Saskatchewan

From mathmobiles to TikTok, Sask. teachers get creative with distance learning

With schools across Saskatchewan closed for the remainder of the academic year, some teachers across the province are getting innovative with their remote learning to keep students engaged.

Kids in the province will not return to school this academic year

Lindsay Kyliuk and his father, Walter, built a contraption to mount his whiteboard to the back of his pickup truck so he could teach his students outside. They called the final product 'the Mathmobile.' (Submitted by Lindsay Kyliuk)

With schools across Saskatchewan closed for the remainder of the academic year, some teachers across the province are getting innovative with their remote learning to keep students engaged.

We caught up with five of them to see what they've been up to.

Mathmobile takes the classroom outside

A high school math and science teacher in Shellbrook, Sask. is taking his lessons on the road.

Four times a week, Lindsay Kyliuk now teaches outside in the back of his pickup truck — or as he prefers to call it, "the Mathmobile."

"It was supposed to be similar to the Batmobile and I was going to be the Mathman," he said with a laugh. 

It all started when Kyliuk was asked to tutor a student in calculus outside her house, after schools had closed.

"I thought, 'Well, if I can teach from her driveway, it would be better if I could bring it to all my students' driveways.'"

Kyliuk got the green light from his principal. From there, with the help of his father, he built a contraption to mount his whiteboard on the back of his truck.

Lindsay Kyliuk holds four two-hour lessons each week in the Shellbrook school's parking lot, including classes in physics, math foundations and calculus. (Submitted by Lindsay Kyliuk)

He said his class sizes now range from one to seven students — all of whom physically distance from outside their spaced-apart vehicles. Kyliuk added he can cover more of the curriculum in two-hour outdoor lessons than he can online.

"The students were really missing the classroom atmosphere, being with friends, and joking around with their teacher and so forth," Kyliuk said. "That's been a huge bonus that wasn't a part of the initial planning."

Music video encourages ASL students to lean on each other

Michelle Grodecki, a teacher of the deaf at Winston Knoll Collegiate in Regina, said many of her students are feeling more isolated than ever before at home — mostly because they're not able to communicate with their families using American Sign Language like they can with their classmates at school.

"Before, we used to get quite deep, rich, robust answers from students, and we were starting to see a real decline in that. They're very surface area types of responses now," she said.

That was the moment she knew a change in their remote learning needed to be made.

Since schools closed in late March, deaf and hard of hearing students in Regina have gone from their typical in-person model filled with group work and social learning to being at home in isolation. (Submitted by Michelle Grodecki)

With the help of Amber Galloway, a celebrity sign language interpreter specializing in the interpretation of music, students learned the rhythm and lyrics to a more upbeat version of Bill Withers's Lean On Me.

The class, along with members of the theatre company Deaf Crows Collective, were broken into smaller groups to analyze the lyrics and create individual interpretation videos.

"The kids had really good discussions about their experiences and how that influences their meaning [of the lyrics], so I think that was a really good way to open up conversation," said Willow Bellisle, a training teacher at Winston Knoll Collegiate.

"It kind of went from, 'We're trying to teach you,' to 'Hey, we're dancing, we're learning and we're doing this together and it's going to be great.'"

Using TikTok to keep active and creative

One Regina teacher is embracing an app already popular among kids and teens — and arguably exploding during the pandemic — as part of her teaching.

Lyndsay Moskal, an arts education specialist, began using TikTok with her elementary school students back in January to discuss social issues and their digital citizenship.

It was then she created an assignment in which students had to learn a dance from the video-sharing social network and teach it to the class. And with schools shut down, that was a natural one to move online.

"I'm not teaching them math, I'm not teaching them reading, so sometimes [arts education] is not the priority right now for learning," she said.

"Using TikTok has allowed me to stay engaged with my students, and get them able to email me questions and talk to them about what we're learning."

Regina teacher Lyndsay Moskal created an assignment in which students had to learn a TikTok dance and teach it to the class. 0:59

Moskal has also now encouraged the kids to do the TikTok dances with family members, while continuing to challenge other students and herself.

"They can challenge me and then I can become more engaged with them and put videos of me dancing on there that maybe they'll laugh at, because sometimes I'm not as good as they are," she said.

"It's just about opening up that community of discussion with one another.… We're lacking that right now."

Storytime down at the barn

In order to keep her Lashburn, Sask., kindergarten students learning at home, Ashly Wack decided to give them what they love the most — storytime — but with a twist.

The teacher came across a video online of someone reading with their farm animals one day, so she decided to do the same.

Ashly Wack raises Speckle Park cattle on her farm near Lashburn, Sask. Every spring, she brings photos into her classroom to show her students. (Submitted by Ashly Wack)

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, that's so funny. Wouldn't it be cool if I did that with one of my calves?'" 

Typically, in the spring, Wack brings photos of all her calves to class so her students can talk about them during snack time. She thought this was a good way to make up for it.  

After five or six attempts with a calf that seemingly isn't as huge a fan of storytime as her students, she was successful in reading Bernard Most's The Cow That Went Oink front to back.

"Things are stressful at home. They're cooped up, they're getting bored," Wack said.

"They might not fully understand why we're not at school and why we're not there, so I just wanted to bring some joy and enjoyment to them."

Learning to read through 'top secret' videos

For kids a bit older, Kathleen Foreman harnessed the excitement of spy stories to help teach reading to her Grade 1 class, instead of playing the cute animal card. 

The Lashburn, Sask., teacher began filming spy-themed videos with "secret stories" behind each digraph and sound blend.

"All throughout the school year, I've been telling them that they're top secret and we can't share them with anybody, so it adds that extra mystery to it. Then, when COVID happened, I lost that," she said.

With schools shut down for the academic year, Lashburn, Sask., Grade 1 teacher Kathleen Foreman says she misses the everyday interactions with students the most. (Submitted by Kathleen Foreman)

Nowadays, she records herself telling the stories, but has her roommate put on a mask and sneak up behind her at the end to try to steal them.

"It's good because then the kids are waiting for that to happen until the end of the video and then they engage with it," Foreman said.

"It's the mystery of it and the feeling that I'm sharing something that's really uniquely special with them, instead of, 'Oh, we have to learn this — everybody knows this.'"

 

Dramatics aside, she said she hopes these videos help prepare her students for the next school year.

"My biggest hope is that they learn their digraph sounds and they transfer that into their reading, because I didn't finish going through them when we suddenly cut out [of school]. That's a lot of information to miss," Foreman said.

"Whatever we can do in the meantime to help the next teacher out, that's what we're trying to do." 

About the Author

Jessie Anton is a Regina-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She’s been sharing stories from across the province on television, radio and online since 2016, initially getting her start in the rural weekly newspaper world. Email her: jessie.anton@cbc.ca.

With files from Sam Maciag

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