Flexible Classrooms for an Ever-Changing World
Field Notes PK-12 Schools: Part 1 /
Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4
Below is my interview with PK-12 teacher, Brian Flanagan. Brian teaches 5th grade and 6th-grade math for a small private school in the Seattle area.
How many students do you teach?
I have 24 students in my class. Twenty are on-site, and four are learning remotely right now.
Do you teach from home or from a classroom?
Last spring, I was teaching entirely from home. This year has been different. Even though my students started this fall remotely, many are back on campus. We've had a regular schedule recently with the class meeting both in-person and via Zoom. We’ve been using the Google Classroom platform. If the need arises, we’ll be ready to learn and teach from home again.
What kind of set-up do you have?
My home set-up is minimal. Last spring, I had quite an operation in my garage! Now, I have a camera in front of my room at school to stream everything. My Zoom kids can see the large screen in front of the room that projects much of the content, and they can see and hear their classmates too. Zoom kids can be seen and heard by everyone. I'm fortunate that my group of kids is small enough to fit in one room with the proper desk spacing. Some classes have more students and need to be divided and placed in different parts of the school. In that case, the teacher is live-streaming lessons to other rooms, in addition to the kids at home.
Was the transition to virtual learning difficult for you and your students?
Yes, it took a lot of planning throughout the summer to be ready for the new year. This fall, we slowly opened the school to students. We had a staggered start welcoming the classes back. Pre-K students were first to return. Then the rest of the school returned over a couple of months. Right now, all grades are back on campus. It's been a challenge to manage the daily routine. There was a long transition with part of the school still operating on the remote schedule while those on campus had a different routine. We also had to make sure every student had a laptop. Many students had something to work on, but we also gave out many school laptops to those who didn't have anything. As for putting together schoolwork for the kids, it takes more time to plan for the remote kids since it involves creating digital copies compared to the usual hard copies for the kids in the classroom.
At school, what has been done to protect you and students from COVID-19?
Like most schools, we follow CDC rules. Everyone has their temperature taken when they arrive each morning during carpool, including the parents and small children in the car. Each family must also attest to their health by signing a digital form daily. Everyone on campus wears a mask all day, even during recess, except for lunch and some set times when the kids get a mask-off break outside. To help maintain proper spacing, we have big stickers placed six feet apart on hallway floors, sidewalks, and around the playground. We also use a six-foot-long pool noodle; that comes in handy to help measure the distance between kids. The classroom desks are spaced apart, and each student has a trifold screen set up for lunch while they're eating. If it's a nice day, I can have the kids eat outside.
How are your students feeling about the pandemic and quarantining?
The kids are really happy to be back; they missed being around their friends. It's funny how excited they were to return. Perhaps being away has given them a better appreciation for the opportunity to be in school. There is no doubt that this pandemic has been a stress on everyone, kids included, but they've been resilient. I'm proud of how they've responded to the situation with such a great attitude. I still spend a lot of time reminding kids to distance themselves, but they're doing a great job being aware of their responsibility to maintain safe practices.
What are the future goals of your school?
This whole experience has forced us into the modern era. As an older teacher, I would have never been exposed to so much of the amazing content available to us. I think it's changed how we approach education forever. There's no going back. Every single teacher I know has grown so much from this experience. Of course, the kids have grown up with technology, so they can pick up on this quite naturally. We'll try to maintain the high standard we've always strived for, but be flexible so we can operate in a way that works with our ever-changing world.
Philip Riedel, AIA, ALEP, LEED AP
Philip has dedicated his career to the thoughtful design of educational environments, including a variety of schools that serve students with special needs. He uses education research, classroom observation, faculty discussions, and building science to develop environments that promote active learning and meet the needs of the whole child. Philip is the past president of the Association for Learning Environments, Pacific Northwest Region.