Metro teachers, students finding ways to make online schooling interesting and engaging

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thousands of students around the metro continue to do some, or all, of their schooling online. 

It’s been a struggle for some kids to feel connected and stay on task. But other students and teachers say virtual learning is pushing them to be their very best.

Chairs are stacked in the corner of Tyler Anderson’s 5th grade classroom at Hopewell Elementary.  Instead of students at desks, he’s got screens, a web cam and a ring light to bring his material for Park Hill students to life.

Anderson’s been teaching 16 years, but never quite like this.

“This really shifts the learning from just being in school to a lot more—what am I learning and why?” Anderson said.

Payton is one of Anderson’s students. Her family decided virtual school was the safest bet this fall.  While she misses seeing her friends and teacher in-person, she’s enjoying her online experience.

“I feel like either way you’re going to learn as much and learn the same things, it’s just a different set up,” Payton said.

Anderson said he wanted to teach virtually to push his own limits and get creative with how to help kids learn in this new way. In a lesson this week, he incorporated a Halloween-themed game to test math skills.

“It also is great because now we have the opportunity to see what everyone’s thinking or respond to what other people are thinking if we don’t have a thought so not that that’s absent in the classroom, but this has really kind of pushed that forward in kind of new way that I hope continues into the classroom with us,” Anderson said.

And despite what you might think, Tyler and students like Payton said there’s even more opportunity to connect one-on-one with teachers in the virtual classroom setting.

“You’ve got to have opportunities for the kids to connect, so I feel like it really creates a purposeful reason to collaborate and we know why we’re getting on. It’s not, you know, part of it is to learn and also that kids need opportunities to connect with each other,” Anderson said.

“He is always available whether it’s an email or a Zoom call about math. He just makes it open for you, makes you feel welcome in that virtual classroom environment,” Payton said.

Anderson has 33 virtual students that are broken down in smaller groups throughout the day. He often jumps into individual chats with kids to help them troubleshoot and see their work up close.

“I think it’s easy to get stuck on one assignment or one task and trying to look at the larger game and not just that one inning or one at bat, seeing like are we moving toward success slowly is important,” Anderson said.

And with some form of online learning, likely to continue beyond the pandemic, he thinks what’s happening in Zoom rooms now will be incredibly valuable moving forward. 

Twenty-eight percent, or about 3,200 kids, in Park Hill are learning 100% online right now. The district has even set up a digital “relaxation room” as a place for kids to take a break during their school day.

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