Like all schools across the country, Fountain Hills Charter School has had to make the not-so-insignificant jump of moving classes from in person to online these past couple of months.
While it has certainly been a challenge, teachers like Lisa Ristuccia have been thrilled with the way her class and the FHCS community has risen to the occasion.
“I have been so impressed by how all the teachers, students and families have been dealing with the situation,” Ristuccia said. “They have worked hard to learn the technology needed to communicate. We distributed laptops to those who needed them and provided books and packets to those who wanted them.”
Like many other classes, Ristuccia uses Zoom calls to connect with her students. While this is a time for Ristuccia to assign work for the week, she also uses the calls to give students social time with each other.
“I send out the weekly schedule at the beginning of each week,” Ristuccia explained. “I make sure there are some morning times and some afternoon or evening times to accommodate for the different schedules that families have. The agenda varies per meeting. Mostly, it is just a time for us to touch base with the students. We go over assignments, answer questions they have about the technology and expectations, play games, socialize, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ if it is a student’s birthday, introduce their pets to the class and tell jokes.”
When it comes to assignments and projects in Ristuccia’s class, the switch to online really hasn’t changed what she already had planned for her students to close out the semester
“The students have been working on a science research project about an animal of their choice; a social studies project about a significant world event of their choice; a novel study on ‘Number the Stars’; a Genius Hour/Passion Project where they can choose what they are most interested in; science experiments; art projects; a virtual talent show and more,” Ristuccia listed. “Many of the projects we would have done in class, but there were a lot of additional things that we pulled in as well.”
Those “additional things” include the chance to listen to experts in their fields conduct webinars, along with asking them questions.
“The students were given opportunities to attend webinars from CSO Zoom in science, Sharks4Kids and Microsoft,” Ristuccia said. “They were able to connect with astronauts, scientists, biologists, researchers, authors, illustrators and documentary director/producers. The webinars were optional, but it was nice for those who attended that they could ask experts questions and get answers in real time.”
Ristuccia’s class has also been using technology to connect with others around the world.
“We have also been connecting with a family in Komodo Island, Indonesia, who has four kids,” Ristuccia said. “It is a friend of mine who was my intern when I was the education manager at OdySea Aquarium. We have been doing Zoom calls with them where they tell us about their country. They give us a walking virtual tour around their neighborhood and beach and they show us the various animals that live around their house (birds, ducks, monkeys, large lizards, etc.). We sing songs together. We talk about our school and their school and discuss how coronavirus has affected life.”
While Ristuccia teaches third through fifth grade, she said the other FHCS teachers have also been connecting with the rest of the students in similar ways as they navigate this new world of online classes.