Posted in Distance Learning, Education, Fifth Grade, Learning, Remote Learning, Students, Teaching

Distance Learning Week 8: Trends I’ve Noticed

Remember those Magic Eye images that came out in the 1990s?  If you stare at them long enough, in just the right way, three-dimensional pictures will appear?  It was like magic, hence the name.  They were super popular for quite some time.  People loved them.  Me, I hated them because I was unable to see the magical pictures that apparently appeared for everyone else.  I tried and tried, believe me.  I wanted to be able to see what everyone else saw, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t get those silly pictures to show me anything other than a blurry mess of colors.  Magic, my butt.  More like rip-off, fake, phony, and any other word that means not cool.  Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh.  Maybe, just maybe, the pictures weren’t the problem.   Perhaps the problem was my eyes, maybe.  I mean, the pictures were fake and made on a computer before computers were accurate and awesome, and so it’s possible that the pictures were also part of the problem.  However, my vision is super bad and I have all sorts of astigmatisms and eye issues.  Without glasses, the world looks like one of those blurry Magic Eye pictures.  So, it’s possible that I couldn’t see the magic in the images because of my vision difficulties.  Let’s be honest though, the images weren’t really magical.  They were simply an optical illusion created in the mind using the Gestalt Theory of how the mind fills in blanks to make things whole and recognizable to us.  Our brains don’t like not knowing what something is, and so when we see something that doesn’t quite make sense, our brain forces us to make sense of it based on context clues and past experiences.  So, if you look at a Magic Eye picture with a bunch of yellow objects and bananas on it, you will eventually see a big banana pop out at you.  That’s not magic, it’s science.  But, I digress.  The point of this jaunt down memory lane is to show how, when I was younger, I used to struggle noticing things and making sense of what something means.  Because I didn’t used to always be such a dashing and reflective individual, I would sometimes not be able to learn from my mistakes or make meaningful observations of the world around me.

Fortunately, people, like the times, change.  I slowly began to see the power in reflection.  I now understand the importance of thinking about both the good and bad of various situations to learn how to improve and grow as a person and educator.  I was also able to finally see the magical picture in one of those Magic Eye images.  It really is like magic.  It just pops out at you like a 3D movie.  It’s so cool!  There are layers to each image.  How do they do it?  It must be sorcery or Voodoo that make them work.  I love it!

As I reflected on this past week, I began to realize that trends were forming within my remote learning class.  Situations and issues I’ve read about online, were beginning to make them selves present to me, like a Magic Eye image.  Things were popping out at me, that I hadn’t really noticed during the start of my school’s distance learning program.  Here are some of the amazing trends I have begun to notice:

  • Some students who struggled to accomplish quality work or effectively engage in the curriculum when we were at school, on site, began to work hard and accomplish work that exceeded the graded objectives during remote learning.  One student in particular has been doing some of the best work she’s done all year.  She is way more engaged and focused virtually than she was at school.  This article I read explains some of the possible reasons for why this happened, but I believe that it is because the social issues and distractions that existed for her at school, are not an issue when she is home and working.  She is able to better engage in the content and work because she’s not distracted listening to other students work or thinking about how other students perceive her.  She is able to be herself and work.  It’s been amazing to observe this transformation.
  • Some students who struggled accomplishing work at school, still struggle to complete tasks and assignments appropriately in this time of distance learning.  I have a few students in my class who struggle to do work outside of the school building, and those same students are having difficulty doing work virtually as well.   While looping in the families of the students helps a bit, the quality of work they accomplish is usually not super strong.  Is it motivation, ability, engagement, or something else?  While one of the students does have some learning challenges, she struggles with the work that I know she is able to do on her own.  I think it may be engagement and motivation.  In school, she worked very hard and accomplished lots of work, but outside of school, she’s always struggled to finish her work.  She’s got a large family, and so she may be very distracted as well.  I will keep working with her and trying to find new ways to help her demonstrate her learning in a way that isn’t distracting.
  • Being on the computer for a long time is exhausting for students and teachers.  Remote learning is hard work and requires that we are at a screen for long periods of time each day.  This creates a very different kind of fatigue and exhaustion, as compared to being on site.  I’ve heard reports from the parents of my students that they tend to be a bit grumpier and more moody than they were when school was being conducted in person.  The quarantine, which carries with it the lack of in-person social connections, coupled with the long screen hours, wears on the brain in big and real ways.  The students are often tired, despite getting numerous hours of sleep each night.  The pandemic is causing stress, anxiety, and so many other complications and issues within our students and their families.  It’s tough stuff, which is why the social and emotional learning piece is so very crucial right now.  The students need to know that they are cared for and have the opportunity to share and process their thoughts and feelings.
  • Project-Based Learning is highly effective in this period of remote learning.  Rather than bore students with mind-numbing worksheets and tedious, rote tasks, I’m finding much success in long-term projects and activities.  The students prefer to do and show their learning in unique ways.  For the Passion Project that we recently finished, almost every student chose a different way to showcase what they had learned: One student choreographed and recorded a dance she created while learning about the history of ballet, another student wrote and performed a song about Stonehenge, and one student created a talk-show sort of video to teach us about model rocketry.  It was so cool to see the different ways students chose to demonstrate their learning.  Providing students with choice and freedom makes a big difference in their learning outcomes.
Screen Shot 2020-05-22 at 10.39.03 AM
A student sharing a diorama she made for her Passion Project on Guppies.

With only three weeks left in my academic year, I am filled with a mixture of emotions.  I am saddened that our year is coming to a close, disappointed that we could not end the year in person, happy that my students and their families have remained healthy and safe during this time, pleased that my students have the skills that I feel they will need in order to be successful in the sixth grade next year, and relieved that this crazy time of distance learning is almost finished.  I can’t believe that my students and I have been doing remote learning for eight weeks now.  Where did the time go?  It all seems so surreal and blurry, like those wild Magic Eye images.


I teach fifth grade at Beech Hill School in Hopkinton, NH. I have been teaching for 17 years. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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