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Monday, April 15, 2024

Teaching in the Pandemic Age

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By Dr. Curtis Varnell

The pandemic has called for changes in local education.  Many of our students are being educated totally through virtual communication.  Others have faced two to four weeks and/or multiple days of virtual education from quarantine or school closure for cleaning and sterilizing.  Nothing about this situation has been easy for our students or our teachers. 

Many teachers are struggling to provide both classroom and virtual lessons- a task that nearly doubles their class preparation time.  Students are struggling; trying to learn chemistry, geometry, and literacy without face to face interaction.

One positive from this situation is that schools and teachers are becoming more and more creative in the presentation of good sound lessons for our children.  Six months ago, the terms zoom, sandbox, meeting rooms, dashboards, and STAR had totally different meaning to us than they do today. All are methods of presenting virtual lessons and making them as much student interactive as possible.

Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative has been busy assisting teachers in keeping up with the virtual world.  Across the curriculum, staff has worked with district teachers to upgrade computer skills, to develop appropriate grade-level lessons, and to assist teachers in reaching those students who need special assistance.

One of the more innovative approaches was developed by Amber Cobb, science specialist at GFESCS.  Early on, she and fellow specialists Dr. Curtis Varnell and Mr. Brian Schuller developed a booklet of AT HOME science activities that parents could do with their children at home using common household materials.  They also developed several outdoor field trips which allowed students to virtually visit and explore local science locations such as Magazine Mountain trail, caves, and archeology sites.

Taking it a step further, Mrs. Cobb contacted national and state organizations seeking assistance that would promote student interest and participation while providing exceptional educational opportunities for children. 

Her first learning partner was NASA.  Working with the educational arm of the space administration, GFESC set up grade level sessions that included talks by NASA experts and the presentation of lessons.  Taking the lesson a step forward, GFESC provided classroom and individual materials so that students could carry out the activity as the NASA expert demonstrated it on line.  The first grade NASA lesson was on weather.  Students worked along with the NASA expert to make weather instruments that they used at home or school.  Lessons for older students included activities about the moon, about rockets, and about Mars.

More than two-thousand area students from twenty-two school districts have participated in the NASA lessons.  Future presentations available for students include lessons from NASCAR, from the National Zoo, and from Arkansas Game and Fish. 

Even in the strange educational time, teachers are finding unique and interesting ways to keep kids involved in the learning. 

Area participating schools include Charleston, Paris, County Line, Clarksville, Lamar, Fort Smith, Greenwood, Hackett, Waldron, Magazine, Lavaca, St. Josephs, Booneville, Cedarville and others.

Second grade Paris Elementary students
Paris Elementary student Lucas Varnell works on a science project.
A Magazine Elementary student checking for wind direction.
Magazine Elementary first grade students
Working on weather instruments
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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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