Upper School Division Head Stephen Dunn said it best this week in an email he sent out to Upper School parents. “The Nueva faculty has been remarkable in so many ways, and especially for their hard work in turning their curriculum from rich project-based, hands-on classes into a remote, synchronous, asynchronous, and distinctly hands-off experience,” he said. “It is no easy feat to redesign your class on the fly.”
Since Nueva announced the move to remote learning, Nueva teachers from prekindergarten through twelfth grade have been learning by doing, adapting their curricula and utilizing digital technologies to bring their classes into an online space. Below is a sampling of some of the creative things our Nueva teachers have been doing in this new remote learning environment.
As we wrote last week, so much of our youngest Nueva students’ day is based on the interactions they have with one another and their teachers. PreK teachers David Robinson and Nathalia Amaral have created learning opportunities that, while they can’t replace in-person interactions, bring connection and joy to their class.
“There is no doubt that our family has a deeper appreciation for the incredible work that our teachers do every day,” said parent Greta Anderson. “While it is impossible to recreate the same learning experience at home, I appreciate that our teachers have gone above and beyond to create meaningful activities for our children that aim to maintain connection with their families, peers, teachers, and the greater community.”
One activity David and Nathalia have introduced to the class is the creation of a class joke book. Each student has an opportunity to contribute one or more jokes to the book, and students are illustrating their jokes. Some students have chosen to create their own. “Why couldn’t the queen sleep?” one student asked. “Because there was no knight!”
As the class begins to put their digital book together, they will have small teacher-facilitated group discussions around what humor is and what makes a joke funny.
“This activity is part of our social-emotional learning,” David said. “It’s such a heavy time and isolation is weighing heavily on the children. So I thought, ‘What can I do to lighten things a little bit?’ Nathalia and I met individually with students via Zoom and asked them to share some jokes with us. I think it is particularly important right now to bring some joy into what we are doing and get people to laugh.”
Greta added, “This past week, my daughter enjoyed participating in her first class meetings on Zoom, decoding secret messages from her teachers, engaging in virtual lessons and stories from her specialists in math, science, and SWI, singing with Gemma, and writing a postcard to one of her classmates. We are especially grateful to be a part of the Nueva community during this difficult time.”
The fourth-grade team has loved the challenge and innovation this new remote learning has offered. “It has pushed me to think outside of the box (my computer screen!) and embrace the Nuevan concept of ‘learning by doing,’ which is quintessentially Nueva,” said teacher Sarah Merkt.
One area of the curriculum that has been adapted well to this new space is incorporating the current-events project into morning meeting discussions. These important SEL check-ins give space for students to talk about what is going on in the world, which connects well with the class’s current-events discussions.
Sarah shared, “We had just finished a large unit studying various components of the Olympics. Two students found an article about the postponement of the Olympics and, over Zoom, held a thoughtful discussion of the implications of holding the Olympics a year from now.”
Said fourth grader Dixon F., “It was fun to share information and news about the world, but it was also a bit hard to tell people that the biggest worldwide sports event of the year is canceled.”
Remote learning poses a particularly big challenge with courses that are most hands-on and typically utilize many materials. Teachers in science, art, engineering, and design have adapted by reimagining their hands-on experiences in an online space.
Middle School science teacher Dalton Lobo Dias has incorporated a variety of online tools to help his students understand advanced concepts. If you stepped into one of his Zoom classes recently, you would have seen Dalton showing students his hand-cranked generator while simultaneously showing a simulation of the underlying physics of what he was doing. This was part of the wrap-up of a unit on electromagnetism.
“If I can get students to understand how this hand-cranked generator works by the end of the year, that is great,” Dalton said. “When they are adults and they are deciding for their homes where they want their energy to come from—coal or wind—I want them to understand the science behind their decision.”
Throughout Dalton’s lesson planning, he keeps top of mind the question, “How can I engage, assess, and frequently check in with my students?” He has found that his students love quiz games, and he has incorporated a number of these games into his class using sites such as Kahoot, Padlet, and Quizlet.
Dalton added, “The amount of time the administration has dedicated to helping teachers learn to use and to teach with these online tools has been so great. They have carved out time and space for teachers to learn and meet and get caught up with technology.”
Just after the shelter-in-place order took effect in March, the Nueva math team had an opportunity to hear from math teacher Emily Sliman, who currently teaches at the American School in Tokyo and will soon join the Nueva math team in the fall.
“She was three-and-a-half weeks ahead of us, so it was useful for our team to learn from her and see what math classes could look like and what techniques to use,” said PreK–12 math coordinator Danielle McReynolds-Dell. “We all ended up getting tablets because Emily had shared how helpful they are in being able to easily write out math problems.”
In Lissie McAlvey’s sixth-grade math class, she has incorporated a lot of what she learned during that call, in particular the importance of creating social connections for students. Lissie has introduced roundtable breakout groups in her classes. During these roundtables, students are put into groups of three in different Zoom breakout rooms and given a math problem set to solve together. Following the completion of a problem set, groups peer-review each other’s work, providing comments and questions for everyone to think about.
“These roundtables allow students to interact and talk in small groups together, and provides students the time they need to work through the problem sets,” Lissie shared. “These have gone really well, and the students love them.”
Lissie surveys her students after each class, with the goal of learning from them what skills they feel confident in and what skills they still need to explore further. She also provides a space for students to share comments.
Following the roundtable groups, Lissie read a lot of positive feedback from her students.
“It was awesome doing breakout rooms,” one student shared.
Another wrote, “I think it was good to be able to review and be reviewed by other people. It was helpful to review other people because you see their work and how they did it.”
Ultimately, Lissie said these roundtable groups, as well as other supplementary online tools, have allowed her to meet her goal of checking in with each of her students. “The surveys help me gauge what each student understands and what each student needs more support in,” she added. “I’m also able to go into each of the breakout rooms while students are working to see how they’re doing and answer questions they might have.”
Sixth graders in Angi Chau’s and Michael Leopold’s computer science class have begun an investigation into artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“We have been using some fun tools that are powered by machine learning, including Google’s Quick Draw,” Angi said. “In our first class, we split into pairs, sent them into breakout rooms, and had one student share their screen with their partners while playing Quick Draw. Partners recorded the guesses that the algorithm made for each round.”
The class will use the data that students gathered in this activity to dive deeper into why the algorithm made these predictions.
“We also played around with a tool called Mentimeter, which allows students to submit their responses to prompts and then builds a live word cloud with them,” Angi added. “It’s not a discussion per se, but it allows us to quickly get a snapshot of what everyone is thinking about in class, since time is of the essence in our shortened blocks. It’s been great seeing the students, and overall students are excited and interested in our current investigation.”
The students in Rob Zomber’s Creature Comforts course have exemplified what it means to be Nueva students. “They’re Nueva students, so they are flexible and open to anything,” Rob said.
Given the hands-on design thinking and engineering work in this course, students have come up with creative ideas for moving forward in the class. The core of this course tasks students with working with Conversation Ambassadors to learn the needs of the animals and animal keepers and then building homes for specific animals.
As Rob began to think about the future of this course, he offered his students three options:
- They could end the class for the semester, and have it wiped from their transcripts, because they don’t have access to the I-Lab and the materials.
- They could do this course in theory and in CAD (computer-aided design) and not physically build anything.
- They could do everything to prepare to build now and once they are back in the I-Lab—whether that’s over the summer or next fall—they will cut the designs and complete the project.
“I had a heart-to-heart talk with the students,” Rob said. “Every student in the class shared that this is something they want to do fully. We are 100 percent still planning to build shelters. We’re going to keep going, and as soon as we can do the install, we’re going to do it.”
In the meantime, students came up with the idea to create enrichment activities for the animals. Students did research about a variety of enrichment activities, and they will create CAD drawings before bringing them to life.
“The zookeepers were stoked about this idea because they were under the impression that this was going to become a theoretical project,” Rob said. “They loved that the students are so into this and that we’re keeping up our end of the deal. The students feel connected to the animals and have their hearts set on making the animals happy.”
So, whether the animals get their new shelters over the summer or next fall, our Nueva students are fully committed to making it happen.
“After these last few weeks, I have realized that it is very possible to do these things at home despite the various difficulties, and am excited to see what this class will be like in the future," said junior Aidan P. "Although I was really looking forward to getting to know the I-Lab this year, I now know that I will still be able to learn a ton of stuff about designing and building things from home."
While language courses have the advantage in a remote learning space of being heavily conversational, this new space still poses challenges, particularly with student engagement. Spanish teacher Francisco Becerra-Hernandez is utilizing many of the same online tools mentioned in this article, and he has brought existing activities and projects into his Zoom classroom with almost seamless execution.
“This second week is going much better than the first week,” Francisco said. “I feel that I have adjusted to remote learning and that the students are adjusting, too.”
One such activity has students looking each week at the New York Times’ “What’s Going On in This Picture?” section, in which students join thousands from around the world as they look closely at the photo of the week, stripped of its caption, and write what they see. Rather than join the moderated conversation on the New York Times website, students share their captions as a class.
The class has also continued with its “March Madness Latino Music Competition.” To create the bracket for this competition, every student anonymously selected a Latin song—”And not Latin music in the US top 10 songs,” Francisco added—and each week two songs go head to head. The class votes on which song they want to see through to the next round by completing a survey that not only asks them to pick the song they like best, but also to explain, in Spanish, why.
“At the end, we will have a class winner, who will win a surprise prize,” Francisco shared. “This is a great way for students to engage in Latin culture.”
Students gain a much deeper understanding of science through the highly interactive, hands-on experiments we conduct in class. Was there any way to recreate that experience? How can students do lab work outside the science classroom? Francine Farouz wondered.
Francine, who teaches bio-organic chemistry and the chemistry elective Drug Design in the Upper School, started thinking about alternative labs and science demonstrations that students could perform at home. Immediately, she considered encouraging students to go into their kitchens, where everyday ingredients could be turned into simple science experiments—such as making homemade rock candy.
“We just talked about the dissolution of salts,” Francine said to her students. “Salts are crystalline. A good approximation of their structure is rock candy, which happens to be made of sugar. Go into your kitchen, video yourself doing it, and send it back to us to share!”
Francine is also using a “virtual lab” to do experiments.
“The experiments are videotaped for the students. They collect data and do the analysis,” Francine explained. "Not as fun as doing it on your own, but in the meantime, still helpful."
Vernier, an educational software and equipment company, has a modest portfolio of experiments for educators to use. Francine also draws upon resources offered online by universities including Carnegie Mellon, which has developed interactive experiments that are “intellectually challenging.”
Francine added, “It gets students to think about a problem, visualize the experiment, ask questions.”