From late March 2020 through the end of June, schools worked remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. As a new school year began in September, schools combined in-person and distance learning into hybrid formats.
Teachers had to scramble to get up to speed on adapting the technology to their in-classroom lessons. Educators at all levels acknowledged that making the transition to a virtual format had its challenges. “We started off very apprehensive, and everyone was really nervous about how things would go,” said Joseph Eaderoso, an eighth-grade algebra teacher at Howard T. Herber Middle School in Malverne. “I’ve been here for 24 years and I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.”
The Malverne School District shifted to remote learning 14 months ago, and last September the middle school allowed students in class every other day. “As the year went on, we all settled in and we got into a good routine,” Eaderoso recounted. “We have great technology as far as delivering instruction goes. I was able to deliver the same instruction as if they were in person, and I’m right at the same point in our curriculum as previous years.”
Eaderoso said he mainly used WebEx, meeting with students virtually to help them with math problems. While the program was very user-friendly, he said, it took time for some of his students to adapt. “Some of the students still need the structure of live, in-person school every day,” he said.
Eaderoso said he realized that his work was paying off when he started receiving kind messages from his students. One, Joseline Hernandez Guzman, thanked him after class last March for taking time to help every student.
“Us students really appreciate you doing extra help and being available at any time to help us with homework questions or just understand a whole lesson,” Hernandez Guzman wrote to Eaderoso. “You probably don’t know it, but we really appreciate it. This shows that you care about us and our future.”
Eaderoso, who is now prepping his students for the state’s year-end Regents exam, said that the transition from classroom to remote learning required the help of his colleagues in the math department. “I have to give kudos to my administration team in my building and in the district,” he said. “They supplied the ammunition to make all of this possible. They’ve done a great job in setting us up to provide our students with everything they need to succeed. I think it’s definitely a new wave into the future. I can’t imagine going back to the old ways of teaching.”
Dr. Bret Bennington, the chairman of the department of geology, environment and sustainability at Hofstra University, said that moving lectures to a virtual format was easy, but organizing the laboratory-based classes was difficult.
“We have a planet Earth course, which is an introduction-to-geology course where the students work with rocks and minerals,” said Bennington, of West Hempstead. “As the department chairman, I had to figure out how we can recreate these lab experiences in ways they could be done online and . . . taught by multiple faculty members.”
First, Bennington recorded videos on Zoom, in which he explained what the different lab assignments were about. Then he made videos with his iPhone of him picking up specimens and turning them toward the camera. He also created virtual labs, showing students all the things they would observe if they were in the classroom. In addition, Bennington set up a recording studio in his classroom and used Keynote, a program similar to PowerPoint, to make his presentations. Half of his students were allowed to return in person last September, but everyone had to be distanced.
“Being in a classroom, but not being able to directly interact with people, is much different than being on Zoom,” he said.
In the hope of keeping his students engaged, Bennington also used another presentation program, Prezi, to share lab assignments, which had numerous icons with different specimens. Students would click on one of the icons and then they could see photos and videos of each specimen.
The department normally plans annual field trips to places such as the Galápagos Islands to study the environment and wildlife. Instead, for his historical geology class this semester, Bennington used Google Earth to identify different rocks. He said he anticipated running all of his classes simultaneously via Zoom for students who can’t attend in person.
“It’s so easy to do, so why not?” he said. “I think when all is said and done, we’ll have made advances in the way we teach, because we had to go through this. I think this sort of kicked us in the rears and pushed us toward the future, but that’s often what happens in a crisis situation. We can’t wait to have everybody back.”