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Online schooling underway in Didsbury, Olds, Carstairs

MVT stock Didsbury High School front
Didsbury High School, along with all other schools in the province, isclosed to the public. Students are now continuing their learning online. File photo/MVP Staff

DIDSBURY/OLDS/CARSTAIRS - With all K-12 classes cancelled last week in Alberta due to COVID-19 concerns, students are heading online to study.

School authorities will offer all kindergarten to Grade 12 students at-home learning opportunities, either through online means or through other accommodations, such as course packages and telephone check-ins, the provincial government confirmed last week in a release.

"Government expects that every student, regardless of their geographical location or socioeconomic status, will continue to learn while in-school classes across the province are cancelled," the release says. "To identify what content needs to be delivered, teachers will evaluate curricular outcomes that have not yet been covered, prioritize remaining outcomes based on what is manageable for students working from home, and will plan specific tasks and projects for students."

According to the governmentt, every student will receive final marks and a report card, appropriate to their grade level. Teachers will be responsible for assessing a student's progress and assigning a final grade.

"Students on track to receive 100 or more credits will still be eligible to graduate and receive a high school diploma," the release says. "Principals have the ability to award up to 15 credits to students in Grade 12 whose program has been negatively impacted by class cancellations. 

"For any courses that are started, schools will complete them with the student to the best of their ability, provide a final mark and award credit. If the student is unable to complete a course that would have led them to achieving a high school diploma, such as a work experience or a career and technology studies course, principals have the ability to award credits to ensure the student graduates."

Ecole Olds High School

Ecole Olds High School principal Tom Christensen said that all courses are being offered to students with grades being assigned for the assigments they are submitting online.

Christensen said the online course began on Monday, March 16, a day after all schools were ordered closed.

"We anticipated the situation getting to Alberta so we have been preparing for online delivery of material," said Christensen. "So when the government announced the shutdown we began to deliver courses online Monday morning."

Christensen said they plan to offer the courses as long as the emergency lasts. He said that teachers are making and designing the courses online so that it has as normal a feeling as possible for students.

"Students and parents can expect regular communication from their teachers through various online formats," he said. "Every teacher has reached out to students and parents and work has begun and will be continuous the same as if they were attending in school."

Christensen said the courses are mandatory and will count towards marks.

"As the emergency began only one month into the semester there is a lot of material to move through to get to final marks," he said. "They are expected to be able to do the material at the completed Grade 11 level to advance to the Grade 12 classes.

"We have a lot of material to cover and skills to reach in order to do that. Grade 12 students need to have the same background as those who took the work in the first semester."

Didsbury High School

For Didsbury High School (DHS) students, the story is much the same. DHS principal Garth Dagg said they are offering both core and some option classes online for Grades 9 through 12.

"Each teacher has connected with their students through Google Classroom to post lessons, videos and assignments," said Dagg. "In some of the option classes such as physical education, foods, shop and music, teachers will not necessarily post assignments but may connect with their classes.

"For example, the phys. ed. teacher send out a seven minute workout that students can do in their own home."

Dagg said that most teachers had connected with their classes by Tuesday, March 17.

"Google Classroom requires students use their Chinook's Edge email addresses, so our parents and students were notified to start checking right away," he said. "We are prepared to keep students working on their courses independently online until we are allowed to come back to school. I'm hoping that is sooner than later."

Dagg said that all students and parents have been told that the students are 'working from home' and not on a holiday.

"Every teacher is finding a way to get curriculum delivery to their students," he said. "Students can expect that teachers who are not ill will be available to answer questions and pass on information during school hours.

They can expect that lessons will be delivered but not in the same format as we are used to in a traditional classroom. Teachers will focus on core outcomes where needed as they aim to keep students on track to complete their course work by the end of June."

Dagg said that some teachers will provide links to mini lessons on concepts, while some teachers are videoing themselves teaching a lesson.

"As well, some teachers have been able to set up times that students can connect with them in live time," he said.

As with traditional courses, the teachers are responsible for meeting the outcomes by their own design, said Dagg.

"This will continue with our online Google Classrooms," he said. "Teachers are simply carring on from where they left off on Friday, March 13."

Dagg said that at this point the courses are mandatory but the courses at this time are more for students' learning than for grades.

"At this point the majority of work done by students will be for their own comprehension not for marks," he said. "Until we find a workable solution to administering exams and quizzes in a secure way we will not be accepting work as part of the students' summative evaluation."

Dagg said administration will need to re-assess students' learning needs depending on how long students are out of school.

"If it is just a few weeks, there could be some smaller assessments on the independent work when they return," he said. "If it is for a longer period of time the outcomes could be addressed on a final exam. For now, teachers may send students a quiz to complete and then follow up with the correct solutions to that quiz at a later time.

The students would be able to mark their own quiz to assess their understanding but not receive any marks for doing so. This is formative assessment and it does require the students to be mature in their approach."

Dagg said that students are expected to be involved with their online courses to move their learning forward.

"If a student does not complete their work they would face the same consequences as if they did not complete the work while in traditional classes," he said. "If the closure goes on for an extended period of time I am sure we will be given clear directions from the government on our next steps.

I am confident students will not be penalized for this disruption. So far, I am very pleased to see how our staff, students and families have responded to this situation."

Hugh Sutherland School

George Thomson, principal at Hugh Sutherland School in Carstairs, said they've been planning for going online with courses since last week.

"We had an inkling that things were heading that way (to cancelling classes)," said Thomson. "We told our high school teachers to start thinking about that. We didn't know if classes would be cancelled. We gave our teachers, especially our diploma teachers, the heads up."

Thomson said the high school was already set up pretty well with most teachers having already used Google Classroom.

"I think we were in good shape to start with," he said. "Teachers began to wonder if I had to do this online what would it look like. So we were anticipating that anyway."

Thomson said it is about moving learning ahead by Monday, March 23.

"We wanted to move learning ahead some way," he said. "All teachers are different; all programs are different. We wanted to move learning ahead in a formal way by (March 23). Some started as early as last Wednesday or Thursday."

Thomson said the response from parents and students has been good so far.

"You want learning to go ahead to some degree," he said. "But you're also very sensitive of the flip side of this. We understand we're within the guidelines, which came out (March 19)."

The guideline for classroom time sent out by the province is: five hours of instruction per week for kindergarten to Grade 6; 10 hours for junior high (grades 7-9); and three hours per course per week for high school (grades 10-12).

"We've sent those guidelines out to all our teachers," he said. "We know learning wants to go ahead. We know teachers want to give it their best shot but at the same time we understand that students and parents are in a difficult time right now. A lot of people have been laid off. A lot of people can't find child care. A lot of people are also really stressed about the virus and getting it.

"Even getting sick. I've got a cold now, what does it mean to me and my family and how will I get food. We've heard all those things from people."

Thomson said they're trying to keep it all in balance and not overload parents.

"They may not have a learning priority and that's fine," he said. "We totally understand."

Thomson said teachers are working particularly on the outcomes that are important for the next level of learning.

"All teachers are really looking hard at what those kids really need for that next level and making sure they've got that background," he said. "We know we are going to come back to school one day. We don't know if it will be later this year or next year. We want to make sure our kids aren't at a disadvantage.

Thomson said the biggest thing is for them to be supportive of families at this time.

“We really feel for the families and what everyone is going through out there," he said. "We're here to support and do what we can. We're flexible. We just want to move education ahead in ways that make sense to both our staff here and for families out there that may have other priorities. We're just here to support.”

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