Hands-on activities have become more difficult for teachers to carry out during this pandemic. Students learning through computer screens has created challenges for activity-based educators, like Vince Patton.
“We are starting to think about different ways of engagement. I think that’s one of the big struggles across the board is getting kids engaged,” said Patton, who is a high school teacher that teaches the All Nations program at a school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“I currently teach 142 [students] and 98 of them are Native American,” he said.
We visited his classroom back in February to talk about a state grant helping fund hands-on and outdoor activities for students across schools in Minnesota.
“The thing that impacted students the most really are those experiences they are provided so I hope to bring that to my students every day," Patton told us in February. “I get to tie those cultural activities in with my curriculum, so my students can have experiences they might not have ever had."
Like most other students, this spring the program was forced to abruptly shift to online learning.
“When we first announced that we were going to move to distant learning, we had three students total out of those 98 students that had access to a computer or tablet. Of course, they had access to their phones, but that’s not always going to be the way to do it,” Patton explained. “At first, we just tried to get computers in hands.”
This is an issue for a lot of teachers who teach kids from rural or under-served communities, Sedelta Oosahwee said. She works with the National Education Association and helps advocate for tribal communities.
“Communities like the rural community I’m from, and tribal communities, we have a lack of internet access. We can’t just go down to our bedroom and get on our computer or our laptop or iPad and connect to the internet,” Oosahwee explained.
We asked her about the transition to hands-on learning in a virtual setting.
“I think they’re still trying to figure out how to do that,” she said. “One thing that’s really come up is how do we teach cultures in this online format.”
Patton is doing just that.
“I've always done the hunting and fishing, but that’s going to have to be put on hold, so I am creating a little video series for my students to share out, about how to do this buffalo hide that we’re tanning,” he said.
But none of it is helpful if students don’t have computers and internet access.
“I think that’s been the thing that probably keeps me up most at night, because I feel like this pandemic has kind of just exasperated all the things we know are happening in our communities--the racial inequity, the socioeconomic inequity,” Oosahwee said. “I think each community, each school, each district has to find out where their students are and then work from that situation.”
Most -- if not all -- of Patton’s students are now online. He’s able to meet them where they’re at, and still provide cultural, hands-on activities.
“One big thing my program has done, we’re going to have a virtual pow wow. That virtual pow wow is going to be an opportunity for kids to connect, really connect with all the other classmates. They're going to have the opportunity to dance. I’ll be dancing, as you can see my regalia, I’m getting it all ready,” he said.
“In some ways, there is something to be said about this virtual connection, because I can now connect with people in other places. Alaska, some of the Alaskan Native people, and hear their stories and just connect with them in ways I haven't done before, because now we’re being forced to find these ways to do this virtually,” Oosahwee said.
Patton has embraced the change, too, finding that social media is helping him connect with his students during this time of physical distancing.
“We’re super active because we’re meeting the kids where they’re at, so we’re being super active on the social media platforms,” he said.
“This is the chance to be architects of the new system. What does the school year look like moving forward? What does the classroom look like moving forward?,” Oosahwee said. She said the National Indian Education Association provides great resources for students and teachers.
Patton says this experience will give students tools to be successful in this future, in the world of technology.