Reimagining Authentic Learning During a Pandemic

By Jennifer Skomial

 

There is no doubt that distance learning has led to many unique challenges for educators, however, it has also provided an opportunity for students in the Academy for Education and Learning at Morris County School of Technology to explore new ways to engage in authentic learning activities. While teachers navigated how to modify their in-person lessons to fit a virtual format, students were experiencing firsthand how quickly educators could adapt to and overcome those unforeseen challenges. What better way for high school students to experience what it would be like to teach during a pandemic than for them to create their own materials and resources for young learners? Immediately, I reached out to the educators I had been collaborating with over the last few years and we started finding creative ways to connect my future educators with elementary-aged children across the state. As teachers often say, “it was a teachable moment!” 


The first project was for students to record themselves while they read books for elementary children. Many found books that they still had at home and started recording themselves with such enthusiasm, it was as if the children were right in front of them! Other students found on-line versions of their favorite children’s books and read them while recording the pages on their screens. The students selected texts that were on grade level of the classes with which they had been matched. 

Next, we connected with another teacher whose school had been focusing on social-emotional learning this year. What better way to get high schoolers to better understand the importance of incorporating social-emotional learning into their future classrooms than to have them develop motivational videos for other students? One student recorded herself creating a calendar and scheduling out their assignments and activities. She talked them through how to plan out a week so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Another walked them through a guided meditation with music and breathing exercises. I was so impressed with all of the ideas they recorded and with the professionalism in which they did so!

 

Most recently, the freshman class has been learning how to teach a variety of subject areas to preschool and elementary-aged children. They started creating “busy bags” to share with children at a neighboring school as a way to demonstrate their knowledge with an authentic audience. The “busy bags” contain various activities, including matching numbers and identifying letters. The sophomores created “SEL Sacks” to incorporate social-emotional learning activities, such as identifying emotions, practicing communication skills, and celebrating personal growth. Even though the future educators were unable to make their usual site visits to local schools and nonprofits this year, these activities have provided students with a way to connect with children, even if they couldn’t be in the same room as them. 


Despite the challenges that all students have faced during the last year of virtual and hybrid learning, there is no doubt that the future educators in the Academy for Education and Learning have made a positive impact on elementary learners in New Jersey. The skills they have honed will follow them into any career path they pursue.

The Morris County Vocational School District (www.mcvts.org) provides vocational and enrichment programs that inspire and prepare students to succeed in today’s world and pursue tomorrow’s opportunities. The Academy for Education & Learning, located at the Morris County School of Technology in Denville, is a four-year, full-time high school program that provides students with an introduction to the field of education.

Eighth-grade students who are eligible to attend a Morris County high school may apply to the Academy for Education and Learning during the open application period (September – November). For more information, visit www.mcvts.org/apply, click on Full Time Career Academy Programs or contact Gina DiDomenico, Community Relations at didomenicog@mcvts.org or 973-627-4600 ext. 277

Mrs. Jennifer Skomial, is a graduate of Morris County School of Technology and has been teaching for the past fourteen years. She is also the 2019 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. You can follow her @njstoy2019 on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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