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The Digital Frontier: Pivoting to Remote Learning for Younger Students

Academics, Featured

The Digital Frontier: Pivoting to Remote Learning for Younger Students

Last July, our Academic Council spent three intensive days at a retreat to lay out the priorities for Rippowam Cisqua School’s academic program. We looked at every angle of a student’s school day and debated topics such as rigor and assessments, discussed the efficacy of various math curricula, considered the purpose of homework, and discussed the relevance of standardized tests. What did we not talk about? Remote learning.

Never did we imagine that one day, the building where we gathered to learn, work, and play would close to us. And yet, here we are reinventing what school will look like in a virtual environment with hundreds of wonderful RippKids in our charge. What we crafted was fast and furious, but we were lucky. Creativity and innovation are already at the heart of our curriculum. We just had to activate our skills in a different way and provide a platform for our students to do the same. 

Candidly, we are learning as we go, but we hope this serves as a helpful resource to schools and families as they think about remote learning. While inherently imperfect because it lacks that crucial time together in-person, we are steadfast in our goal to continue to “know” our children and value the individual learner. What we outline here is what we are implementing with our students in PreK through Grade 4, which is an area of particular concern for schools across the country.

Stay True to Your Mission

In 2018, we recrafted our mission. In one short sentence, every teacher, student, and parent can rally around our primary objective: to create independent thinkers, engaged leaders, and confident communicators. It is through that lens that we evaluate and retool our curriculum each year. It was no different in creating a remote learning plan. 

Daily Communication is an Essential Service

At the cornerstone of our Remote Learning Plan is a belief that communication with students and families is critical to developing a strong home/school partnership. Therefore, teachers deliver daily and individualized communication to each student. This one-on-one interaction is a crucial touch point in students and parents. Teachers can provide clarity on assignments while demonstrating the deep connection and value they place on each child. 

Division Heads communicate regularly via email and video with students and parents. Administrators are transitioning many of their activities to an online format, and our social media channels are working harder to keep our community connected. We’re leaning on all of our people and tools to keep the lines of communication wide open.

Scheduling is Intentional Yet Flexible

We are keenly aware that families need to balance remote learning for one or more children with their work schedules. By holding asynchronous and synchronous classes throughout the day, children develop the independent thinking skills core to our mission while receiving meaningful opportunities to come together as a community and be held accountable by their teachers instead of just their parents. Here is a snapshot of how we achieve this. 

  • Using Zoom, we have book-ended the day so that students start out the day with their teachers and end the day with their teachers at a synchronous time. Every homeroom teacher meets with their class at 9:00 am. for Morning Meeting. During Morning Meeting, teachers review the goals for the day and perhaps most importantly, cultivate togetherness by taking time to focus on the individuals who make up the fabric of the class. At the end of their school day, they then have a Closing Meeting with their teachers. This builds in accountability and pride for their independent work they’ve completed between these two meetings. In other words, it is the teacher checking if they’ve done their assignments NOT the parent. 
  • Directly following Morning Meeting, teachers use Zoom breakout rooms for differentiated reading and math instruction. Targeted multisensory instruction ensures students continue to learn and practice the foundational reading skills they will need to thrive in the next grade. At Rippowam, we use a multisensory program that stretches and supports every student, whether they are an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Breakout rooms allow us to deliver direct instructional time for all of our elementary students. From a parent’s perspective, the transition from the Morning Meeting to this is seamless and one “block” of time. 
  • Students receive a daily schedule from their teacher that includes, in addition to their synchronous learning, specific activities in reading, writing, and math. Science, Spanish, Mindfulness, Gym, Music, and Library classes are held on a rotating basis throughout the week and provided in a video format. 
  • Each day, parents receive a schedule that serves as a guideline for the school work to be completed on-demand throughout the day. (ex. Math, 10-10:30). This gives parents the much-needed space to manage and participate in school activities at a time that works best for them. 


9:00-10:00 a.m.Morning Meeting via Zoom 
Be prepared to Share: Students share special objects

Literacy Group via Zoom 
Today’s Topic in Word Study: Nouns and Verbs
10:00-10:30 a.m.Independent Literacy via Zoom 
Offline Activity: Work on book summary for Closing Meeting using outline link here. 
Online Activity: (15 Minutes)
10:30-10:45 a.m.Movement Break
Mrs. C sent these ideas for activities! 
10:45-11:30 a.m.Math
Review the video, then complete: 
Online Activity:  (15 minutes) 
Offline Activity: A three toed sloth has 3 toes on each foot and 4 legs. How many toes do 8 three toed sloths have? Show your work and upload it to our bulletin board. 
Optional Challenge: YouCubed Math Challenge (15 minutes) 
11:30- 12:00 p.m.Today’s Special: Art
Online Activity: View the video from Mrs. M about today’s activity. 
Offline Activity: Create and draw your very own superhero! What superpower does your superhero have? What is the name of your superhero? Where does your superhero live? 
12:00-1:00 p.m.Lunch/Recess
Movement: Watch the video for movement activities
Lunch Bunch: Have lunch with friends and the After School Director via Zoom (optional)
1:00-1:30 p.m.Closing Meeting via Zoom 
Be Prepared to Share: Book summaries 
AnytimeMusic and Innovation (optional)

Option #1: Participate in a sing-a-long 
Option #2: Complete the Innovation “Math Ball Ramp” Challenge

* Take one side off a cardboard box. 
* Place it inside the other end of a box at an angle. 
* Roll balls up your ramp and try to score! 

How many balls does it take you to get to 500? What happens if you roll larger or smaller balls? Soft or hard balls? 


Individual Learning and Differentiation Remain a Priority

To truly value the individual learner, no two students have the same schedule, even those in the same grade. Each child’s schedule and subsequent learning is differentiated in each core subject. That means a student who needs to practice her math facts will receive a different level of work than one who is ready to practice multiplication. Differentiated instruction is one methodology we didn’t need to reinvent. A one size fits all packet of work is not the Ripp way and will never be, no matter where the classroom. 

Scaling Online 

First, we needed to make sure everyone had a device to ensure each student had equal access to the learning. We also wanted to be mindful of each family’s different technology constraints and the reality that not every child can be on a computer at once in any given household. We provided computers and i-pads to families. 

Secondly, we needed to ensure our faculty and staff were well trained on the tools we planned to use to deliver the learning. We are being cautious and starting small. Here are a few we are experimenting with and slowing rolling out to our students.

  • Zoom: video conferencing for large and small groups  
  • Loom: user-friendly screen and video recording to create lessons 
  • G-Suite for Education: easy sharing of schedules and documents 
  • Dreambox Learning: research based math-instruction for differentiated learning
  • Lalilo: systematic sequential phonics app to develop early reading skills
  • Epic! and RazKids:  for ebooks

We’ve also discovered some new tools like Padlet that makes it easy for teachers to showcase student work on virtual bulletin boards. 

Creating Online and Offline Options

Screen time is a concern for many teachers and parents, which has only been exacerbated by the shift to remote learning. We created “online” and “offline” options for each daily subject to preserve students’ time learning, creating, innovating, making, and doing offline. In math, for example, your child can work on Dreambox for twenty minutes OR play a game with dice or playing cards that reinforce the same concept. As a school built on creativity, our Director of Innovation regularly serves up challenges that immerse students in offline activities that children can do on their own or with family members.

Try Your Best

So here we are – trying our best and learning as we go. We’re taking every course available from the Global Online Academy, NYSAIS and NAIS and absorbing tons of material from peer schools and educational experts to master remote learning. We have upped our security measures on the internet and provided families with guidance from experts in this arena including Common Sense Media. Best of all, we have an incredibly supportive community who’s kindness and compassion powers us through as we navigate this tumultuous time. We are incredibly proud of our students who have adapted quite readily to their new normal. 

There is still so much to learn, but we are confident in our methods and our abilities as experts in child development and pedagogy. I have never been more impressed with our faculty. They have cast aside their anxieties and are approaching this challenge with unimaginable gusto. Like our students, they are learning to work together in a new way, taking risks, and leaning into the core aspects that make our program so robust and effective. We were thrust into uncharted territory, but we have ensured for over one hundred years, and we will continue to lean on the skills we’ve learned as a community to innovate our way through one hundred more. 

Attend a Virtual Parent Pop-In

If you would like a closer look at remote learning at Rippowam Cisqua School, feel free to attend a Virtual Parent Pop-In. During this session, we walk through a day in the life of a RippKid from morning arrival to afternoon dismissal in both traditional and remote settings. RSVP today!

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