Double duty: How a Winnipeg high school is preparing to teach both online and in-person

By | September 4, 2020

Math teacher Dariusz Piatek scans his smartphone across a QR code on a large smart TV mounted at the front of his classroom.

It generates a link he will beam to his Maples Collegiate students at home, allowing them to live stream the class, and to see and write on the smart board virtually. 

A webcam on his desk will allow his Grade 12 students at home to see him too, while he teaches in person and online simultaneously.

This is the new reality of pre-calculus in a pandemic, and Piatek is optimistic.

“I’m just so happy to be here,” he said. “I can’t wait for those students to come back and hope for the system to actually work.”

He has confidence after testing the system this spring, when schools closed and moved online in response to COVID-19.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I remember in April, May, June, I had 41 students connecting every single day.”

As with most high schools across Manitoba, when they return on Sept. 8, students at Maples Collegiate will alternate between days where they attend class and days where they work remotely, to reduce the number of people on site.

Piatek’s class, with desks spaced apart, won’t have more than 11 students in the room at a given time. 

‘Social aspects’ diminished

Maples principal Scott Shier said the roster of roughly 1,600 students has been divided in half, alphabetically. Teachers are contacting students directly to let them know which group they are in and which days to attend class.

During orientation, the first order of business will be educating students about the new public health protocols, such as keeping a safe distance, hand hygiene and the use of face masks, which will be required for Manitoba students in Grade 4 and up while indoors, or in situations where they cannot keep two metres apart.

“Realistically, we know students haven’t been social distancing in the summer, but they’ve been with a small cohort of friends,” Shier said.

“But we’re bringing back a small town here, so we need to do it for our families, we need to do it for society. It’s just the right thing to do, and we need to educate our students on why we’re doing it.”

When students arrive at school, they will head straight to their classrooms, following small arrows to direct traffic flows in the hallways.

The day will be divided into four periods: two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

A physically distanced science classroom at Maples Collegiate. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Teachers will co-ordinate with each other at the beginning of the day to arrange staggered times for releasing students to get to their next class, in order to prevent congestion in the halls.

If a classroom is not ready to receive students, there will be designated muster points for students to wait, physically distanced, Shier said.

Most math and science teachers will be teaching half of their class online and half in person at the same time. Humanities and social sciences teachers may provide instruction to those in class while students at home work on assignments, he explained.

The heart of the school — a large auditorium and cafeteria where students typically gather and hang out — will be divided into sections based on grade level, so students don’t mix. Each area will be supervised to ensure students are practising physical distancing.

The expectation is that students come to school, attend class, and leave as soon as they are finished, Shier said.

“This place is a social hub, as most high schools are,” he said. “Unfortunately there aren’t many social aspects of it now.… You’re coming to school to do school, and it’s the way society is right now.”

The school has also stepped up cleaning.

Classrooms will be deep cleaned over the lunch hour for the afternoon periods and again at the end of the day, Shier said.

School providing Maples logo masks

The school will also provide staff and students with reusable masks, complete with the Maples Collegiate logo. 

It ordered them in the spring, anticipating the potential for a mask policy this fall.

“We wanted kids to have pride, and make sure they’re wearing them at school,” Shier said.

Scott Shier, principal of Maples Collegiate, holds the reusable face masks that will be provided to staff and students, complete with the school logo. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The Seven Oaks School Division — which Maples Collegiate is a part of — has also provided the school with reusable masks for staff and students.

Back in his classroom, Piatek is testing his Wi-Fi connection, and is keen to meet his new students.

He said while remote teaching can be done successfully, it pales in comparison to watching and guiding them in person.

“Having students in class, having them asking questions, just looking at their faces and seeing, ‘do you get it?’ — it’s the important part,” he said.

“You don’t have that part while you are connected online.”

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