This article is a combined experience, feelings, and knowledge of two Croatian teachers where we both “speak” and complement each other’s stories. Welcome to our story!
Bosiljko: I remember exactly my last working day, the last working day in a “normal” school. Fifth grade, math, we dealt with fractions… Eighth grade, physics, the topic was waves, and we just talked about earthquake waves with primary and secondary. I joked a bit with the students about the frequency of catastrophic earthquakes in the area of Zagreb, the Croatian capital. I remember mentioning that such a catastrophic earthquake happens in Zagreb about every hundred years, and I just mentioned that they are the generation that has a high probability of experiencing it.
It was Friday, 13… And, of course, after a few days, the earthquake hit Zagreb, plus the pandemic…
Tea: I remember my last day in class with the students. Every class of that day was preparing for the transition to online classes. Demonstrating a virtual classroom, presenting the enrollment process, and how we will communicate from now on. 45 minutes was not enough, neither for the 6th nor for the 8th grade. The students were worried and full of questions. That day passed as quickly as a dream. Afterward, online teaching became our everyday life and reality.
Bosiljko: In the last hours, with the 8th grade, I was busy checking their AAI@edu.hr user identities…
Everyone in the education system in the Republic of Croatia has an assigned electronic identity. That electronic identity is officially assigned but, of course, most students didn’t use it on a daily basis. What is it for? It provides internet access in some public educational institutions, also allows students to log in to the e-Imenik (our class managing app), to use Office365 systems, among others.
2 months before the pandemic, most of my colleagues used their AAI@edu.hr identity only to access the e-Imenik, in 99% of cases. The introduction of this app in schools had so much resistance in its beginning, although it proved to be a complete solution for insight into students’ progress and all school processes. Both students and parents have access to it.
So, Friday, March 13, 2020, we are on the verge of a pandemic and it was certain that the schools would stop. I must say this school year was catastrophic on its own with the long-lasting strike in Croatian schools.
During the last hours of school, I lead class by class to the only computer-equipped classroom in our school… It was frustrating: repeating to every class what they need to go through, which website they should go to, what they need to type, etc.
Tea: The following workweek after that famous Friday the 13th, we started introducing online classrooms. Of course, this was preceded by a working weekend during which instructions for publication on the school website were prepared. Classrooms were created and the first test assignments were prepared for students to determine whether everything works. I choose to work in Google Classroom because we are allowed to use G-Suite for free. The news spread that the school system was crashing, so Google’s tool seemed like a real lifesaver. Students could enroll with AAI@edu.hr identity and we continued the teaching plan.
The first week of classes was like working in a call-center for me. I mostly helped students who didn’t know how to enroll in the course, who didn’t know how to open assignments, attach a photo – which has now become almost the only proof of their work. I helped colleagues who had difficulties, I tried to build a new work plan and set a pace that would be acceptable for students in these conditions. Ultimately there were those who failed to enroll so I had to enroll them myself. Students had so many questions.
Bosiljko: We often believe in the premise that the children of today are Internet natives and the internet savvy, we think they know everything about technology… Well, from our experience it is unfortunately far from the truth…
I’ve used Office 365 and similar tools for years, generation after generation, and I knew how it worked. I decided to convene a teacher class council, invite teachers to a meeting, and together with several colleagues we created a strategy: we started creating teams at Office365 and we created an online space for virtual collaboration. I didn’t divide classes in the way they are in school, but by their age. So all 5th graders were in one team, 6th graders in one team, and so on.
Everything seemed to go well until the system crashed that afternoon. Students couldn’t log in, they couldn’t activate their accounts, we couldn’t create new teams, new classes. Two weeks passed without the system working properly.
In the meantime, we know our Ministry of Education was/is also struggling. Trying to create some kind of support for teachers through TV-school on national television.
However difficult things were looking like there was always a stronger sense of community. The social distancing on the one hand, but on the other hand, people were/are somehow closer than ever.
Tea: While all of that happened, I was facing another challenge: how should I record a lesson for my students? I was convinced that recorded lessons could make it easier for students to understand the lessons the examples, and they can re-watch what was not understood. However conditions were not ideal I managed to recorded lessons with my mobile phone, computer, in various programs. Over time, I learned to edit the video, to connect several smaller parts. Additional help was brought by the post of a colleague who drew my attention to a tool I tried only once, a long time ago: Edpuzzle.
It allows me to make a stop at a specific place in the video and post a question for my students. They can respond and continue watching the video. With this tool, I get feedback on who watched the whole video and answered all the questions. I can also connect it to my Google Classroom. In fact, I have definitely improved my technology use during this period.
When it came to the evaluation of student work and testing their knowledge: the first choice was Google forms which I use to create quizzes. Then I chose a tool I can also connect to my Google classroom: Quzizz. When I need to, I also interview or question students through a Google Meet video call.
Now my solutions for online teaching seem complete. Although I would like to add a bit more. As soon as students got used to the online learning experience, the ones who wanted to work harder came forward. Consequently, I opened a classroom for gifted students allowing the ones who want to work faster and at a more intense pace.
Bosiljko: After two or three weeks, everything finally worked smoothly. Teachers post assignments, video lessons and students report working. Communication is now more intense than in classical classrooms!
Now this is our everyday life. What to say after more than 2 moths?
- Online teaching is more individual compared to classical teaching
- Students do not interfere with other comments, doubts – some feel more confident to express themselves
- Students are more focused on their personal learning experience
- Teaching is more adapted to their personal pace
- Students who are well organized came to our attention and got more things done
- The help of parents is proportional to the age of the students: the older ones need less help
- It is possible to organize various Webquest tasks and online “trips”
- Everyone uses the apps that help to learn not only about the class subjects but also become more technology savvy
- Students like sharing online quizzes and tasks
- Students often solve homework together and help each other
- Students who were not motivated before, now are even less
- Children from socially unstable families are even more in a very difficult position
- Students who do not have adequate support at home are now on their own or in some cases they have the support of the class master. Which is a serious obligation and sometimes a burden for the class master
- Some colleagues can behave quite insensitively towards students problems
- Making video content takes a lot of time, much more than what we would spend preparing and giving the lecture
- Children are still computer illiterate. The fact that they know how to post a picture on Instagram means absolutely nothing when it comes to tools they are not used to
- Implementing of planned school projects at this time without many adaptations is quite impossible
- There is no field teaching: no visits to cinemas, theaters, museums, etc. Which is super important for students to see real-life problems or solutions.
This ‘forced’ online teaching process is definitely changing educational processes. The usual ways of teaching are undergoing a severe transformation. We, the teachers, need to reconsider our ways of teaching, we have to adapt to the new time, which is not coming and at the same time is already here. Online teaching opens a multitude of questions, gives a multitude of new answers to contemporary challenges. Through this process, we can see both the good and the bad sides of technologies in classrooms.
Now there are simply no more excuses, it is impossible to avoid using digital solutions in teaching. Circumstances have completely changed, and we have to adapt!
Authors: Tea Borković & Bosiljko Đerek
Tea Borković is a mathematics and physics teacher at OŠ Grabrik in Karlovac, Croatia. She is specially dedicated to gifted education and has produced two board games with her gifted students. Her interests are the application of mathematics in everyday life and board games with a mathematical background.
Bosiljko Đerek is a Scientix Ambassador, has been working atOŠ Zapruđe Elementary School, Zagreb, for more than 15 years teaching mathematics and physics. He is interested in AR, VR, and 3D printing in education.