‘Make it enjoyable’: Alberta teachers get creative to keep students engaged as they learn online

CALGARY — With students in Grades 7 to 12 learning online for the next few weeks due to the recent surge in COVID-19, schools have been finding creative ways of making sure students can focus on their lessons.

“We know that kids don’t learn well unless they are engaged in the lesson and that they feel connected to the person that’s instructing them,” said Elise Saraceni, principal of St. Martin de Porres High School in Calgary.

Some teachers are making videos using resources in classrooms or in places like barns, garages and sewing rooms to keep kids engaged.

“They are putting copious hours into finding ways to meet the learning outcomes,” said Saraceni.

One teacher dresses in character and uses humour in his inventive videos, which get a lot of praise from students.

“Make it short and put some meaningful stuff in there and make it enjoyable for them,” said Greg Miller, careers and technologies teacher at St Martin de Porres High School.

In the classroom, Miller focuses or woodworking and welding, but for online learning he is even changing up his curriculum to better suit students.

“I thought automotive was something they can do from home,” he explained.

“Checking the tire pressure, checking the oil, all that basic stuff, that’s really good stuff for everybody to know.”

Even before the latest transition, St. Mary’s High School had provided an online open house and ditched semester for quarterly learning, with only two subjects per quarter.

Those longer classes are structured in ways meant to keep students engaged, which is even more important now that they’re online.

“Break up the lesson, you know have a conversation piece, have an activity piece, have a direct instruction piece, have a break,” said Luigi Fortini, St. Mary’s High School’s principal.

Many schools have also added one-on-one check-ins with each student to make sure they are still getting the learning and mental health supports they need.

“Everyday to say how’s it going? Where are your challenges today? What can I help you with?” explained Saraceni.

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