How Ánimo Legacy Math Teachers Maintain Rigor, Engagement in Virtual Classrooms

Zoom. Nearpod. Desmos. These are some of the online tools our educators integrate into their instructional practices to mitigate learning loss and maintain academic rigor in our virtual classroom environments.

Through collaborative planning, educators at Ánimo Legacy Charter Middle School have found success in boosting student engagement, driving motivation, and building meaningful connections—with the help of online tools.

Transitioning to Distance Learning

Charell Milton, a math teacher at Ánimo Legacy, who has served as an educator for over 11 years, recalls how swiftly her classroom experience changed as schools across the country transitioned to distance learning. “What shifted more is the way we engage with students,” Milton said. In the classroom, teachers have the opportunity to get to know students through interactions during class time, lunch breaks, and after school activities. She said these moments were critical to building trust with students. “Our students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

Now Milton is finding new ways to engage and connect with students through distance learning. At Green Dot, our curriculum specialists support all of our teachers with lesson planning and classroom strategies. In distance learning, our specialists have shared a series of online tools that can make virtual learning effective and help rekindle classroom engagement. “Our math specialists have offered workshops, and they also help us build out classroom units, which have been very helpful with transitioning to distance learning,” Milton said. 

Milton shared that her department has frequent meetings on how to use innovative applications to build better virtual learning environments. Zoom, a popular meeting platform used across school districts, is filled with functions to promote productive virtual classrooms. For example, students can work on concept building within small groups using the platform’s Breakout Room function. And students can share questions and responses in real time through screen-sharing. These practices have been vital to helping shake up the virtual classroom experience and foster interactivity and engagement.

However, one of the biggest challenges teachers faced this year was demonstrating student mastery. But there’s an app for that, too.

Nearpod

“I'm a big fan of Nearpod,” Milton said. “On Nearpod, I can throw in a quiz; I can have our students respond; I can watch them draw or write out the math problem on the screen. And Nearpod shows you everybody's name at once, so I know who is responding and who has started the work.” Milton said.

Nearpod is a student engagement platform that has streamlined learning in her virtual classroom. Utilizing online tools like Nearpod, Milton has determined how students are collectively grasping procedural content in real-time.

Ashley Colburn, the assistant principal at Ánimo Legacy, has coordinated with both math teachers and curriculum specialists to build better learning environments for students. She is proud of the way teachers have harnessed the power of new technology to improve student learning outcomes. “It's been hard for our students because they went from doing everything on paper to doing everything online,” Colburn said. “But they've been super resilient. Participation has increased and they're grasping the concepts. They’re seeking out help a lot more on the platforms, too.”

The Future of Classrooms

The shift from paper and pencil to mouse and keyboard has been a long awaited transition for Susana Amezcua, a long standing math teacher at Ánimo Legacy. “I never would have thought that I could manage a lesson using technology the way that I’m using it now,” Amezcua said. “Now, it’s hard to think about how we can go back to a book and pencil.”

For Amezcua, the rapid shift to distance learning serves as a moment for teachers, students, and learning communities to reflect on how we can better leverage technology in the classroom to enrich our students' learning experiences. “We need to know how to navigate the digital world. And through this technology, we have unlimited possibilities.”

Green Dot Public Schools has made a commitment to narrow the digital divide in the communities we serve. Now all 13,000+ students across our network of schools in Los Angeles and Memphis have one-to-one Chromebooks and wireless hotspots.

With this new level of technological access, Amezcua has taken advantage of Desmos, an online learning tool similar to Nearpod. “I can use Desmos to input a graph; I can code an equation and an answer; I can input a piece of paper digitally and they're able to write in further steps; And I can check questions and launch a poll,” she said. Amezcua also uses the digital tool to respond to questions, and check student responses in real time.

Although robust tools like Desmos have been invaluable assets in the classroom, it takes more than software to be an effective teacher. Our classrooms are led by passionate and well trained educators who are skilled in creating and sustaining learning environments that reflect students’ needs and abilities. “After students respond, I check in with them individually. I ask them how they’re feeling. I always give them an opportunity to do the math on their own first, and then we work through the problems together,” Amezcua said. Throughout distance learning, our educators have received professional development, coaching, and targeted support to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge, tools, and skills necessary to help all students succeed.

Amezcua and Milton often have friendly debates over which tool is better for students. For Colburn, “That's a really hard question,” she said. “Our students have really grasped concepts and worked out problems through both Nearpod and Desmos. But I’m a huge proponent of student choice.”

Motivation Is School Spirit

As our schools continue to manage virtual learning, Amezcua, Colburn, and Milton are proud of the tenacity of their students. “Our students are amazingly motivated,” Amezcua said. “And they feel motivated because they know we’re in an environment where they can ask questions and make mistakes, and they’ll be okay.” Colburn said she remains confident in our teachers, curriculum specialists, and learning communities to prepare our students. “We're able to keep rigor online through Desmos, Nearpod, and in class discussions. Our students are stepping it up to get the work done.” 

At Green Dot Public Schools, we prioritize safety, academic rigor, and innovation in our classrooms. Even through the transition to distance learning, we have equipped our educators with the tools necessary to maintain rigor and build pathways to academic success for all students. Now more than ever, we remain committed to our mission to prepare all students for success in college, leadership, and life. And through continued collaboration, our educators will continue to create innovative learning to best serve all students.