Monday, June 15, 2020 | 2 a.m.
When Clark County closed all of our district’s schools for the remainder of this past school year, we understood students could not just forgo education for the majority of the semester.
Especially for students in the early years of their education, every day in the classroom is critical. These past few months proved a vital test of our ability to keep learning on track without in-class instruction, and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished.
At McCaw STEAM Academy, thanks to the wide range of remote instruction and online work-sharing platforms available to schools, we tackled distance learning collaboratively and with relative ease — and with summer schools now in session, we’re looking forward to continuing to leverage digital technology to provide a safe and effective learning experience for our kids.
This moment represents precisely what STEAM education is about. The idea isn’t that students will all go into careers in science and technology. Rather, it’s about creating an educational program that understands the value that innovation in science and technology brings to every career field and every aspect of our learning environment.
Our world is changing, rapidly – maybe more visibly now than ever — and it’s bringing with it huge changes in the way we relate to and learn about the world around us. A STEAM education is one that reflects the ways in which scientific advancement underpins our understanding of the world we live in. It shows how scientific research can teach us history and philosophy — how innovative feats in the field of engineering can help us push boundaries in the arts. Even teaching itself can benefit from a tech-savvy approach to education; that is more evident today than ever, and it’s something we, as educators and administrators, are constantly learning.
We knew our parents were not ready to be homeschool teachers, and we wanted our kids to be the leaders in their education, even if it meant working at home to finish out the year. That’s why all of the programs we’ve implemented are student-focused and student-led. And while we’re not unaccustomed to using digital technologies in the classroom, transitioning to a fully remote mode of operation required us to look for technologies that could bring online the in-person, collaborative learning environment we value. Luckily, today, they’re not difficult to find — and many are incredibly cost-effective.
Our teachers remain in communication through online meetings and video call sessions with programs like Zoom and Google Hangouts. They’re able to collaborate with other teachers on student assignments, live-edit work in tandem with teaching assistants, and share feedback with students through document-sharing programs like Google’s G-Suite.
These programs also give us the opportunity to facilitate professional development among our teachers and help develop ways to keep our students engaged in learning remotely through goal setting and consistent daily assignments. There’s no one path forward here, and it takes creativity to find ways to celebrate our students’ successes with positive reinforcement when we can’t be together. But looking at online program data, we can see what’s working in real-time. And, even more than in the physical classroom, online communications do offer teachers a way to address individual student goals and challenges on a case-by-case basis.
Schools across the country are charting their own paths through the virus response, and many would consider our approach ambitious. But in practice, with the technologies available, it’s never been easier to teach and learn from home, and the tools that guided us through this crisis will become a part of our classrooms for years to come.
Jennifer Furman-Born was named principal of Gordon McCaw Elementary School in 2012. Since then, the school has been transformed into McCaw STEAM Academy.