by Eric Barajas, Open School staff
March 1, 2021
Almost a year has passed since schools worldwide hopped on Zoom to continue classes and instruction. This phenomenon has been captured in news articles, social media clips, memes, and everyday conversations. An unavoidable recurring theme supplanted into the limelight is that “Zoom school” is awful and that it sucks for not only students but their parents and their teachers, too. By all kinds of publications, you will see articles titled, “Why Zoom is Terrible” or “The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy,” showcasing this collective experience that Zooms are dreadful and tiresome, but that has not been the case for most students at The Open School.
The Open School’s virtual program has created an environment where students are free to choose which activities and classes they wish to participate in throughout their school day. This gives students the opportunity to attend activities and classes that they enjoy, find interesting, or meaningful as opposed to having to sit through a class or an activity that they do not care for — bored out of their minds. Throughout each school day, each student can ensure that they are doing things they like with their friends, and for this very reason, Zooms are fun at The Open School.
The large majority of these activities and classes are hosted and developed by students so they are bound only by the limits of their imagination. Our weekly school schedule will include all kinds of Zooms varying from a Bedroom Decoration Zoom to a Collaborative Doodling Zoom to a Makeup Course Zoom to a Piano Zoom to a Herbalism Class Zoom to a Baking Cookies Zoom to even a Stuffy PlayDate Zoom. With the support of their staff adviser, students plan out an activity or class that they want to host for the following week. For their activity or class, students determine the minimum and maximum number of participants; its duration; the medium or platform that will be used; and their expectations for the participants’ engagement. Since students are able to determine most, if not all, the features of their activity or class, they become special and something students look forward to instead of something they dread.
This feature of our virtual program encourages students to take personal responsibility for their hosted activity or class if it gets scheduled for the week. They are making a commitment to the school and their fellow classmates that they will remember to show up in a timely manner and have all of the required tools or resources to facilitate the class or activity. The same goes for participants. Students are making a commitment to the host that they will be ready to engage and participate during its scheduled time during the week. If they are not able to attend for whatever reason, they must inform the host or the participants at least an hour ahead of time.
All of this requires the use of executive functioning skills, which are essential mental skills (e.g., working memory, flexible thinking, self-control, etc.) used everyday to learn, work, and manage daily life. Since students are not stuck in a class all day with their every action supervised or micromanaged, they must take agency and manage their own schedule to ensure that their personal and school commitments do not conflict or overlap. In order to do so, students engage in a lot of higher-order thinking: analyzing, evaluating, and creating. They first analyze the available resources and tools available to them — calendars, email reminders, alarms, parent verbal reminder at the beginning of each school day, revisitation of notes, or simply recall from memory — to help them organize and keep track of their varying commitments. Subsequently, students evaluate which of these many tools would be best to use based on effectiveness, given their specific needs, preferences, and interests. Lastly, they establish and create a specific reminder system that they think will be the most effective in supporting them to be present and ready for each of their commitments.
Students, of course, may come across certain stumbling blocks after implementing their desired reminder system, but that is all part of the learning process. Most, if not all, learning undergoes the trial-and-error process. You try something, and if it does not achieve the desired outcome, you try again and modify the approach, and this works best when there is an intrinsic motivation to achieve the desired outcome. When students are intrinsically motivated to be present and ready for their school commitments because they chose to attend these activities or classes, it makes this learning process easier and more effective. Students have a greater motivation to confront these obstacles and challenges because they want to do those things they enjoy with their friends. We may all have heard the saying, “You learn better when you are having fun,” and that is definitely evident since Zooms are fun at The Open School.