In recent weeks I have been dropping in on virtual school lessons across the school. It is always instructive to observe lessons, and the whole process is thought-provoking and generates questions from all participants’ perspective – students, teachers and of course, parents. The challenges that we are all facing are sometimes as clear as the screen we are looking at, but sometimes they are in the not-so-obvious category when we reflect upon the impact of online learning on all stakeholders.
In the primary school I have been impressed with the way Nearpod gives the teacher access to each student as they practise their newly acquired skills in real-time. The teacher in this instance is truly a facilitator as s/he can interact directly with one child at a time whilst keeping a watchful eye over the whole class and their work as it happens.
Primary PE was great to observe as the twenty-plus Year 2 students were put through their paces: running, jumping and ducking as they went along. For a wrong move the forfeit was five star-jumps, and luckily towels were on hand for cooling down. The other notable thing about this lesson was that the two PE teachers were physically separated by nine time-zones, but very much together in the same room thanks to the marvel of this technology.
It was my pleasure to re-visit a topic that used to be taught in secondary, as Year 4 studied the Water Cycle online. Their grasp of the processes involved, and associated specific vocabulary, was hugely impressive. Children were swift to offer ‘evaporation’, ‘condensation’ and ‘precipitation’ in quick-fire answers. ‘What is sleet?’ someone asked, and I thought how lucky he is not to have encountered it yet!
A Year 6 science practical lesson saw students exploring the topic ‘refraction’ by using their live Google Meet link, Google Classroom, a mobile phone and naturally, a pencil and sheet of paper. Each student could be seen making observations as a pencil was placed in water and an arrow motif was moved behind the glass receptacle. In true scientific tradition, the observations were carefully recorded before an explanation was formulated to account for what had been seen. The end of the lesson gave everyone the chance to share ideas and draw conclusions.
Finally, it was interesting to follow a group of youngsters from one lesson to the next one: in this case it was Reception as they moved from Spanish class to PE. What struck me was the level of engagement and enthusiasm in two contrasting subjects, each demanding in its own way. When I say enthusiasm, I am talking about both the students and the teachers. Incidentally, I caught the same class in a lesson after lunch – they were still going strong!
We may safely say that a virtual school programme bears no resemblance to ‘home schooling’, where the parent chooses curriculum content and the style of teaching. Our virtual school lessons are designed, delivered and assessed by qualified teachers who sequence skill and knowledge acquisition in order to build confidence in young learners. Children also benefit by learning from different teachers using a range of methodologies as they navigate this planned curriculum. Parents can support too, by acting as an audience to hear their child’s new learning when read aloud, explained or performed. Why not invite your child to teach you what they have just learned? It is a great way to help embed new ideas and aid understanding – after all, you never have to rote-learn something that you understand, you simply set about explaining it!