Millie Peters snapped her fingers to help students maintain their rhythm as she walked around her "A Capella Choir" class at Springdale High School.
Some 50 students sat in rows of plastic chairs spaced 6 feet apart as directed by the Arkansas Department of Health for classroom instruction during the covid-19 pandemic.
The students sang music projected onto a screen at the front of the class, the notes sounding rich and clear through the masks they wore. The students sang for 30 minutes before having to leave the class for 20 minutes to allow the air to be ventilated.
Classes were structured very differently before the pandemic, Peters said, when as many as 70 students would sing standing shoulder-to-shoulder on risers, their faces clearly visible to receive guidance on how to best form words and sounds.
Education during the pandemic presents challenges for teachers and students, but it creates additional hurdles for classes like choir, band, art and agriculture, which rely heavily on hands-on activities and face-to-face instruction, educators said.
Students in these activities now often receive less classroom time to practice, they said, and masks can make it difficult for teachers to observe and instruct. Online classes limit hands-on learning, which is important in subjects such as art.
The expanded use of technology has produced some positive outcomes, students and teachers noted. They like that performance work is submitted and viewed individually and that lessons offered through the internet can be accessed repeatedly.
The true impact of blended learning on students is yet to be determined, said Stephanie Crowell, an art teacher at Carver Magnet Elementary School in Little Rock.
"With some time, we'll work through it, and we'll start to identify who needs more help and how can we get it to them," Crowell said. "Those things will emerge organically, and we're just going to have to ride this wave and figure it out."
Classes like choir have an increased risk for spreading the virus, according to Arkansas Department of Education guidance.
"It's been difficult for choral directors because so much of the reported virus contagion comes from aerosol emissions," said Terri Whitworth, Arkansas Choral Directors Association executive director. "When you're singing, you produce more of those emissions."
Band students likewise have to wear masks because of the emissions produced when they play, according to the Arkansas Department of Health directive. Musicians must also maintain a 6-by-6-foot area around all students and a 9-by-6-foot area around trombone players.
Woodwind and brass musicians must wear masks with a small, surgical style slit in them, according to the directive. Flutists and piccoloists can slide the instrument in the side of the mask, it said.
Bell covers made of multilayered, thick nylon are required as "masks" for wind instruments and provide a barrier for aerosols, according to the directive. Indoor performance times must also be limited to 30 minutes, with 20-minute breaks before a room is used again.
Being able to see students' mouths and the spacing required for band instruction during the pandemic has been challenging, said Brett Lawson, Fayetteville High School director of bands. But the time constraint placed on performing indoors has been the biggest hurdle for band instruction during the pandemic, he said.
Fayetteville High's 200 band students currently attend two 70-minute classes a week during the pandemic, Lawson said. Students are broken into ensemble classes of 30-70 students each, he said.
Leaving the classroom to allow the room to ventilate after 30 minutes of playing is decreasing practice time for students, Lawson said.
"We're only getting 60 minutes of playing a week, whereas last year, we were getting from 180-270 per week," he said. "The challenges are very real for us this year."
The approximately 370 schools that offer choral education statewide have had to significantly adjust their methods of instruction during the pandemic, Whitworth said.
Springdale High's approximately 180 choir students are using Flipgrid, a free educational video sharing platform, to create videos of themselves performing without masks to allow choir teachers to evaluate and guide their performances, Peters said.
Senior Ian Gelicame, 17, said he likes being able to make the videos and get feedback from Peters that applies directly to him.
"In class, it would probably be in broad terms," Gelicame said, who's been studying choir for about six years. "It wouldn't be that focused on me."
Being able to have that one-on-one interaction with students has been a valuable outcome of the pandemic, even if it's occurring virtually, Peters said.
"It has been nice, because I have had the chance to hear them more often singing by themselves," she said, noting that the practice using Flipgrid to evaluate students is apt to endure after the pandemic.
Providing art education using blended learning models also has been a challenge, Crowell said.
Schools were directed to allow students to learn through technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches, according to Arkansas Department of Education Ready for Learning guidance.
The 260 pre-K-through-fifth-grade students at Carver have the option to attend their assigned classes at the school online or in-person five days a week, said Clifton Woodley, principal.
About 30% of the school's students are learning from home, but attend classes online at the same time as their in-person classmates, he said.
Art education truly benefits from hands-on learning to best convey what's being taught, Crowell said.
"It's so important, but I understand people's choice to keep their students at home," she said.
Crowell navigates her art classes wearing a Bluetooth microphone around her neck and by strategically placing a laptop that she carries around the room so students learning virtually can see and hear what she's teaching, she said.
"What everyone in the classroom sees is what my camera on my laptop is seeing," Crowell said.
Digital tools offered through the Schoolology learning management system and Zoom video conferencing have helped bring students learning online into the classroom, Crowell said. Flex Curriculum, an online art curriculum platform, allows students to share their work with each other on digital display boards and offers a means for Crowell to customize what she's teaching and evaluate online students' work.
All students are issued laptops to access the programs and curriculum, she said. Crowell uses online resources to offset what students at home may be unable to access.
Whereas in-person students recently created colorful geometric mandalas out of coffee filters and materials accessible in class, she said online learners were able to create mandalas digitally that featured structured patterns of their choosing they could color.
"It was fun to push something out to the kids that was hands-on," Crowell said. "That is as much art-making as what they've done in the classroom."
Programs such as 4-H have become creative in getting research-based, youth education programs to schools where it may have limited or no access during the pandemic, said Sarah Enoch, the 4-H agent for Logan County.
Four-H estimates that it has agents in all 75 Arkansas counties who work with schools to create lessons in keeping with what students are learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, said Angie Freel, 4-H department head with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.
Enoch said she had planned to hatch chicks this spring with the fifth-through-eighth-grade students at Paris Middle School to help them understand the scope of the poultry industry in Arkansas and food sources. She regrouped when schools shut down for on-site instruction in March, she said.
The original project was intended to be five days long, using eggs that could be hatched in an incubator in the library, said Anne Canada, Paris Middle School librarian. Canada instead worked with Enoch to create a 28-day program using Flipgrid to create educational videos of the eggs progressing to hatching chicks from her Subiaco residence.
"They were all about tuning in and watching chicks hatch versus tuning in for their math lesson," Enoch said.
Enoch said that experience helped her understand how to best deliver content remotely to students during the pandemic. She live-streamed a lesson on honeybees in September from her home in Milltown, an unincorporated community in Sebastian County.
"The kids got to watch me working through the bees and looking for some mites that infect bees," Enoch said. "We did a mite count, and they had to do the math and find the ratios and tell me if the mites were over the treatment threshold or not."
Caleb Molton, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Paris Middle School, said it was helpful to be able to access the chicken project videos.
"Halfway through the project, I wasn't sure on something," Molton said. "I went back to the video they had made, and I was able to figure out my problem."
Adventures in Eggsitting
Educational videos of the Paris Middle School and 4-H project on egg hatching and the Arkansas poultry industry are available at https://flipgrid.com/e1c17063.
Source: Anne Canada