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East County teachers note e-learning challenges

Hands-on instructors must be innovative with online lessons.

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Barbara Siffermann, the music teacher at Tara Elementary School, usually passes out instruments to her students, so they can play together.

Now she’s asking her students to grab anything they can find in their home that can make noise — whether it’s a table, forks or sticks — so they can learn about rhythms online.

“We’re going to do our best to give the kids live experiences in creating and making music while still feeling like we’re together,” Siffermann said.

Teachers of hands-on classes are coming up with innovative ways to engage their students as they continue e-learning.

Art, music and agriculture instructors are trying to think of common household items that will help them complete lessons.

Braden River Middle art teacher Heidi Enneking and Carlos E. Haile Middle art teacher Joe Gibson are getting back to basics and having their students use pencil and paper to complete a variety of their projects.

Gibson hopes online learning, even in a simplistic state, will give his students a new perspective on art and an appreciation for art history.

“I think I have some of the best student artists in the country, and I want them to continue to produce amazing work and continue to learn and grow as artists and as young adults,” Gibson said.

Janyel Taylor, an agriculture teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School, plans to send her students outside, much like she would at school.

“There are many ways we can still utilize our outdoor classroom, except now it is in our students’ own backyards,” Taylor said. “Granted, it is not perfect, but it still allows for hands-on learning, which is what our classes are designed to do.”

For some of her lessons, Taylor will have students use plants in their homes and backyards to learn about plant propagation or choose a portion of their backyards to relandscape.

Teachers will have to take care of animals and plants kept at the schools that students would normally would look after because students aren’t allowed in the buildings.

Adam Nowicki, a technology teacher at Mona Jain Middle School, can have trouble planning lessons because students could be using devices that have different software, so he has to adapt his lessons.

For example, instead of using balsa gliders, which are small wooden planes, he will ask his students to make paper airplanes.

Classes that depend on interaction between students, such as theater, band and orchestra, can be especially challenging when students can’t be in the classroom together.

Middle and high schools coordinated times for students to be able to pick up their instruments.

Braden River High Band Director Jeramiah Bowman said organizing a full ensemble rehearsal would be challenging, so he plans to have his bands break into smaller groups to practice virtually.

“It’s incredibly important they still have music in their day and fit it to be refreshing and engaging and an emotionally fulfilling experience,” Bowman said.

Online learning will be a time for students to develop their individual skills. Directors will have opportunities to speak to students individually to comment on their playing, and students can use a music learning software that will provide instant feedback to a recording of a student’s piece.

Many teachers are reaching out to others across the country that are teaching the same subject as them as well as seeking outside school resources for lesson ideas.

Roxane Caravan, the head of the Lakewood Ranch High School theater department, is working with Tada! Youth Theater to have students come up with a Tada song and their own way of performing the song at home. Tada! Youth Theater is a nonprofit that produces original musicals and offers training and a positive youth development program.

“I think we’ll probably see some interesting and creative things come out of this that kids will come up with because this is their platform,” Caravan said.

Caravan will have her students continue to work on playwriting in hopes the department can still have its annual playwriting marathon.

“I’m trying to be as creative as I can and put it out there for everybody, so we can still share things and do creative things in our houses and come together as a group,” Caravan said.

Teachers are finding unexpected positives from online learning.

Nowicki said some of his students might normally not participate in class because “it’s not perceived as cool with their classmates.” With online learning, students don’t have to worry about what other students might think.

“They can let that inside part of them out without fear of social repercussions,” he said.


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