It’s August 10, 2020, which means it’s Annie Garza’s first day of school. She is excited to begin distance learning with all her classmates.
Annie is excited about her first day as a third grader at IDEA Donna. Her new teacher, Ms. Finch, sent several encouraging “Welcome Back!” messages over the summer. Ms. Finch told Annie she loves animals and cannot wait for the school year to begin. Annie’s excitement is tinged with nerves as she eagerly awaits logging on for her first class at 8:30 a.m. She ate an early breakfast with her family and put on her IDEA polo shirt in preparation for her first day of school. Last week, Annie and her family picked up her Chromebook, login information, and some instructional materials at school. When she received the Chromebook, she charged it, turned it on, and used the instructions to log on using her IDEA student account. Once she logged on, she watched the “How to use TEAMS” video and felt ready for her new classes.
When Annie logs on to her Chromebook, she selects TEAMS and notices her classes are already in the system. She knows from the welcome video that she will begin with her homeroom class, so she clicks on that class module and sees that her teacher Ms. Finch posted a welcome announcement and “Do Now” exercise for her to respond to. She quickly enters, “Hello, Ms. Finch,” to reply to the thread and makes sure her camera is on and her mic is muted. One of her first “Do Nows” is to enter her color/mood from the mood meter into the chat. She is a combination of excited and nervous, but she decides to enter Yellow/ Hopeful into the meeting chat. After that, she views the “Move this World Video” that takes her through an introduction of the program. She thinks, “This seems like a cool way to learn about my feelings and make positive choices. I can’t wait to learn more about this.”
At 8:30 a.m., she sees a message from Ms. Finch that they will begin English Language Arts (ELA) and that she will need to transition to her ELA class in Teams. Ms. Finch shows the students how to do that and then waits for them to leave their homeroom meeting and move to the correct channel. Annie follows instructions and quickly realizes that she is now in a large virtual classroom with all of her classmates. Most have their cameras on, so she can see Jose, Sylvia, and Daniel, who were in her class last year. She smiles and waves at the camera as she greets her friends who she has not seen since March. She notices that not all students are on video, and she can only see Ms. Finch and eight other students on the screen. There is a lot of noise as each student is talking at the same time. Ms. Finch mutes everyone and then welcomes everyone to the ELA class. Each teacher is reviewing culture lessons and what classes will look like virtually. Ms. Jones, the special education teacher, is helping Ms. Finch and some of the students with checks for understanding. Each third grader writes a story about how they spent their summer and Ms. Finch proceeds to ask students to share. Juan comes off mute and talks about how much he has hated having to stay indoors while Laura is worried about her grandma. She is scared and wonders what will happen in the future. Ms. Finch patiently listens as the students take turns coming off mute to share, reassures them, and transitions to a lesson on starting the year strong and the importance of staying safe. Ms. Finch tells them that they will have a brain break before they start the math lesson on Teams.
The brain break is a 10-minute breathing and stretching video made by Coach V. Annie is so happy to see Coach V on the screen and follow along as they do the exercises. She notices that other students are also following along since she can see them on the screen. She is surprised that even Ms. Finch is doing the stretching and breathing. She notices how the exercises help her to focus and calm down.
After the brain break, Ms. Finch reminds students how to transition and waits until everyone leaves the ELA meeting to go to the math Teams channel. Ms. Finch introduces Mr. Marquez, IDEA Donna’s third-grade math teacher, who will be teaching math.
Mr. Marquez welcomes the students and asks the class if they would like to hear about his new puppy— it seems like many teachers got new pets! Everyone is eager to listen to the story. Mr. Marquez shares some pictures of his new dog, Scout, and tells them all about his silly behavior. After this, he moves on to games so students can get to know each other. This is the fun first day Annie was expecting. Annie sees that Ms. Finch is also in Mr. Marquez’s Teams classroom as he begins his lesson. Mr. Marquez tells the class that Ms. Finch will join them every day so she can help with any questions they have while he’s teaching. She is surprised how much can be done virtually in Teams and that it is already 11:30 and time for lunch. Mr. Marquez explains that students will have a lunch break and encourages them to eat and do something fun before logging back on at 12:30.
Annie has lunch with her mom at their dining room table while watching cartoons in the background. Her mom asks about her morning, and Annie tells her all of the fun things she got to do at school that morning. After eating, she decides to walk her dog around the block. Annie misses playing tag and switch with her friends at school and wonders if they will have recess or play some virtual game as part of recess.
At 12:30 p.m., she logs back on and joins her science class. This class is led by Ms. Johnson, who is the third teacher in 3rd grade. She usually teaches ELA when they are in school, but she will be the teacher for science. Ms. Johnson begins the lesson by showing a video on the water cycle. She then conducts a demonstration like the ones that you see on Bill Nye the Science Guy. Ms. Johnson then explains that students will spend time in small groups discussing the video and demonstration. For the first time, Annie notices that Mr. Marquez and Ms. Finch are both in the class and realizes they will lead the breakout rooms. The class of 120 students goes into four breakout rooms, and Annie is in the small group with Ms. Finch, her homeroom teacher. In that room, they discuss what they observed in the experiment and complete a short assignment. They all return to the primary science channel to complete the exit ticket.
Before moving on to the individualized learning block of the day, Ms. Johnson takes the group through another brain break. This brain break is more physical and made up of quick transitions between some jumping jacks and silly trivia that you respond to in the meeting chat. Annie does not realize how quickly she transitions from doing ten jumping jacks and answering the puzzle in the chat.
Ms. Finch explains that they will spend 60 minutes rotating through the activities each day. She shows them how to click back to Clever right from Teams. They will spend 20 minutes on silent reading and AR testing, 20 minutes working on Dreambox, and 20 minutes in PE. Annie learns that some students, like her friend Melissa, will spend time working on different programs such as joining a direct instruction group or using Imagine Learning to work on her reading skills.
Annie is not sure how that is all going to work, but Ms. Finch puts up the schedule on the screen and explains that she will guide them through the different parts and monitor their progress. They begin by logging onto MyOn and choosing a book to read. Annie used MyOn last year and finds an interesting book on dogs that she wants to read. She reads the short book several times and even has time to take a quick AR quiz. She scores her first 100% of the year and knows that if she can read daily as part of class and an additional 30 minutes at home every day, she will surely be a Royal Reader!
Ms. Finch brings the class together again and shares the goal for Dreambox. Students are to complete 2-3 lessons per day. Annie loves Dreambox and quickly logs on to complete her lessons. She is excited to see that her progress from last year is saved and she can pick up where she left off and learn more about number lines. She met the goal of finishing 200 lessons last year and plans to be a Math Genius again. After 20 minutes, Ms. Finch asks all the students to log their progress on the tracker that they received when they picked up their computer and asks them to get ready for PE.
PE is another Teams class, and the students click on the video that Coach V has posted. She guides Annie through a full PE class. This feels like the regular PE class at school where they start with some stretching, then move on to a slow warm-up, and then complete some fast-paced aerobic exercises. Coach V then takes them through a fun cool down. The 20 minutes go by very quickly, and Annie was excited not just to see Coach V, but also see her classmates doing the exercises along with her on the screen.
At 3:00 p.m., Annie logs into Presence Learning to meet with a speech therapist. She spends the next thirty minutes playing fun language games that help her practice “r” and “th” sounds. She has so much fun, the session flies by.
The students end the day in their homeroom class. Ms. Finch asks Annie and her classmates to reply to the end of day post by entering a word describing their first day of school into the thread. Annie chooses the word “unique.” Ms. Finch asks Annie to come off of mute and explain why she chose that word. “I was not sure how this virtual thing was going to work but enjoyed seeing my classmates and teachers and doing all of the activities,” she replied. “I chose unique because I realize that I can learn and be with my friends and teachers in this new unique way.”
Ms. Finch has a couple of other students share their responses and closes the session by reminding students, “Don’t forget, everyone must spend 30 minutes reading, and 30 minutes in Dreambox, the math program. I can see when you log in and will be grading your progress, so don’t let me down!” Ms. Finch then checks for understanding by asking students to type in the meeting chat what their assignment will be and one “take away” from her instructions.
Later that evening, Annie’s mother gets a Remind message on her phone from the school. She goes to check that Annie is working on her DreamBox lesson on her new Chromebook. Annie is hard at work but smiles at her mother, “Today was great, mom!” Annie’s mom smiles back. While uncertainties exist, it looks like Annie will learn a lot this year.