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How e-Learning Engages Our Youngest Students

May 13, 2020
While e-Learning has been a huge adjustment for students all across the country, here at The Colorado Springs School our teachers have embraced tools and innovative approaches for all students. While not without its challenges, it may be slightly easier to comprehend middle school and high school students logging in for classes and managing assignments in Google Classroom. But what would this new reality look like for energetic 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, curious mathematicians and scientists in kindergarten, and emergent and developing readers and writers in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades? How would CSS translate the school’s robust commitment to the Arts? Would there still be Spanish, Computer Science, Library, Advisory and Physical Education?

Foundational skills in numeracy and phonological awareness remained as high priorities for advancing students skills but quickly our faculty identified practical goals:
  • Concentrating on an intentional schedule for core academics that could be managed by families
  • Embracing whole-heartedly our social and emotional resources such as mindfulness and advisory
  • Adding continued opportunities to engage in synchronous co-curricular classes

“e-Learning has taught us a great deal in a short time about our students and ourselves,” said Jody Bates Bliss, the Children’s School Division Director. “With students in a virtual classroom, we have sought to continue building skills at the elementary level, alongside maintaining the relationships we hold so dear. The partnerships remain strong and authentic. And for everyone, it has pushed our resilience to new heights. All of this exemplifies what it means to be a Kodiak!”

Below, we highlight examples of e-Learning in prekindergarten through 3rd grade.

PreKindergarten: Ducks, Ponds, Birds & More

Lessons in prekindergarten focus on hands-on activities that 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds create at home to deepen their learning. For one activity, students listened to the book Ducks Don’t Get Wet, and then their teachers posed the question, How do ducks stay dry? Students performed an experiment by using crayons to color a picture of a duck, then putting on small amounts of water.
In a video shared on the class Facebook page, Evan S. ‘34 puts a few drops of water on his drawing.
“What do you notice is happening?” his mother asks.
“It’s waterproof like a real duck,” Evan says.
“So what makes a real duck waterproof?”
“It has oil glands when it rubs on its feathers, and there’s some in its tail,” Evan says.
“That’s right; that’s what we heard in the book.”
One lesson covered life at a pond that was focused on the one at CSS. Students learned about freshwater biomes, vernal pools, frogs, turtles, and dragonflies. Teachers read books about ponds, and the students were asked to identify whether certain words rhymed or not. They were also asked to repeat sets of words from the story in the order they were given. Awareness of rhyme and developing auditory discrimination are two phonological awareness skills that are important precursors in learning to read.
Another activity sent students outdoors to watch and listen for birds, keeping track with tally marks.
To sharpen their math foundation, students created patterns using objects around their home. In the early years, identifying and creating patterns is just the beginning of the mastery of life-long mathematical skills and concepts, such as addition, skip counting, and beyond. Evan used cheddar bunnies, cereal and teddy grahams to create an ABC pattern, then AABC, followed by ABBCC.
“e-Learning is definitely a new concept for us all to get used to, and it can be particularly new and challenging for young children,” said Evan’s mom, Carol. “But Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Rainbowstar have done such a great job with launching this new way for our kids to learn. We’ve been enjoying our daily e-Learning activities and assignments that they’ve created for us, and I’ve been learning about new things as I go through the activities with my son as well. The themes we have been learning about have been great for connecting different areas of learning and extending activities we can do at home as well.”

Kindergarten: Let’s Plant

For a hands-on e-Learning lesson to study organisms, kindergarten students planted their own seeds at home. They learned how to take care of their plants and what every organism needs to survive. Through art projects, students learned about the different parts of a plant. They recorded their seed’s changes in a plant journal to deepen their observation and documentation skills. Kindergartners made detailed predictions about their seeds and what they would turn into. They used their imaginations to write a creative class book about plants with magical powers!
From naming their plants to checking on them multiple times a day, kindergartners demonstrated care and appreciation for the growth cycle. As their plants grew, students measured them to incorporate math skills into the project. One student measured his plant at 29 inches tall with 67 leaves!

First Grade: Kid, You’ll Move Mountains

“While we miss our classroom discussions, interactions, and experiments, we do our best to give our students an experience they can get excited about,” 1st grade teacher Ellen Crow said.

First grade students are learning about mountain habitats through recorded lessons, slide decks, videos, and most exciting of all, experiments! First graders are given the directions and encouragement they need to complete experiments at home to further their understanding of mountains - their characteristics and how they are formed. They are encouraged to document their work with a photo or video that we can post for all to see!

Zara K. ’31 made a volcano and then poured in a vinegar mixture tomake it erupt, as shown in a video on the class Facebook page and shown in the screenshot shown here. Zara giggles as she hops up out of the way just before “the lava” gets to her.
“The e-Learning process at CSS has truly exceeded my expectations,” said Zara’s mother, Arifa, who also has a daughter in 3rd grade. “It has been evident that the teachers in 1st and 3rd grades have truly gone above and beyond in their attempts to continue to provide instruction to my girls. They are still teaching new content and continue to provide challenging activities that they can do at home. The live lessons have been invaluable and I believe that we would have had a completely different experience had it only been pre-recorded lessons. I really appreciate the daily feedback that they give, which drives them to work hard. The teachers are always so positive as they conduct the lessons.”

Second Grade: Salt Dough Landform Writing Project

After learning about landforms throughout the year, 2nd graders created their own island with three landforms at home using salt dough and other items such as Legos and modeling clay. They unleashed their creativity by writing about how they discovered their island, what animals and people lived on the island, and the adventures they experienced while living there.
Vaishnavi E. ’30 with her island, which includes a beach, a forest, a volcano,
Collin P. ’30 wrote this about his island, which he named Minecraft Island:

I was going to France with Jacob. We were going to celebrate the Fourth of July. I felt the plane start going forward and down. I was scared and wondered if I was going to land on an island. I randomly got on a life vest and jumped out of the plane with a parachute. I landed on my island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was fun! It was awesome! I could see people in France 100,000 miles away. They were surfing. I landed in a natural geyser. It was a good thing it was active because I would be stuck in there. I jumped out of the geyser and saw 2,086 active volcanoes. I wondered how it got there?

I needed to eat so I looked for food and water. I made a secret castle somewhere on the island. I find food covered in lava. I directed the lava. I direct the lava to the water so I can get food.

A great, great megalodon shark washes up on the shore. I direct the lava towards the shark. The lava heats up the shark and I can eat it. I save some meat for later. I got a bucket of water and dumped water into all the volcanoes. Now I could jump and swim around in them for a day. I made a home in the first volcano I saw. I made a jackhammer and dug a tunnel to my secret castle. There was a ginormous T.V. so I could play Minecraft all day!

I hiked around the island and heard, “Aaagh!” I saw a Yeti on the island. He’s nice on one day and then mean on the other. I like to be with the Yeti during the middle of the day. We play Minecraft in my castle. It’s fun!

It’s 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit every day. I hang out in my castle with Jacob and sometimes with the Yeti. I decide to live on Minecraft Island forever where everything is square.

Third Grade: Geometry Flipped-Video Instruction & Synchronous Time to Solve Problems

Teacher Alex Schilperoort introduces 3rd graders to a unit on geometry via a “flipped classroom” mini lesson in a pre-recorded video. Each day, students watch his mini lesson video and then complete problems “with him” in real time. This allows students to ask their teacher questions or for clarification if they are stumped. Finally, students are asked to complete the remaining problems on their own as their independent work.

“Doing math ‘alongside’ students in a virtual setting preserves a sense of normalcy for students, which is really important to maintain engagement and accountability,” he said. “Not only this, but it allows them to still experience our classroom community, albeit from a distance, giving them opportunities to talk and connect with their teacher and their peers.”

Creative Dramatics: Imaginary Tour Guide

If you could go anywhere, where would you go? In this project, students transport themselves anywhere in the world.

“This lesson focuses on activating the imagination and storytelling, which are two important elements in Creative Dramatics,” said Melissa O’Rear, Creative Dramatics Teacher for the Children’s School. “All students need is their imagination and a room in their house, and they can go anywhere they want! A floor becomes an ocean! A couch becomes a mermaid lagoon! What activities can you do in that place? What stories happen in this place? Students then create a map of their imaginary place and give a tour to someone in their home!”

Melissa prompts students by sharing a video of herself being an imaginary tour guide. The video, shown below, opens with her sitting on a couch in her living room.

“Oh, hi, everybody. I am in the Island Ocean,” she says in the opening. “Right now I’m on the sand, relaxing with my sunglasses, and the sun is shining so bright, and I’m just having a good time.” The couch is the sand, and her floor lamp is the sun. She takes students on a tour of Island Ocean.

Choose a room in your house and imagine you are in that place. Give your family a tour! Are there activities you can do in this place? Act them out! What do you see, smell and touch? Is there a historical background?

Students have the option to share their imaginary place with their teacher and classmates on Flipgrid, a video platform.

Parent Reflections & Testimonials

Parents have shared a wide-range of emotions during this process, but the accolades for the school have far outweighed the expressed challenges. The school is committed to feedback and with each week is assessing feedback and making adjustments. Our masterful teachers and strong parent partnerships have allowed us to find high levels of success for students and families.

“I am so thankful for all of my kids’ teachers! What started out as a potentially stressful time has resolved itself into a rewarding opportunity learning alongside my boys,” said Natellie Ryan, P’35, P’33, P’31. “I am so impressed with how the teachers have so quickly changed the structure of how they teach to accommodate the situation. They have kept it fun, interesting, and used resources beyond what I thought was possible like bringing the Georgia Aquarium into our living room. However, I know now for sure that I am not a homeschooling mother.”

“One of my major concerns when my son started to use the e-Learning platform that CSS developed for the Pre-K students was the amount of time he would have to spend behind a screen, executing computer-based activities in order to comply with the program,” said Yvanne Vieuille P’34. “My doubt dispelled when I saw the way my son’s teachers succeeded in putting together an online program that perpetuates the philosophy of CSS. Each lesson and activity for the day rely on a concrete theme which offers a mix of academic instruction, real world examples, hands-on experiences, and nature-based education that challenge my son in many ways and keep him connected with a natural environment.”

“The e-Learning process at CSS has truly exceeded my expectations,” Arifa Kaderbhai P’31, P’29 said. “It has been evident that the teachers in 1st and 3rd grade have truly gone above and beyond in their attempts to continue to provide instruction to my girls. They are still teaching new content and continue to provide challenging activities that they can do at home. The live lessons have been invaluable, and I believe that we would have had a completely different experience had it only been pre-recorded lessons. I really appreciate the daily feedback that they give, which drives them to work hard. The teachers are always so positive as they conduct the lessons.”

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it for anyone — these past couple months have been difficult in so many ways and the transition to e-Learning was tough for both kids and parents. However, the reasons we love this school (amazing teachers, sense of community, friendships, compassion, etc.) are making a difficult situation a little brighter for my girls,” said Dr. Sarah Bartz P’31, P’29. “Days before the first week even started, her teachers contacted me to check in. They wanted to understand my goals, my fears, and my family’s challenges. And throughout the past month, they have continued to focus on my individual child’s emotional needs while still providing a top-tier education with small group teaching sessions and full class socialization opportunities. They’re offering everything from optional morning yoga to extra online tutoring to afternoon dance parties. I can’t even imagine how difficult the transition has been for the teachers yet they are providing more than I expected and doing it with a smile.”

Click here for more e-Learning Reflections and Testimonials.

Vaishnavi E. ’30 with her island, which includes a beach, a forest, a volcano,