As the 2019-20 school year comes to a close, it goes without saying that this spring has been unlike any other.
“Every generation has a monumental event that changed how life looked for them,” said Melody Nicholson, an economics teacher at Frisco High School.
The pandemic brought a number of challenges and less-than-ideal circumstances for students, teachers and families. But amid the trials were new ways for teachers to connect learning to real life and help students develop critical social and emotional skills.
“A hallmark of the World Geography curriculum is students understanding how people, places and environments have changed over time due to specific events and the effects these changes have on our society,” explained Kenneth Schiumo, Jr., a teacher at Liberty High School.
From World Geography to English and Economics, teachers found opportunities to tie current events to learning objectives. Students were encouraged to reflect on COVID-19 and how the outbreak had impacted their lives.
“This pandemic has directly affected the world we live in and students are experiencing it firsthand,” Schiumo said. “It is important that students connect a situation like this to our curriculum and real life so they may further internalize the importance of studying worldwide unity and diversity during times of crisis, to see and understand others' viewpoints and perspectives and also to make sure students are seeking information relevant to their lives from trusted and informed sources.”
In Economics, the virus’ tremendous financial toll – from record unemployment to fluctuations on Wall Street and federal stimulus spending – provided a window in which students could see the significance of their own learning. Online discussions shed new light on the scope and impact of the crisis.
“I would host Zoom sessions to teach new but very relevant concepts,” Nicholson said. “I was able to spend the first 15 minutes of each Zoom session giving students a rundown of the current events and then showing them how their vocabulary and concepts were being portrayed in the real world. It was fascinating to watch them learn and hear their questions on concepts like GDP, unemployment, fiscal policy and interest rates.”
Virtual instruction also created new opportunities for schools to reinforce important life and study skills like time management, personal goal setting and self discipline. Social distancing and increased family time meant new ways for students to develop social and emotional learning skills such as grit and gratitude.
Many teachers asked students to reflect on how they were feeling and what their families were experiencing. Inspired by the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books, Norris Elementary second grade teacher Laura Newell asked her students to record and share “Diary of a Quarantine Kid” videos.
“I wanted to know how the students were doing and what they had been doing to pass the time,” Newell said. “I think it is important that they reflect on what is happening since history is being made.
“I also thought it would be cool for them to look back when they were adults and have a reflection. This is something their children and grandchildren will learn about and ask them questions about, like I did with my grandparents and the Great Depression.”
At Staley Middle School, seventh graders were tasked with writing a “Capturing History Journal” to document daily life in their homes and communities. The journals were uploaded into Bulb, FISD’s secondary ePortfolio platform, which stores examples of student learning each year in order to show growth over time.
“When we are going through circumstances, we do not always see the relevance or importance,” said integrated language arts teacher Tracie Zweifel. “Our ILA classes have been working to create meaningful entries in Bulb portfolios; this project provided a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for a reflective Bulb portfolio entry.
“Some students created very brief summaries of their days – breakfast, lunch, dinner and other activities. Other students found graphs, charts, articles and interviews or included family members’ recorded responses to embrace the activity and demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 locally and globally.”
Students say the assignment was a chance to process their own feelings and emotions.
“It is helpful to write about my experiences during this time because writing my thoughts down helps me better understand what I’m truly feeling during this crazy time in my life,” said Staley seventh grader Coda Jones. “Years from now when I look back on this time, I hope I remember the crazy, yet cool things us humans had to do like drive-by birthday parties, Zoom meetings and lots of texting.”
“Writing about our experiences can help us note our daily life changes from the pandemic,” added Kaylin Choi, another seventh grader at Staley. “This experience has definitely changed me to be grateful for even the littlest things. For example, being able to go to school, talk with friends and go shopping are a few of the small things that I became more aware of as a blessing and privilege.”
Back on March 16, at the very start of eLearning, Nicholson also encouraged her economics students to keep a journal of their thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has resonated with me over the past few days that this could be your 9/11,” she wrote to them via email. “Each generation has had something that has happened and there was a pre- _______ world and a post- _______ world. This could be your fill in the blank.”
As students, teachers and families put this challenging spring semester behind them, Nicholson hopes everyone continues to reflect on their experiences as a way of moving forward.
“The history books will one day write a time capsule for us on the events, but it won't include our personal feelings, experiences and memories,” she said. “It is important to hold on to those, reflect on them, learn from them and share them.
“I believe reflecting is cathartic and important for personal growth. This level of self reflection can mold a growth mindset within you, while at the same time helping you to acknowledge how you are feeling.”