Bob Richards Diary Entry 9/25/20

Covid & the Classroom
x(Jennifer Watkins)
Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 11:42 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 10:32 AM EDT
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Monday was my third, first day of school this year. Our high school students returned to face to face instruction on Monday, September 21st two weeks after our middle school students returned and four weeks after the entire district started online (August 24).

We still have some students who are totally online. Having to teach students online and face to face at the same time is not sustainable for the long haul. The pace of the online students is so much slower than that of the students in the classroom. The whole situation is causing a lot of undue stress among the staff.

On a positive note, face to face instruction is going well. Students have adapted to wearing a mask and social distancing fairly quickly. I continue to take my students outside when possible. They seem to enjoy working in the school’s orchard learning about apple trees and helping to clean up the orchard and bring it back into production.

In addition to working in the apple orchard we have built a hydroponics system and a raised planter bed to grow vegetables and experiment with different forms of farming. The students should finish building their FarmBot today and we have a vertical growing rack to look at vertical farming as another method of raising vegetables. While COVID precautions have forced us to move away from underwater robotics for the year it has opened up opportunities in agriculture and outdoor education. These changes are exciting and will hopefully lead to the reinstatement of agriculture education and the Future Farmers of American (FFA) in our school district.

9/14/20 Diary Entry

On September 8th, Stockbridge Junior High School students returned to class. Both students and teachers seemed happy to be back in class together.

I teach two junior high school classes, robotics and STEM. The robotics students spent the online learning period learning how to program the VEX robots and operate them in a virtual environment. Once they returned to class they started building their first robot.

The STEM class is taking advantage of one of our schools most underutilized resources the Land Lab. Our agriculture and FFA program closed in 1988 and the crop land and orchard have not been used by many classes since. The 7th and 8th Graders in our STEM class have begun working in the long neglected apple orchard. The apple orchard was planted by FFA students back in 1975. I remember working in the orchard as a high school student here in Stockbridge from 1978 to 1982.

The first challenge for the students was to conduct a site survey and inventory. Along with that students began to build a map of the orchard and determine how many trees are still alive and producing apples. On Thursday (9/17) we will have a team from Albion College with us to use drones to create an updated aerial map and orthomosaic of the site.

Students will work to identify the various apple tree varieties this week along with their mapping activities.

My high school students from the Stockbridge InvenTeam also returned to school this week. They are building a FarmBot to conduct automated vegetable farming operations.

Diary Entry 9/3/20

As our second week of online learning comes to a close we are all ready for a break. So far online learning this fall is going well. Much better than last spring. Students are learning the routine and as a teacher I’ve tried to streamline the process as much as possible.

Next week our 7th and 8th grade students will be allowed to return to face to face learning in the classroom. A new set of challenges that we are all ready to face.

My biggest concern this year has been my advanced class (Marine Technology) or the Stockbridge InvenTeam as they’re known. This our team of students that build advanced underwater robots and other marine technologies such as water quality monitoring sensors and underwater camera systems. Without the ability to travel and without access to an indoor pool we’ve had to completely reinvent the class. Rather than focus on ocean and great lakes environments the students have chosen to focus on “Food Insecurity.” The team will be building a “FarmBot.” A robotic tool used to plant, water, weed, and harvest a crop of vegetables. Using, expanding and learning new engineering skills while trying to produce more food with less land, fertilizer, pesticides and water.

With World populations expected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050, farmers around the world are now being forced to produce more (food) with the same amount of land. Our travels to Palau and American Samoa have highlighted Food Insecurity issues caused by climate change and sea level rise. As schools responded to COVID by continuing and even increasing local food/meal distribution Stockbridge InvenTeam members realized that food insecurity was a local problem too. Members of the Stockbridge InvenTeam will begin building their first FarmBot next week when they return to school. I’m looking forward to seeing them in action.

Bob Richards Diary Entry 8/28/20

The first week of online learning is complete. It has been a challenging week for everyone I’m sure. Here are some lessons I learned this week:

1. We’ve come a long way since the spring. I attribute the improvement in large part to the new requirements for student participation and accountability. Last spring students had no incentive to participate unless they were failing before the shutdown. As every student in our district was assured they would receive a “P” or a grade of passing for the class if they were passing at the time of the shutdown. Students who were not passing at that time were afforded the opportunity to improve their grades to the point where they were passing. Hence, participation was lacking.

2. The Stockbridge Jr/Sr High School was a 1 to 1 technology building before COVID so each student already had a Chromebook and the teachers were already using Google Classroom in some form. Learning to use those tools for remote or distance learning has been the challenge for teachers such as myself. We are learning as we go. I consider this more “Pandemic Learning” than “Distance or Remote Learning” a hopefully short term or emergency action to get us back to face to face learning. As such I’ve broken it down to a systems model (I teach technology), looking at inputs, process, outputs and feedback. Or, simply iterate and adapt. Ok, you got me, it’s trial and error. But, I have been able to streamline the process with an eye towards returning to face to face instruction for my middle school students on September 8th and my high school students on September 21st.

3. I will not be able to cover the same amount of content as I normally do. I’ve chosen to focus on the basics until we return to class in person.

3. Once we return to class we will have an online backbone in place so that we can quickly transition back to online learning should we need to shut down the school for cleaning or quarantine or say it isn’t true, a snow day.....

Bob Richards Diary Entry 8/24/20

We started school online yesterday. It was surreal. Almost like being a first year teacher again. I missed the hustle and bustle of the first day of "normal" in person Face to Face "F2F" school. Even though all of our staff is required to be in the building. It is eerily quiet in the school. All the classroom doors are closed as teachers are presenting "Synchronous" lessons through Google Meets or recording video lessons for our "Asynchronous" classes.

We have a virtual bell schedule for our students and staff. The class schedule alternates between Synchronous and Asynchronous classes each day and then alternates the next day. On Monday I taught a Synchronous CAD and 3D Printing class first block. Then in the second block my Introduction to Technology class had an Asynchronous assignment to create a video introducing themselves to me. I had a Synchronous Middle School STEM class for third block and an Asynchronous Marine Technology class fourth block.

Today my first block was asynchronous, 2nd block was synchronous I have a different synchronous middle school Robotics class and then fourth block I will have a synchronous Marine Technology class. Keeping this schedule straight will be the challenge for students, parents and teachers alike.

As you can see, the classes I teach are traditionally 98% hands on. The challenge for me is to find a way to teach them online. Hence, it's like my first year all over again. At age 57 and year 18 of teaching.

On Tuesday, September 8th our middle school students (grades 7 & 8) are able to return to face to face instruction. I'm looking forward to that. Some of my students will remain online. About 5 or 6 per class. While this helps with social distancing in the classroom it presents the new challenge of teaching two classes at the same time. The students who are face to face will be back to making robots and other STEM projects while the students online are looking in from a far.

Our high school students will return to face to face on September 21. Two weeks after the middle school students. They also have the ability to stay online in the same class......................

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