Featured Teacher – Bethany Edstrom
Teaching from Quarantine: Humanities Edition
Bethany Edstrom – Humanities and Latin Teacher
Eight weeks ago, in a spirited haze of community energy that combined a recent Panther basketball victory, an exciting workshop that introduced our school’s new Ableton software, and an amazing Irish dancing performance by 6th grader James McLoughlin, we said goodbye on a Friday afternoon, expecting to reconvene on campus on April 6. You know what happened next. I’m writing to you today, May 5, from my sofa at home, more versed on the use of video-conferencing software than I ever expected to become.
Some highlights of our distance learning program include the following:
• Our 6th and 7th grade literature students had already been hard at work reading a book of their choice, and they spent the first two weeks of quarantine creating original board games inspired by the books they read. When we learned that social distancing would likely extend through the rest of the school year, they also created video trailers for their games to help their classmates get excited for the board game party we will have as soon as we’re all back in school together! Some of the books our students transformed into board games include J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and several installments from Lois Lowry’s The Giver series.
• Our 6th grade history students and 7th and 8th grade Latin students participated in several webinars offered by two programs devoted to education about ancient Rome: Excellence in Classics and Ancient Rome Live. The students were able to choose webinars that interested them – some took virtual tours of a model of Ancient Rome (including sewers!) built in Minecraft, while others learned about life in the Roman army and in the gladiatorial arena, and others participated in a Latin yoga session where they stretched their muscles while learning the Latin words for the parts of the body! Each time they participated in a webinar, the students wrote a reflection on the experience.
• Ongoing rehearsals of our elementary school play (originally titled Highway 345, now rebranded as Zoom Zoom, for obvious reasons). While converting a stage play-in-progress to an online format has not been without its challenges, these rehearsals have allowed the elementary students to stay connected and solve problems together. Stay tuned for details about the final product!
In other ways, life in the Humanities program has been business as usual. We’ve spent time honing our grammar, crafting thesis statements and essays, taking spelling quizzes, mastering new vocabulary in both English and Latin, and writing original short stories using our knowledge of story structure and California geography. As a teacher, I love how much time I’m able to spend with students one-on-one now, both during my scheduled office hours and in impromptu Zoom conferences inspired by student questions. I’ve become even more aware of each student’s individual learning style and pace, and as we talk through their questions, their assignments, and their outside interests, I can tell they are deepening in their own understanding of themselves as well. Elementary and middle school students are peer-focused by nature, but now they are completing much of their work alone, without direct access to what their classmates are doing. As a result, their individual voices are developing and deepening at an amazing rate. As important as it is to stay connected as a community through Zoom classes, virtual club meetings (cooking, trigonometry tea, virtual pet society), and social events with friends, I’m also grateful for the increased depth, creativity, and uniqueness I’m seeing in my students’ work across all six grade levels, as well as for the opportunity to work with them in small groups and one-on-one. I can’t wait to see how this growth continues to manifest itself when we return to school. Many thanks to everyone in our community for your resilience and flexibility. Our last day together was imbued with a unique and sustaining spirit; I suspect that our first day back on campus – whenever that may be – will be even more memorable.