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Episode 42: Rock Star Teachers Providing Online Options for Students and Parents

They are rock star teachers coming together to create what will be greater flexibility for students, teachers and parents in the upcoming school year. On this episode of the Supercast, we hear from educators who are creating K – 6th grade online curriculum with content for the entire upcoming school year. It is an effort that will give teachers and parents options and help to make sure students don’t miss a beat in learning throughout the year.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. On this episode, we are really excited to talk to some rock star teachers who are collaborating over the course of three weeks summer to create a K-6 online curriculum with content for the entire upcoming school year. It's a significant effort on the part of several school districts that will give teachers and parents options and help to make sure students don't miss a beat and learning throughout the year.

We're talking about curriculum covering all the core subjects designed to meet individual needs. Our rock star teachers are here to tell us all about day. We are fortunate to have on the Supercast Ross Menlove, who is the Digital Learning Consultant for Jordan School District, Dylan Funk, a teacher at Silver Crest Elementary and Melanie Smith, teacher at Antelope Canyon Elementary, which will open this fall. We're going to start with Ross and talk with Ross a little bit about a project that we have in Jordan School District in partnership with some other districts to create online content in anticipation of schools reopening in the fall. This will allow teachers to teach any grade K-12 online. And this particular group is working on the course six part of that curriculum. Ross, can you describe a little bit about what's going on this summer?

Ross:
Yes, thanks for asking. We have invited a group of teachers to come in. They are maintaining appropriate social distancing as they work together to design curriculum for students who need to be able to take school online this fall. These teachers are working together to design the lesson plans and to look at the year-long curriculum and the standards to ensure that the students are able to learn those standards while participating in an online environment. The way it's designed is, there's a learning target for those students to succeed every day. And there's an assigned teacher. The teacher will meet with those students every day and provide online instruction, whether that's, um, through a, maybe it's over the phone, or maybe it's in a video in a web conference or whatever it might be. There's a teacher every day that provides instruction to those students. And then, they can have some activities that those students can participate in to be able to meet the target of the day and to continue their learning while away from school and be able to do that online.

Superintendent Godfrey:
This will be curriculum that teachers who teaching in-person in the classroom can also drop in and use to meet the needs of students who have perhaps been missing class or had to be absent because of a quarantine or an illness in the fall.

Ross:
That is a hundred percent correct.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What is the student going to be receiving at school?

Ross:
They could get that same online so that the students who are able to can seamlessly transition between being at school with their teacher and also working online and the teacher will have that curriculum and that content already made online to help them and assist them to best meet the needs of the students and to be able to individualize the instruction for those students based on where they're at on the learning progress.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So in other words, a teacher would not have to create online content for a student who was going to be home for two weeks. They would be able to look at the standards that were going to be taught in class during that those two weeks, and just provide links to that student, to the content that's already been created by this group this summer.

Ross:
Yes. We want the teachers to do what they do best, which is to teach. We want to take the curriculum part of the process. We kind of want to help them with that, take that off of their shoulders so they can focus on teaching those students and meeting the individual needs of those students. You know, that's where they're chained in is helping those students learn and progress. And we want to make that as easy as possible so they can focus on what they're good at.

Ross:
And this is also going to be a course that would allow, as you indicated, students to take the entire year online so that if parents want to keep students home, for any number of reasons, they would be able to do so, and the content would be there to provide standards based instruction throughout the year.

Superintendent Godfrey:
The amazing thing is these teachers are providing year long curriculum. So we have a scope and sequence, and teachers are able to see what those students need to meet those standards from the first day of school to the last day of school. Students won't miss a beat and we'll be able to guarantee that those students have been taught all the essential standards, they've been taught all of the curriculum that they need to be successful in their grade level or their subject area.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And the standards focus is really important. For example, what we talked about earlier, if a student is out of school for a couple of weeks, they may not engage in exactly the same activities that they would have, had they been in school, but they will receive instruction and curriculum around the same standards that they would have been learning. So they still learn the same things they needed to learn, just maybe in a different way.

Ross:
That's the joy of online learning and blended learning. We can teach students and the students can respond and they're learning their own individual way. And we  can ensure that they've met those standards and they've shown that proficiency in their learning. For us to have a sheer knowledge that those students are reaching their learning targets and they're able to continue on, and we have that good understanding and we know where the kids are at.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Now, this has clear application for the fall, but there are a lot of long-term uses for this type of curriculum and having this available and created by great teachers here in Jordan District.

Ross:
Yes. You know, the wonderful thing about this is this is teacher created, teacher made, as the teachers go in throughout the curriculum, they stop and they say, you know what? This is an important concept right here. Let's spend two or three days. Let's make sure we have extra activities, make sure we build in some form of assessment to make sure the kids have this learning, it's teacher created. And the awesome thing about this is it provides options. We have options, not only right now with this current pandemic, but we have options going forward in the future. And we can be very creative in those options for students to build, to ensure student learning and be flexible to meet student needs.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's something we've been focused on as a district for a long time. That's providing a wider range of options for students. And, of course, that's particularly important right now, given the pandemic. But going forward, I just like that. There's going to be an option for students who may need to be out because of health reasons, or just prefer to learn at home and maybe they've chosen homeschool, but this is another option for them. Or they just simply, for whatever reason, even for a short period of time, need to learn from home, as opposed to coming to school. I just love the options this will give teachers and parents and students.

Ross:
Yes. I really appreciate Jordan District and the Board and their vision to be able to provide these options for students and allowing amazing teachers to come in and work on this curriculum. That way we can be flexible and we can keep students here in the Jordan community and keep them connected with their teachers, with the school and the big community at large, without them having to physically be at the building, but still be part of the community and part of the learning process.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I understand that other districts have joined this effort since we put this in place.

Ross:
We've been having teachers  come from Nebo School District that are joining in the fun. They're coming and helping our teachers get a different perspective and we're providing that same for them. We're also collaborating with other districts, to be able to have something ready for students, not only in Jordan but also across the state.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Describe the group that you have there this summer. Tell me about how many teachers you have there from all grades, from a wide range of schools. And, as you said, several districts.

Ross:
We have about 50 teachers that have been coming in and we have about six per grade level. They're focusing on creating a reading course, a writing course and a mathematics course. And then our science specialists at the District Office are creating our science course. We're making sure that in our writing course, we incorporate social studies concepts. So, we're making sure we cover all the different aspects of the Utah Core Curriculum. The teachers we have that are rock star teachers, teachers that I know not only found success during online teaching, but they're also teachers that are really great at curriculum. They're the teachers that understand student learning, and understand activities and learning strategies. Teachers not only need to know, but also students need to participate as they progress through throughout the year. You know, the amazing thing about these teachers is they're creating a year long curriculum and they understand how students learned from October and November, all the way to February and March and even into May. It's wonderful to see how they put that whole thing together for an entire year of curriculum for students.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Is it wrong that this gives me goosebumps? I'm pretty excited about that. And I just think it's wonderful.

We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back more about the online curriculum and how it will give teachers, students, and parents options throughout the day,

Steve Hall:
I'm Steven Hall, Director of Jordan Education fFoundation. In today's challenging and uncertain times, it is more important than ever before to support one another. Here at the Jordan Education Foundation, we invite you to join us in making sure children are not going hungry. Your $10 donation to the Foundation will help us feed one student for a weekend. Food and meals may be very scarce for some, with food and hygiene supplies in the principal's pantries at Jordan School District being depleted and in higher demand than ever before. Every financial contribution made will help us to keep the pantries filled for students who would otherwise go without. The Jordan Education Foundation exists due to the generosity of people who care about kids. If you would like to donate ,to help children from going hungry, please visit jordaneducationfoundation.org, or contact the Foundation at (801) 567-8125. Thank you together. We can make a difference.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Let's start with Dylan Funk. Dylan, thanks for joining us on the Supercast today.

Dylan:
Hey, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been teaching? What grades have you taught and then we'll talk a little bit about this project.

Dylan:
Yeah, for sure. So, I'm a newer teacher. I've been over at Silver Crest for the last two years and I'm currently teaching sixth grade.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So you're helping with the upper grade curriculum there. Tell me, what have you liked about this experience? What are you learning from other teachers?

Dylan:
I think one of the best things is really just the ability to really the ability to have a larger learning community. All these different teachers from different districts and different schools are all coming together. And just the ability to talk about what's important about what are the parts that we want to focus on and how can we provide those options for students to really meet the learning targets.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What are some of the advantages of online learning for students in upper grades in elementary?

Dylan:
I think one of the really best things with technology in general is just the ability that we have to individualize teaching. I think how we can really look at students for specific learning needs and adjust things for what they might need some extra assistance with. So as we went through the end of the school year, I found that I was really adjusting and tailoring instruction to what my students need for my learning environment. I was able to adjust things really to meet those standards and learning goals and help them find their academic success.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Well, what you described is exactly what we've been trying to do for a long time, and that is meet individual needs in an individualized way. So it's exciting that there's a project going forward with all of these teachers and districts working together to make that a permanent part of what's available to us. What has it been like working with these other teachers and teachers from other districts?

Dylan:
It's really been a quick project. It's overwhelming. I think at first we all were looking at the whole year as one big picture, which is always a scary thought. But as we started discussing and working together in our own groups and then really even talking with other groups, it's been exciting to see people start making progress and have great ideas and sharing. And really, just the level of collaboration has been exciting to see.

Superintendent Godfrey:
It's probably really fun to be in a group of teachers, even socially distanced, since you haven't had that chance for a long time.

Dylan:
It's definitely exciting to see some other people. I feel like I've been quarantined for a while now.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Melanie, tell me a little bit about your teaching. How long have you taught?  You were at Butterfield Canyon.

Melanie:
Yes. I'll be starting my 20th year teaching and I've taught all kindergarten. And then before I got to Jordan District, I did some pre-school too.

Superintendent Godfrey:
When you think about online learning, I think most people think about older kids. They think about high school, middle school, upper grades. As a Cabinet, we really asked ourselves, what's it like for kindergarten? And when the pandemic was new enough that we were still meeting as a Cabinet, we talked about online curriculum for kindergarten, and we actually watched a couple of videos embedded into Canvas, as if we were a student. And I was really impressed at how engaging online learning can be for young students. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Melanie:
I think a lot of people feel the same way, as you explained. It's scary for younger kids because they don't have the ability to read like other kids do. But, I think it's just kind of a mindset that you have to make. You have to figure out how to make it accessible to kids, which we do all the time in the classroom. And so, it's just a matter of finding things that are engaging, making videos, getting past that uncomfortableness of making videos. We just all hopped on board to make it accessible to our kids. We've had a lot of parents who said how great and easy it was for their kindergartners to follow. So that was good feedback.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yes. I think you're right. It's more natural than we would think for kids to learn online, even at a very young age. How did it feel for you to begin teaching online in the spring?

Melanie:
Well, I think it's like all new things. It was overwhelming at first, to figure out what would work best for our kids. And I think we talked to a lot of our parents too. We did some surveys to see what's working and what's not so that we can get a clear idea of what to do that was best for our kids. And so, even after the first week, our team was really good and we just kept going and it became something that became a more easy thing.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We've all had to shift our thinking quite a bit over the last few months. How has working with these teachers and being part of this project influenced your teaching?

Melanie:
I always feel like I'm learning, so it's been great to work with people from other districts because they always have a different perspective. It's been good to get that perspective and, hopefully it will help us be better teachers.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I feel like too often, we're just working a lot of parallel tracks and we don't really talk to each other and we don't benefit from each other's knowledge. So I love that you're not only working with other teachers in our district, but particularly working with teachers in other districts. What advice would you give parents of young children to make online learning as effective as possible?

Melanie:
I think for certain needs, really open communication with the teachers and make sure whatever concerns you have that we're addressing them. Just be open to the idea and know that we can help kids in whichever way they need. I think that's one thing that teachers are always going out. They're always adapting. You never have one year that's sustained. You don't have a group of kids that is the same. And so, every year I have to figure out a new way to teach a certain kid. So I think parents just need to know that we could help their kids and to reach out.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Dylan. What advice would you give for parents to help make online learning effective for students in the upper grades?

Dylan:
I think I would probably reflect what Melanie said. Communication is probably going to be the biggest thing. Just realizing that teachers, students, parents, we're all on the same team and we all want the same thing, for kids to succeed. So really talking back and forth and figuring out how we can help each other find that success, I think is really important. And then the other thing I think is for teachers and parents being willing to try new things if a teacher needs to do something to help a student find success. That's awesome. And then, for parents, knowing that teachers are trying these new things and being there and helping us out and trying those new programs and the new activities to help students learn better.

Superintendent Godfrey:
The point you both made about communication is really important. It's when parents and teachers are working in partnership that the most effective learning happens for students. And I think that's become particularly evident with the soft dismissal of school. This last spring, this online course that is being created for every grade level is really going to help provide an added level of flexibility. What has surprised you most, either during the dismissal in the spring or creating courses for the fall? Melanie?

Melanie:
I think the thing that has surprised me is that it really wasn't that hard to create things online, to move things from the classroom to online. It's just being willing to learn some new things.

Superintendent Godfrey:
How about you Dylan?

Dylan:
And I think for me, one of the biggest things was just how many different resources there are out there. I use technology a lot in my classroom and then, when I really started looking into it more, there's just so many things I discovered that would increase the quality of my online content.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Great. Both of you mentioned how daunting it was to switch to online learning in the spring and then, uh, how daunting it was to just think about creating all this online content, but then teachers adapted to both things are going really well. So what do you look forward to in the fall?

Melanie:
Hopefully we get some sense of normalcy where we get to see our kids. I'm excited that we aren't just as thrown into it. I feel like our content will be more effective thought out.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Dylan.

Dylan:
I think for me, in the future, I look forward to how a lot of my lessons have been really improved. I feel like technology and this whole process has really challenged me as a teacher and helped me redesign and look at some of my existing lessons. And I'm excited to see how that continues in the future.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Do you think that your teaching will ever be the same after this experience?

Dylan:
I think for sure this whole experience, it's going to have a long lasting effect on my teaching style, for sure. I see myself using technology in different ways and engagement, for the better. There's been a lot of great, great changes.

Superintendent Godfrey:
How about you Melanie?

Melanie:
Yes, I think none of us will have quite the same perspective on education as we did maybe a year ago. I think that we can take all of these great things we've learned. We'd been trying to have blended learning and this really has pushed us into making sure that we are using blended learning in our classrooms. I think that will really show, for everybody. I think it will be a really positive change.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yes, we learn a lot from difficulties and from challenges and the soft closure and anticipation of the fall certainly qualify as challenges. But I've just been deeply impressed at how teachers have risen to that challenge, adapted to it, learned from it and stayed focused on the needs of students. And the two of you are a great example of that in action. So, thank you for your great work in the spring and for your hard work on behalf of teachers throughout the District this summer.

Whenever we can on the Supercast, we try to play a little game called Two Truths and a Lie. So I'm going to give you each the chance to do that. I think we'll start with you, Dylan. It's a little harder for me to detect lies over Zoom, but let's give it a shot. Dylan, tell me two truths about yourself and a lie. And let me see if I can figure out which is which.

Dylan:
Okay. My three things will be, I have been to a Disney Park over a hundred times. I have broken my nose or my last one is, I worked as a surgical tech.

Superintendent Godfrey:
You were never a surgical tech. I love the surgical tech. You were okay. But you did go to Disney a hundred times.

Dylan:
That's for sure I did.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. The lilt in your voice when you said that, maybe it sounded a little wistful because you haven't been able to do that for a while.

Dylan:
I haven't. And it's very sad. Me and my wife are struggling with that very much.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So when did you last go?

Dylan:
Last December would be our last time.

Superintendent Godfrey:
December was your last time? So you really, do you go every few months?

Dylan:
About every other month is when we go.

Superintendent Godfrey
Wow. Props. I admire that. Okay. What's the best food then at Disneyland?

Dylan:
There's a place that has a French Dip, it's my absolute favorite. And I'll go there every single time.

Superintendent Godfrey:
My wife loves French Dip. I never knew that. So three years from now when we can finally back to Disneyland, I'll keep that in mind. Okay. Very good. I know a little bit more about you now, Dylan. Well done. Melanie, Two Truths and a Lie.

Melanie:
I am the worst at this. I can never, let's see. I have three sisters. I have one dog and I have three kids.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. This is a mathematical question here. You only have two sisters.

Melanie:
I have no kids.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Oh, no kids, no kids. What is your dog's name?

Melanie:
Echo.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Echo. Do you have to call his name more than once to get him to come? Alright. Well what kind of dog is echo?

Okay. Well, it's been so nice meeting both of you. I really admire the work that you're doing and I really appreciate it. And I know lots of kids, parents and teachers will appreciate it as well. Thanks to our teachers for their hard work this summer, creating online K-12 courses. We're excited to make this available to parents and students to provide additional learning auctions this fall.

Thanks again for joining us on the Supercast. And remember, education is the most important thing you will do today, wherever you do it.

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