MISSOULA — The use of "remote learning" has been a learning experience for both students, and their teachers this spring.
While the system still presents challenges for engaging students, educators are expressing more confidence of using the tool if needed next fall. MTN News took a closer look at the pandemic-driven innovation of recent weeks in Western Montana's largest school district.
When Gov. Steve Bullock closed schools as a health precaution in mid-March it sent educators scrambling, closing campuses, handing out Chromebooks, and coming up with ad hoc ways to distribute lessons. Now, with the school year winding down, teachers, students -- and parents -- are taking a deep breath.
Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson says that generally, the hasty innovation is being deemed a qualified success.
"One thing that we know is that you know, we're not hitting every kid. I think that the engagement level last time we looked was somewhere in the neighborhood of 70%-to-85%,” he said. “At some of our schools it's much higher and some of the schools a little lower. And that's the average. So, what we do know is that all the efforts we currently have. We're still not engaging every kid."
MCPS administrators, teachers, and the school board have continued active discussions throughout the spring and the "pandemic pause" in regular classes. They've shared examples of students, young and older, who were able to bridge the difference between digital and physical learning. Some actually improved out of class and teachers were keeping notes on what worked.
"We've learned some really good skills that we can use next fall. Because we will have a portion of kids that likely can't come back to school for a variety of reasons,” Watson told MTN News. “We may have some teachers than can't come back. And so, figuring out how to marry those two groups and continue some sort of remote learning experience will be important in the fall."
The concern is not just what classes might look like in the fall, but what happens if there's another surge of the coronavirus.
"In addition, when our teachers do come back in the fall, we'll be talking to them about getting some of these things set up on Day One,” Watson explained. “So that if we do have to close down in the middle of October that we can move right to remote learning."
“I think coming back in the fall won't be a traditional school start if I had to predict it. I think what we might be looking at is smaller groups. It could be an every other day type of thing where we have only half the kids in on one day, and then the other half on the next day,” Watson said. “I think schools are already exploring some of those models so I wouldn't doubt if we're going to be doing the same thing here."
With the district facing the possibility of having to continue at least some remote learning, MCPS wants to hear from parents about their experiences and suggestions. You can participate in an anonymous, online survey until June 15.