In-Person Classes in 2020: Masks, Tech, and Constant Cleaning

If you were to walk into my classroom a year ago, you would see students gathered together creating multimedia projects with cameras, computers, and microphones. Over the past 7 months, with the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, I have had to make significant changes to the ways that I teach. From March to June, I primarily taught remotely, but with a return to in-person instruction, I’ve needed to restructure classroom activities to meet the unique needs of the current situation.  In this post, I’m to explore some of the changes to in-person classes in my teaching context (middle years multimedia specialist), specifically talking about masks, cleaning, and technology.

In general, I find that my students take the global situation seriously. I have not encountered any students that refuse to wear a mask. Sure, they need reminders from time to time to wear them properly, but for the most part, there are very little issues. Students are very aware of personal hygiene and cleaning. They have learned quickly to wash or sanitize their hands when they enter a space. From my perspective, I think that my students are doing a great job with this.

One significant challenge has been teaching with a mask. For one, it’s more difficult to talk and project your voice. Class wide discussions are not the same, as I can tell students have trouble hearing me, and honestly, I have trouble hearing them too, especially when they far away from me. It is also important to mention that this can be even more problematic for students who are still learning English, as they cannot see your face as easily. This all being said, I one hundred percent support the use of masks in schools, and I believe that it is something that we are just going to have to get used to over the next while. One of my solutions is to record my instruction through my laptop, and then have this available to students whenever they need it. There are still other options for me to explore, but all in all the video recordings are working well.

As a multimedia specialist teacher I use different technologies in my class. This school year presents a unique situation. Because of physical distancing requirements, I cannot have students work in groups in the same ways as before. I also need to avoid using equipment such as microphones, while also quarantining and disinfecting other equipment. In the past, I would always place students in groups of two or three to work on a computer, but this year this is not an option.  My classroom is now set up in in a way that I can transition quickly to remote/distance learning while ensuring that students still have access to equipment such as digital cameras and computers when needed.

For remote/distance/blended learning, my choice has been Google Classroom. I use Google Classroom only because I know that my students are familiar with it. There are plenty of other options out there, but in my context I think that this works best as I know that most of my students know how to use it, and it will be easy for them to continue working from home if they need to. It has also replaced the use of folders or binders for my students, which has actually helped as students can’t forget or lose their handouts and assignments now. I chose to record all of my major pieces of instruction and uploaded them to YouTube. Students are working on most projects independently, but I am finding ways to allow them to work in small groups through sharing documents online and by giving them guidance on how to shoot videos while maintaining the proper distance.

The inability to use group work to the same extent as before has made it so most of my assignments are now completed by students independently. This has taken away a big part of the group communication dynamic that I believe is a valuable learning experience. I am working to solve this, as I am trying to find ways to make distanced group assignments or I have had to make alternative assignment options depending on student needs. This is still an ongoing process that I am hoping to write more about in the future.

So what does this mean for my professional life right now? When I arrive at school in the morning, I usually try to make sure that my classroom is spaced out as best I can. When my classes arrive, I talk every day about the importance of physical distancing and offer tips on wearing masks, while guiding them through the instructional material that I have created. Later in the afternoon, I notice that both myself and my students are starting to feel fatigued. Offering chances for students to have breaks and get some fresh air has helped tremendously. Working with my custodians, we make sure that the spaces and equipment are cleaned appropriately, and finally, the most important piece is maintaining a flexible structure in my classes that can easily adapt or transition to whatever situation comes next. On a final note, this is all part of an ongoing process and if the past six months have taught us anything, everything can change in the span of a few days. Over this school year, I am hoping to write more about what I am doing in my classroom, and how this impacts teaching and learning.

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