Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Blooming Prairie Elementary School first grade teacher Natalie Sorensen takes time to check her family's work in distance learning. Second grader Carter is at far left, pre-schooler Madeline hugs her mom and fourth grader Max is at right.

First grade teacher helps flatten COVID-19 curve

As much as I miss seeing my students in my first-grade classroom in Blooming Prairie, I feel very fortunate that I am able to distance teach during the COVID-19 epidemic.

It’s a scary time in our world. I am thankful to be able to stay home with our own children and hopefully continue to “flatten the curve” here in Minnesota.

Along with the three other first grade teachers, we have been very busy at school and at home, planning, and creating organized plans using our Everyday Math and Reading Streets Curriculum.

Through videos recorded at school, I am teaching reading skills, Mrs. Heather Schiller is reading weekly stories & BIG Books, Miss Emily Henslin and Ms. Karlee Ruen are team teaching math concepts.

We gave a distance learning folder with learning instructions in it to all first graders when the Blooming Prairie Elementary School distributed packet pick-up prior to the start of the Minnesota’s Distance Learning.

At home, our first-grade students watch our videos and complete the tasks within their distance learning folder and in the math journal.

For writing, we want the kids to be journaling about their experiences at home during this distance learning period. We asked parents to please take time each week to complete the tasks and learn the concepts listed for reading, math, and writing.

Our intention was to give this out weekly so families can work on it as they can, rather than assign certain days to work on certain assignments.

We understand many families will have parents leaving for work each day or working from home. We wanted to make this as manageable as possible while beneficial for our first grade students.

I reach out to my own students via an online learning platform called SeeSaw (as do the other first grade teachers). This allows me to send personal videos and messages to each student.

I feel this is imperative so my little first graders know I am still caring and thinking about them! They can send me videos/messages back! In addition to the lessons, I also send out videos of me reading books that are tied to social/emotional learning, which is so important.

Teaching my students from a distance is definitely different. I miss my students’ hugs and smiles.

It’s difficult to know if they are having a bad day or not understanding an assignment. Fortunately, through SeeSaw or email, parents or students can message me and then I can respond back through videos or messages to further explain material.

Seventeen years ago, when I started teaching, this wouldn’t have been possible. It’s not ideal, but I am thankful for this technology to get through these uncharted waters.

My husband Anthony and I have three children and live in the country. Our children are all handling the distance learning concept fairly well.

Max is a fourth grader who loves the fact that he can get his school work done via Google Classroom and then help his dad.

For his music class, Max plays his recorder to his teacher with other students in his “Zoom” classroom online. He misses playing football with his friends at recess.

Carter is in second grade and does his work assigned in packets and on SeeSaw.

Madeline is in Preschool and watches her videos from her teacher and does her work in her packet. They both said that they miss their friends and teachers, but love playing outside and with their toys at home.

It’s been interesting trying to juggle being “Mom” and “Teacher,” especially with a little girl who loves to be on my lap.

Once the learning chart is sent off, I start my day checking student’s work that they’ve uploaded, or reply to messages that were sent by parents or students.

Then, I get my own children started with their distance learning for the day. I let them choose which assignments they want to start with. I am thankful that I am used to doing this with 20 students, because it is interesting with the three kids at different levels.

Our youngest also insists on working at the table every day, even though she doesn’t have as much work to do (good thing I have extra workbooks I bought for her!).

Throughout the day, I check my messages to make sure if my own first grade students are understanding a concept, and if they are not, I reach out and help him/her so they understand it. I also spend time contacting students to make those personal connections.

I’ve been asked: What are the advantages/benefits from this type of learning?

Some parents have told us first grade teachers how much they’ve appreciated the lessons and that they’ve enjoyed the one-on-one time with their child. That’s how I feel as a parent as well.

The teachers of my own children have done all the work of making sure my kids are learning the skills they are supposed to. I make sure it’s delivered to them at home and I help them when needed. I love being able to see what they are working on and it’s been nice to do it with Max, Carter, and Madeline, too!

Luckily, I am able to interact with the other first grade teachers frequently. We have actually had Zoom Meetings among each other, which means all four of us can be on a computer screen talking with each other.

There are so many questions we have and we feel it’s imperative to all be on the same page as a grade level. We also want to support each other and try to make one another laugh when we can!

I feel very fortunate to have my fellow first grade teachers during this uncertain time – they are an amazing team to work with, and knowing we can rely on each other has made distance teaching much more manageable! Having them and my family makes this stressful time easier to get through.

I want to give a huge thank you to our leaders for their insight of keeping our students and staff safe by keeping us all at home.

Also, thank you to the essential workers who are helping fight this COVID-19 battle. Because of you, we will hopefully all be able to be together again soon!



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