A TEACHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
Gabrielle Plastrik is a tech-savvy teacher, but as the coronavirus spread and the transition to distance learning loomed, she upped her game.
“I made a commitment to learn a lot of new things,” says Gabrielle, who teaches English, language arts and social studies at Seabury middle school. “For instance, I learned to make infographics and podcasts – partially because those are products I want students to be able to create.”
With the coronavirus keeping most of us under house arrest, technology is having a moment. That’s for sure.
Technology keeps our wobbly world in orbit by connecting, informing and entertaining us as we practice social distancing.
Technology softens the economic blow of social distancing by enabling some of us to remain productive without “going” to work.
And technology gives Gabrielle the ability to keep her students moving forward with their education – all while she sits crisscross applesauce on the floor in front of her coffee table with her young daughter close by.
But don’t let that cozy scene fool you. “I’m definitely working as much as I was working before,” she says.
The coffee table is mission control. Gabrielle’s laptop puts enough technology at her fingertips to launch a small satellite. OK. Not really. But she is able to deliver nearly the same amount of educational content to her students as she did in person.
Google Classroom was an important tool before the switch to distance learning, but now the cloud is much more than a convenient way to assign, track and review student work and respond to student questions. It’s a necessity. “We couldn’t do any of this without it,” Gabrielle says.
Nearpod is another go-to tool that enables Gabrielle to display and control information on every student’s computer screen and lead an interactive lesson. She can also assign gamified assessments that translate each student’s progress into climbing a mountain or meeting some other challenge.
There’s one thing Gabrielle can’t do, though. This was the week that middle school students were set to visit New York and participate in the Model United Nations.
“They devoted four-and-half months in preparation for an event that never took place,” says Gabrielle. “My online approximation just isn’t the same as going to an international event with kids from all over the world.”
The other thing that can’t be approximated is the insight that comes from being in the same building with students all day.
“At school we see them all the time and we know right away if they’re struggling,” Gabrielle says. “Now they have to ask for help and some kids are reluctant to do that – although they’re learning and that’s a good thing.”
While it’s important that education continues, it’s also important that students maintain their connection to one another, Gabrielle says.
Middle schoolers continue to meet virtually as a group with their teachers via Zoom, engage with each other in an ongoing group chat and schedule watch parties for favorite shows and movies.
“A lot of what we do is about social dynamics and getting them to learn to work together and be together,” Gabrielle says. “So much of middle school is about learning how to transition to adulthood.”
GABRIELLE’S TOP CLICK
BrainPOP “Access is free as long as school is out. Kids of all ages can choose the subject they want to explore – science, social studies, English, etc. – and find lots of links to animated games, activities and videos.”
WHAT GABRIELLE’S WATCHING
“We’re not watching TV, but Ida and I are listening to a podcast called Story Pirates It’s an improv troupe in New York that pretends to be pirates and acts out skits that kids send them. It’s very silly, but very fun.”