Exploring a new frontier in teaching

Katelyn Rogers came to Jefferson Elementary School to work as a first grade teacher but instead volunteered to teach remote learning classes to first and second graders. She wanted a challenge.

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September 4, 2020 - 4:27 PM

Katelyn Rogers tackles remote teaching during the COVID-19 era. She provides online lessons for first- and second-graders in USD 257. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

It’s not unusual for a student to recognize a teacher at the local grocery store. It’s happened to Katelyn Rogers before. 

But when it happened on Sunday, she couldn’t help feeling surprised.

After all, she’s new to USD 257 and classes started just a couple weeks ago. 

Oh, and all her students are online. 

She’s not used to seeing them in person, in public, with both of them wearing masks. 

“I realized I am making a connection with my students,” she said. “If you want a child to learn, you have to build those relationships.”

Rogers is one of three elementary school teachers who conduct online lessons as part of the district’s remote learning plan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each teacher has two grade levels; Rogers teaches first and second grade, and is based at Jefferson Elementary School.

She initially was hired to teach first grade but volunteered for the remote learning program.

“Nothing new happens inside your comfort zone,” she said. 

“I like teaching and I like technology. This is a lot of fun and we’re adapting. I told my students something I saw on Facebook: ‘We’re building the plane as we fly it.’”

The number of students fluctuates, because the district allows students to switch between on-site and remote learning as needed. That has happened several times, in both directions, Rogers said. For the most part, though, her class size has stayed around 23 students. 

“I think some parents expected it to be like it was in the spring, and realized it wasn’t something they could handle at home,” she said. 

“Families need to decide what is best for their situation. Iit really depends what your student’s needs are, and what your family needs.”

ROGERS grew up in Gridley in a family full of law enforcement. Her father is Coffey County Sheriff Randy Rogers. Her mother works as the 911 coordinator. Her brother is an officer.

She graduated from Southern Coffey County High School, then attended Allen Community College and Emporia State University where she earned her bachelor of science degree in education.

She taught kindergarten at Derby for three years but wanted to move closer to home. She was at Derby last spring, when on-site classes were canceled and she first practiced remote teaching.

She never expected she’d be teaching online full-time.

And even last spring was a much different kind of teaching experience than it is now.

The state and USD 257 have much more stringent expectations for students. Attendance is required with daily learning log. Students must have 360 minutes of instruction each day, both direct and indirect. 

Direct teaching is the equivalent of a lesson taught in a traditional classroom setting, with a teacher at the head of the classroom directing a lesson. Rogers does basically the same thing, but in a recorded video released daily at 8 a.m. that students can watch when their schedule allows. 

Indirect learning is the equivalent of doing activities and activities. 

The district uses Seesaw, an online education platform that specializes in remote learning. It is designed to facilitate communication between teachers, parents and students.

USD 257 also has a specific curriculum that Rogers and other teachers follow. Because students can switch between on-site and remote learning at any time, it’s important for all teachers to collaborate to make that adjustment easier for students.

“It’s very important to work as a team,” Rogers said. “I’m working with everyone in the building. Our curriculum keeps us on the same page.”

Planning and preparing lessons takes a lot of her time, as it would in any classroom.

Rogers has her own first grade classroom where she prepares and videotapes her lessons. If the situation with the pandemic changes and all students return to on-site learning, she’ll be ready to teach in a more traditional setting.

Jefferson Elementary School has adopted “space” as its theme for the year, both to explore the universe and to learn about how to keep your distance from others during the coronavirus pandemic.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

It’s also essential to maintain good communication with parents. Different types of families mean different levels of needs and different types of involvement, Rogers said, but online learning means parents must become their child’s biggest advocate.

“Parents have been asking a lot of questions and that’s the only way to get a clear understanding,” she said.

Rogers’ favorite concept to teach is social-emotional development. Those types of lessons cover such things as learning coping skills and strategies to handle emotions and stress.

It’s more difficult to teach those concepts remotely, Rogers said, so she uses Zoom lessons that provide for more interaction and allow her to see students.

“It’s working really well,” she said of the remote learning. “The kids are doing super great. I’m seeing lots of kids participating and adapting even better than I thought they would.”

ROGERS wanted to become a teacher since she was a child.

But she did have another dream when she was very young, one that may explain her desire to explore new and uncharted territory. 

“I wanted to be an astronaut,” she said, laughing. “I wanted to go to the moon.”

In a fortuitous turn of events, Jefferson has adapted “space” as its theme this year.

Students will be studying space: the final frontier, the vast expanse beyond Earth.

But they’ll also be studying space: the distance between objects, such as each other, during the coronavirus pandemic. Students are expected to practice social distancing, and the theme offers a fun way to think about it.

Rogers’ students may not share space inside the school building, but she wanted to bring them in on the fun.

“We went to space today. In our Zoom meeting,” she said Tuesday. 

She shared a video of astronauts playing with slime at the International Space Station. In some ways, the slime behaved in a similar way it would on Earth. In some ways, it was different.

For example, pop a balloon filled with slime on Earth, and the slime will ooze everywhere. Pop a balloon filled with slime in space, and it maintains the oval shape.

“They were mesmerized. They thought it was so cool,” Rogers said. “I like that we’re still having fun. It’s very similar to teaching in person. We’re just delivering the lessons in a different environment.”

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