Discovering the Silver Lining of Virtual Learning

Junior High Classes Share Memorable Virtual Learning Experience
Posted on 04/25/2021
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junior high science zoom sessionVirtual learning teachers faced big challenges at the beginning of the school year.

“Building relationships with students has always been a cornerstone of my in-person classes, so creating a comfortable, positive, encouraging online environment was extremely important to me as I began the school year,” said Plains Junior science teacher Erin Middendorf. “I was worried it was going to be especially difficult for the new seventh-graders, who were not only new to virtual learning, but also to junior high.”

She wanted this school year to be a highlight that her students talked about in the future, instead of a negative experience it had become to so many people already. “The pandemic has been filled with tragedy and sadness, so I wanted my class to be a safe space where all students would experience success, happiness and forget about the outside problems for at least thirty minutes a day.”

Being a full-time VLO teacher gives Middendorf more consistency in her schedule, so she can be more present in her students’ week. She knows her students’ pets, siblings, and décor preferences.

Middendorf scheduled zoom class daily for each of her seventh- and eighth-grade science classes, but since students were not required to attend, it was a bit difficult in the beginning. When students did attend, she made it her mission to get them to come back the next day and bring a friend by putting an emphasis on having fun while learning.

One student created and shared a meme every day which then became a club, which then became a whole-class Google Slide show where students can express their creativity and develop relationships with one another. Another class developed a daily zoom checklist that entails things that need to happen during every zoom for it to be complete. It includes but is not limited to Miss Middendorf singing, her smoke detector beeping, and Miss Middendorf speaking in a random accent.     

Soon students began asking if they could actually extend zoom class times. That led to creation of the weekly “Midweek Munchies with Miss Middendorf” zoom session where students from her Plains and Ridge classes get together to eat lunch and chat.

“I know these kids better than any class I have ever had and will miss these moments tremendously,” said sixteen-year teaching veteran Middendorf. “I have loved every moment and every inside joke we have shared.”

She has especially enjoyed watching the growth of her students throughout the year. They have learned to adapt and flourish as learners and individuals. Middendorf added that “watching student friendships form has a true pleasure. This is something I have never been privy to as a teacher, but because I am involved in 100% of the conversations, I have been able to see relationships budding and kids getting to know one another. I am sure these virtual friendships will transfer to real life once things return to ‘normal.’”

In last week’s lunch zoom, students came together to celebrate Miss Middendorf’s birthday. When asked why they like her class, here’s what they had to say:

“It doesn’t feel like we are virtual. It feels like we are in school.”

“Miss Middendorf is really interactive with the class. She is the best science teacher I ever had.”
A fellow student quickly chimed in “she is the best teacher period!”

Another summed it up by saying “she cares more about us learning than us being perfect.”

While virtual learning has certainly posed challenges, Middendorf said “my experiences this year have made me a better teacher, to adapt and to be flexible. I have learned that it is okay to learn along with the students, and even better to learn FROM the students. I will carry this year’s experiences with me as an educator and as a human being for the rest of my life.”