Since early November, Ketchikan High School has shifted to a blended learning schedule, sending teachers on a journey to absorb new knowledge about online education.
Having been at Smart Start plan Level 2 (moderate) since early November, Kayhi has been using remote learning methods in combination with lower-capacity in-person learning. Kayhi is scheduled to resume full-time, in-person learning at Smart Start Level 1 (Low) on Wednesday.
Two Kayhi teachers recently talked with the Daily News about their experiences with the shift to remote learning.
During a recent phone interview, Kayhi chemistry and general science teacher Sean Powell likened his experience with remote learning platforms to conducting a train with limited knowledge of the terrain.
"What I'm doing is I'm driving a train through a really steep mountain pass," Powell said. "And there are twists and turns that come up constantly, and I have to adjust to those. But as an added twist, I'm laying the track as I go around the bends."
In his classes, Powell makes use of teaching resources such as the web-conferencing platform Zoom, the virtual classroom program Canvas, the office programs associated with Google Suite, as well as other online educational tools, like Kahoot and Flip Grid.
In relation to his train metaphor, Powell said that the learning curve "was the first sharp turn."
Despite the abundance of tools, Powell said he prefers to teach his subject in-person.
"Laboratory sciences and remote learning are not good friends," Powell said.
He continued, "In order for you to understand science, you have to experiment and things have to go wrong. It's making mistakes that teach the most about — really, honestly, almost anything — but especially science. And the only place you can make those mistakes is in a laboratory setting."
To foster a lab-like environment, Powell can assign his students a "virtual lab assignment."
But these labs are designed to run well, thus making mistakes harder to make and fix, according to Powell.
Powell said his students are "not big fans" of the remote learning methods.
Some students have reported issues maintaining a normal sleep schedule while completing asynchronous work, and others have dealt with a lack of motivation to complete assignments at home.
Powell said that remote learning did have at least one upside.
"Kids have become a bit more motivated to take control of their own learning, but it's definitely a process and more like a spectrum," Powell noted.
The new technology implemented in his classroom also has driven Powell to reexamine his teaching "philosophy."
"I like to approach my subject slowly," he said. "I like to let the kids take time, absorb and sort of surround the subject. We no longer have that luxury. ... I've had to change the way I view things like late work, because, (school is) on again, off again, half time, oh wait, now we're off for two days."
But for Kayhi math, computer science and Tribal Scholars teacher Gerald Scarzella, remote learning isn't a new concept.
In addition to teaching at Kayhi, Scarzella teaches virtual courses for the Alaska Digital Academy. In a separate interview with the Daily News, he explained that he frequently incorporates online resources — including study guides, videos and assessments — into his classes at Kayhi.
"I'm actually probably the only exception to what's been going on (with adjusting)," Scarzella said. "I know that a lot of the teachers are using those probably for the first time in their career, but for me, I've actually been very familiar with the online learning process for quite a few years actually, and so changing to this supposedly new model for the school year wasn't really a big change for me."
Scarzella said his remote learning experience hasn't been too much difference than being in a regular classroom.
"I don't try to spend too much time trying to be that person, the one they call a 'sage on a stage' in a classroom," he said. "... I definitely try to make sure that students are active, learning, (and) doing stuff physically, either as a project or online."
Scarzella continued that "it's been nice to kind of have the focus be on the students now."
Students have commented to Scarzella that they enjoy using the online platforms and having the ability to work from home, while others prefer on-site learning.
He also noted that platforms such as Canvas can be difficult for teachers to use.
"It does take up quite a bit of time to set up your classroom," he said.
Teachers have to modify their Canvas classrooms weekly, and set up a new virtual classroom for each course.
One challenge that Scarzella did identify was guiding his computer science class through projects while working remotely, which complicates his ability to monitor the class' progress on projects.
He referenced a recent Zoom class session, during which he was leading his students through a virtual lesson.
"I couldn't do that because, honestly, they can only see my screen and I can't actually see theirs, and there were too many of them (students) to kind of monitor and share their screen with me through Zoom," Scarzella recalled. "So it was challenging in the sense that I kind of had to remind them that, 'Hey, there's directions on these websites of what to do from the next big step in the whole big project,' and they had to read carefully and make sure that they were doing things correctly."