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First Graders Have Fun With Remote Learning
Marie Bouvier
Monday, March 01, 2021

Zoom meetings are commonplace now, and older kids usually adjust quickly to doing classes online.  But making online school accessible for younger students can be a challenge.  Shandel Oderman is one of many teachers at Union Ridge Elementary making remote learning more fun for students. 

Oderman’s Zoom classroom is bright and engaging, with large tissue paper flowers and colorful posters.  The “WOW Wall” is covered in student work, and a Student of the Week celebration banner hangs nearby.  But instead of a school classroom, Oderman teaches from her home office.  All of the room decorations make online learning feel like any other first grade classroom, full of fun and excitement.  School is still happening,  just in a different place. 

Oderman tries to make virtual learning as enjoyable as possible for the first graders.  Each lesson has opportunities for her students to interact with each other and with the things around them.  For one lesson, they became “volume detectives”:  finding and photographing things in their homes that could change volume from soft to loud.  And their “Teacher vs. Students” game gets groups of students talking about discussion prompts, then sharing their ideas with Oderman.  If the students win the contest, they get a prize.  “They always beat me!” she laughs.

While most of their class time is spent on Zoom, the students do get to see their teacher in person from time to time.  Oderman hands out learning packets with weekly drive-through pickups or porch deliveries.  Even behind a mask, you can feel her broad smile when she sees her students.  The kids are always excited to see what is in their learning packets:  worksheets, science kits, books from Oderman’s personal library, or even special treats (like their “Teacher vs. Students” prizes). 

Teacher Shandel Oderman (on the right) and student teacher Briana Lewellen drop off a weekly learning packet for Timber Engstrom--including a special treat and an invitation to the class Zoom Pajama Party.

Beau Brinkman becomes a first grade "volume detective" for this class assignment.

One of the weekly learning kits included cotton balls in Ziploc bags.  What could they be used for?  The kids had to wait for class time to solve the mystery.  The cotton balls were scented with essential oils and became part of a lesson on the sense of smell.  “The kids could try smelling them and responding about their olfactory memories,” Oderman explained.

Other first grade teachers, including Jennifer Ingham, Danielle McTighe, and Fredia Thompson, partner with Oderman to create engaging lesson plans and activities for remote learning, allowing their classes to work together on all kinds of projects.  The teachers created a pumpkin growing contest and pitted the classrooms against each other in a friendly battle.  And the four classes also enjoy video “debates”, where students take a side on an issue, create a video with their opinion, then watch and respond to other students’ videos.  “It has been great to work as a team,” Oderman said.  “I couldn’t do it without them!”

Besides their regular subjects, the first graders still get to enjoy class events, like Zoom pajama parties.  Even a snow day wasn’t enough to stop Oderman’s students from holding their Virtual Valentine’s Day party.  “They were so excited for our Valentine’s party after picking up their Valentine’s bags that they asked me to come on Zoom anyway.  Fourteen kids showed up to celebrate.  It totally warmed my heart.”

Some Ridgefield students have returned to in-person learning and others are still learning from home.  But no matter which place students are learning, teachers like Oderman continue to make sure they are getting the best education possible, one fun lesson at a time. 

Nico Bolton models his cool spider hat project.

Teagan Devlin is proud to show off her math homework to the Zoom camera.