Our Classes in Quarantine

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Issue 15, Volume 110

By The Editorial Board 

As we approach our ninth (or is it our 10th? 11th?) week in quarantine, teachers and students alike have adjusted to the new teaching styles and practices of remote learning. Even with the faculty having to move online classes from Zoom to Google Meet and back, most have been able to successfully navigate these uncertain waters and continue teaching their classes. But with teachers adapting different styles and methods of instruction, students have had varying degrees of success with different subjects and teaching styles.


Among language classes, the least effective teaching methods seem to be the least interactive ones; assigning hour-long assignments on VHL without any in-person conversations makes it difficult for students to keep up their oral skills. On the flip side, classes that emphasize student-student or student-teacher interactions at least a few times a week, whether live or through comment chains, have fared much better. These teaching styles have allowed students to practice formulating their own thoughts in another language, helping them retain vocabulary and overall language skills.


English classes, Stuyvesant’s most discussion-based classes, have made diverse efforts to continue learning in the absence of classrooms. Some teachers have held video lessons over Google Meet and Zoom, which have the benefit of simulating live discussion. Other English teachers have taken the more participation-demanding, if not quite as dynamic, approach of hosting discussions in writing over Google Classroom or discussion documents. Major assignments and essays, insofar as they have been assigned in the midst of Advanced Placement (AP) season, have been as they should be: due over long periods. While the various methods of continuing to teach English have been fairly successful and effective, neither makes for a suitable replacement for the classroom learning experience, a testament more to the value of English teachers’ non-pandemic work in guiding class discussion and running an in-person classroom than any failure on the department’s part.


With online learning, history classes have largely lost their discussion-based nature. As these classes prioritize teaching content over engaging in historical conversation, classes have taken the form of lectures, videos, or even textbook readings. Though not ideal, videos have created a somewhat effective replacement for the usual dynamic discussions found in classrooms. Textbook readings, on the other hand, have failed to do so. Despite the general lack of live discussion, teachers have still been assigning meaningful and analytical work, such as essays or research papers, which in turn have helped prepare students for AP exams.


Math classes have, for the most part, been successful. Classes that make use of live lessons to permit discussion in real-time have allowed students to gain a deeper understanding of the material. Furthermore, independently completing problem sets for math classes has been effective in reinforcing material learned in live instructional sessions. But even among math classes, there have been numerous problems: extreme methods to prevent cheating, such as requiring students to focus their cameras on their hands during quizzes; non-interactive video sessions; a reliance on YouTube videos and textbook pages; and a lack of the enforcement of student accountability have made teaching less effective than it could be.


Physics lab has been most frustrating for juniors. Despite the fact that this year’s Regents have been canceled, students are required to answer over 100 Regents questions from the physics workbook every two weeks. Not only has this added an unnecessary burden to students’ workloads, but many have also already answered these questions from last semester in their lab books, which remain at Stuyvesant. The intense workload does not reflect the pass-fail nature of physics lab.


Overall, chemistry teachers have been handling online learning well, with manageable workloads and effective teaching through videos. There are, however, some discrepancies within the department. While it is reasonable that most teachers are holding far fewer live classes than they were before the quarantine, this becomes a problem when some teachers carry on with the curriculum at the typical rate. In certain classes, this rapid learning pace has led to a sharp increase in completely unchecked academic dishonesty in many classes because students feel unprepared to take tests and are forced to resort to academically dishonest means. In other classes, though live streams are held, they are not interactive and often boring, causing students to not attend.

Some sophomores in AP Chemistry are feeling nervous about impending AP exams: rapid review has not been an effective method at preparing students for them. Other AP students who had learned most of the revised curriculum prior to the quarantine, however, are content with their preparation for the test.

Current standards for online learning expect a full school day from students, sitting eight hours a day in front of a screen and dedicating 41 minutes per class. While teachers may be giving the same workloads as if we were still learning in classrooms, these assignments take a greater toll on students during online instruction given its lack of structure. In order for us to achieve the right balance of instruction, the Stuyvesant community must understand the realities and limitations of remote learning.