MERIDEN — Late Wednesday morning, students in Carlin Daniels’ second-grade class were engaged in a lesson on mathematical thinking.
Daniels had briefly shown her students an image that consisted of large teal dots. There were 15 dots total, separated into three groups of five. Daniels had tasked her students to come up with a strategy to quickly count them. She asked the students, those in the classroom and the small number logged into that day’s lesson from home, to share their counting strategies.
That latter group are among the relatively small number of students in Meriden placed into remote learning that week because they were likely exposed to the novel coronavirus.
Teachers like Daniels strived to ensure the students did not miss out on the same learning their in-person peers were experiencing. She frequently turned toward her computer screen, sometimes carrying the computer, and called on the students at home to participate as actively as those seated in front of her.
It all appeared natural for Daniels, who also wore a headset.
“Let’s get ready for that number talk,” Daniels said to her students at the outset of that lesson. “I’m going to present my screen and make sure our friends at home can see it.” Then she showed the image and asked them to quickly count.
“You’re thinking. Let’s see your hands,” Daniels said. Students in the classroom raised their hands. Students from home did the same. They lowered their hands so their teacher knew they had arrived at an answer.
During the classroom discussion that followed, in-person students could hear their remote peers through the speakers that surrounded the classroom’s smartboard. The vast majority of students in Daniels’ classroom, room 105, and in that of another second grade teacher, Wendy Dringoli, were in person.
The number of students in remote learning because they have been exposed to COVID-19 fluctuates. Several days before the Record-Journal visited, 31 students at Pulaski had been in remote learning. But by the end of the week that number had reduced to six, according to the Meriden Public Schools’ COVID-19 dashboard, which reports the numbers of cases and quarantines at each school.
In Wendy Dringoli’s classroom, students were engaged in a vocabulary lesson around the word “stamp.” They learned its spelling and used it in sentences. Both teachers’ classrooms are similarly equipped with technology — a laptop computer, omnidirectional microphone and webcam.
Her students were similarly engaged as they learned how to use “stamp” in sentences.
To keep remote students involved, Dringoli placed her computer on a cart, enabling them to virtually move around the classroom with her. She shares her screen with them and asks them to do the same.
“I try to call on them in my classroom and hold them accountable just as much as the students in the physical classroom. My goal is for students to easily keep up and integrate back into the classroom when they come back. Communication with parents is also an important part of keeping students with me and engaged,” Dringoli explained later in the week.
She described the past year-and-a-half as an adjustment. It took time to get used to using technology in a way to “best reach and teach my students.”
“This year I feel is much easier with all the knowledge I have acquired in the past year,” Dringoli said. “I have easily been able to have students join my Google Meet and integrate them into our daily classroom.”
Though the math lesson appeared effortless for Daniels, the 20-year teaching veteran, admitted afterwards there was some troubleshooting involved the week before. At times the volume was too low. At other times, there was feedback.
“Then I realized if I turn all the volume off on the chromebooks and only allow it to come from the smartboard we were much better off,” she said.
“It is quite challenging,” she said. But once she overcame the challenges, she could see her remote students — their faces in squares on her screen — were actively participating in the lesson as much as classmates who attended in-person.
“I can see them joining in,” Daniels said. “This is great.”
Both teachers, along with their colleagues districtwide, continue to make adjustments as they go.
Susan Moore, technology director for the Meriden Public Schools, described the hybrid in-person and remote teaching set up as a less-then-an-ideal situation.
“In a perfect world, we’d have all our students in the classroom all the time,” Moore said.
She said teachers have “certainly done a great job with making the best out of a situation that’s not ideal.... Teachers are doing a great job of on the fly troubleshooting to make sure the students have what they need.”
Teachers like Daniels and Dringoli have learned how to overcome technology glitches right in the middle of lessons, often teaching right through them.
“I think they’re doing a great job,” said Christine Laferriere, Pulaski’s principal. She said if there is one thing the pandemic has provided educators, it’s “more opportunities for us to strengthen our skills — especially with technology.”