MARSHALL — The past year has been a roller coaster for students and staff at Marshall Public Schools, and through it all, distance learning technology played a big part in keeping kids connected to their studies.
“I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know when I say it’s been a difficult year this year,” said Park Side Elementary assistant principal Amanda Grinager.
“Our teachers have had to shift from in-person to distance learning, back to hybrid, to distance learning, and now back to face-to-face. I cannot say enough about how hard our teachers have worked to make this successful for our students.”
At Monday’s Marshall School Board meeting, board members heard an update on the use of technology in the district, and got a look at how it’s being used in classrooms at Park Side Elementary.
Adapting distance learning tools to better serve students took teamwork from teachers and the MPS technology department. Todd Pickthorn, of the technology department, said the district needed to support a total of 3,500 devices for staff and students, as well as internet access for underserved families. MPS was able to provide a total of 27 portable wireless hotspots, and an additional 15 were provided through a partnership with the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative.
“Another change that we made was we established a cloud-based technology hotline,” where media center assistants in the districts could be contacted for technical help, Pickthorn said. In the spring of 2020, the helpline received a total of 628 calls. This school year, the helpline has received around 465 calls, Pickthorn said.
Second grade teachers Theresa Leek and Esther Caron shared how distance learning technology affected learning in their classrooms.
“We started the school year and we had half of our class in learn-at-home, and the other half of our class was at school,” Caron said. She and Leek worked together to try and figure out ways to teach that would work best for the class and for each other.
“We came up with the idea that we would be co-teachers of the learn-at-home kids,” Caron said. She and Leek teamed up on planning and scheduling. For example, if Caron taught a reading lesson to her class and learn-at-home students in the morning, Leek would teach a math lesson in the afternoon. “We did this in a way so that we were only online once a day,” and could be more responsive to students’ needs.
Caron said their approach included a mix of large group, small group and one-on-one work with students.
“In order to do this, we used a couple of different technology options,” Caron said. Some lessons were offered on video through a program called Screencast-O-Matic, while other learning activities were offered through the Seesaw app.
Leek said Park Side students also had a chance to use Teams for distance learning this year. The MPS technology department helped get Teams set up on student devices so kids could get into their classroom conference call with one touch. Other modifications it easier for teachers to control students’ mute buttons and record live lessons to put on Seesaw.
“As second graders, it was really new for them to be on Teams,” Leek said. “They’re trying to control their microphones, on and off, and the camera, on and off, let alone absorb what is being taught.”
“Our lesson delivery changed,” Leek said. With social distancing and distance learning, activities like reading a book together became tougher to do without help from technology. Downloading books into smart documents made it possible for everyone to follow along, she said.
“I think what you’ve done here is exemplary,” said sboard member Bill Swope.
“I agree. I’ve talked to other districts, especially up in the Cities, and they’ve had nightmares,” board member Jeff Chapman said. Chapman said he thought the partnership between teachers and the MPS technology department has been outstanding this year.Making the best
of ‘a difficult year’
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