CORONAVIRUS

Iowa teachers 'working feverishly' to create online curriculum in time for start of school

Over a third of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City students so far pick online

A cursive alphabet in a Coolidge Elementary School classroom in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (Liz Martin/The
A cursive alphabet in a Coolidge Elementary School classroom in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Educators in Eastern Iowa have spent their summer creating virtual classrooms for students enrolled in online learning to avoid exposure to COVID-19 in schools.

While online education in the spring was reactive as schools hastily closed because of the coronavirus in mid-March, online learning for this fall is proactive, said Ty Haren, a sixth-grade Wickham Elementary School teacher in Coralville, who has spent the past several months creating an online Language Arts curriculum for kindergarten through sixth-grade students in the Iowa City Community School District.

“This isn’t our preferred way of doing things, but at the same time it’s asking the question of what are the health needs of our families, students and teachers,” Harem said.

In both the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City school districts, families have a choice between sending their children to a mix of in-person and online classes or enrolling them in online-only classes.

For online classes, students will be held accountable for attending virtually and completing their assignments, said Diane Schumacher, the Iowa City district’s executive director of teaching and learning.

As of Aug. 4, almost 40 percent of families who have registered so far for the academic year in the Iowa City Community School District have chosen the online-only learning option.

As of last week, 35 percent of students in the Cedar Rapids Community School District registered for the online learning option. A month ago, the district projected 20 percent of the student body would be online.

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“I attribute that to higher rates of COVID-19 in Linn County than a month ago, and people’s concern about it,” said John Rice, Cedar Rapids executive director of teaching and learning.

C.R.’s online school

Stacey Haynes-Moore, a Language Arts content lead for sixth through 12th grade, said teachers no longer will be in “crisis teaching” when providing online instruction this fall.

“We’re not just taking materials and dumping them online,” Haynes-Moore said. “There’s a lot of strategy, a commitment to continuous feedback, engaging students, and getting students collaborating and thinking critically.”

Cedar Rapids district teachers participated in a week in June of professional development focusing on how to teach online and stay connected with students virtually, and will continue that professional development as teachers return to work this month.

Andrew Trout, an English Language Learner content lead for sixth through 12th grade, said he believes students enrolled in online learning will be successful. Teachers will frequently check in with students and occasionally hold live, virtual classes or small groups.

However, English Language Learner students may have an additional challenge of navigating a virtual classroom while learning English, he said.

“We’re going to have to make sure we’re reaching out to our kids, so they don’t fall behind,” Trout said. “I think our teachers can handle it. One of the things I always have appreciated when working with (English Language Learner) teachers and being an English Language teacher myself, is our teachers are always really flexible to do what we need to do.”

C.R. Virtual Academy

Cedar Rapids is offering two virtual schooling options to students.

The first is online learning taught by Cedar Rapids teachers using the Cedar Rapids curriculum.

The other online option is the Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy, a self-paced curriculum developed by a state-approved coursework provider, Edgenuity.

Rice said he expects 500 students to enroll in the virtual academy and continue with it for the next two to three years.

I.C. Online School

In the Iowa City Community School District, about 100 teachers are “working feverishly” to develop online classes, Schumacher said.

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In some online classes, students will be able to access pre-recorded lessons made by their teachers, participate in virtual small groups with their peers, or work through a problem one-on-one with their teacher.

Sara Karbeling, a physics teacher at Liberty High School in North Liberty, is helping write the online physics curriculum with a colleague at West High School.

The physics course will be “as flexible as possible,” Karbeling said, so if students are unable to tune into class virtually during the schedule time, they watch videos they missed and check in with a teacher on a daily basis later in the day.

Since physics is a very hands-on course, students will be participating in simulation labs. In an experiment, students will be able to manipulate elements such as a ruler or stopwatch, analyze the data and draw conclusions.

Karbeling said the program is a “powerful tool” she would use even in an in-person classroom because it incorporates chemicals and equipment that students wouldn’t physically have access to.

While Karbeling has been working to create an online curriculum, she does not yet know if she will be assigned an in-person classroom or an online classroom by the district.

“I would love to be an online teacher if only because I think it would be the safest choice,” she said.

If a student in an online class misses assignments and starts to fall behind, a teacher would have a conversation with the student first instead of immediately talking about consequences, Karbeling said.

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“Let’s talk about the challenges they’re facing and see if we can problem solve and find ways to make them more successful,” Karbeling said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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