Today, I interviewed Daphne Amster, who teaches Grades 4 and 5 at Edgewater Elementary (Lester B. Pearson School Board) in Pincourt. She spent some time with me today discussing her transition from classroom teaching to our new “normal”… We talked about professional development, her online classroom routine, her “go-to” resources, and how her students have been handling their new learning environments.

edited for readability

Chris Colley: Today we welcome Daphne Amster from the Lester B. School Board. She works at Edgewater elementary and she is a grade 4-5 teacher. Today we’re going to talk about how her experience has been with the transitioning from face-to-face classroom to an online model

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Chris: What has been some of the advice that you’re giving to parents at home teaching their kids or keeping them engaged and the learning going on. What are some of your advices that you throw their way?

Daphne Amster: I think that most teachers are are going to only give work that they know that their student can do alone. They don’t want to put the burden on the parents. I think that the best thing for parents is to help their children stay on a routine. By routine, I mean try to get them to go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time. If we’re on Zoom three days a week then know that the times and the links of the the Zoom meetings or the Meet meetings, whenever the classes get together. But also, I think that the teacher’s role is to send out those email links and reminders to parents on a weekly basis. Check in on with them to make sure that everything is okay. Organization would be the best advice that I would give. Routine and organization to parents and how to maintain that.

Chris: It’s a tough situation to be in. Let’s shift a little bit back to teach teachers a bit Daphne. What were some of your greatest Pedagogical Development (PD) sessions that you had or how did you get up to speed with the online. What were some of the things that you did personally as an educator to…I know that you’re quite at ease with technology but were there things that you did to help you along the way in this transition?

Daphne: The first week in March, I got on to a Zoom webinar to learn how to work Zoom. So, I took a lot of webinars. There are so many free webinars given being given out now by Google, by Apple, by a person, by companies, private companies. I’ve been taking a lot of webinars. A lot of it is….Again, you have to sift through it because a lot of them want to sell their product but most of them are there for the student. I learned a lot and I’m looking forward to being able to put what I learned into work when I go back to school. I’ve been taking a lot of webinars and and trying to teach myself new things. A lot of it has to do with pedagogy but at the moment, the webinars and the learning that I’m doing is more educational technology based.

Chris: How has your board been supporting you throughout this transition as well? I’ve talked to a ton of consultants and they are are continuously running. They’re all on a treadmill right now, just going good.

Daphne: At our wonderful school board, we have a great team at educational services and they’ve been putting out Zoom workshops. They’ve been trying to stay up there with the latest fun things to keep students engaged. There were many workshops. One of them was the latest craze which was the virtual classroom – the bitmoji virtual classroom. So, many of our teachers now have a bitmoji virtual classroom which is really cool! It’s basically a hyperlinked doc but it’s through pictures. So you build your classroom and you have these little images and when you click on the image it takes you to a website. It’s a fun way for students to see what their teachers are planning for them or what they want them to learn or cute videos to keep them busy, activities. They’ve been busy. They’ve been busy.

Chris: Yeah, there’s a similar online application also called Thing Link. You ever hear that one?

Daphne: Oh that’s been around for a while. That’s amazing that one. Yeah, I love that one.

Chris: Yeah that one’s fun too and it gives those visuals too, eh? So, where do you teach? Are you at home or do you go into school sometimes to teach or how do you go about it?

Daphne: Well, I’m at home right now. We have the Ed. Tech – sorry, not Ed. Tech but the Ed camps going on in school. I think we have in total about 10 students of our 400 that are actually in school, keeping their distance apart. Our music teacher, our art teacher, phys ed teachers, they’re the ones that are teaching them or keeping them active. All of our classroom teachers are at home doing the distance teaching online. So, I’m in my bedroom right now and I’m always with the doors closed because I keep hearing about all these wonderful Facebook moms who walk in naked in the background and their child’s online with their teachers. So I’m very careful to not have that repeated in my house.

Chris: Yes! I went on a Zoom meeting. We did a ScratchEd Meet Up and one of the one of the rules they put is be aware of your backgrounds because sometimes you hop on and you’re focused on the screen and you don’t really know what’s happening behind you. So that was an interesting tip.

Chris: So Daphne, as we start wrapping up here, can you give me a “day in the life of” what happens when your kids come to you online. What are the flow of events what what are some of the things you might do with them online?

Daphne: Keep in mind that this is a very personal thing. Every teacher is doing what works for them. So, my partner and I have a system that on Mondays we use the Google apps because we love how it’s seamlessly integrated. We post assignments and tutorials on Google Classroom and it syncs with our Google Calendars so that the students get notifications. So they know when things are due and they know when they have a Zoom meeting and everything has the links in it.It’s a nice tight way to keep everything in one spot. On Mondays, we post our tutorials for the week. So, a few videos. For example, this week my students will be learning about the order of operations in math. I put up two tutorials and I’m kind of flipping the classroom so that they watch it on Monday so that tomorrow, our Tuesday session, we have a half hour in French and a half hour of English. They have two different links and they appear from 10 to 10:30 in French class and then from 10:30 to 11 in my class. I do an actual lesson so that I am actually now reinforcing the concept that they’ve seen in the video on Monday. Then on Tuesday, I will send home. After the tutorial, I will post a link for an assignment for practising. Then on Thursday, there’s a tutorial breakout session. I have myself, my french teacher, and two integration aides and we break out. We have whoever shows up for a tutorial. If they need help, we break out into rooms with an adult so that everybody has more…I would say it’s about three to one ratio so that we can help them focus on problems that they’re having. Then on Fridays, we have a Zoom lesson where we have a gamified assessment. We’ll play games like Kahoot! or Breakout Edu to make sure that the students are actually able to show their comprehension and their understanding of the week’s work.

Chris: Sounds like you’ve been doing this your whole career. That’s amazing. I love hearing your schedule too. The routine I think it will be helpful for others to hear as well because they are in this figuring out phase. They’re trying things out, not really sure where it’s going to go or…

Daphne: There are things, there are kinks that people have to work out. When I need a white board, I’m used to my fancy schmancy smartboard in school and all of a sudden, here I’m using Jamboard which is a Google app and it’s decent. It’s getting the job done but I feel like I’m always in the middle of an earthquake when I’m writing. That’s how the pen doesn’t write properly. So I’ve ordered an Apple pencil and I’ll try to use my iPad in the future. Every time we do something new we’re like: ‘oh, this doesn’t really work for me. I’m going to have to adapt.’ We live and learn and we move on.

Chris: Wonderful. Talking about resources, what are some of your go-to’s that you’re using nowadays? What are some of your digital or live resources?

Daphne: I feel like if teachers are going to try to compete with their kids day-to-day…They use technology on a day-to-day basis. If we’re not going to compete with those, we’re going to have a hard time keeping their attention and keeping them motivated. So I love using apps that gamify the content that I’m teaching. Quizzes, Kahoot, like you’re saying, Thing Link…Then, there’s an app that I really love. It’s called Flipgrid and I like it because kids are using tiktok. Although I’m really not a fan of tiktok because I find it not age appropriate for my grade 4 and grade 5 students. I know that some of them are using it regardless. So I like Flipgrid because it’s kind of like tiktok but for learning. I’ll post a question or a short video and then they have to record videos of themselves answering it and others can comment on their posts. It’s a lot of fun and I can hear them right because it’s not – it’s on the spot. They have to really like come up with it as they’re going along so I can really assess their learning so I love that.

Chris: What a great way eh, to connect the students together again too where they can watch a video of their peer and then –

Daphne: Exactly! They’re there with each other even though they’re not with each other.

Chris: Right, yeah that’s great.

Daphne: My go-to is the Google suite because you’ve got the Google Slides, the Docs, the Classroom, the Calendar. Everything is all-in-one and it integrates very nicely. So, those are the ones that I like using the most.

Chris: As we wrap this up Daphne, I have one final question for you and it’s about: what does September look like for you guys? What do you think? What do you think September is going to be like?

Daphne: September looks like a crystal ball that we’re looking into and it’s very cloudy and we see images but it’s not clear yet. What we’re thinking is that…Look, there are many options out there and I’m not going to speculate but I’m assuming that we have to prepare as if we’re going back to the classrooms. So, we’re going to prepare like we’re going back in September and that nothing has changed and we’re going back to the regular day-to-day where we see our students. Because eventually that’s going to happen, if it’s in September or October or what-not. Out of everything that has happened…Everything happens for a reason. I’m really actually looking forward to seeing what teachers come up with now that they’ve been pushed out of their comfort zone and that they’ve been forced to maybe do things that they would have never done if they were in the classroom. It’s a shift that’s happening and it’s going to be – it’s going to be interesting. I’m really looking forward to seeing the creative part of teachers. People in general have had to really get creative to work around our new norm. I’m actually excited to see what’s happening in September.

Chris: You will take some time off though, eh?

Daphne: We’ll see.

Chris: It’s hard to stop sometimes.

Daphne: It’s hard but I have a cold so I work by the cold. I’m relaxed and keeping my brain going as I’m relaxing.

Chris: Well, I just want to thank you so much Daphne for taking some time to have a conversation about our educational world right now. I’m sure a lot of your comments and your experiences, it’s going to be super helpful for a lot of teachers out there. We’re all trying to you know recreate a new normal here and I think the voices of educators need to be heard more so I’m super happy that I got to have this conversation with you.

Daphne: Thank you Chris. To all your teachers out there, cut yourself some slack. We’re doing this for the first time, it’s not going to be right first attempt. So, pat yourself on the back, we’re doing a kickass – oops did I? You might have to edit that. We’re doing a really great job teachers!

Chris: We are. We are and thank you for those words of encouragement and you have yourself a wonderful summer and I’m going to be talking to you soon.

Daphne: I hope so.

Chris: Very soon!

Daphne: Have a great summer.

Chris: All right take care thanks so much.