#JoyFromAfar: Re-engineering Instruction During COVID-19

#JoyFromAfar: Re-engineering Instruction During COVID-19

By Kathy Matlage, TJS Learning Specialist, Academic Support

In our #JoyFromAfar series, we discuss The Joy School's transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we illustrate ways the TJS community has adapted quickly to an online learning format that stays true to The Joy School's values while also delivering upon its mission to support students through remediation and accommodation so they can transition back into a traditional school environment.

In one example of this, TJS Learning Specialist Kathy Matlage worked with the parent of one of her students to build a document camera, a much-needed resource for a student who was having success using manipulatives to understand math concepts in class before the school closure. Teaming up with the student's parents, Kathy was able to provide a valuable online learning experience and the one on one remediation the student needed to continue her learning virtually.

Kathy, a Learning Specialist who focuses on academic support and providing individualized math remediation to students, explained that once TJS started distance learning, it was critical students not only see her during virtual class time but see how she solved problems and manipulated objects. She also needed to see her students' work and how they manipulated objects at home. To do this, Kathy needed a document camera and her students also needed a similar set up. She checked to see if the School had any on hand, and after having no luck, tried to find document cameras online. All of them were backordered.

Not giving up, Kathy found a solution. She learned a mobile phone could be used as a document camera, so she decided to try out this concept with her iPad. In order to do this, the iPad would also need a stand to hold the camera above her workstation, so she tried a ventilated shelf, a computer stand with holes drilled into it for the camera and even used large books to prop up the iPad. While these worked, there either wasn't enough space underneath the camera to work with the manipulatives or the station was hard to reposition quickly enough.

The example of Kathy's document camera using a ventilated shelf.
It did not provide enough space underneath the camera for her workstation.


In this version of her document camera stand, Kathy's husband used a standing desk and drilled holes into it for the iPad camera.
While this version ultimately worked, it was hard to adjust the standing desk quickly enough even though it did function properly as a stand.

After watching several YouTube videos, she discovered she could create a bigger stand using PVC pipe and other materials she had on hand in her garage. She built two prototypes, the first of which was not tall enough to get a good view of the base 10 blocks she was working with, and the second one didn't have a large enough workspace under the camera.


This is the first PVC prototype Kathy constructed, and it is not tall enough to work with manipulatives underneath.


Pictured here is the second PVC prototype Kathy made, and in this version,
the legs restrict the amount of workspace she has underneath the document camera.

Taking in what she had learned from the first two prototypes, Kathy built a third. This one was the best, because it was tall enough and the PVC legs did not get in the way of her workspace allowing her to work freely. After sending pictures of this document camera station to parents, one father was able to construct the exact same stand and camera set up for his daughter, Margaret.


In this picture, you can see Kathy's final document camera.
It is tall enough for her to work under comfortably and also provides a large workspace for her to work with manipulatives.


In this picture, you can see Margaret's document set up based on Kathy's finalized PVC document camera.

The final step in this process was getting this document camera set up to work through an online Zoom meeting. Even though her class with Margaret is one on one, there are really four participants: Kathy, Margaret, Kathy's document camera and the student's document camera. Kathy was able to include all four participant cameras in the Zoom call. Margaret and Kathy was also able to share screens and Kathy could take control of Margaret's screen to help her with online, virtual manipulatives and apps when needed.


Pictured here is a screenshot of a Zoom class with Kathy and Margaret.
It includes both document cameras as well as both Kathy and Margaret via their laptop cameras.

Kathy was especially flexible and resourceful in providing math remediation remotely but also explains that it truly takes a community to make online learning work. "None of this could have happened if Margaret's parents were not on board and more than willing to help in any way," Kathy said. "Distance learning truly requires a community to help our students continue to learn and succeed."

By creating a document camera at her home and helping her students' parents create a similar set up at their homes, Kathy has been successful in providing the remediation students need to understand math concepts virtually. We are grateful to Kathy and our families who have teamed together to provide solutions and tools for students to allow them to continue to have meaningful online learning experiences.

If you love what you've just read, be sure to share the JOY, and share this with a friend, family member or on social media!


Rachel Crockford

About the Author

Kathy Matlage joined The Joy School in 2003 after teaching in Alief ISD, Houston ISD and a private Montessori school. Kathy is a native Houstonian and graduated from Spring Branch High School. She received both her B.S. and Master's in Mathematics Education from the University of Houston. She enjoys macro photography, being out in nature, learning how to play Japanese drums, reading and spending time with her husband and her two cats. Her favorite part of teaching at The Joy School is working one-on-one with the students and helping them discover the joy of math.

Degrees Held
Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from University of Houston
Master of Education in Math Education from University of Houston

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