Practical Strategies for Reopening Schools in Ontario
The issue of schools reopening in Ontario still hangs in the air. Most of us want to see a return to normalcy. However, most people also want to make sure that their kids can go back to school in a safe manner. Ultimately, it is important to be realistic about how that will be possible.
Current guidelines for schools to reopen include steps to keep teachers and students safe. These measures include spacing desks six feet apart, regular hand washing, and the use of face coverings. Furthermore, they also suggest keeping communal areas closed off and installing physical barriers where needed.
The issue of schools reopening is a lot more practical than people think. Many issues centre around keeping shared items clean, having the time to properly sanitize materials, and keeping kids engaged when they can’t work in large groups. Teachers also face the challenge of providing students with engaging learning opportunities at home. Some of the most popular questions floating around teaching groups and communities are:
- How can I keep shared materials clean between classes?
- What independent challenges can I offer my students?
- Where can I find good resources to use in the classroom and for students to do at home?
How can I keep shared materials clean between classes?
There are a few ways teachers can do this, depending on how much time they have between classes.
For subjects like math, social studies, or any subject where a textbook and pencil are required, a sanitizing wipe will usually do the trick. If you aren’t able to access these, or your school doesn’t allow them, then an alcohol-based cleaner with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol will do the trick.
For computers and electronic devices, begin by wiping the surface with a damp, soft, lint-free cloth (such as a microfibre cloth) to wipe away dirt and dust. Use a toothpick to gently get into the cracks to remove larger bits of food, dust, or dirt. Then, follow up with an alcohol-based cleaner. Some people have suggested that leaving objects for 72 hours will kill the virus, so if you have the time and/or limited supplies, this could be an option.
Using a Mobile Cart
Carts can be helpful in the classroom as a way to manage the storage and organization of materials.
To avoid students running for the cart at the same time and touching everything in sight, consider posting a schedule on the cart and reviewing the day(s)/time(s) certain classes get to use the cart. Reinforce these rules regularly. Putting a copy of the schedule somewhere prominent in the classroom will help reinforce the message too.
The way you clean the items in the cart depends on the type of items you have. In some instances, it would be easier to simply fill up the buckets with a sanitizing solution, or a 1:10 bleach:water solution and let the items soak; if you’re short on time, a sanitizing spray would do the trick.
Be sure to wipe down the frame of the cart as well as any spots with high traffic. If your school allows it, certain students could be responsible for wiping down the cart after each use to help you out with this.
If you’re worried about students not having access to the materials they want, consider a rotation schedule. For example:
Individual Project Kits
Objects such as popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and other soft, craft-like materials could be divided up and put into plastic bags with student names written on them, and only available for a particular student to use during STEAM time. You might choose to fill up the bag with disposable items, such as paper plates, popsicle sticks, cotton balls, etc. and instruct students to dispose of their objects once the period is over. Just be sure to separate and recycle where you can.
Some companies offer individual project kits, such as Michael’s Activity Kits and Construction Kits. To clean these, have students dump the pieces they used into a large plastic tub. Fill the tub with a 1:10 bleach:water solution overnight and let the items dry naturally in the morning.
Alternate Cleaning Solutions
Alternatively, (and if it is practical and safe to do so) teachers can place the items in a delicates laundry bag and put them in the dishwasher to clean them. (This might be an easier solution for parents as they would likely have better access to a dishwasher and not have to lug the items between buildings to do this.)
For quick cleans, some people have suggested using a U.V wand (the article here discusses the pros and cons of using U.V light to kill bacteria), or simply spraying the toys with a sanitizing spray and letting the items air-dry. Students can help with this by bringing their objects to the sink and placing them in the sanitizer solution before washing their hands and leaving.
What independent challenges can I offer my students? Where can I find good resources to use in the classroom and for students to do at home?
There are plenty of activities for students to do individually, both at home and at school. Pinterest is a good place to start looking for ideas, as well as a quick Google search.
However, these searches can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Here is a list we’ve compiled of the most straight-forward, simple projects that can be done at home, outside, and at school:
- Individual STEAM challenges: https://fluxspace.io/fluxosc/
- PBS Kids Design Squad challenges:
- DiscoverE: http://discovere.org/our-activities
- Technovation: https://www.curiositymachine.org/challenges/
- Outdoor Biodiversity Tasks: https://www.nature.scot/scotlands-biodiversity/biodiversity-what-can-you-do/citizen-science-biodiversity
- Forestry and Land Resource: https://forestryandland.gov.scot/images/conservation/Into-the-Wildwoods.pdf
(*This one is very text heavy, but offers plenty of deep learning opportunities blending history, ecology, and preservation)
If your school is doing any form of split-learning, whereby some students are at school and some are at home, there are a few great ways for them to work collaboratively on group projects. Websites like Padlet, Seesaw, and Google classroom are just a few of them. Read about some others below:
Hopefully we’ve given you some food for thought as provinces and states look for ways to safely open schools for the autumn term. Some key takeaways:
- It is important to be realistic about how opening schools safely will be possible and workable for families
- Staying organized and meticulous about enforcing physical distancing measures are more important than ever going into the academic year
- Considerations need to be made for keeping shared items clean, building in time to properly sanitize materials, and ensuring students use only the items they are allowed to use in a certain period
- More time needs to be given to teachers to plan out engaging and relevant in-class and at-home learning opportunities to keep students on track.
- Support should be provided for teachers to locate and plan reliable and safe resources for classroom and at-home use
- Considerations need to be made for students who will face mental health struggles during the transition from home to school, and the disruptions in schedules that will result