For many students and teachers, the 2020-21 school year challenged the academic process. In the summer of 2020, unknowns surrounded the status of the upcoming year. The possibility of returning to in-person learning existed but seemed irrational when considering all of the steps that would need to be taken. But as the academic year grew closer, that possibility became a reality as members of the school prepared to return to the campus. The return, however, was not complete.
Teachers adjusted their methods to follow school guidelines. The new normal included ninety-minute classes in a quarter system, a virtual-learning option, and a predominately online learning system.
The main restriction that hampered the educational process was the six-foot distance. Latin teacher Dr. Andrew Fenton felt that his classes changed significantly as a result of social distancing.
“There were a few different projects that we weren’t able to do this year because they involved a lot of close contact and physical activity,” Dr. Fenton said.
Calculus, Engineering, and Physics teacher Mr. Adam Myers echoed these sentiments.
“All of the science classes are heavily project-based, and we weren’t able to do a lot of the group work simply because people couldn’t be close enough to work safely,” Mr. Myers said. “We had to change a lot of projects to online platforms and digital simulations.”
While teachers removed many projects and group activities from the curriculum this year, there were still some positives to the altered learning environment.
“I found the quarter system to be incredibly beneficial as a teacher,” English teacher Mr. Keith Belson said. “It really allowed me to compartmentalize my units. For English, I find that communication’s kind of a big part of that class, so we split it up by speaking and writing in the first half of the year, and then the second half really lent itself nicely to the listening component.”
The quarter system allowed students to focus on a smaller number of classes, and it served the same purpose for teachers handling multiple duties.
“Being in two departments, it really helped me to focus on a smaller number of tasks,” Mr. Myers said. “I could stay on top of my responsibilities so I could better help the students stay on top of their responsibilities.”
Another helpful element that was added to the academic system was the virtual option for students. Teachers were able to involve students in their classes that may have missed the day entirely in previous years.
“I had a student who was injured and out for the last couple weeks,” Dr. Fenton said. “In past years, I don’t know what he would have done. But it’s really nice to have the option to have him there with us, even if he can’t participate exactly the same way.”
For the students in class, the presence of computers dominated the learning experience. Many teachers moved away from on-paper assignments and relied heavily on online platforms. As classes return to pre-pandemic states, the computer-based learning environment may continue.
“I think we’re here to stay online,” Mr. Belson said. “It’s just a lot easier to organize online assignments than it is to collect a stack of papers. But I do recognize that screen time is an issue for students, so I’ll be cognizant of that as I balance paper and online work.”
“There’s pretty good research that shows students retain information better when they are taking notes by hand, learning in a non-virtual way, and having a tactile experience.”Dr. Fenton
In addition to screen time, some teachers feel that the learning process is diminished by using a computer.
Dr. Fenton said, “There’s pretty good research that shows students retain information better when they are taking notes by hand, learning in a non-virtual way, and having a tactile experience.”
As the next school year approaches, the value of on-paper learning may not be entirely forgotten.
“I think there will inevitably be some kind of shift back towards the paper,” Mr. Belson said. “There are a lot of benefits to laboring through things as opposed to tapping on a keyboard.”
The administration looks to return to some pre-pandemic academic procedures. But the effects of the past year will linger. The quarter system will continue next year, and many elements of the online approach will remain. Perhaps it is only natural that the school will continue to feel the impact of such a historic time.