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online learning

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As the holiday break began to wind down and COVID-19 infection rates climbed, many parents hoped their children would be learning remotely for a week or two instead of returning to their classrooms.

Many feared that their children would get sick if they returned to school buildings and hoped that their districts would take advantage of their past remote learning experiences and allow students to return to a virtual classroom temporarily — just long enough for the holiday virus surge to pass.

While a few schools on Long Island did switch to remote and other districts offered an option, many school officials opened the doors to their classrooms as if they didn’t have a clue as to how to use alternative methods to educate.

Many people would agree that learning during the pandemic for a majority of students was difficult when a day at school meant logging into a computer instead of boarding a bus. The ideal option is to be seated in a classroom. However, in the worst of times, such as the world continuing to fight a virus that could be deadly to some, would switching to remote learning for a week or two be so harmful?

To keep our children and their families safe, school districts should be at the ready to switch to remote learning when infection rates soar. While health officials can advise not to gather during the holidays, is it such a terrible thing to allow people to be with their loved ones and then look at a screen when school is back in session?

Technology has made it possible to continue learning and working during difficult times such as these. Perfecting remote techniques and always being prepared to use them means that learning, working, basic health care and more can continue no matter what is going on around us, except for maybe a power outage.

And with more employers offering work-from-home options, many parents will be able to watch their children in the house if their children need to log into a computer to connect with their classroom. Which in turn, eliminates the old snow or sick day problem of who is going to watch the kids.

It’s been said many times during the pandemic that maybe instead of getting back to normal, it might be better to embrace a new normal. Let’s retain the lessons we have learned the last two years and increase our country’s chances of soon enjoying good times once again.

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Post-pandemic thoughts for parents, teachers and administrators

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Huge sighs of relief can be anticipated when local public schools reopen their doors this September — exclamations of relief not only from children and teenagers eager to resume in-person learning full time alongside their friends, not only from teachers exhausted from long hours shaping lessons onto distance-learning platforms, not only from parents, weary from assisting struggling students glued to laptops, iPads  or iPhones at home while juggling or, worse yet, resigning from paid jobs, and also from business owners glad to have their employees back.  

But will pre-pandemic and post-pandemic classroom learning be the same, and should it be? Should “distance learning,” supported by expanded technological resources, be granted a larger role within the classroom, with less teacher-led instruction? Which medium of delivery ensures a greater payoff of maximum learning for the resources invested?

Two Three Village residents, educators at the top of their profession — Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, professor emerita of Teaching, Learning and Technology, Hofstra University, and her spouse Martin Brooks, executive director of Tri-State Consortium, an association of over 40 school districts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — agree that the key to whether or not learning takes place is not how information is delivered but if knowledge is constructed. Whether it is a teacher or a book or a computer that provides a formal lesson, the students must connect the lesson to what they already know or have experienced for true learning to occur.

“Content alone is insufficient as a motivator for student learning: It must be combined with purpose … seen as meaningful by learners. Students learn best when engaged in learning experiences rather than passively receiving information,” according to the authors.

That theory of learning, called “constructivism,” suggests that you cannot directly impart knowledge, but you can facilitate experiences in which students construct knowledge. Jacqueline and Martin Brooks agree that the job of the teacher is to create meaningful experiences that enable the learner to do just that.

“There are kids who struggle to learn if what is being taught is not offered in a way that is particularly relevant to them. In order to figure out ways for them to have ownership of their learning, skilled teachers, interacting in person with these students, focus not only on content but concentrate on approaches that lead to critical and creative thinking.” 

What many parents and children learned during the pandemic is that at-home distance learning in front of a laptop, iPad, or iPhone cannot replace in-person classroom experiences created by skillful teachers. Virtual classrooms also denied children the opportunity to develop social skills through interaction with their peers. When schools reopen in September, students, parents and teachers will welcome the opportunity for true learning to begin again. 

Further reading: “Schools Reimagined: Unifying the Science of Learning with the Art of Teaching,” by Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Martin G. Brooks (Teachers College Press, 2021).

Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan is the former director of education at the Three Village Historical Society and an educator, writer and lecturer on art, artists and American history.