Traditional School Pivot Due to COVID-19

by Dr. Bryan P. Sanders

The students are present, but where’s the school? Housing. Food. Clothing. Medicine. Computer. Internet. Education. It’s roughly in that order. Education can only really happen when everything else is in place.

School closures reveal the fragility of so many children in need every day. With the likelihood that most, if not all, children will be home for the unforeseeable future, some corporations and public resources are already helping to provide access to the basics. I hope that we reach every child in need.

So, let’s presuppose we can get students online in a warm, comfortable room with three square meals. We still have a major problem. Teachers’ carefully planned lessons were upended on short notice to switch to remote online learning.

We have a lingering assumption that the Internet is best used as a place to go and find resources for teaching and learning. But then what? Will students read an article or watch a video and then answer some questions? Will their answers be submitted, assessed, and turned into a grade in the gradebook? I anticipate we will see a lot of that as educators do their best to piece together their classroom lessons as packets to complete and implement curriculum guides.

What could we do instead? What should we do instead?

If we will encourage, allow, and support our students and teachers to find their rhythm and harmony amidst this most dissonant of times, we may rediscover what we already know about the importance of student interest (Dewey, 1913) and student behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, and Paris, 2004). The well-respected and prolific educators who write erudite curriculum guides have never met my son, so they cannot possibly know when his mind is most receptive to the ideas presented in the order prescribed. And too many worksheets will deaden the learning experience.

The whole system just crashed. The four walls of the classroom disappeared and teachers have been forced to drop their current practices. Without any prior experience or background in this approach, the revolution, it seems, will be televised. A remote learning environment offers educators the perfect opportunity to individualize and differentiate instruction. To follow student interest. Engage them in the process of their own education. 

Truth is, we teachers have been struggling to combat and counteract the distractions from the Internet in our classrooms for a number of years now. This is a generation raised on social media, video games, and Youtube. And now we have to meet them on their turf. We’re busy trying to keep them occupied, and they’re busy trying to keep themselves entertained. In the midst of this national crisis we have an opportunity to pivot.

What is left when schools cannot meet? Interests and passions. Class never ends.

This generation has a lot to teach us about what it means to be online and have the Internet at our disposal. Many of them are already active and alive there. When we network and connect in person in the same physical space, we feel a presence, a dynamic, a vibe, and we use our collective knowledge and brainstorming power to think, do, and create.

During COVID-19 quarantine, the Internet is our network and our connection to each other; it is how we can feel a presence with each other when we cannot be in the same physical space; it is a direct conduit to share our collective knowledge, modify it, develop it, and create new products and projects. The Internet is far more than a place to go like your local educational curriculum store stocked with workbooks and pre-prints and laminates. Its power resides in its immediacy and its continuity. We can connect our students with ideas right away and collaborate in real time. We can find brainstorms that others have published, extend them, make them our own, and develop new concepts, projects, and products. Discover, join, amend, publish. Schools can change.

The Internet allows entrance into perpetually growing libraries and storehouses of projects and information. Teachers and students can use the connectivity of the Internet to make, do, and create, rather than fill in blanks, answer scripted questions, respond to obvious prompts, or repeat exercises with slightly different information.

Schools have fantastic mission statements. Go back to those for guidance on the learning objectives we have for our students. If we want critical thinkers and problem solvers who are compassionate to others, we should question how much we “worksheet” them instead of engaging with them. This goes for teachers as well. Let’s engage the teacher as a learner, particularly with how to master the computer.

Computers in the classroom have offered potential for students and teachers to break out of their traditional practices. The earliest teaching machine created by Dr. Sidney Pressey in the 1920s had a handful of buttons and was a mechanical device designed to emphasize correctly answering questions. Over the years, the primitive teaching machine became the powerful computer of today, and we are still struggling to know what to do with them.

When we view the computer mostly as a way to more quickly deliver reading material, take a quiz, grade a quiz, and input grades for families and administrators, we overlook its versatility. When we view the computer mostly as a way to type and send out documents, we overlook its complexity. Computers are powerful brains that we can control with programming language. The thinking we can do with computers by programming them is limitless.

The teachers who do not know how to code can learn right alongside the students. Tynker, CodeAcademy,, MakeCode, the list goes on. There are many programming platforms already online for every age and stage. Programming can also happen inside of Minecraft: Education Edition for an immersive experience. Taking control of one’s computer is an important power that teachers and students all need. Programming intersects with every content area and is an essential literacy for all of our teachers and students. Teachers never have time to learn these skills. This emergency presents us with an opportunity to do just that.

We are already deciding about postponements of state testing, prom, and graduation. The CDC has already published considerations and recommendations for school closure as long as twenty weeks. There are millions of students wondering what we are going to do as we try to make school feel meaningful and safe. This is our opportunity to show them that we are just as adaptable as they are.

We have tremendous work ahead to provide daily services for children. Also reconfiguring how we “do school” will not be simple, but it is possible by rethinking how we work, what work we do, and why we do it. A collaborative and flexible approach will not only lead the way in revisioning schools to finally prepare our children for the 21st century, but can breathe new equity and access into our programs. We can reassess and change each day. Teachers have always been on the front lines. Now, more than ever, we need their intelligence, bravery, and creativity.

Dr. Bryan P. Sanders is a Doctor of Education and career classroom teacher working in Los Angeles. He can be reached here:

Minefaire Is For You

Minefaire is a celebration and an opportunity. If you don’t know what it is, Minefaire is a roaming Minecraft convention that brings together creators and educators and players of all ages. It is a remarkable event that should be on your list of things to do. 

The beauty, the wonder of Minecraft is the flexibility baked into its philosophy and game mechanics. It is the single worldwide software building tool in millions of homes that has openness at its core – there is room for endless development and expansion. 

At Minefaire, you can see diversity of thought and creation – and even better you can meet the people who make maps, games, lessons, and artwork in Minecraft. The community is kind, creative, generous, and full of positive energy. For those who have wondered if all this gaming can turn into a business – absolutely, and there are multiple entry points at Minefaire for young people to get engaged and encouraged to convert their play into other ventures.  

Learning and the relationship to knowledge changes when computers and computing are the mediators between people and ideas. This a fundamental principle driving change in schools and Minefaire is a great example of what happens when we rethink our view of the classroom. 

Minefaire Los Angeles 2019 taught us a lot: Code original programs, customize default behaviors, animate your structures, create stunning two-dimensional art, explore art museums, immerse into mathematical concepts, repurpose Minecraft as a green screen soundstage, design your own games, and get inspired to find your own path and purpose. 

With a wide variety of material demonstrated in the Learning Lab and on the Inspiration Stage at Minefaire, you can discover new ideas all day long. And with professional game designers and production studios setting up extensive gameplay booths for all day play, you can also deeply explore highly specialized multiplayer Minecraft sessions – even in virtual reality. 

The heart of Minefaire resides in education. Yes, you will have fun; you will also learn. Your excitement for what you can do will grow. And why is this so? Because Steve Isaacs, champion of all-things-gaming, is a lifelong educator and organizer of Minefaire. He teaches game design in New Jersey public schools and has garnered great respect from educators and creators alike for his insight, initiative, and innumerable contributions to Educational Technology. 

Thanks to Steve Isaacs, an incredible array of gamers, educators, and creators flock to Minefaire every year in many cities to join this celebration and opportunity. All ages, all experience levels, all career interests, we all show up to see done what we never thought of doing, and we connect with each other to form new projects. 

There is room in this convention to showcase well-known personalities alongside people who passionately want to build an audience – this tells you that Minefaire is about creating an inclusive environment. Official Microsoft Global Minecraft Mentors are there in full force alongside novice volunteers. The same philosophy of Minecraft’s open sandbox environment applies to how Minefaire organizes and includes its vendors, educators, and creators. And this extends to all the attendees. If you play Minecraft every day or if you are just starting to think about it, Minefaire is for you. 

See you at the next one!  

Radio Experiment | Create Boldly

I was open to the possibility. That made all the difference. I was a new high school English teacher in 1997 and I observed student talents and strengths not honored by the curriculum or the classroom. So we started a radio station and built it all from scratch.

Particularly during free time, it was easily observed that our diverse student body tended to self-select groups based on affinities. The nerds nerded. The rockers rocked. The rappers rapped. This side-by-side existence ended with the radio station. Radio became the thing they all had in common. The techies were thrilled to have real content and real technical and engineering challenges to conquer. We found a way to build an ecosystem.

It seemed like everyone passed through our doors. Poets, singer-songwriters, freestylers, storytellers, folk duos, journalists, beatmakers, comedians, experimentalists, turntablists — we always said yes and there was always somebody right behind signing up for something else. They wanted to make quality content that was completely within their control. They wanted to share their work and get feedback from audiences that they would find and create. Others wanted to join the recording crew. Others wanted to take photographs. The more word spread about the project, the more jobs the students invented and the more recording time slots filled.

radio studio always crowded

We started with an idea and made it a reality. We did it. We made it happen. We were scrappy. We found other people’s trash and made it our furniture and our recording equipment and our decorations. We broke everything and fixed it right back up. We took every computer and put it to use. If it was too old to handle recording software, we turned it into a slide viewer playing a continuous loop of pictures documenting our work.

We established ourselves and started writing grant proposals to local organizations and also to the school district. Teachers and administrators would walk through a small winding maze of artistically placed old computers all playing the looped slideshows and make their way to the recording booth. A neglected storage closet had become a cave of wonders. Our big moment came when we were selected by Power 106 FM Radio for our grant application. We drove to the studio to receive a $5,000 check on the air from Big Boy himself. (Photo pinned to my Twitter) The funds allowed us to upgrade so many different pieces of the studio and add new components we had only dreamed of acquiring.

As the ‘every spare moment not in class’ project grew from a corner of my English classroom to the storage closet and then to a larger portion of a new classroom computer lab that I inhabited as my regular English classroom, I also began the process of creating an official elective course that would count on students’ transcripts. With this kind of time in the school day, students would have five hours each week to work and I could dedicate myself properly to all of my other teaching duties.

This radio station grew and grew. With the independent study elective course, we were able to prepare for lunch time events and recording sessions. We could also more efficiently process, produce, and post the original student content to the Internet and the low-power FM radio signal transmitting from a PC tower. It was a passionate pursuit from all the students and they were truly better together — a diverse group of students that needed a common goal.

radio studio scratching practice

I look back and can clearly see the importance of both my willingness to be open to possibilities and my desire to help students see the power of their potential. I persisted with helping them to make an idea into a thriving community. The project started because I am interested in my students and I am always looking for ways to help put their original content on display at school. I have to be their advocate. I have to teach them to trust their creative energies.

Here is the very long sentence that I wrote many years ago. It helped us receive grant money, so it may be a good sentence. Feel free to use it for your own school radio station.

The purpose of the project is to provide musical, verbal, journalistic and creative opportunities for all students to actively participate with technology in ways that display those talents in which they excel, while sharing their unique perspectives and expressions with a global and real audience.

You can do it too! Create boldly.