A Way Out of the School Reopening Morass??

UPDATE on 6/19/2020 at 11:15 AM: Here is the slide deck preview for the next Board Meeting: Fall 2020 Learning Plan – Public Version

It was accompanied by the following note:

Attached is a preview of the schedule that will be on the board agenda for next week. The schedule was a collaboration between the teachers’ union, district administration, and site administration. All groups took into account the feedback from our committee, previous surveys, and schedules presented at the last board meeting. In addition, we took into account school board comments and recommendations.  The presentation will have far more detail, but this gives you a glimpse of the suggested schedule for the school board’s consideration. I believe the board agenda will be posted this evening or Monday.

UPDATE on 6/15/2020: An Addendum has been appended to this post which was made the morning before the Board meeting.  The Addendum briefly describes the outcome of the Board meeting and provides links to a recording of the meeting as well as the slide deck presented to the attendees.

6/11/2020 – This last week has been overwhelming in terms of the number of proposals, counter-proposals, and extensive discussions about how to reopen schools in the fall.  Please see SMUHSD Debating a Change to a Quarter System? and, for those with local Nextdoor access, https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=150484676 for the gory details.

I would like to make a short, relatively uncomplicated proposal and then will step aside.  I do not have children attending school, and my personal work is done completely via Skype since the pandemic, so I will not consume valuable comment time during the Board meeting tonight.

This idea will not need 66 slides!  In fact it will not need any slides at all – just the very short text section that follows!

At the end of last school year, most AP teachers were holding classes via Zoom.  Many non-AP classes were held much less regularly though, due to the rapid school closure and some teachers suddenly having outside care responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the fall, school will resume full time.  I believe, but am not certain, that part of the rationale for the quarter system was to complete certain classes by the end of the first quarter in case there was a “second wave” of COVID-19 in the late October/November time frame.  This might allow a “cleaner” shutdown of school if necessary.

Pardon me, but I still don’t understand, after listening to all of the back and forth, why school can’t resume using the normal pre-pandemic seven period semester schedule with 1/3rd of students in class each day and the other two thirds participating in the exact same lesson via Zoom (or some other more secure platform) from home.  Or we could have only one fifth of students come in on a particular day of the week if the desire is to further minimize group size.

If a “second wave” develops, then we simply go back to 100% of students using Zoom or Zoom alternative from home until it passes, but we do not stop school.

The 1/3rd rotation could have the same group coming in every 3rd day as in the current district slide deck, or, more preferable in terms of reducing teacher exposure, every third week as several of my Aragon students told me was the proposal originally mentioned to them.

A week at school followed by two weeks off would also be an effective “quarantine” to minimize COVID-19 spread in the event that any student was infected.  The week at school allows students to ask teachers questions in person and also gives them at least some “socially distant” contact with their peers.

The rotation schedule on a normal semester plan seems to me to be the most important topic for discussion, NOT the quarter system idea which appears to be a non-starter for very many people (parents AND teachers)!

The other alternative, of course, is 100% online learning that the teachers currently favor due to their health concerns.

Why do we need to develop all of these other complicated proposals with so many downsides and probably other as yet unforeseen consequences???  The Board meeting tonight could be the longest one in SMUHSD history or we could cut through all of this clutter in advance.

If I am missing something, please let me know in the Comment section below or on Nextdoor where I will also be posting a link to this article.  Thank you!



Addendum posted AFTER the Board Meeting:

A recording of the 5 hour long Board meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCW_KpbKc1KYRPUzLZHSxf0A

The quarter system proposal was dropped from the agenda a few hours prior to the meeting and replaced with two other possible models (“Fully Blended” and “80/20 Blended”) developed with substantial teacher input.  The Fully Blended model is discussed by Assistant Superintendent Kirk Black starting at 1 hour 36 minutes (1:36) into the Youtube video above, and the 80/20 Blended model is presented by teacher Jinna Hwang at 1:43 into the video.

Here is a copy of the revised Return to School slide presentation given at the meeting that includes these two new models: L_1_RevisedReturnToSchoolPresentation_0

The decision was made to flesh these plans out further and bring them back to the next Board meeting on 6/25.

What do people think about these proposals?

I remain concerned by the reduction in class time and the use of “asynchronous learning.”  As I said on Nextdoor:

… sorry, but the idea of a student watching a lecture at home without the ability to ask an immediate question of the lecturer just rubs me the wrong way. One can call it by the fancy term “asynchronous learning” but I would prefer a simpler term – “bad teaching!”

This denigration of lecturing in current education philosophy has gone to an extreme. No one enjoys simply being talked AT, of course, but then why assign Khan Academy and prerecorded lectures where there is no possibility of interaction? There always seems to be a curious parallel reduction in teaching effort along with many of these “progressive education” methods like, for example, CPM math.

In fact I wrote an article about this problem earlier: Why a “Sage on the Stage” in a Classroom is not always a Bad Thing .

This asynchronous learning problem can be fixed if the teacher is accessible with a reasonable turn-around time via some kind of instant messaging system such as the one in Canvas mentioned by Kevin in the comments below or via other forms of IMs or cellular texts.

Please post your comments following this article below (or on Nextdoor at https://nextdoor.com/post/151832244 if you can access that post – note that the Nextdoor post is not accessible in all parts of the SMUHSD while this blog is).  You must scroll all the way down to the “Leave a Reply” box to reply to the article directly or click the “Reply” link following a particular comment to respond to that comment.  This forum is moderated, so comments will not appear until approved.

The WordPress software that runs this site requires that you enter an email address in order to comment, but your address is not checked for validity nor displayed, and I do not collect or use this information.  Also, you will not receive emailed comments on the article from other people unless you check a box in the form to request this.

Thanks as always for your participation!

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

11 thoughts on “A Way Out of the School Reopening Morass??”

  1. I think one great challenge is expecting a teacher to teach to a live in-person class while simultaneously monitoring a virtual group of students. These are often 2 different types of lessons- online classes work better (best?) with a shared screen for slides, images, or virtual white board like the Khan Academy model. How does a teacher check for understanding, monitor interaction and questions (and potential Zoom bombers) with the Zoom cohort while also giving their attention to the in-person students? Does this require the teacher to stand at the front of the room and lecture for the whole class? Is the camera on the white board? You certainly can’t have a webcam on the full classroom for student privacy issues. Given your experience teaching online classes, have you done this hybrid model where you are teaching in person and online simultaneously? What has your experience been like? (I’m asking honestly, without any snark) Can you truly deliver quality Distance Learning lessons while teaching an in-person class? What kind of technology would be required? I’m guessing an auto tracking camera, bluetooth lavalier, laptop for Zoom that can cast slides, etc for the classroom? Maybe if each in-class student had their own device logged into the Zoom (with mute/ volume off) and essentially do DL while in person, simply for the socialization of being amongst their peers?
    I appreciate your expertise and particularly grateful for your updates on this situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kim. I have limited time to reply at the moment, so this will be brief now, and I’ll try to flesh it out later plus enlist other respondents.

      You mention several important obstacles, so let me begin by saying that this work will clearly be even more challenging than school before the pandemic. However, we have to be careful and not be completely paralyzed because of concerns that we can’t do everything perfectly. Shutting down instruction is not an option.

      Teaching needs are also going to vary by subject. For example in many CPM math classes, the teacher’s presentation is only 5 or 10 minutes, if even that, and then students begin work on the structured problems in the textbook in groups of 4. A foreign language or history class presents a different set of challenges, and there is no way that I can address them here since I do not teach those subjects. I understand that student privacy prevents them from being in a video broadcast, so the teacher would clearly be the only one in the video, but would not have to stand at the whiteboard or even use the whiteboard.

      I use Skype one-on-one with my tutoring students and can show my document camera video output to the student while also being able to monitor their facial reactions in a separate window. I use a “Socratic method” to walk them through math and physics problems. I ask them questions and then serve the function of the “writing hand” when I get their responses. If they get stuck, I give them suggestions. When needed, I can also switch to Youtube videos of lab demos, of which there are many, even though I do not have a lab to work in with students. Clearly this is *much* easier to do one-on-one than in a group of 30-35, and I am not trying to pretend otherwise.

      The students physically present in class could watch the video of the teacher’s computer displayed on a screen via a projector, or as you suggested, use their own device, instead of having the teacher write on the whiteboard. Thus, there is no need for an auto tracking camera, etc., and yes, the students’ presence is really for socialization purposes and in person interaction with the teacher on those days.

      As for Zoom bombing, this often happens because the login information is widely shared. I have to assume that there is some way to set up a conference that only permits a list of known accounts to participate in a call. I am less familiar with Zoom, but this must be possible with other programs if this functionality is not in Zoom.

      On the Nextdoor thread cited above, Kevin Nelson, a former SMUHSD teacher and currently an online instructor at Skyline college writes repeatedly about all of the features available in Canvas that can be used for online instruction and has been using them for several years. I would also invite him to reply here as he is trained and certified in the use of that software, and I am not.

      This is the best that I can do for a reply at the present time. I am sure that Kevin could do much better, and I will try to alert him to your question. Thank you for raising the issue.

      The Board meeting is starting soon.


      1. Thanks for your reply and you are right – We can’t let perfect get in the way of good. Or even “just okay”. The reality is that best practices for health during a pandemic do NOT align with best practices for teaching. It is what it is. So, we will never land on an ideal solution, but can focus on what we CAN do to support the best instruction, learning, accountability and social emotional growth. The 80/20 model suggested does seem to make the most sense on paper, but wow, those cracks that students can fall into become crevasses. Progress was made on the cellphone situation at school- now students are surrounding by their own tech, unsupervised during synchronous and asynchronous class time. Sorry I keep going to negative places… it’s a tough reality to swallow.

        I believe the answer is to invest time, energy (and funds) in creative thinking and professional development for the Distance Learning model. How do we best support social interaction, inquiry, discussion and debate when classes are live. These synchronous lessons cannot be lectures – we can guarantee the students will be scrolling Instagram if they are stuck inactively listening for an hour. I appreciate your example of a 5-10 minute math lesson which can then lead into question & answer, and workbook time with check-ins virtually by the teacher. That’s great. A well-organized teacher can put student check-ins on a planned rotation so everyone gets touch points during the week. Canvas has a vast amount of tools that can be used for accountability and interaction. A good amount of PD for teachers AND tutorials for students would be the best investment.

        And lastly, for anyone in the entrepreneurial space- I see a HUGE opportunity for “Distance Learning Centers”… essentially monitored study halls with social distancing and PPE as required, for students that don’t have the home environment/ tech/ wifi to do DL at home. Or for families that feel that monitored learning in a more social setting is better than isolation for the health and wellness of their children. Social breaks, “homework cafe”, some gaming time during school downtime. Perhaps there are opportunities for our High Schools to look at this model… We have huge gyms, theaters, courtyards – could we be remote, but together? Just BYOD (device)!


  2. The future of Face to Face and online learning begins to align the three legs of the stool. A teacher cannot manage a live course and manage an online course at the same time. Our online learning tools will enable teacher to “shift” items such as checking for understanding, monitoring progress, taking questions, and managing personal needs to an external place using technology. Using the Collaboration tool in Canvas, a teacher can host a discussion, take questions, answer them, shift the lead to a student and create break out groups as needed.

    A teacher can deliver a lesson and then move students into online Discussion Groups, an asynchronous “blog style” discussion board with threaded posts and responses or a Chat Room with synchronous threads. A teacher may “move around the groups” dropping in on the discussions, commenting themselves or advancing the discussion by re-directing the question. (This is all collected in Canvas for review by instructor at the end of the lesson.) It is not recommended that high school students be moved into a Zoom-style video breakout room without an adult present to moderate.

    This also illustrates the Post Covid-19 power of teaching Face to Face with Canvas support. The class time can be used for more impact instruction and the “soft” assignments may be completed out of class. A paper and pencil quiz could use up 15 minutes of class. A student who finished the quiz in 5 minutes needs to wait the additional 10 minutes for everyone else, and then the class corrects the quiz together. On Canvas, the student completes the quiz in 5 minutes and can get direct feed back immediately. Teachers can customize quiz responses with links to answers, related articles, videos for review, etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kevin and Kim,

      First thanks to Kevin for his information on Canvas. I have no experience with that software, so I will defer to his judgements above. Kevin also sent me the following link to the Canvas online help: https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-10460-canvas-instructor-guide-table-of-contents .

      I do have a question about his statement “A teacher cannot manage a live course and manage an online course at the same time” which is also a response to the concern that Kim raised. I am assuming that Kevin assumes that the live course is different than the online course, but clearly students using the Canvas software on laptops can be sitting in both a classroom AND at home simultaneously.

      One might then ask the question “why bother though?” Just have all of the students work remotely.

      In the current heath crisis there are serious concerns about the safety of holding in-person classes, so 100% remote learning may definitely be the best way to go as I discussed at greater length at the end of my article “Will Online Learning Work? at https://eduissues.com/2020/05/02/will-online-learning-work.

      At the same time, people also raise questions about the effects on the economy. Superintendent Skelly mentioned his concerns about the negative effects on families where the parents can not work from home.

      At some point, the pandemic will ebb sufficiently and/or better treatments/vaccines will be available, so that at least a partial return to school is feasible without risking anyone dying as a result. Students who are in-class, even if they are using the same software on a laptop as remote students are, still benefit from more direct interactions with their teacher as well as benefit by seeing their friends as long as it is done safely. At this point in time, this may seem like a pretty small benefit compared to putting a teacher’s life potentially at risk.

      I’ve taught enough to understand that schools are usually a breeding ground for germs and that students tend to come to school whether they are sick or not. AP students in particular do not want to fall behind in class over what they might think is “just a cold.” I completely understand why this frightens teachers, particularly the older ones most at risk for COVID-19.

      That said, we need to tackle the problems of successfully implementing both in-class and remote users simultaneously as it will come our way eventually even if today is not the time to begin having students back at school.


    2. A second question if I may. In one of my other articles “Prepared?” (https://eduissues.com/2019/12/13/prepared/) I cite several articles about “Summit Learning” which is a different software attempt funded my Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg. These articles illustrate many of the problems that school kids encounter when forced to sit in front of computers for extended periods of time.

      Kevin is rolling out his courses at the community college level. I remain very concerned at how effective these programs might be for younger school kids.


  3. The is County Health Officer Scott Morrow’s statement dated 6/15/2020 regarding schools from https://www.smchealth.org/health-officer-orders-and-statements (click on the “Health Officer Statements” tab after visiting this URL):


    I endorse the 4 pillars presented in the school’s pandemic recovery plan as there is scientific support behind them and we are using them more broadly in society to slow the spread of the virus. But I do so with caveats when talking about them in relation to how schools operate. Since my intent and words have been misconstrued by many, let me clearly state, I want to see kids back in school. I also feel that it is very important that kids be allowed to be kids. If you’ve read my statements over the last few months, you’ve noticed I’ve repeatedly used the word “balance”. Balance means that slowing the spread of the virus is but one of many things to consider when going about the business of living. As we go through time with this pandemic, the balance needs to shift. In considering the educational, emotional, and developmental needs of children, I believe the balance shifts in that direction. Many, if not most, of these needs are met in a school setting. So to the degree that the pillars interfere with these needs, they need to be modified. The pillars are not inviolable constructs. They represent a continuum of risk, such that smaller class sizes are better than larger, outdoor settings are better than indoor ones, 10 feet of distancing is better than 6 feet is better than 3 feet. Facial coverings are better than no facial coverings, especially if distance can’t be maintained. But to the degree class size, physical distancing, and facial coverings interfere with the ability to deliver a somewhat normal school experience, they need to be modified. It is my belief that there are too many variables within school settings to adopt a one size fits all approach.

    Why should we consider different standards for schools? Early childhood experiences and early education sets the trajectory of your life. A lower educational experience sets one on a lower trajectory, in relation to one’s optimum capacity, that is almost impossible to recover from. As one example, third grade literacy, an early measure of the quality of education one receives, is directly correlated with income, wealth and ultimately life expectancy. These educational milestones occur at every age. While the entire community is affected, the most vulnerable among us are the most likely to be damaged by continuing to not offer a more typical school experience and they are also the most vulnerable to disease spreading out of control. These are the types of difficult issues that need to be balanced.

    Some parents will tolerate zero risk, either through a belief/value system, in light of a high risk setting at home, or other factors. In that case they shouldn’t be leaving their houses and they should be taking every precaution. But that level of risk tolerance should not drive the entire decision making process or the structure in which schools operate any more than parents who believe this pandemic is a hoax and no precautions should be put into place.

    Ultimately, these decisions of what schools and all their various components will look like will need to be made, but these decisions will not be made by me. Preferably they will be made with substantial input from the young people who are directly affected by them. There are many guidelines to review to assist in these decisions.”


    1. Very interesting shift of the goal posts (or pillars, I should say) by Dr. Morrow. Are school admin, teachers and parents really the right ones to assess the risk factors of their school community? There was a sense of security, albeit discouraging, in those 4 planning pillars which felt more cast in science-based stone than these newly-flexible “continuums of risks”; We knew our parameters and were tasked with creatively and logistically figuring out how to make it work. This complicates things, but perhaps for the better. I’m curious how these more pliable guidelines are shifting the conversation at the committee level?


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