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Online Learning at a Glance

School Feature: Online Learning at a Glance

In the spring of 2020, Avon Old Farms School, along with all other learning institutions across the United States, was forced to convert to an online learning scenario due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this endeavor would be new to most faculty members, the excellence of our leadership and dedication of our staff resulted in some extraordinary learning opportunities. 

There have been large and small opportunities to make the most of online learning. Early on, Dr. Jack Sanford, science teacher, set the tone for students to use their current environment to replace their lab: one of the first assignments was to ‘Use what was at your disposal to model the shape of a neuron!’

The submissions were encouraging signs that the students were onboard, including this submission from Charles Wang ’23. Dr. Sanford commented that this submission in particular was an example of “amazing creativity and willingness to tackle the work.” 

Another early example of using small moments to bring a class to life online was displayed by Mrs. Allison Young, new to the Avon Old Farms School English Department this year. While her class was working through The Catcher in the Rye, Young invited her students to participate in a ‘hat day’ while they explored the symbolism of Holden Caulfield’s red hunting cap. 

While students have reported that some classes felt pretty much the same, especially English courses, Mrs. Young was using these small opportunities to bring something different to her online classroom and keep the students engaged not only with the content, but with each other.

“I was inspired because we have been reading The Catcher in the Rye and a recurring motif is Holden's Red Hunting Hat, which he uses to really show off his identity and make him stand out,” explained Young. “I asked my kids to find their "favorite" hat that they think also exemplifies who they are and wear it to class, since our online Zoom sessions are so focused on heads/faces. Of course, even a simple baseball cap counts, because it usually has the logo of their favorite sports team which tells us a lot about who they are. So when they came to class, I could see how they thought of themselves. Some wore baseball caps, some wore winter hats with the Avon logo, one wore a "newsboy" cap (and identifies as an "old soul") and my personal favorite: the student who showed up with an Avon Santa Hat. It was nice to see their different personalities shine, and to know that something as simple and innocuous as a hat can tell us so much about how the students see themselves and what they show to the world. It also led to them debating the best sports teams, which was so much like being back in a regular classroom again with the boys!” 

Mr. Peter Rice found a way to recreate one of his annual special lessons for his AP Environmental Science classes:

“My AP Environmental Science class is completing a unit on energy resources - nonrenewable and renewable,” Rice explained. “Solar energy has been used throughout human history, including direct forms (sunlight and heat to warm our homes, heat our water, and grow our food) and the indirect forms of wind (windmills and sailing ships) and flowing water (water-driven mills and river transportation). It can be difficult to grasp just how powerful the sun is and how much work can be done with solar energy. So, a solar cooker is a powerful (pun intended) tool to demonstrate what can be done with the sun when it is concentrated and captured, and a dish to eat really drives the point home. Normally, we would do this on campus, but a video will have to do in these times of social distancing.”

In another AP course, Mrs. Ari Bartkiewicz was finding a way to adapt to the new AP exam structure: the college board is only going to assess the students on the speaking part of the exam; no multiple choice or writing at all.

“I had to find ways for my students to practice an online conversation in Spanish,” began Bartkiewicz. “All my children are home, they all took AP Spanish, they are AOF alumni, and they are boys in college… So, I saw an opportunity. My two sons Blake ’16 and Dane ’18 appeared as guests in my Zoom classroom to share their experiences in college, talk about what they miss about AOF, and share how AOF prepared them for college. It was a half an hour of all Spanish conversation, talking about a topic that my senior students had an interest in. It was a life-learning opportunity, as well as a chance to practice their language skills for the exam.”

Science teacher Mrs. Jill Harrington also used her own kids at home to demo lessons for her online students to use for assignments, including a ‘slinky lab’ usually performed in the classroom.

“Much of what I'm doing now is having kids work through online simulations in pairs and then talking about what they discovered,” Harrington commented.

Across ‘campus’ in the art department, instructors were also finding ways to leverage the current situation as inspiration for creativity. In Mr. Brian Lee’s graphic design course, students were asked to create graphic novels based on a pandemic storyline.

In Ms. Cristina Pinton’s drawing class, students learned about perspective drawing, a more analytical/rules-based drawing to balance off our more expressive drawings from earlier in the quarter. 

“Before break they saw a video about the Renaissance discovery of perspective and its use in paintings to depict the illusion of depth and space. To continue the learning, we watched a video on MC Escher and then students gathered some images online of one- and two-point perspectives that were photographs so they could spot the perspective in real life. To get the hang of it, we did a lot of one-on-one in and outside of class. They are now in the middle of creating their imagined spaces, without the need for gravity and land-based forms. They will add color/value later. Quite refreshing in fact, given the circumstances of being closed-in all day!”

In the musical arts, instructors have been making use of all the apps available to students online. With Mr. Will Lea, the Honors Choir and Riddlers have been learning “In My Room,” originally by The Beach Boys. 

“An appropriate tune for these times, as the boys seem to be spending all their time in their rooms,” Lea shared.”

Each student learned his part using tracks Lea created, and then recorded a separate track that was sent back to and mixed in a master mix.

Mr. Dave Raposo took a similar approach with his instrumental courses. Raposo recorded and provided a bass line file, and the students then recorded their own tracks around that.

A testament to Avon’s hard work to quickly organize a meaningful online learning experience is an article written by junior Saagar Motupally which was published in the Hartford Courant in which he shared the positives of his experience thus far.

“I wrote the article because I think it's important for those in our school community, especially our teachers, to understand that we greatly appreciate the amazing job they are doing every day,” shared Motupally. “I know I wrote the article in the broad sense of Connecticut high schools, but most of the success I talked about came from my true feelings about how we're doing this at Avon. I couldn't be prouder of how the Brotherhood has thrived during this unprecedented situation.”

A senior parent also commented on Avon’s early success in providing an engaging experience for her son:

“The faculty and staff at Avon have been fantastic during this time,” wrote Brenda Matalon in a letter to Headmaster Detora. “You can be proud of everything you have put into motion to give these boys the best possible experience, considering the circumstances. Noah has felt engaged and happy during this time, and never seems to dwell on the experiences he's missing in these final weeks of school - and that’s a testimony to how hard the faculty and staff are working to give the boys the best possible ending to their Old Farms days. Thank you all for your hard work.”

Even when forced to quickly convert classrooms to an online platform, Avon Old Farms School continued to fulfil its mission and to honor tradition while inspiring excellence.