Virtual learning

Students in the Milton School District had their first day of virtual learning. 

“Let’s go, Red Hawks. It’s time to learn.”

I made the announcement walking toward the bedrooms of my two teens.

“It’s almost 8 a.m.”

Had this been a typical school day, they would have been at the high school by 7:35 a.m.

Today was the first Virtual Learning Day in the Milton School District. As a reporter and a mom, in between phone calls and emails, I joined my kids, ages 18 and 15, on this new journey.

Our school day started with a bit of confusion and me wondering what I would do if my kids didn’t get out of bed.

I understood that virtual learning was real school, next week was spring break (no virtual learning) and that virtual learning would continue until further notice.

“I don’t have to wake up early,” said Sydney, a freshman, who usually is studious.

Specifics about virtual learning were sent to families Tuesday via email. The letter from Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ryan Ruggles and Director of Technology and Innovation Ryan Curless began:

“In the fall, a group of Milton educators started the conversation around creating a Virtual Learning Day Plan for the school district. While the group was working on a slower roll out of this plan, including a virtual learning pilot day for the fall of 2020, the current situation with COVID-19 dictates that we need to move now.”

Milton has been a 1:1 technology district for six years, which means each student has a computer. High school students have a MacBook Air, younger students have an iPad.

Included with the letter was a link to a four-page Family Guide for Virtual Learning in Milton.

Since Tuesday, Principal Jeremy Bilhorn and teachers have been sending emails with both instruction and encouragement, and I have not been able to keep up.

Sitting down at the kitchen table with my laptop that was my first assignment. Spencer, a senior, joined me about 9 a.m. He ate a bowl of cereal, we then looked at which of his teachers had sent me emails. Spencer wanted to know if I had received an email from any of his teachers that he did not.

We looked at the nine emails I had from teachers and identified which were his and which were his sister’s. I had one that he didn’t have by email, but he had gotten the same message.

Because AP art doesn’t have daily assignments, the teacher emphasized the importance completing daily journals: “Please enter the date, a brief description of what you have done and a picture of the accomplished work for a particular day.”

As Principal Bilhorn suggested, Spencer planned to work by taking the subjects in order, according to his previous schedule.AA

He headed to his desk in his room and began with forensic science, where students are learning about crime scenes and evidence. The class had been working on hair analysis, but without microscopes, switched to handwriting analysis.

The school district uses Schoology as its Learning Management System for grades 4-12. Here, students find assignments, notes, links and other resources.

After checking Schoology, Spencer got to work, clicking on a YouTube link. Part of the assignment was to analyze his own handwriting, which he photographed with his phone, then AirDropped to his computer and added to a GoogleDoc. I took photos of him as he was working, then asked him to come out to the kitchen and look them.

“Does anyone want tilapia?” Sydney was in the kitchen and had decided about 11 a.m. would be a good time for lunch, since she skipped breakfast.

“I’m never going to get anything done,” commented Spencer, who has no interest in eating fish at any time.

“Don’t you have assignments due at 11:59?” asked my husband, who has worked at home for about 2 years now and happened to be in the kitchen for more coffee.

“11:59 – p.m.” said Spencer.

Sydney turned to Spencer: “I want you to teach me how to use Photo Booth (a Mac program for taking photos and video).”

Looking at her phone messages, she said, “Ooh, I have an Edpuzzle.”

“What’s an Edpuzzle?” I asked.

She explained she receives a text message, then goes to the Edpuzzle website and enters a class code to get access to the video puzzle. In this instance, the puzzle was for honors biology and about “incomplete dominance, codominance, polygenetic traits and epistasis.”

At about 12:30 p.m. Sydney switched to English and clicked on an assignment.

“Oh, my gosh, I almost submitted it and I didn’t even do anything to it,” she announced.

I asked her to show me step by step how she’s getting her assignments.

She turned her laptop to show me the screen. She’s using Schoology.

“The calendar shows what you have to do for the day,” she said. Then there are blocks for all of your classes and you click on them (one at a time).

She clicks on “Geometry,” then “Materials,” and finds a message.

“Good morning. Please do algebra review factoring 1-17 (odd). Solve by factoring 1-15 (odd). Solutions are in the algebra review folder. Email if you need help.”

Materials include a folder with worksheets, algebra solutions, videos, chapters (notes, reviews quizzes and tests.

Listed after materials are updates, grades and members (people in the class).

No one here had a conference today, but Schoology offers that, too, which Sydney described as “like FaceTime.”

Next to her laptop, Sydney had a spiral notebook.

“I made list so I could cross things off and I put the due dates – not everything is due today,” she said.

So far she’s completed work for Intro to Business, Computers for the Workplace and biology.

She still had to do Spanish (which includes recording herself speaking Spanish), English, geography and geometry.

“OK, I have to finish English,” she said, moving her face closer to her laptop.

The assignment included journaling.

“I want to answer all these questions,” she said. “They’re good questions. You pick two. Oh wait, each answer has to be 150 words. I might rethink this question choice.”

“What’s the question?” I ask.

“Do you have a daily routine, who set your routine, what does it look like?” she replied.

She started typing, read a sentence, then asked, “Do I need a comma?”

That is a subject with which I can assist. “If you’re using the word ‘which,’ yes a comma goes before which.”

At 12:30 p.m. Spencer, who is in the Co-op Work Program, leaves for work.

Before he left, I asked him for a status report, “I haven’t touched web design or game design. I’ll be working on that tomorrow. And I haven’t touched history and I’ll be finishing that up today.”

About a half hour later, Sydney decided to look at her phone: “Unemployment claims are up 33 percent.” She’s looking at Apple News, read more headlines, then held up her phone, “look at the picture of the cute puppy.”

I attempted to log into my Schoology account and reset the password, not once but 11 times. (Clearly I was doing something wrong but Google Password Manager wasn’t helping.)

Using her phone, Sydney checked her email, then played a video from Principal Bilhorn, who encouraged students to get into a good routine. The email was sent early this morning. I asked Sydney why she didn’t watch it earlier. She said the video needed time to download on her phone.

“Get going at a good time during the day, don’t wait til noon. Set that habit. Treat it like school because this is your school.

“Make sure you’re communicating with teachers. If something is not working well, email your teachers.

“These are unprecedented times, something that will be in your history books someday.

“We don’t know how long this will go, closure will be indefinitely.

“This is again a pretty new adventure for all of us. It’s not going to be perfect to start but we’re going to make it the best that we can.”

Sydney got up to pet Babs, the cat, who undoubtedly has had sleep interrupted.

She returned to the kitchen table, “I am finishing English and math, and then I’m calling it a day, I mean for now.”

Schools are closed but learning continues. Already we have learned lots.

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