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Boulder Valley School District teachers trying new virtual method to teach students math and literacy

The district has created a library of engaging videos to help teach elementary students.

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Students in the Boulder Valley School District kicked off their new year on Wednesday at home.

This time around, elementary school students will be learning from several teachers across the district. That's because teachers said they learned a lot from the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented last semester and they didn't want to be caught off guard again.

"It was a lot," said Monarch-PK8 2nd grade teacher Amanda Jones. "It was very stressful."

"You know we had to try to cram everything as quickly as possible into a format that we’re just not as used to," said Emerald Elementary 4th grade teacher Lucas Velasquez. "We’re experts in teaching in-person and so it was a lot to put on people in a very short amount of time. It obviously made for a great challenge."

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Both Jones and Velasquez said one of the biggest challenges was losing direct connection with their students which they said is critical for learning.

So, Foothills Elementary School Principal Nick Vanderpol said the district set out on a mission with the focus being what students need.

"What do kids need to engage with us in a way that's different and to stay with us so that they can learn in ways that are even more developmentally appropriate," Vanderpol said.

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To assure teachers would be able to form relationships with their students, a group of about 35 teachers spent six weeks creating a library of videos to help teach math and literacy. Vanderpol said the group made 1,100 videos in total, including 300 specifically in Spanish for bilingual schools.

"Honestly, we looked at children’s television and for my generation, Mr. Rogers, and for my kids’ generation, Daniel Tiger," Vanderpol said. "And what do children’s television do really well? They connect with kids. So, we said how can we take that and everything that’s great about teaching and everything that we know how to do as teachers and replicate that?"

In the videos, Vanderpol said teachers use props like puppets and even pause sometimes to allow students to respond to the lesson. He also said the videos allow teachers to talk directly to students and a screencasting program allows the teacher's face to appear on the screen as they teach their lesson.

"It was a lot to do, a lot to learn, but in the end I had a lot of fun doing it, too," said Velasquez, who contributed 40 videos.

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"You can’t take the magic in the classroom and put it on the computer, but you can take the heart of a teacher and let it come through the screen," Vanderpol said.

Along with the videos, Jones said teachers received pacing guides to help reinforce the lessons students just watched.

Not only are the videos created to engage students, they also free up teachers from late nights of lesson planning to focus more on their students.

"Having the opportunity to make these videos was so amazing just knowing that it’s going to make the lives of the teachers easier because they’re going to have more time to be able to really spend with their students and provide those opportunities for their students based on their specific needs," Jones said.

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