Charter Schools Office and College of Education Collaboration
Faculty and staff members in Grand Valley’s Charter Schools Office and College of Education developed free educational resources and webinars for K-12 teachers transitioning to virtual instruction.
Rob Kimball, associate vice president for Charter Schools, said it has been an opportunity for educators to rethink the practice of teaching and work together to solve problems.
“We have teachers who have taught in-person for 20-plus years. These veteran teachers are experiencing a paradigm shift in their practice,” said Kimball. “GVSU continues to be at the leading edge of innovation in teaching and learning and supporting educators’ work. This is an opportunity to reevaluate the practice and the skills needed to ensure that all students are successful in virtual environments.”
Kimball said since the pandemic began, 48 webinars and three virtual conferences have been held for K-12 educators with more than 4,100 registrants overall. Webinars averaged 130 participants, with more than 325 educators participating in the largest training session.
Kimball said while the majority of educators attending the webinars are from GVSU-authorized charter public schools, hundreds have attended from other charter public schools, traditional public schools, non-public schools, preschools and day care facilities.
“We’ve also had out-of-state educators from Indianapolis, Baltimore, Denver and New York, even Africa,” Kimball said.
Elizabeth Stolle, professor of Literacy Studies in the College of Education, helped design webinars focused on the essentials of literacy instruction.
Stolle said literacy instruction is very complex in the classroom and the webinars helped teachers get a vision for what was possible when teaching remotely.
“There is no straightforward way to teach reading, writing, listening and speaking. Literacy instruction is a complex task that is challenging in the classroom,” said Stolle. “Just thinking about how to deliver literacy instruction and meet the needs of students without being present with them was a large hurdle to get over.”
Stolle said some webinar topics were based on feedback they received from teachers, like one on writing. “We discussed how to motivate students to write when they’re in their homes by themselves and how to help them have authentic audiences with which to share their writing,” she said.
Teachers felt empowered to be able to share what they were doing in their classrooms, what they were finding successful and where they were finding challenges, Stolle said.
“We received helpful feedback from teachers as they appreciated seeing other teachers trying out new things, being vulnerable and opening up their space to share what they were doing with students,” she said.
During the webinars, Stolle said a theme started to emerge with teachers realizing the work they were doing would enhance many opportunities throughout the fall.
Regional Math and Science Center
Grand Valley’s Regional Math and Science Center (RMSC) created online educational activities and games to help students with learning concepts and knowledge, and connected K-12 teachers to virtual professional development.
Kris Pachla, RMSC director, said his team developed a website with STEM-related materials and tips to optimize the home learning experience. Pachla said eight hours in a classroom is received much differently by students than eight hours in front of a home computer.
“We specifically designed our virtual learning experiences to be done in small blocks of time so students and teachers can take small breaks,” said Pachla. “K-12 students who continued remote learning this fall were well-versed in what this experience looks like.”
Pachla said favorite web activities for students included math games developed by Grand Valley mathematics and mathematics education students and faculty members. He said themes created during the week, like Tech Tuesdays and Wellness Wednesdays, were very popular.
“By offering activities and learning that can be accessed anywhere, students and teachers from outside the normal RMSC service area were able to participate,” he said.
Within RSMC, the MiSTEM Network gathered resources for both teachers and families which can still be accessed online.
“The social emotional health of students is especially important right now,” said Pachla. “This situation is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in the way teachers are connecting with their students and how students are engaging with each other.”
A New Learning Landscape
The impact of COVID-19 on education has brought out the best in teachers and created an opportunity for them to collaborate and innovate, Kimball said.
“We understand that this moment is about building everyone’s expertise, providing virtual learning and understanding the needs of students,” he said. “This aligns with Grand Valley’s values to innovate and serve our community with the standard of excellence.”
Pachla said teachers have built a deeper level of expertise while navigating the new learning landscape.
“Pushing through the challenges of taking something that is highly successful face-to-face and designing it for a successful virtual experience will serve students long after the pandemic is over,” he said.