Justine Hall, Grade 2 Lead Teacher
In my opinion, innovation is now synonymous with COVID for teachers worldwide. We have had to brainstorm, problem solve, pivot, and iterate everything we do—from setting up the physical classroom to planning and executing each and every individual lesson.
In my classroom, engaging students in this process has allowed them to be part of the solution and to feel safe and comfortable, despite the new COVID guidelines. While our Morning Meetings are no longer shoulder-to-shoulder around the patterned rug, and instead involve students sitting on chairs around the outside of the classroom, they still feel safe to share openly and honestly.
Reading quality picture books no longer happens from my rocking chair. Instead, images are “air-played” from the iPad camera to the Apple TV, and students are still able to engage in challenging, thoughtful, and authentic conversations about a variety of topics, including identity and social justice.
Learning new math concepts with the help of a game no longer involves students sharing a die and a game board. However, students still feel the thrill of successfully beating an opponent or collaborating to achieve a goal, as they use their own individually assigned and stored materials.
The list of creative changes that have been implemented is endless, and students have demonstrated their resilience by adapting. This pandemic has reinforced the importance of the social and emotional wellbeing of our students. I will continue to innovate every day to ensure that students feel safe and accomplished while achieving academic success and developing skills to thrive in the 21st century.
Abbie Digel, Librarian
No amount of experience can prepare a person for teaching during a pandemic, whether in-person or remotely. Part of my role as a librarian is to help match students and teachers with appropriate resources. My team and I were excited to share ebooks and databases with our community during Virtual Graland in the spring. My background in publishing, along with my master’s degree in library science, provided me with many of the skills needed to adapt to a virtual teaching world. I know my way around copyright and reuse laws in terms of sharing content with teachers and students, and I found enjoyment in developing online learning modules. The return to in-person learning this fall, though, was appropriately challenging as our wonderful library space had to close to students in order to reduce potential exposure.
Librarians are resourceful by nature, and we put our heads together to come up with a mobile library plan. My team and I visit classrooms daily and deliver lessons to help students engage with books. For younger grades, we created mobile book carts filled with high-interest books and allow students to check out books right from our ‘bookmobiles.’ Older Lower School students and middle schoolers have mastered our holds system, using their devices to reserve books. We either deliver the books to students in their classrooms, or they can pick them up in the Corkins Center. I’ve also noticed many students reading ebooks on their classroom iPads and exploring reading apps like Epic! Books. Our goal this year, and every year, is to keep students engaged with reading. Even though the delivery of books looks different, I strongly believe we are still reaching that goal.
Sarah Jackson, Lower School Science Teacher
Teaching in person during COVID has presented many challenges and opportunities for my Lower School science classroom. The safety restrictions that prohibit sharing materials and require social distancing have made many of our usual hands-on experiments and group work impractical this year. I realized it was essential for me to adopt a new and innovative approach to my curriculum in order to teach effectively during a pandemic.
One easy change at the beginning of the year was moving all of my science classes outside when the weather permitted. The shift to the outdoors not only gave us a safer space for learning but also allowed students to take a break from their classroom space, move their bodies, and experience the science that is all around us! I am thankful for how long we were able to enjoy Colorado’s mild fall weather, Graland’s impeccable grounds, and my past experience as an environmental educator. While learning about energy, fourth-grade students went on a scavenger hunt around the campus to find different types of energy in action. At the beginning of the school year, second-grade scientists enjoyed our bountiful gardens as they learned about the parts of plants and searched for pollinators.
I have also been able to incorporate new virtual experiences into my curriculum this year, which has brought real-world science to my students. Paleontologists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science led second-graders on an exploration of real fossil evidence that students used to recreate their own dinosaurs out of clay. Scientists from the Denver Zoo took first-graders on a virtual tour of Colorado animal habitats, an experience that helped them design and build their own habitat dioramas at school.
Sarah Baldwin, Art Teacher
Toni Morrison once said, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” While much has changed in the visual arts classroom this year due to the pandemic, Toni Morrison’s words serve as a comforting reminder that this is a time of great possibility and important storytelling for artists. This year, my Kindergarten curriculum emphasizes just that. With the theme “Art Around the World,” we have been gathering stories from artists from each continent, then telling stories of our own as a means of making sense of the world around us. A lesson on Faith Ringgold’s story-quilts asks students to consider, “If you could fly, where would you go?” While learning about indigenous Colombian artist Abel Rodriguez, students explore how their artwork can also tell a story about, and preserve the memory of, the Amazon rainforest. We all have a story to tell and this year, more than ever, our student artists are contributing to our civilizations’ healing by creating art and telling their own stories.
Justin Miera, Music Teacher
Music is a powerful tool that helps children feel connected to each other, to their teachers, and to the greater community. Being locked down and teaching virtually have changed the methods I use to help students make musical connections.
For instance, remote tools like Zoom have a time-delay called “latency.” Depending on my ethernet or WIFI signal, I could have up to a half-second delay hearing an initial beat, and then there is another half-second returning my performance to the other participants. Imagine 18 children trying to clap a simple steady beat. Now multiply that complexity to singing or playing an instrument with varying pitches and rhythms.
There are some innovations to this process that make remote music possible. Students can mute their microphones so that the return signal doesn’t confuse the entire group. Echo and call-and-response songs allow for me to at least see the class’ accuracy, or hear an individual’s execution. For culminating performances, students can listen to a pre-recorded reference track and record their instrument or voice independently. That collection of individual recordings can then be combined into a grand ensemble. I can then also assess the singular performances for accuracy and provide relevant redirection.
Making music face-to-face is the ideal circumstance, and we will soon return to that natural system. Until then, we all have to change and adapt to accommodate for these difficult challenges while keeping our focus on what is important...staying connected.