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Stories of Remote Learning

Our theme for 2021 is “Stories of Change.” For children and their families, the change from in-person to remote and then hybrid learning has been a huge one. We are sharing two stories about this upheaval in our lives from the perspectives of a grandmother and a sixth grader, both from Harpswell.

Teaching Science to my Granddaughter

By Melinda Small

Melinda and Siena Small

When I asked my eight-year-old granddaughter what she wanted to be when she grew up, she did not hesitate. “A vet,” she told me. Two years later, as the pandemic required schools to alter how they taught, my fifth grader was worried about her favorite subject, science.

To ease her concerns, I offered to teach her science. We meet once a week on Facetime. On the first day I reminded my granddaughter that in a classroom the teacher comes with topics she has prepared to teach to the entire class. With just the two of us, however, I proposed that the student decides what she wants to learn.

Although science can often appear as a set of facts, I described science as a process. A process of asking questions and seeking ways to answer these questions. Not surprisingly, my granddaughter chose to explore questions about animals. The first decision was how to start. After some discussion, the topic was animals of Maine. She decided to start with the great blue heron. Her plan was to make a poster about this animal that included its predators, prey, habitat, breeding and physical characteristics.

A year earlier in one of her classes each student designed a poster of family lineage. The animal poster would follow this approach. Each week the next animal to study would be a predator or prey species. In this way, as she continued, the animals of Maine and their relations to each other would be linked in a visual display.

At the same time we explored the nature of the animal kingdom. Soon enough the platypus became a topic. That led to identifying the classes of the animal kingdom and the definition of a mammal.

As we pursued our knowledge of animals, each meeting my granddaughter would select her topic of study. In the next meeting she would present her findings and we would discuss what more we might want to know. If I had a question that was new to her she would use her iPad to find the answer and add it to her poster.

At the same time I pursued questions that interested me. For example, we both were puzzled to understand how an animal with a duck-like bill who laid eggs and nursed her young could be classified as a mammal.

When we put our research together we discovered that the platypus is a monotreme, which is Greek for “one hole.” Only one other animal, echidnas, belong to this class of mammals. And both of these live in Australia. Of course, these facts raised new questions. Recently, my granddaughter discovered that scientists had just mapped the genes of the platypus. This research relates nicely to our future study of genetics and evolution.

It is not easy for a teacher to assess and maintain the attention of all the students in a classroom. By all accounts it is even more difficult to keep students engaged on Zoom. The potential of one-to-one virtual learning during the pandemic reminds me of how children on Maine farms learned from their parents and grandparents as they observed and participated in gardening, cooking and animal care.

A Very Different End of Elementary School

By Calliope Greenleaf, sixth grader at Mt. Ararat Middle School

Calliope Greenleaf

When schools shut down from COVID-19, I was feeling excitement and worry. For one, I wanted to experience something new and learn from it. I also had fear and worry because I was in Harpswell Community School’s fifth grade class. Hearing this news in mid-March that schools had shut down was scary because I was supposed to go to Boston in April and Chewonki in May. When I heard that schools were closed until April 27th that meant I would miss the Boston trip. When it was announced that school was closed for the rest of the school year I just felt angry.

I missed Chewonki, the Boston trip, my last field day and other things I had been looking forward to for a while. This news shocked me, and I didn’t know what to think of it. As we continued in online learning, I hoped that schools would change their system instead of reciting work.

Sadly that didn’t end up happening, but Harpswell Community School did have a Zoom for the fifth graders where we would play games and it would be our “virtual field day.” I guess bad luck was haunting me because right before we started the games my wifi broke, and I was not able to return to the meeting.

But luckily Harpswell Community School decided to have a social distancing graduation parade. We stood six feet apart wearing masks around the school with the Mt. Ararat High School’s senior grads. People came and drove around the parking lot with signs and even school buses and firetrucks came.

Present day, I’m now a student at Mt. Ararat Middle School, which is
a lot different than HCS for sure. I haven’t actually gotten an experience of it yet, even though we are now past the halfway point of this school year. I do hybrid, where I go on Monday and Tuesday and do remote learning for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

One difficult thing is that it takes half of a class for teachers to have us write down what we have to do on our remote learning days. I can’t wait to have normal school again.

March 2021