Mariah Morris, North Carolina's 2019 Teacher of the Year, has developed online teaching materials that she's sharing with others to help students learn during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of the Moore County Schools

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In the week since North Carolina public schools closed due to the coronavirus threat, North Carolina’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, Mariah Morris, has been working with other top educators from across the state to make sure children are still receiving instruction.

To reach children who are now sheltered at home, Morris created “Teaching on Your Time” and asked educators to send videos of themselves doing 30-minute lessons that can be uploaded to YouTube.

She partnered with the 2019 and 2020 regional Teachers of the Year to help her promote and launch the project, which she hopes to grow in the coming weeks.

Each day, Morris uploads two videos — one at 9 a.m. geared toward K-5 students and another at 9:30 a.m. for sixth- to 12th-graders. She has already booked videos for the next two weeks, thanks to teachers willing to share their favorite lessons on camera.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, even offered to help and shared a video of herself teaching students about how a bill becomes a law.

“As soon as we even thought there might be school closures, teachers from across the state just wanted to know how to help,” Morris said.

“I have found that in times of stress like this, sometimes having a place to funnel your energy can be really productive, and really beautiful things can come from that.”

Morris uploaded the first video in the series on March 16. In it, she teaches students about states of matter, including liquids, solids and gases.

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Sitting at a table in her home, she uses her hands to mix a gooey concoction of cornstarch and water to create “ooblek,” a kind of cornstarch quicksand to show students how it changes shape.

The slimy mixture feels like a solid when squeezed but flows like a gooey liquid when released.

“This is strange — what is this?” Morris asks, letting the messy mixture run through her fingers. “Well, this is not a solid, it’s not a liquid, and it’s definitely not a gas. It’s called a suspension. … A suspension is a kind of mixture where you have two states of matter mixed together and they don’t take on the properties of either type of matter.”

This is the type of hands-on learning experiment Morris previously shared with her second graders at West Pine Elementary School in Moore County.

Now, with her YouTube channel, students across the state can see the award-winning teacher and other educators at work.

The goal, Morris says, is to let students “see a warm, calm, happy teacher leading a lesson and just have that feeling of being drawn back into the classroom for a 30-minute stretch and hopefully learn something along the way.”

“These videos are designed to teach students, but we recognize that they’re not going to be able to master a standard course of study through these videos,” Morris said.

The lessons are meant to be a hodgepodge of topics, including a fun day in literacy, music and rhythm, and creative thinking. Teachers who want to participate can reach Morris on Facebook or Twitter.

“What I told teachers is to pick something that you’re excited about because this is optional, so you want students to sit with you through the whole duration of the video and want to come back the next day,” Morris said. “So if it’s not interesting to you, it’s not going to make for an interesting video.”

Advice from a teacher for educating children at home

Parents who are teaching their children at home during the coronavirus threat can use the videos to supplement any other instruction suggested by their children’s teachers. But if they need more ideas, Morris has four suggestions:

  1. Keep learning fun. Students are going to want to shut down at your house if they feel as if it is just something laborious that they’re not connecting with.
  2. Connect learning to the real world. Learn science by going for hikes or getting outside and see if you can plant a garden. Find ways for students to be active in their learning.
  3. Encourage your children to read. Reading is such a powerful tool. If your children can read and read well, they’re going to be able to get caught up and master any content that they missed.
  4. Have a backup plan if your child doesn’t like to read. Read to them and help them follow up with the plot lines. Then you can say, “OK, well, will you read this paragraph, even if it’s not a whole page, and then I’ll read the rest of the chapter.” And then you scaffold it up so you’re helping your child develop that literacy piece that is going to be the foundation for any content that they miss.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe

Kelly Hinchcliffe is a Carolina Public Press contributing writer based in Orange County. Email info@carolinapublicpress.org to contact the Carolina Public Press news team.

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