When Boulder Valley elementary students start school next week online, they may have some virtual guest teachers helping them learn literacy and math.
Thirty-two Boulder Valley teachers worked during the summer to record more than 1,100 videos covering the first trimester of the literacy and math elementary curriculum, including about 300 videos recorded in Spanish.
“We talked about what we need to do to better support our teachers and our students, what do students need that’s different than what we did in the spring,” said Nick Vanderpol, principal at Boulder’s Foothill Elementary. “Teachers can decide how they want to use the videos. There’s a lot of flexibility.”
Vanderpol, who led the video project, said the goal was direct instruction that’s engaging. Teachers talk directly to the students, use props like puppets and pause to encourage students to say what they think about the content. A screencasting program allows the teacher’s face to be on-screen while presenting content.
“You won’t find a teacher at a whiteboard,” he said. “It’s them interfacing with kids. The value of connection is what we hope really comes through.”
Students can re-watch the videos if they need to review the content, catch up if they were absent or need to move at faster pace and work ahead. From the teacher perspective, he said, the videos will free them up to focus on figuring out where kids are academically and reteaching what they missed.
“This felt like a way to truly help teachers, parents and students during this crazy season,” said Jessica Asher, a first grade teacher at Ryan Elementary who created phonics lesson videos for second graders.
She said she wanted to provide good examples of teaching the literacy curriculum, which will be new to most second grade teachers this year.
“I also wanted to be funny and entertaining to keep students engaged,” she said.
Along with serving as a resource during remote learning, she said, the videos will be available in the future for first-year teachers, teachers who are new to the district and teachers who switch to a different grade.
“We are always asking for ways to observe other teachers who have mastered teaching different subjects, and now we have that at our fingertips,” she said. “This is something I will absolutely be taking advantage of.”
Lynn Gershman, the teacher librarian at Broomfield Heights Middle School, served as tech support for the project, helping the teachers learn the programs and editing all the videos, adding animation, making sure the transitions are smooth and making them look professional.
“I like the idea of creating tangible resources for teachers to use that are of excellent quality during an unprecedented time,” she said. “Teachers have all kinds of stresses on them right now and, if these resources reduce the stress in even the smallest way, then I am happy I got to work on it.”
Jay Kaminsky, a first grade teacher at Monarch PK-8, created videos covering the interactive read aloud component of the curriculum, which focuses on comprehension and strategic thinking.
He said providing videos as a resource will give teachers “the gift of time.”
“Every moment that is not spent on creating a video can go back into building relationships with students and their families, addressing social and emotional learning needs and planning for effective small group work,” he said.
After recording all those videos, the teachers also have advice for colleagues who want to create their own content this school year.
Kaminsky is an advocate of backward planning.
“Consider what do you want your students to be able to do at the end of each lesson and plan backwards to create that experience,” he said.
Asher agreed planning is key. For her, that included setting up her space and writing a lesson plan to follow.
“Most of all, I would advise that you give yourself grace for mistakes and remember that everything can’t be perfect,” she said. “Typically when teachers say, ‘It’s good enough,’ it means it’s really good. So trust yourself that you’re doing a great job and forgive little mistakes you make.”