Remote learning - teachers had to adapt overnight

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record
Matherville Intermediate teacher Heidi Colbrese used a silly accents and costumes to keep kids engaged - in this video she did a southern accent. Screenshot Cala Smoldt/Correspondent

Cala Smoldt/Correspondent

Sherrard Intermediate teachers Stacy Harroun (6th grade teacher), Elisabeth Tomlin (6th grade english teacher), and Heidi Colbrese (5th grade teacher) are just a few of a legion of teachers that had to adapt overnight to keep students engaged during remote learning that began March 17 when Illinois Governor JB Pritzker shut down schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Across the board teachers used creativity to connect with children, depending on the subject material - that proved to .

Each of these three teachers described their experience.

Stacy Harroun

“I think math is such a tricky subject for remote learning because students learn math in so many different ways, and one-on-one connection is so important.”

She said the way she taught math during the school’s final quarter via remote learning was varied. She introduced new lessons via Vidyard.

“I try to make it sound like I am in the classroom with them teaching from my Clevertouch so it feels as normal as possible for them. The only difference is that I sometimes have small assistants, a three year old (Ella) and five year old (Evelyn), who like to chime in and “help” teach every now and then,” said Harroun.

Jeff Shillinger, Matherville Intermediate Principal was impressed by Harroun’s dedication. “She answered student questions with individual videos often, taught new material, used humor… Had kids and dogs in her videos, complimented students often,” he said she even had student participation by allowing them to do her morning announcements.

When students had questions, she made specific videos tailored to them, “So I can walk them through their questions. This is the closest that I have gotten to work one-on-one with them which is so important,” she said.

Harroun had five different math Google classrooms plus one just for her Homeroom group.

“I have really tried to create a fun, and inviting space for my homeroom students to share with one another. When the Heart Hunters social media page first became popular, I showed students what my girls and I had created for our neighbors. I also encouraged my students to do the same and to share. We have shared pictures of dress up days, fun outside activities, algebraic sidewalk chalk problems, pictures of our pets, and many others.”

Every morning she did a quick video with the kids to get their day started.

“Usually my daughters are right there with me, but one morning my husband (Nate) pretended to be my substitute teacher. I think that has been one of the favorites,” she laughed.

She said it was tricky to balance online teaching with two small kids at home.

“I honestly just feel like I try to do my best reaching my students while being mom at the same time.”

Elisabeth Tomlin

“Overall, I am seeing a lot of good things. Students are doing a great job at reaching out when they need help. Of course the percentage of student engagement is not as high as I would like, but what I am seeing is uplifting.”

Tomlin posted silly videos for her students a few times a week. “I have climbed a tree for the first time in many years, jumped on a trampoline, shown them my mini donkeys, and even wore a talking Chewbacca mask to get a few laughs,” she said.

She said teaching has become a family affair, “My five year old, Rayce, has dressed up as Captain America to help me do announcements and teach a grammar lesson. My nine year old, Lance, likes to be the videographer… My oldest is thirteen, so he doesn't think mom is cool anymore,” she laughed. With three boys in the house, her props are mostly masculine.

Students have told her they love e-learning, but miss friends and want to go back to school. “I have had them write to me about their e-learning twice, to try to gauge how they are doing emotionally.”

The situation hasn’t been ideal for Tomlin, but she’s made the best out of it. “It is very hard being away from the students, teaching from home, and teaching/monitoring my own three children. I have just tried to make it as interesting of a thing as possible. If doing something out of my comfort zone brings a smile, it was worth it,” she said.

Heidi Colbrese

Colbrese, mom of four, said she doesn’t think anything she’s done for students is particularly note-worthy.

“I have started out my days with some welcome videos, some using different accents. One time, I tried to be a chef, I think I used a french accent, and slowly transitioned into the Muppets Swedish Chef,” she laughed. She also hosts a weekly class meeting with her whole class to catch up.

She challenged her students to send back videos of themselves doing various things including an accent challenge, no thumbs challenge, and chopstick challenge.

“The best part of my morning videos is when the kids send me vidyards in return. Now some of my students are asking to send in "challenges" of their own.”

Colbrese has been impressed by student videos. “My sweet Addi showing how to make homemade butterflies and sending a life size hug in the mail to a loved one like a grandparent.

One student sends me kind of lengthy videos. She showed me every animal and her bike, her brother's bike and how she can ride her brother's bike, so cute.”

She said another student sent her daily updates on what she found in a creek not far from her house.

Her students even feel comfortable enough to talk to her when their down. “I have students suffering too. Some reach out because they are scared or stressed or just miss people, all I want to do is give them a hug. I love that we have "chat" on go guardian, so I can talk to students while they are online.”

Teacher Elisabeth Tomlin even wore a talking Chewbacca mask to get a few laughs from her students. Photo submitted