Heather Heaton, a multiple-subject credential candidate, who had been doing student teaching in a kindergarten class, records a presentation as part of the SacStateWAC enrichment program for K-12 students. (Photo courtesy of Heather Heaton)
By Jonathan Morales
Among the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic is a two-fold hit to the state’s education system.
With schools closed across the region and state, K-12 students are stuck at home, in need of learning. Simultaneously, dozens of Sacramento State teacher candidates are trying to determine how to complete state-required student-teaching hours after being deprived of their traditional learning venues.
Sacramento State’s College of Education created an innovative solution to both challenges: an online academy providing lessons across a variety of subjects and ages, prepared and taught by Sacramento State credential students.
The Sac State Web Academy (SacStateWAC) is available to all K-12 students looking for additional enrichment lessons – or parents trying to keep their kids engaged and occupied during coronavirus-caused school closures.
Lessons generally are to feature three elements: a video clip explaining the content; an activity to engage students in the content; and a quiz or other assignment at the end. They are not required to be “live,” meaning students can complete them on their own schedule.
“If you have time and you want to learn about something new and something cool, you can watch a video with a real teacher explaining it, you can communicate with that teacher, ask questions, do assignments, and then take tests to see if you learn anything,” said Alexander Sidorkin, College of Education dean.
The lessons are to serve purely as enrichment, Sidorkin said, meant to supplement and not replace curriculum that districts are providing during closures. Completely confidential, students will use only their first or preferred names and communicate with teachers through online tools such as Google Docs.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has confirmed that time Sacramento State credential students work to develop and provide lessons through SacStateWAC will count toward required student-teaching hours, Sidorkin said. That’s especially important considering that student-teaching opportunities have been interrupted by K-12 school closures.
Though the method of delivery is different, the process for developing the courses is similar to the student teaching credential that students traditionally have done. They develop the curriculum, implement it, reflect on their teaching, and receive feedback from their supervisors. And they’ll use the skills they learned during their educational-technology class, a required course for all students in the credential program.
“It’s going to be fun for the kids, but it’s serious work for our teacher candidates,” Sidorkin said. “We’re not lowering standards because of this.”
During a March 20 Zoom call with teaching-credentials faculty and students to explain the program, dozens of virtual hands went up when Associate Dean of Education Pia Wong asked how many students planned to participate. Heather Heaton was one of them. A multiple-subject credential candidate who had been working in a kindergarten classroom, she saw her student-teaching put on hold when the school closed.
Heaton’s primary motivation for participating in SacStateWAC was getting enough hours to earn her credential. Also attractive, she said, is having the opportunity to learn and practice new skills.
“One of my goals has been to get better acquainted in technology and some of the educational tools that are available online,” she said. “I'm just trying to keep a positive outlook and think of this as a really fun project that I can work on and still get the hours I need, while also providing students a form of education at home.”
Lessons uploaded to the SacStateWAC website will remain at least until the end of the semester. Sidorkin said that if the program proves successful, the college could keep it going even after schools reopen. He said research shows that students who receive enrichment opportunities are more successful elsewhere in their academic life.
“This is an example of how a university can help the region in a time of need, but it’s also mutually beneficial,” he said. “It’s not just us providing a public service, but taking care of our students as well.”