Education Tech Specialists Connect Teachers to Online Learning Resources

A school group at the Tsongas Industrial History Center Image by K. Webster
The Tsongas Industrial History Center normally hosts more than 40,000 students a year. Now it's beefing up its website and online educational resources.

By Katharine Webster

As public schools across the country began closing to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19, Clinical Prof. of Education Michelle Scribner-MacLean watched as teachers, education companies and nonprofits posted educational resources online.

She started thinking about how to quickly gather all of those resources, from information about the New England Aquarium’s daily animal demonstrations to livestreamed story readings by authors and illustrators, in one place for K-12 teachers.

With help from two friends who are education technology specialists – Kara Wilkins in the Lowell Public Schools, who is also a teacher ambassador for PBS, and Kathleen Pantaleo of the William Floyd School District in New York – Scribner-MacLean created a Facebook group: K-12 Resources for Teaching Online.

On Monday, March 16, they began posting resources and tagging them by category. They invited the teachers and principals they knew to join the page – and it took off. Within 72 hours, the group had 1,700 members, and hundreds more are joining every day.

“This could honestly be my full-time job now,” Scribner-MacLean says. “There’s just a ton of stuff out there. I wanted to put it all in one place so that teachers could find it. Parents are joining, too.”

Screenshot of Facebook page K-12 Resources for Teaching Online Image by K. Webster
Clinical Prof. of Education Michelle Scribner-MacLean started a Facebook page, K-12 Resources for Teaching Online.

At the Tsongas Industrial History Center, an educational partnership between Lowell National Historical Park and the College of Education, staff are working together – remotely – to create and share online resources on Facebook and Twitter (@TsongasIHC), since they can no longer offer live educational programs to school groups.

The center normally hosts more than 40,000 students in grades 3 through 12 annually for hands-on educational experiences. Now, instead of welcoming busloads of students, the center staff are starting to post online lessons, historic photos with background information, and short videos made by rangers at the national park and by digital media students at the university, says Ellen Anstey, the center’s manager for administration and engagement.

The center also offers a few interactive resources, including “Bringing History Home,” a choose-your-own-adventure story about a fictional mill girl, “Eliza Paige.” Students can read historical letters from Eliza’s friends and relatives to help them decide what Eliza should do, or explore more background documents and other historical resources. The center is also sharing those resources on Scribner-MacLean’s Facebook group.

Sheila Kirschbaum, director of the center, sees her own family struggling since her granddaughter’s school closed. And her sister, a teacher, is working hard to keep her students on track using online tools.

“I see the need for these resources,” she says. “I have a close-up look, and I know what parents and teachers are trying to do during this trying time. We plan to help them.”

Working under part of a $163,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that brings teachers from around the country for one-week workshops to learn hands-on teaching methods this summer, the center is also beefing up its website.

This year’s workshops are focusing on Lowell and related landscapes in the 19th century. The center and park educational staff will be working with the UMass Lowell history and English professors who are lead presenters for the workshops.

Their presentations will be enriched by new digital collections of materials about the connection between cotton plantation slavery in the South and Lowell’s cotton textile mills, as well as about the lives of Native American people in the Merrimack Valley before white settlers arrived, Kirschbaum says. In a tour of Lowell’s “Acre,” educators will also learn about the landscape of 19th-century immigrant communities and related public health issues.

“People in Lowell during that period gained a heightened awareness of how labor and landscape intersect,” Kirschbaum says. “We weren’t only a leader in industrialization in Lowell and the world, but we learned some hard lessons about public health and pollution, and that in turn requires us to look at how the native peoples lived and viewed the land before white settlers came.”

Leslie Marrero, a junior education major at UMass Lowell Image by K. Webster
Junior education major Leslie Marrero misses her student teaching, but says professors are always available to talk.

As faculty and staff in the College of Education are supporting teachers and schools in Massachusetts and beyond, they are also transitioning their own students to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester.

For their undergraduate education students, education faculty members will take turns holding open virtual office hours every day for undergraduates – and will relay concerns to the other faculty.

“For first-year students especially, we want to be there and answer their questions. First and foremost, we want to show them that we’re supportive and we’re going to be flexible,” Scribner-MacLean says. “First you’re transitioning from high school to college, and then you’re asked to pack up and move out of your residence hall and, by the way, take all of your classes online. It’s traumatic.”

Junior education major Leslie Marrero really misses her student teaching, but she says the transition to online learning has gone smoothly so far. She’s taking Scribner-MacLean’s class in elementary math teaching methods, and she says Scribner-MacLean has gone out of her way to relieve the students’ stress as they adapt to online classes.

“The professors have always had an open-door policy, and now they have a ‘Call me whenever’ policy,” Marrero says.