By Jessica Cohen
For the Gazette
PORT JERVIS - Making the transition from classroom to online teaching may have been easier for Carolyn Dorritie, a Port Jervis High School math teacher, than for many of her colleagues after schools were closed in March. She had completed the four-year Master Teacher program, which included online strategies as well as community involvement, and she had taught for 28 years. She already used Google Classroom with her students, the program that became their medium for contact and instruction on the Chromebooks the district distributed.
“Most teachers had not taught with Google Classroom, and some started fresh a week before,” she said, estimating that 30-40 percent had used online instruction. “The math department can’t rely on online teaching because there’s only one set of Chromebooks. But we share what works and keep on adapting.”
Dorritie reconnected with her students online by surveying them to see how they were situated. Did they have their own wi-fi? Were they sharing or working outside their home? After the first four days, she had heard from all but two of her 70 algebra and pre-calculus students.
She also made a video.
“It’s me explaining what I’m going to do and how things will work and saying that I miss the students,” she said.
She uses Google Classroom to provide video lessons, after which students fill out a survey about the lesson. Getting an answer right is not enough. They must describe their process. Dorritie also offers an extra credit challenge at 9 a.m. for her three pre-calculus classes, and the first student to complete it in each class gets points. One girl set her alarm to do it, and about a dozen students do it regularly, Dorritie said.
She posts work at different times of day - a video lesson in the morning, then a survey form in the afternoon, for instance, and then gives them all day to do it. She gets messages from students through a system without phone numbers.
“It allows quiet students to speak,” she said. “I get great answers from a boy who never talks.”
Work is due at the end of the day, and if Dorritie hasn’t received it by 10:45 p.m., she messages the student.
Initially, she had not heard from two students. After she left a ShopRite gift card at the door of one, the student responded and did some work, but another student continued to be out of touch, she said.
“I’m successful at getting them to do work, but direct instruction works better,” Dorritie said. “Online teaching can never replace the classroom.”
However, students participate to the same extent they do in class, she said.
Another math teacher, Cory Ferguson, had a different experience.
“Kids I thought would struggle are rocking it,” he said. “Some kids adapted unpredictably fast to online instruction.”
Initially, only 35 of his 57 students responded to his contact efforts. Two weeks later he had heard from 46 students, but 10 did no work. One missing student had nearly 100 percent attendance in school, but lacked a computer and internet service. Several others had full voicemails or turned-off phones.
“Some lacked Chromebooks or internet service,” he said. “Once they’re connected, they’ll participate.”
Ferguson, who has an AIS co-teacher for 32 students, has been teaching for 11 years and has one pre-algebra and four algebra classes. He has used Google Classroom all year to provide lessons on YouTube for students who were absent, but some students were not familiar with it. He noted that some teachers were also coming out of their “comfort zone.”
“Now I make a video, post it, and then survey kids about the topic, what they need to remember and what questions they have,” he said.
In the first few days, he was lenient with deadlines because some students were not online.
“With math, it’s challenging to teach remotely,” he said. “It’s usually, ‘Hey I do a problem, then you do it.’ Replacing the classroom is hard, and I hope they appreciate it when we go back.”
He posts extra instructional videos, and parents have access to their children’s grades and can email to find out if they do their assignments. His students participate in ways similar to how they participate in the classroom, and their emails reflect their accustomed styles, with an expletive here and there.
“They have trouble explaining how they did a problem, so they send photos of their work,” Ferguson said. “I use what they use to help - Google Classroom, YouTube or the Remind texting app on their phones. I’m impressed with their participation. It could pick up or trickle off as kids get stir crazy. I hope not.”