Schools have embraced the challenge.
At Scarborough’s John A Leslie Public School, teachers not only made a “Quarantine Dance Party” video of themselves from their homes, but had the nerve to ask students to vote on which of them was best. Some 230 students weighed in; nearly half the student body. Teachers also made a comedy video and asked students to vote on who told the best joke. The winning entry? “What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you? Nacho Cheese!”
“It’s really exciting to do whatever we can to make real connections with students and support their mental health and well-being, even before the academic piece,” says librarian David Hoang, who helped teachers produce the videos and online voting. When they surveyed students about what else they’d like to see teachers do, many said: Sing.
“So we’re currently thinking of doing a Masked Singer contest for staff,” says Hoang, based on the hit TV show where celebrities disguise their identity and players must guess who they are by their singing. Teachers could use costumes, he says, or a well-placed emoji.
“We’re making these videos to boost morale,” says Hoang. “It all feels lighthearted.”
Grade 6 Teacher Glen Barbeau gave his class at Samuel Hearne Middle School a sweet incentive to finish a math challenge. To any student who correctly calculated the surface area and volume of a Toblerone chocolate bar that Barbeau held up on-screen to show the dimensions, he would hand-deliver a Toblerone bar to their front porch or apartment lobby in this neighborhood near Danforth and Pharmacy. Not many of the kids believed him, he figures, because only three did it at first.
“But when I announced the winners to the class and said I’d be dropping off their chocolate bars, there was a little flurry of comments because the other kids suddenly realized, ‘Oh, if I do this, I get to see Mr. Barbeau! Something new is happening!’”
The chocolate delivery offers a rare tangible link to what they learn in a virtual classroom, he says. It also provides a nice excuse for teacher and student to see each other face-to-face. “I look forward to seeing them too, even just knocking on their door and taking a two-meter step back and waving at them. ”
Now Barbeau is letting other students try the math challenge. If more of them get it right, he’ll be shopping for more chocolate bars.
Humewood Public School figured out a way to have students get out and reconnect with their physical school by having them make “family flags” for the schoolyard fence. It was a way to remind them – and the neighborhood – there’s still a real live community connected to that empty building.
“We’ve been working on ideas to try to connect with our students and families in a real way as opposed to just a virtual way, so we suggested families create a little family flag, and then hang them along the school fence last Tuesday and Wednesday, and we’d come and photograph them on the Thursday,” says Principal Julie Whitfield.
There were dozens; some simple handprints by younger students, and others elaborate family crests designed by a whole family. Some were on paper, others on cardboard and even wood. Whitfield shot a three-minute video of them along the fence, with staff members waving from behind.
“We had done a Social Distancing School Spirit Day a few weeks before, where staff drove by students’ homes in a parade of cars and bikes,” says Whitfied. “Seeing families waving from their porches and balconies, some wearing their Humewood gear and lots of them holding up signs saying We Miss You, was really special. It was the first time we had really seen each other since self-isolation and it was so beautiful, we thought, let’s do something else.”
One of the Humewood teachers is a dancer who created a 15-second TikTok dance challenge for students to practice at home for a week, then try it Friday online with the whole school.
“At first we thought, maybe we can connect it with the math curriculum and do some data management (related to the dance),” says Whitfield. “And then we thought, You know what? No. This is really about connecting with community. We understand a lot of kids are isolated right now, so we do want to focus on that community connection.”
It’s not just elementary schools that are having fun with students outside the curriculum. Staff at Westview Centennial Secondary School made their own version of a viral video called The Don’t Rush Challenge, in which a series of people record themselves in casual clothes, then cover the screen with an item like a make-up brush, and instantly re-appear dressed up. As each persontransforms, they appear to throw their make-up brush (or other item) off-screen, and it appears to be caught by the next person, who is in casual clothes until they transform, and so on. Since the British video went viral in April, thousands of groups around the world have made their own version, from doctors to soldiers to models.
In this one, Westview staff members are shown at home, many in sweat pants, one in a kimono and some in masks and gloves, before they transform and begin online teaching at their laptops. Even Principal Monday Gala gets into the act. He’s seen hauling huge supplies of toilet paper into his house before reappearing in a suit at his office desk. In another scene, a school hall safety monitor warns viewers, “Get to online class!” He throws a roll of toilet paper at the screen.
b“The twist is, instead of trying to look glamorous, we show the contrast of teachers at home coping with Covid realities like wearing masks and hauling groceries, and then transforming to our best selves as teachers, attempting to teach students remotely,” says Kulsoom Anwer, Westview’s assistant curriculum leader for English and literacy.