When Beth Gotcher began teaching 14 years ago, the classroom still had a chalkboard, but she rarely used it.

The school had a computer lab, and her room included a few desktop models.

Not long after that, schools began adding Promeathean boards — interactive screens. Gotcher was an early adopter of iPads in her elementary classroom, before Maryville City Schools launched its iReach program and provided a device for every student.

About a decade ago she began using IXL, an online learning platform, with her fourth graders and continued using it when she moved to teaching kindergarten eight years ago.

So for Gotcher, starting this school year with 26 kindergarteners as digital learners because of COVID-19 gave her an opportunity to apply many types of technology she already had in her toolkit.

“I am fully digital this year,” she said.

She is quick to note the contributions of “amazing students” and “amazing parents” in making it work.

The students, parents and teacher all are learning this year, modeling lifelong learning for the youngsters. Gotcher created Loom video messages to show families how to use each of the apps for her classroom.

One day a week the students come to the school individually or in small groups.

Elite 100

IXL recently included Gotcher on its seventh annual Elite 100 list, selected from among 700,000 teachers worldwide who use the program. The recognition is based on usage during the 2019-20 academic year, when many educators had to quickly convert to online teaching as school buildings shut down because of the pandemic.

“Educators taught us lessons about resilience and dedication that we’ll never forget. They inspired us as they continued to serve their students despite unimaginable disruptions,” Paul Mishkin, CEO of IXL Learning, said in a news release. “This year’s Elite 100 award winners are brilliant examples of how tenacious teachers utilize IXL to personalize learning, provide innovative instruction and nurture the innate talents of students no matter the circumstance.”

Gotcher starts her students with an online group meeting at 8 a.m. “We Zoom for a little while and then they have something they do individually,” she said.

The teacher meets online with small groups to work on specific skills and also uses the Nearpod platform to create interactive lessons.

IXL allows teachers to assign work based on state standards. “It allows me to see how each individual student is performing on each individual standard,” Gotcher explained.

With the kindergarteners, another important feature is that it will read the problem to them. However, IXL offers lessons up to the 12th grade level.

As students solve problems or answer questions on their screens, Gotcher sees real-time results, which means she can quickly intervene. For example, she might arrange a brief Zoom session to help a student who is struggling or work through a problem with them.

Today’s kindergarten students learn to decode three-letter words, read simple sentences and write a complete thought, even if the spelling is imperfect. They count to 100 by ones, fives and 10s, and add and subtract numbers less than 10.

For students who are more advanced, IXL allows Gotcher to give them assignments based on the same skill but at a first grade level.

Active learning

Gotcher uses kinesthetic learning strategies in her lessons, with touch and movement, and includes activities to help the little learners move and be engaged.

For example, she’ll tell the students to stand up when they have the answer to a math problem.

Her students also uses small whiteboards and markers to work, so they can hold their answers up to the screen for her to see. “I want to be able to see how all their little brains are working,” she said.

Gotcher said she has to brag on her students and their families. “I’m still seeing amazing growth digitally, as I do in the traditional classroom.”

Education Reporter

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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