Why solving real-world problems is key to online learning

'You have to allocate funding and time for professional development to take teachers to the next level,' superintendent says.
By: | August 27, 2020
Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina has created cohorts in which a majority of its students are receiving in-person instruction two days a week.Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina has created cohorts in which a majority of its students are receiving in-person instruction two days a week.
Lynn Moody, Superintendent, Rowan-Salisbury School System

Lynn Moody, Superintendent, Rowan-Salisbury School System

Allowing students to solve real-world problems that are relevant to their everyday lives will be key to engaging them in online learning this school year, says one superintendent.

Educators in North Carolina’s Rowan-Salisbury School System will soon start assigning such projects that students can work on outside in-person learning and synchronous online sessions, Superintendent Lynn Moody says.

The district is offering ongoing professional development and has also created a library of resources, videos and instructional strategies that teachers can tap into when assigning these projects.

Students can also apply to a local Rotary Club to get funding for their projects. For example, a student could get funding to set up a social justice website, Moody says.


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“The idea is to incentivize students’ passions,” Moody says. “When you talk about equity in a community, some students have the means to do these projects but, often, the students who are closest to the need in the community are the least likely to have the funds.”

The district was in some ways prepared for this shift to online learning this spring as it was in the sixth year of a one-to-one program. Teachers had received professional development in remote instruction, but few had ever taught online for extended periods of time, Moody says.

Rowan-Salisbury students can apply to a Rotary Club to fund community service projects.

Rowan-Salisbury students can apply to a Rotary Club to fund community service projects.

One thing the district learned was that everyone needs a day off from online learning.

Now, on “Wellness Wednesdays” students work independently and teachers participate in professional development that includes Zoom sessions with nationally renowned online earning experts.

“You have to allocate funding and time for professional development to take teachers to the next level,” Moody says. “We’re also learning from a lot of other school districts across the country, which is a benefit of the virtual world—we can tap into all sorts of resources we might not have tapped into otherwise.”

This school year, about 25% of the district’s students have chosen to remain fully virtual. The rest of the students, who have been placed in cohorts, go to school for in-person instruction two days a week, Moody says.


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Teachers have set up several outdoor classrooms with the helping of funding from community organizations and school PTAs, Moody says.

A high school band, for example, has set up with members sitting on overturned buckets. Other teachers have encouraged students to bring beach towels to school, Moody says.

The district has also had to shift resources to its tech help desk. Calls for technical assistance, which now come more often from students’ parents and family members, have surged to about 250 a day from 25, she adds.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.