Selected researcher and teacher panelists respond to and discuss key issues in K-12 STEM education.

High School Mathematics Teachers Share in a MeetUp About Teaching Around the Pandemic

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In the school year 2019-2020, teachers across the globe experienced teaching during COVID-19. Below, Natalie Johnson provides a summary of our August MeetUp and the participants' thoughts about teaching beyond the initial wave of the pandemic.


Beyond the initial wave of COVID-19, high school mathematics teachers are expected to go back to school in the Fall of 2020 where some classrooms will be taught 100% Face-to-Face, some fully remote, and some will experience a hybrid of both. What are you feeling excited about and what are you prepared to do well?

There was excitement expressed about the camaraderie and teamwork shared amongst teachers. The amount of effort to support each other in developing innovative ways to deliver content, provide feedback and make connections with students is encouraging.


What do you anticipate your physical space to resemble at the start of the upcoming school year?

Half the student body will be taught remotely and the other half will be taught Face-to-Face, but no plan has been communicated in terms of how that will actual happen. Teachers are entering the building a few days prior to students attending to plan lessons for Face-to-Face meetings and make videos for remote and online learning. 70% of students will be taught Face-to-Face once per week and all students will be taught virtually. Some schools are starting out by teaching strictly virtually (online) and after some time, they will reevaluate their plan to go face to face after some period of time. They are using adaptive learning management systems to provide synchronous and asynchronous lessons. Some schools are one-to-one and completely digital, making the switch to remote learning a more smooth transition.


Virtual teaching is not going to replicate a Face-to-Face classroom. What do you wish that you had that will provide more capacity to engage students?

Overwhelming so, providing student feedback privately in a remote environment was a shared concern. While some teachers use platforms such as ZOOM for remote learning, they struggled with how to effectively obtain student work, assess student learning and provide meaningful feedback in a virtual environment. For example, determining ways to have students submit work, having teachers provide feedback, and then having teachers send the work back to students in an efficient way seemed daunting. Using ZOOM, some suggested having students write down notes based on the lecture, then having teachers use the breakout and whiteboard features in ZOOM to schedule one-on-one sessions or small group sessions with students. Another way students may solicit feedback from teachers is by having students take pictures of their work (using their phone) and submitting it to teachers via email or DropBox. Others suggested using the features of google docs (e.g., commenting) or other tools such as the feedback feature included in other tools such as Desmos or using something similar to Screen casting. Using features that foster collaboration such as a shared google doc or google’s Jamboard are examples where multiple students (and teachers) may work collaboratively. Using samples of student work, using a tool such as Padlet, is another way to foster collaboration and teachable moments that engage the whole class. As one teacher iterated, it is essential for teachers to focus more on what is important conceptually to effectively motivate students to clearly demonstrate evidence of the eight math practice standards in a Face-toFace as well as a virtual environment. 


What tools have you recently used that you found beneficial in increasing student learning in the remote environment?

Creating YouTube channels to teach lessons have been productive. EdPuzzle is another resource. Bitmoji classrooms are fun and innovative ways to engage students.  Kahoot This was also mentioned as a fun, interactive, and engaging way for students to review concepts.  As part of assessing students, engaging them in conversations where the student learned how to schedule appointments with the teacher via Outlook was found to be useful.


While teaching during the pandemic, what was your greatest success and greatest frustration?

Successes included: Advanced Placement (AP) student engagement was satisfactory over the duration of the remainder of the school year and the evidence of that came in the score results; having teachers engage in a mini-webinar with Nate Silver was priceless; breakout rooms were similar to having Face-to-Face conversations; some students are more comfortable in a remote learning environment than in a Face-to-Face environment; students were a bit more honest about what they did or did not know because they could share that in a breakout room; students found a way to engage; fostering positive teacher-student relationships helped with student engagement; using themes chosen by the students allowed teachers to connect with the students and build relationships.


Frustrations included: Non-AP students did not engage as much over the duration of the school year; teachers dealing with their own children during the pandemic and teaching them in addition to their classroom students was difficult because of the varying degrees and expectations/engagement levels of different teachers across the different content areas; everything seemed to take longer (i.e., teacher feedback); technology in terms of dropped connectivity; not being able to read body language of students to understand whether they were grasping concepts; students who “ghosted” during class time and were enabled by their parents; students took advantage of the “loose” rules of engagement during COVID-19 because the grading policy did not allow student grades to decline; no failures, incomplete, or punitive assessments were allowed so students benefitted grade-wise regardless of engagement.


Is there a concern about the gap in student learning form the start of the Pandemic to the beginning of the upcoming school year?

While some teachers expressed that an apparent gap from year to year seemed like  common knowledge, the pandemic did not necessarily theoretically present any additional challenges. This way of thinking, based on the ongoing conversation, was interpreted as “deficit modeling” and a way of thinking that was counterproductive in improving student learning. However, it was clear that some courses required pre-requisites and of concern was school districts that supported uninhibited promotion of students where students were moved ahead whether they showed up during the pandemic or not. To remedy that lost time in one school district, teachers took advantage of the time that would have been allotted for state testing (since state testing was canceled); teachers used this time to provide enrichment instruction and activities to narrow the gap in student learning. A BootCamp at the beginning of the year to introduce or review the skills needed to level the playing field was suggested. At the end of the day, teachers must acknowledge the reality that students may enter their classrooms this upcoming school year with deficits on perhaps a larger scale than before, but they must find a way to provide diagnostic assessments to determine where to begin and begin teaching to improve student learning.


Is ZOOM fatigue really a thing and have you considered it as you move towards next school year?

Yes, teachers felt that the amount of Face-to-Face time on ZOOM was exhausting and should be considered as teachers are teaching remotely. The demands to connect with students, colleagues, and families (i.e., classroom teaching, department meetings, course team meetings, 504 or Individualized Education Plan meetings, parent-teacher conferences, small group meetings, one-on-one student meetings, etc.) can be quite demanding. Also, some districts are contractually requiring teachers to collaborate over ZOOM with other colleagues in addition to teaching classes. Some districts are expecting for teachers to use the three weeks prior to the start of the school year to meet and collaborate with others on their teams to create a more uniform schedule for students to have built-in breaks between ZOOM calls. This is meant to maintain and improve engagement of students while minimizing ZOOM fatigue.


What does co-teaching look like while moving towards a remote environment?

How we are supporting our students with special needs is a challenge that needs to be addressed in many school districts. Having specific hours to pull students out before school or after school was one idea presented that will provide students with additional time beyond the regularly scheduled class meeting times. This solution was not ideal because it significantly elongated the school day for both students and teachers. Given that students needed the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and cognitive development, this is an area of concern. A possible solution may be to have a teacher or student teach in a larger group and then to use breakout sections of smaller groups where multiple teachers and students lead the discussions or lessons.


What sorts of things are you doing to build trust very early on?

In one school district, the first two days of school are half days where one half of the student group shows up on the first day and the other half shows up on the second day. The teacher involved seeks to find a way to pair the two cohorts in a “getting to know you” activity so that they can meet their virtual counterparts in a fun and engaging way.

In a larger whole class environment, a teacher proposed using ZOOM breakouts with two-three students in each group and where the teacher bounces in and out of each room. Students will meet in small groups where they will introduce themselves to each other. The small groups will be rotated with different students throughout the year until every student has met every student in the class to help foster relationships and the teacher learned the names of all the students. To get the students interested in engaging, the teacher would present a task where students had to collaborate and work as a team to figure out the task in a specified amount of time. This will help to engage students and use the math practice standards to improve student learning.


In summary, the needs of and access to resources for students should be considered as we move into the upcoming school year and beyond the pandemic. While some things such as professional development and innovative learning are exciting for us as teachers, we acknowledge that there are also areas of concern. For example, what will the physical space resemble and how will we meet the needs of our students with special needs? While there is a plethora of tools available to use to teach and assess student learning, we must be cognizant that our focus should be on teaching students to increase learning and not teaching the tools. Virtual learning is not the same as Face-to-Face learning and ZOOM fatigue can be of issue and should be considered as one plans for the upcoming school year. As mentioned, there are multiple tools to use and ways to assess and provide feedback to students. While many of us have realized some successes while teaching during the pandemic, we also acknowledge some frustrations that cause us to reflect and improve our own pedagogy. Using diagnostic testing to assess where we begin this upcoming school year is nothing new and should continue. As we continue to work together as mathematics teachers, retool ourselves through professional development, collaborate, and benchmark best practices, teaching (whether remotely, Face-to-Face, or using hybrid model) beyond the pandemic is not as insurmountable as once thought.