By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
In addition to honing their academic skills, summer school students have been the first to learn the Schoology app, the district’s new online platform.
The platform provides a safe forum for teachers to create, manage and share academic content and also lets students work together to discuss their ideas and collaborate on projects or work independently on a personalized learning pathway, said Heather Kellstrom, who leads the AAPS technology department.
“Schoology puts the tools students and teachers need at their fingertips so they can focus on teaching and learning instead of the technology they are using,” says Kellstrom. “Teachers can create engaging content, design rigorous lessons, and progress monitor student understanding—whether learning takes place within or outside the district.”
Schoology will not only serve as a learning digital hub, but also support connection and communication with families in a variety of ways, she says.
Kim DeBord says her incoming sixth grader, Sylvia, has enjoyed participating in the Middle School Challenge—a three-week, interdisciplinary series of remote learning for AAPS students currently enrolled in grades 5, 6, and 7.
Sylvia says she finds Schoology more organized and has more options than Google Classroom, which was used at the end of the school year.
“The project-based, interdisciplinary curriculum is what she’s liking most,” says DeBord. “She’s very self-motivated with creative projects—earlier this summer she won the City of Ann Arbor ‘I Voted’ sticker contest—and so is enjoying the creativity folded into the school work.”
“I think that she’d still like to be interacting more with her peers than a virtual classroom allows, but overall she was surprised to find how much she enjoyed this—as the thought of summer school is always a bummer for kids.”
Schoology offers a variety of ways for students to interact as a class.
Letitia Simmons, a Huron High School English teacher who co-taught the Middle School Summer Challenge with Skyline PLTW teacher Bill Campbell, is surprised how similar virtual teaching feels to in-person.
“The best teaching is done through modeling of skills and metacognitive practices— these practices are built into the curriculum in deliberate places— but the rest is really up to the individual teaching teams,” she says. “I feel fortunate that Bill and I are similarly rooted in the above practices, students see us thinking through the technology and the curriculum.
“Although my first choice is to teach kids face to face, this program shows that teaching and learning can happen in meaningful ways online until it is safe for all of us to be together again.”
Simmons says she’s enjoyed exploring Schoology.
“The ability to be live with students in the feature Big Blue Button is pretty cool,” she says of the software. “While in there—it’s our classroom—I can use a variety of platforms to teach with. For example, in the MSSC we use Google slide decks and external videos to teach and interact with students, which really makes it feel like face to face school. While presenting, I can stop, and we can have discussions just like we would in the classroom. There are many features within Schoology that, if utilized, can provide a variety of ways for students to interact as a class.”
Her summer school students have explored their personal identities and their self-expression, and have been shown examples of how those things can be reflected in a community through its neighborhoods.
Using Schoology to create their their projects, she said they have become urban planners, looking at all the ways a place is enriched by the diversity of people, housing, art, and architecture.
“I like to imagine that they will never see community, neighborhoods, and cities quite the same way,” says Simmons. “It is my hope they will turn that critical eye to notice the statements that are made through public art, architecture, and neighborhoods in their own communities and begin to comprehend their surroundings on a deeper level, perhaps leading them to think about how they can make a positive change in their communities going forward.”
Luci Fry says her daughter Alejandra, 13, and son, Sebastian, 11, were at first sceptical about doing school work during the summer, but enjoyed the program.
“They like working from home while having the ability to interact with a teacher and students,” says Fry. “While they are only on their call for about 90 minutes, they cover a lot of material and are engaged with the topics being presented and discussed. I think my kids are enjoying this program because the lessons they are covering are being applied while working on their projects. It’s great to see my kids excited about learning.”
When asked what Ale liked most about the online experience, she said: “I like the breakout rooms. We get to answer a few questions about ourselves that lets you get to know everybody in your class better. It feels like you’re just hanging out with friends in class; it feels a bit more normal. I like the challenges because they give us room to be creative instead of just doing worksheets.”
Her brother, Sebi, who said his favorite thing about the summer challenge is his teacher, Stephen Freece, also noted that he likes using the Schoology application.
“It is easy to access,” he said. “I like it much better than all the Google apps we used to use. I like that we are actually learning new things like algebra and ratios. The projects are fun because you have to think and be creative.”
Teacher Stephen Freece, who looks forward to exploring more of Schoology’s features in the fall, likes the fact that Schoology offers a single place where students can sign-on and access their work.
“Students seem to be able to work with it well,” he said. “They can navigate the site easily to find and post their work.”
He said some students had difficulty getting microphones and cameras to work—a snag to be addressed as the district prepares to begin the school year with 100 percent virtual learning on Sept. 8.
Elementary Summer Adventure Games
Last year, the Summer Learning Institute for elementary students was held at Allen Elementary, and until April, it was assumed the program would be the same this year.
COVID-19 led to the 100 percent virtual learning summer program called the AAPS Elementary Summer Adventure Games.
According to the program’s principal, Angela Black, learning Schoology required teachers to tackle a good deal of online professional development, and there were some technical glitches to work out the first few days of school.
“Our teachers are patient, positive, and understanding,” she said. “They understand the importance of connecting and engaging with our students and families. Our teachers are simply the best.”
Tierra Jackson’s third grade students have been excited about being historians, news reporters, engineers, and data scientists, she said, noting that they loved the challenge of earning badges for their work.
She said she was surprised to see how quick they were to connect with each other—even virtually.
“On just our first day together, students asked if they could stay online and chat with each other after our meeting was over, even though they were all from different schools,” says Jackson. “That just made my heart smile. So of course, I let them do it. I just muted my camera and mic and stayed on while they had an online chat recess together. After about 30 minutes I unmuted myself and said, `Okay guys, time to get off.’ It was great! We made it a daily thing.”
Jackson said her students are not the only ones who’ve learned a lot this summer.
“I’m learning so much about not only how this online Schoology program works, but also more about our students and how they are surviving this pandemic in their own little third grade way,” she says. “It makes me hopeful and they are teaching me just as much as I am teaching them.”
Summer Adventure Games teacher Sarah Aherne reported on Twitter that she learned several things during her summer school teaching experience.
“Everyone is worried about the fall,” she wrote, “but here are my positive two cents after teaching the last two weeks:
- It is still possible to build relationships with both students and parents online. I had a lot of fun getting to know new kids and I had some wonderful emails from parents about their child’s experience.
- Online teaching can be culturally responsive. We can be responsive to students’ academic and social needs and engage them in new and unique ways.
- Technology can be a pain but it can be cool. Jamboard is my new favorite for building interactive slides. We can still laugh & have fun. Goofy dances, Hat Day, spending time telling stories at the beginning & end of lessons. We can do hard things with love and compassion!”
In preparation for fall, AAPS teachers will be learning Schoology next week during online professional development.