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Many teachers, children and caregivers who have to depend on technology for distance learning these days are miserable.
Ben Cogswell, a kindergarten teacher in Salinas, Calif., has nailed it. And he has some advice for the rest of us.
For his remote classes, Cogswell breaks out a robot puppet for videos that get his students primed for the day. He sings an alphabet song to guide kids through a lesson on commonly mixed-up letters. In the evening, he reads stories over Facebook Live, sometimes with his wife accompanying him on the ukulele.
While living through screens can largely feel like a mess, talking to Cogswell was a happy reminder that technology — if we keep it in its place — can empower creative teachers to shine and help students learn through a tough time.
His experience could help all of us try to focus on making our personalities, not the technology, take center stage.
Cogswell is more tech savvy than most educators — than most people, period. But he said that what has worked best for him has been limiting both tech and complexity.
Rather than requiring parents to deal with multiple new pieces of software, Cogswell uses two: Google Meet for live virtual classes and Seesaw for students to post their online assignments or drawings.
Cogswell also has a relatively simple, predictable schedule, with class days starting with his five-to-10-minute videos, followed by two chunks of group classes. “I try to make it really consistent and doable for the kids and their parents,” he said.
Cogswell said he believed that limiting the technology and the transitions from one lesson to another has kept his students’ participation rate high, despite their home challenges. He said his students come from families that have relatively low incomes and may only speak Spanish.
I initially called Cogswell for dirt, basically, on where technology companies were falling short for teachers in a pandemic. Cogswell mostly had compliments.
He said, however, that companies that publish textbooks and other classroom materials haven’t adapted well. He’s instead made much of his own coursework. To teach about the butterfly life cycle, for example, Cogswell shot a time-lapse video of caterpillars transitioning into butterflies.
You can feel Cogswell’s enthusiasm. He talked with pride about winning a local teaching award, and about other teachers adapting his lessons for their virtual classrooms. As we chatted, he occasionally slipped into explaining-kindergarten-teacher mode. I didn’t mind one bit.
Like many of the families in his class, Cogswell is juggling. He has four children at home, his wife is studying to become a music teacher, and they’re planning to upgrade their house.
“Every day is go go go,” he said. “‘It’s good I’m passionate about what I do.”
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Speaking of kids stuck at home …
When the pandemic forced the international law firm Morrison & Foerster to go all remote, Janet Stone Herman’s job changed in a flash.
Stone Herman, who leads the firm’s development and women’s leadership efforts, used to focus on performance evaluations, professional development and parental leave policies. Not now. She recently started what turned out to be popular online seminars with a family therapist for the firm’s roughly 3,000 employees.
“Under the best of circumstances when you’re a parent and have a full-time job, it’s hard,” she said. “You take away that support network and throw everyone in the house together, and you have to be the principal, tutor and babysitter …”
She didn’t need to finish the sentence.
Most workplaces don’t have the resources of a large law firm. But it was interesting to hear how thoughtful the firm has been about offering practical help and support.
The seminars have tackled employees’ questions about managing their children’s tantrums, struggles with remote learning and disappointments about missing summer camp and milestones like proms. Another focused on the struggles of employees who are home alone and feeling isolated.
Stone Herman said a surprising benefit of the pandemic work-life juggle is that some of the workplace hierarchies have melted away. Big bosses seem less intimidating when their kid is bouncing a beach ball off their head in a Zoom work meeting.
“People are so much more sympathetic across the board and see each other as human beings first,” she said. “I’m hoping that sticks.”
Earlier this week I wrote about the food ordering companies Uber and Grubhub possibly merging, and what this could mean for food delivery. An On Tech reader, Jolyon Ticer-Wurr in Chicago, emailed us, sharing a different perspective on this service.
The following sentence in the May 13th email newsletter touched on so much of what annoys me about tech hype and gig economy “solutions” more generally:
“The true cost of food delivery is a brutal economic reality that most of us never consider, unless we investigate the hidden markups on our cheeseburger dinners.”
Who is the “most of us”? I think it’s people with enough disposable income that they can spend enormous sums of money eating out. As somebody without enormous sums of money and two children to feed, I know the single largest cost savings I can easily make is to cook at home. Note that I didn’t say “stop ordering delivered food” because that’s two expense steps away: (1) restaurant food; (2) delivered to me.
If all the food delivery services went belly-up tomorrow, very few people I regularly interact with would even notice.
We’re always eager to hear your feedback. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before we go …
Amazon versus French labor laws: A court ordered Amazon to stop delivering “nonessential” items from French warehouses after workers in the country protested what they felt were inadequate safety measures. It is the most high-profile labor battle Amazon has faced since the coronavirus outbreak began, my colleagues Liz Alderman and Adam Satariano reported.
Efficiency versus fear of losing control: Economic convention is for products to be manufactured wherever in the world it is most efficient to do so. Nationalism and concerns about bottlenecks of important products are making the United States rethink that. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which makes computer chips mostly in China, has agreed to build a factory in Arizona with U.S. government help, my colleagues Don Clark and Ana Swanson wrote.
My face versus the hard, hard asphalt: Popular online videos of roller skaters, including this one of a woman gliding to a Jennifer Lopez song, have helped spark a rush of people trying to buy roller skates. Predictably, skates have become hard to get, according to NBC News.
Hugs to this
Parents, I salute you and your slowly melting brains. This woman is probably all of you: “The dishes are endless. So are the threats for them to eat their freaking food!”