math 8 classes, an Algebra class, PREP, Two math labs for student support, a study hall, and lunch. When first hired by the district, Dawson taught seventh-grade math, but moved to the eighth grade a few years ago and really liked having the same kids two years in a row. There were 16 - 21 students in each of her classes then, but things changed drastically last spring when school became totally remote.
A virtual plan was developed in March which encompassed the normal nine period schedule. Dawson hosted virtual Algebra classes Monday through Thursday and morning and afternoon Math 8 classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Monday and Wednesday were asynchronous, meaning no classes, just homework assignments. She had office hours every day for extra help.
On Fridays, Amy conducted office hours, posted assignments, and used the time as a catch-up day. “It was a challenging time because I was always recording my classes and had to learn how to join certain meets. It was a high learning curve, but a short one for the students and myself. We learned together. I started the Algebra classes first and then two weeks later, the Math 8 classes began,” explained Dawson.
Starting in September, Blue and Gold Cohorts were organized for in-person hybrid learning within the nine-period schedule. Unfortunately, construction was delayed and all seventh and eighth graders were forced to begin remotely for the first two weeks. “I was able to look at School Tool before the start of classes and studied the students’ pictures and names. I avoided the stress at the start of school to memorize all of the names and was ready to go when the students arrived,” Dawson remarked.
When they returned, Algebra students met five days a week and Math 8 students met three days a week at their scheduled math time. Math labs were eliminated due to ongoing construction and the promise to parents that their children would move around as little as possible. In her room, Dawson has one device turned toward the classroom and one turned to face the Smart Board so the kids at home can see everything. All students can hear her clearly because she wears a headset. Amy recorded her classes and made them available through Google Classroom.
Now, Dawson’s daily schedule has Math 8 classes on Monday/Tuesday or Wednesday/Thursday, Algebra, study hall, PREP, lunch, and a virtual period where she checks in on Google Meet with her students. Her in-person classes are no bigger than 12 students, but her virtual classes can be as large as 19. Students move to other classes for different subjects, but their schedules have been conscientiously designed and are such that movements are reduced as much as possible. Students tend to stay in one room for most of the day, including lunch. For example, one student has class in Dawson’s room five times a day.
Because of COVID-19 positive tests and many students, staff, and teachers currently quarantined, school has gone back to totally remote until Nov. 30. The middle school is still using the nine-period system and all students follow their virtual check-in schedule. “I am piloting a new program where the kids dial in for their classes if remote and it has been wonderful. I love it. Not all of my kids are able to do it, though, because they might have to check-in to another class at the same time,” Dawson said. “It is wearing on people to be virtual all day. We have to keep a lot of balls in the air getting kids to come to class. It is nice because we know each other now, but it was tricky at the start of the year. Most of the kids are participating and I am generally able to contact parents. I am trying not to over-contact them, but will e-mail, make phone calls, and give weekly updates.”
Grades were due last week because it was the end of the first marking period. Dawson is giving fewer grades, more rubric grades, and shorter assignments than in past years. It has become a paper-free classroom too for the benefit of virtual and in-person students alike. Students are required to write in composition books. They use digital white boards on their Chrome Books. All assignments are posted on Bright Space. Students submit homework, Dawson corrects it and makes notes, and then the work is sent back to the student.
Amy feels like she is planning all of the time. She is part of a leadership team and spends two hours every Friday supporting Bright Space. Dawson is on Google Meet with parents and has team meetings to attend. The teachers used to meet in person to talk about ways to support students, but now have to meet virtually. “The technology has been challenging for everyone – adults and students alike. We have had to learn a lot quickly, but it is coming together. We have to trust our leaders just like the kids have to trust me. The Internet load is big and sometime the days are glitchy, but you just have to roll with it.”
“It has been a luxury to have smaller classes. I have one class of three students and it is nice when the virtual kids join in. The new tools we have to use are good too. Through the struggle, you get to know people better even though you see them less. I had used Google Classroom and it was a challenge to learn Bright Space, but I like a challenge. I am pretty impressed with the building leaders and staff. The kids are following the rules, the building is safe and calm, and we are making the most of a challenging situation,” Dawson remarked.
The Algebra Regents will be given at the end of the school year. Dawson is focusing on the essentials and organizing the curriculum to prepare her students. She is in a good place and has decided what material stays and what the kids have to do. Amy is pretty happy with the way things are going and feels that it is the best that it can be.
“The way my schedule is, I have been able to come home for lunch and it is good for my mental health,” Amy smiled. “I wish there was greater engagement with the hybrid model because it is harder for me. Some kids are not checking in. Math is a layered subject and it is hard to teach if the students aren’t checking in. I don’t know how to resolve that. How much can you push? But you don’t have to quit either. I am giving my students the best education that I can.”