The Next Level in Distance Learning

Week by week, Distance Learning at ACS is evolving. Following feedback from our community, our own experience, the best pedagogical practices around the world, and advice by the local authorities, ACS has pivoted towards a blend of asynchronous and synchronous distance learning approach. After ten days of studying at home, the Dean’s office sent an all-student survey to receive feedback and improve the system. Students were asked how they were coping with their workload, if they had reliable internet connection and general questions about their distance learning experience. 

Many students reported too much time in front of the computer, so teachers responded in structuring creative offline activities. Dr. Krasimira Chakarova, Chair of the ACS Science Department, offered a home physics lab to students, the Liberal and Fine Arts Department started several offline projects, and the Sports Department continues with their student-designed individual fitness programs. Due dates for assignments and homework are not allowed during weekends so students have time away from computers to switch to relaxation and offline activities. 

Staying Active, Staying Fit

The ACS Sports Department works with students and assigns them to design personal fitness programs for the week, according to certain criteria, including suitability with execution at home. As per their sports “class”, the 8th graders need to be active at least 3 times per week for 20 minutes, while the upper class students have to step it up a notch with 30 minutes. This is a great way to stay away from the monitor, while still doing school work and students seem to enjoy it. As the Department’s Chairperson Stefka Papazova said, “The Personal Fitness Programs we have received so far from the students are of great variety, with the students’ understanding and commitment to staying active quite obvious.” 

The Scientific Method Applied in the… Science Department

The whole school, and the Faculty of the ACS Science Department in particular, is applying the, well, Scientific Method, to help answer the question: “How do we make Distance Learning better for our students and teachers?” Quickly building hypotheses, with their profound experience serving as research, testing, observing, collecting and analysing student and teacher feedback as data while teaching online, the Science teachers at ACS have outdone themselves. According to Dr. Krasimira Chakarova, “both students and teachers taking huge responsibility for their work. In a live classroom, you can have time for a joke, a live demonstration and discussion. Now I plan even more carefully for each word on a slide or for each handout, video, simulation and samples of correct answers/problems I post. They have to be meaningful, meet my learning goals and at the same time simple, clear and interesting.” 

See You All, Online

For some classes, simultaneous online video sessions are indeed the best approach for acquiring knowledge. The English as a Second Language Department is holding “live” sessions online with students that help them practice and improve their speaking skills. During these meetings student participation is highly valued and the classes exercise their grammar and vocabulary together, often in fun ways, in e.g. Quizlet Live. It is possible to hold a sensible and valuable literary discussion, talk about the pros and cons of Distance Learning openly and choose to shift your focus: sharing positive news (globally) in a world of chaos - e.g. less air pollution, ozone layer on the mend, communities getting closer, celebrity donations, etc. all in a moderated live video online meeting. 

Mostly optional, except for language courses, video conferences on Google Meet seem to be a great way for students to reconnect with their instructor and one another. As History Teacher Sandy Young puts it, “the kids are happy to see each other in their section. I think it provides some normalcy.” Teachers are advised to count these virtual meetings towards class time, not the students’ personal time, in order to help them manage their workload with greater efficacy.

Putting the “Extra” in Curriculars 

Extracurricular student activities and group projects for elective classes have also found their way into the online world. Two recent examples are the Online Intramural Chess Tournaments and the latest edition of Phoenix News, ACS's own TV newscast.

Before the closing of schools, chess was quite the popular pastime on campus. And we don't mean just the regular Dean-on-Assistant-Dean sessions in the cafeteria at lunchtime. Chess corners were established in the foyer of Ostrander and the hallways, and one could often see students sparring over the board. It took those enthusiasts just a week of sitting at home to figure out a way around the novel situation. Twenty ACSers took to the virtual chessboard in the first Online Intramural Chess Tournament, held on March 21 from 7 pm to 8 pm.

And Phoenix News members Alexandra Ladjeva, Margarita Koleva, Hary Dikov and Petar Angelov - on their own initiative, working from home in Sofia, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora - produced a TV newscast. Produced under restrictions, this edition features the latest from ACS and an in-depth interview about our own European Court of Human Rights Mock Trial which took place earlier in March.

At the End of the Day

By way of conclusion, here is what a 9th grader shared: “I really like the videos which you upload with the lessons. They are really helpful in learning the new material. So far, I am really happy with the distance learning in Physics because I do understand everything posted, and I learn a lot by the homework which helps me remember and practice the material taught. What is more, I would like to suggest giving us handouts for lessons like the one for ideal gasses more often because I learned from them much easier than from the textbook. In addition, I would like to say that there is nothing better than a live lesson in the classroom at school, and I am looking forward to coming back to school.”