“Hey, I've seen you do well,” virtual math teacher Cody Reid said to his student. “Don't shut down on me yet. Alright? Don't shut down on me yet. Don't say I can't. Alright? Because I know you can do it. I've seen it. I know you can do it. It's going to suck. It's going to be terrible. However, that's short term. Long term, you're gonna go, 'Oh my gosh, Mr. Reid. You're right. I can do this. Here we go.’”
A teacher for online education service company Proximity Learning, Reid had been connecting with students for class through live video streaming long before the pandemic came and disrupted the end of the spring semester. But as students began logging into his class from home, he realized he had an opportunity to personalize his instruction and build better individual relationships with his students.
“[The students are] not in the same house,” Reid said. “They're probably not even in the same neighborhood. When they're in the classroom, it's harder for them to speak up. However, when they're sitting at home, they're in their environment. They're at a place where they're most comfortable. It allows me to sit there, work one-on-one, [and] nudge them a little bit.”
With large amounts of uncertainty and no answers of what the future held, Reid’s goal was to try his best to uplift the spirits of his students while stuck at home. He aimed to have the hour and a half he met with students be a bright spot they would always be looking forward to in their day.
“That was my goal, so there were various math games I brought back out,” Reid said. “[I kept] students engaged that way, and their competitive [side] kicked in a little bit too. So it got pretty interesting, and then I brought back Prodigy gaming.”
Prodigy is an online game that combines role-playing with math. Students battle creatures in the game and capture them by answering math questions adjusted to their skill level. Reid implemented this game in the class as a way for his students to actively continue learning in a fun, positive way. Furthermore, he realized this was an opportunity for them to strengthen skills they hadn’t yet mastered.
“At the beginning when they first start playing, they take a pre-assessment which adjusts to where they're at,” Reid said. “So I had students who were in seventh grade, but I discovered that they’re at a fourth-grade math level just because of one little skill that they hadn't fully developed. So that ... allowed me to [reflect and say], ‘Okay, we're working on these skills in seventh grade. This is why they're struggling with that skill because they don't have a prerequisite back from fourth grade.’ So, it allowed me to really adjust that way, too.”
Not only were his students stuck at home, but they were suddenly cut off from being able to see and socialize with their friends and classmates at school. The math game allowed Reid to bring his class together in a different online environment then they were used to. Outside of their regular live online classes during the week, his students quickly began battling him and each other in the game.
“It didn't take long for them off-screen to battle each other,” Reid said. “I could sit there and track their activity. I had students before they even said anything the next day, I could see they had done like 200 problems before they even showed up to class the next day.”
The math game was a fun, educational distraction for the students from the world outside of their homes. With the feelings of fear and unknown that come with living during unprecedented times, Reid said he focused on prioritizing his students first and foremost so he could ensure they are taken care of.
“Everything I do, decision making, lesson planning, relationship developing, I'm trying to put students first,” Reid said. “I have to ensure their safety and ensure their mindsets are well taken care of, cause I know they are probably scared out of their minds.”
But, the uncertainty persists as the beginning of a new school year is around the corner and many schools are grappling with how to reopen. With the possibility of teaching students from home again, Reid said his biggest takeaway from the end of the spring semester was to emphasize building relationships with his students before doing any form of curriculum instruction.
Reid said he got a sneak peek into the lives of his students outside of the physical classroom by seeing their home life on the other side of the screen for the first time, which gave him a unique opportunity to learn more about his students individually and be more personable with them. Because of this, he was able to form deeper connections during a difficult time.
“It's never not what you know,” Reid said. “It's the love that you can show them [and] the respect that you can show them, because it will never matter how much you know about the subject if you don't show that you care to the students.”