How Are Teachers Making Sense of Teaching During COVID-19?
Over the last few weeks, our research team has had the opportunity to speak with several secondary mathematics teachers about their experiences moving from in-person teaching to remote teaching. One thing that has become apparent during these conversations is that a lot of teachers are wrestling with the same questions as they continue to navigate the new jobs they find themselves in. Here are some of those questions and the things teachers have said as they think about them:
Is there a way to support students’ mathematical exploration through an online learning platform?
Teachers that are accustomed to teaching conceptually don’t have access to manipulatives or don’t have the time or the resources to find or create videos that engage in conceptual ideas vs. procedural ideas. Live video platforms like Zoom aren’t set up to support the types of rich, inquiry-based discussions that many math teachers planned for their classroom lessons. Furthermore, students don’t show up to class or don’t turn in assignments for a variety of reasonable and understandable reasons.
One way for teachers or school leaders to support mathematical exploration is to strategically choose topics for learning that lend themselves well to online tools of engagement, such as statistics, probability, or geometry (if possible). Other teachers have found some success combining different online resources, like having students work through a Desmos activity during a live Zoom class, to curate opportunities for engagement that move beyond procedural lectures even with kids’ videos turned off.
Can teachers feel confident claiming what their students know or don’t know?
Checking for and building on student understanding can be difficult even in the classroom setting. Without the ability to elicit student thinking during remote learning, teachers are forced to provide feedback to students’ finished products and not throughout their process of understanding. Teachers often rely on visual cues like students’ facial expressions for signs of confusion or understanding, a source of information that is no longer available to them now that teaching has moved online.
Creating a culture of open communication can help students not only feel safe reaching out to teachers when they don’t understand something, it can also support them in explaining the mathematical details of their misunderstanding. Efficiently using feedback features of online resources such as Google Forms, Google Classroom, Desmos, EDpuzzle, etc. can also help cut down on the time of providing students individual feedback.
How do teachers build and maintain relationships with students if they can’t see them in person?
One thing that is clear is that teachers are constantly trying to balance their role as a math teacher with the reality that their students are people living through a pandemic and may not be able to be students right now. Not only that, but students now have the option to just not show up to class or turn in work with very little, if any, consequences. Teachers are faced with the daunting task of creating an online environment that a middle- or high-school kid wants to come to instead of sleeping in. Over time, the impersonal nature of online teaching has taken its toll on teachers who enter the profession because of their love of connecting with people and students.
Teachers have begun to use their platforms for learning to support students’ mental and emotional well-being, such as using their schools’ messaging platform to notify students of free meal offerings, or using Desmos to ask how students are feeling. Adjusting conceptions of “good teaching” to include more opportunities to make students laugh and focus less on teaching mathematical formulas is a necessary adaptation in this unique context. We all know that math will always be there and there will always be gaps in students’ understanding, so when faced with the choice of teaching math or teaching kindness, teachers choose kindness time and time again.
Do these questions resonate with you? What are some of the things you have thought about or conversations you have had about these ideas? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Written by Katherine Schneeberger McGugan (@kath_schnee)
with support from Ilana Horn (@ilana_horn) and Jessica Moses (@Jess_Moses1)