When schools across Hong Kong closed last week due to escalating protests in the city, THS quickly launched remote learning through Virtual Classrooms, or VC@T, after the second day of closure so our students can continue to attend school from home.
It was certainly a learning experience for all in our community and a great showing of THS learner goals with teachers, students and parents demonstrating resilience, self-determination and innovation. From Prep to Grade 2, teachers used an app called “Seesaw” to communicate with parents and students. Once logged into Seesaw, students were able to join their virtual classes. Teachers assigned tasks with video prompts and gave feedback of submitted work via audio messages. Students were asked to submit their work by using the multimedia functions on Seesaw and they were encouraged to be creative. For example, students in Grade 2 learned about food webs in Science and were challenged to submit their own food webs in creative ways via Seesaw. Students enjoyed seeing their classmates and teachers during Google Hangout sessions. These optional sessions are usually twice a day and it allowed teachers to guide discussions while also giving students opportunity to ask questions and interact with classmates. Specialists teachers sent videos and instructional programs for students to complete at home.
While lower primary students needed help from parents, students in Grade 3 to 12 were expected to be more independent. Students from Grade 3 and up have their own laptops and are familiar with Google Suite. Students are asked to log into their Google Classroom for each subject. They were given an assignment to complete within a stipulated deadline, which is followed by Hangouts for discussions and questions with the class and teacher. Specialists teachers provided links to activity assignments and the work had to be completed in the same school day.
The High School had the added challenge of starting out STEAM Week, a week-long intensive, virtually. As there is a significant hands-on component in every one of the five STEAM courses offered, teachers have had to quickly adapt their lessons so that the same educational outcomes can be achieved. For example, in a chemistry-based course learning about the qualities of drinking water and investigating into the impact of water pollution in Hong Kong, students were initally meant to work in teams by applying what they’ve learned to build effective water filters using household or other easily obtainable materials. This requirement was adjusted to become an individual assignment.
VC@THS is intended to provide meaningful learning experiences and to continue with the delivery of high-quality education for our students despite unscheduled disruptions. Here are a few strategies for parents and students to make an online school day work for them:
Establish a quiet learning space and remove distractions to learning.
Stay with routine and follow/mimic the usual school schedule as much as possible.
HS students should set goals for completing their work and to plan ahead of meeting with their teachers online on what they would like to cover.
Be familiar with the online tools used for VC@THS. The platforms the school are using are tried and tested.
We talked to a few teachers and students to find out how online learning worked, or did not work, for them :
Vice-Principal Natalie Mierczak (Prep through Grade 8):
“When faced with this task and having to organise it within a very short time, I have to admit, I felt overwhelmed initially. However, ONE feeling thing that we ALL had in unison was to ensure that no child would be left behind so work began on VC@T. It really does take a village and from the outset we had teachers on board even though everyone shared feelings of uncertainty and hesitancy because we are heading into uncharted waters. They were “all in” when it came to ensuring that their students wouldn’t miss a beat! The support was incredible too from parents working to support their kids through the demands of the learning tasks, deliverables and using the online learning platforms. What astounded me most (though something I always remember) is that we often take for granted that whilst we adults may all be in a tizzy, kids are often far more resilient than we will ever be and so….VC@T Day 1 rolled out….
Were there areas for improvement for version 2.0? You bet! Did it provide the same peer-to-peer interactions that a regular homeroom can provide? No (though some would argue that it did provide some students with time to think and respond more clearly). Were students learning, actively engaged, “meeting” their teachers, their peers and their deadlines, virtually? YES! So I suppose in the end, when everything “outside” seemed uncertain and troubling, we were able to provide a level of normalcy by running school virtually. In addition, the collaboration and communication between and amongst teachers, students and families gave opportunities for support within the community For all these reasons, I am eternally grateful to our incredibly resilient and awe-inspiring THS teachers, our wonderful family community and our kids, who continue to wow us everyday.”
Prep Teacher Jen Crickenberger:
“Research clearly shows that parent involvement is the number one factor for student success. I have been so impressed with the Prep parents' dedication to their children's studies while also balancing their work lives and home duties. Through our google chats, we have had honest discussions about individual student's learning and what steps we each can take to help their students progress further. I am grateful for the time I've spent with my families during this virtual classroom period.”
Grade 2 student Luca:
“It was cool, but I don’t want it to be my real school all the time. I would miss my friends.”
Grade 10 student Akasha:
“I feel that the virtual classrooms went well mostly. I was glad and grateful to get back in the school routine because it was unsettling to have school cancelled for so many days. The virtual classrooms worked for me because we didn’t have to do the long commute which meant I could be more productive and get more rest. I had time to do other things instead of spending it on travel. I was happy I was able to take walks to the beach for example after the school day, something I could not do if I had to travel to and from school.
The bad news is, I felt that virtual classrooms didn’t really work very well for group work because I felt that the social dynamics were better face to face. I also could not get the help I needed from teachers at the moment I needed the help, which is the way I could in a real classroom. I think a few teachers realised that group work wasn’t going to work so well remotely so for certain projects we were allowed to work individually. That allowed me the freedom to be more creative and to work faster so I was glad for that. Overall, I am relieved that we are back in school.”
Grade 5 teacher Max Michelson:
“Virtual school gave our students a chance to be more independent and complete work in their home setting. It also gave teachers a chance to experiment and learn new programs and adapt the way they teach so that it was effective and manageable to both parents and students. It was a challenging but positive experience.”
Grade 5 student Pia:
“It was super fun because we could finish all our work and it was really organised.”
The school is currently gathering feedback from parents, students and teachers to enhance the experience of VC@THS 2.0 and would like to invite everyone to help us learn by filling up the feedback form so we know what worked and what to improve.