HOLMEN, WIS — When schools across the country shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers were forced to adapt almost overnight. But what online teaching looks like is different from district to district and even classroom to classroom. Some teachers have put together physical or virtual packets that they hope will bridge the gap for the few weeks their districts are shut down. Others have been asked to move their entire classroom online, conducting instruction live.
Still, many are facing the same questions: Can we create a classroom community virtually? Will students respect the process and engage in the new format? Will students still think I’m cool? One Holmen teacher has been asking himself these questions daily.
Spiller Schmidt, a high school business teacher, has been teaching using daily video lessons via Google Classroom. What he learned early on was that students were not receptive to the new format, and even worse, he felt his cool-cred seriously suffering.
“I estimate I had about a 60% work completion rate,” Schmidt explained, “and of that abysmal amount, most of the work was rushed and incomplete.”
This caused Schmidt to become seriously concerned as he has always got students to do what he wanted them to do by being considered a cool teacher. Without the face-to-face time together, there were no opportunities to invest in his coolness with random acts of homework tearing up and his improvised jokes. That’s when Schmidt decided it was time to pull out his secret weapon: a NERF basketball hoop.
“The kids don’t even need to play with the hoop. They just need to see it and instantly they recognize that this teacher is awesome,” Schmidt explained. “It has a placebo effect of cool.”
When Schmidt hung the hoop prominently in the background where he films his daily lessons where students would notice, he saw immediate results.
“I mean, the kids aren’t getting any more homework done, but they are engaging more in the lessons by asking me about the NERF hoop,” Schmidt added. “So an increase in engagement is a success.”
Reporter Dr. Jonathan H. Dong contributed to this article.