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A Transition to Online Learning for Blount County Schools

By Pat Brothwell - April 15, 2020

Back in 2005, Tennessee educator Melissa Crabtree helped usher in career exploration to Carpenter Middle School in the Blount County School District.  She was teaching family and consumer science but had started realizing something about her “Teen Living" classes. While cooking and meal prep were, and still are, vital skills for students to leave high school with, she saw less and less need for students to know how to mend a pillow or sew an apron from scratch. A shift was necessary. She spoke with teachers at the high school and found that students were entering the ninth grade without a clear career path in mind. Teen Living felt like the right place to introduce career exploration, and thus her Career Exploration course was born. The course started as strictly for the 8th grade, but after an overwhelmingly positive response from students and parents, expanded to include 6th and 7th grades.

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When we spoke to Melissa, she echoed a lot of the research we here at VirtualJobShadow.com have been paying very close attention to, namely starting career exploration in the early middle school years, when students are still engaged is ideal. Melissa said that it’s at the 6th grade level where her students do their exploring. They don’t necessarily talk about specific pathways, but all careers in order to expand their knowledge of what's out there. Her goal is to have them watch video clips of careers they may have never heard of. By 7th or 8th grade students whittle down specific careers or pathways they want to explore. In 8th grade the students visit the high school to see the CTE or academic programs they can enroll in the following year. 

Blount County Schools adopted VirtualJobShadow.com in the 2018-2019 school year. This year, Melissa noticed a difference in how much more knowledgeable and informed the questions her students asked were when they visited the high school, compared to previous years' visits. The high school teachers noticed as well. Several colleagues emailed Melissa to say how impressed they were with the thoughtfulness of students' questions.

Much like how Melissa was ahead of the curve when it came to ushering in career exploration at the middle school level, Blount County Schools happened to be just ahead of the curve when it came to transitioning to online learning. They’re a one-to-one district where every student has a Chromebook and every teacher has been trained on how to utilize technology in the classroom. Like most other schools in the nation, Blount County Schools are currently instructing online for the foreseeable future because of the global pandemic we're in the midst of. 

Despite their preparation, it took a couple of weeks for everyone to fully adjust. While both teachers and students had been trained to work and learn virtually, everyone now needed to figure out their schedules and get on the same page.  Melissa said that once they weathered this transition period, things in her Career Exploration classes have been going smoothly. While her 8th grade class was already using VirtualJobShadow.com daily, she’s increased her usage with the 6th and 7th grades considerably. 

Melissa uses Google Classroom to post her lessons. She uses Screencastify to post any instructions or directions, including a video of how to log into VirtualJobShadow.com if students forgot. She directed students to watch the brand-new VirtualJobShadow.com  “Setting Boundaries When Working from Home" Life Skills videos in her “how to log into VirtualJobShadow.com” tutorial to help students start to think about what acclimating to this kind of learning would be like. She assigns videos often, especially with her 6th and 7th grade students who are doing that preliminary exploring. However, she said by and large what she’s found to be the most helpful tool is VirtualJobShadow.com's FlexLessons. Melissa will clone the pre-built FlexLessons and then add or subtract elements, customizing them based on her own planned learning outcomes. She is notified when students submit completed assignments and then adds her feedback.

Melissa has already created her own FlexLessons on the topic of working from home to help students transition this year, but also as a longer-term safety net in the event teachers and students need to go to remote learning again. While she certainly hopes that is not the case, Melissa will be prepared to support her students in whatever comes next. 

We'd love to hear your tips and tricks for learning remotely during this time. If you'd be willing to share, please reach out to us via email

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