Eric Stinton: Turning Your Home Into A Classroom Is Not A Bad Thing - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


In a perfect, pandemic-less world, the most ideal educational setup is for students to be in a classroom with their teacher.

It allows for more active and engaging lessons to take place; physical space can be utilized more creatively; and important social and cooperative skills can be seamlessly baked into academic learning. Students can ask questions at the exact moment of confusion, and teachers can engage in a fluid back-and-forth with the class until clarity is reached.

The simple human acts of reading facial expressions and feeling classroom energy are powerful teaching tools, and that’s to say nothing of the obvious societal benefit of parents being able to work knowing where their children are and what they’re doing.

Distance learning, on the other hand, is rife with inequities regarding the number of computers per person in different households, discrepancies in internet connectivity and speed, and other home-related instability that gets equalized in a shared classroom.

Despite the growing chorus of sniveling Nostradamuses predicting YouTube will one day obviate traditional schooling, there are very real challenges to digital education that make a permanent pivot seem as impossibly distant as an electric car in every home, or the rail getting completed.

But we’re not in a perfect pandemic-less world, and we have to make do with the situation we’re actually in. This means distance learning will to some degree be a part of our lives, from elementary schools to universities.

Brady Punu, 4th grader at Hanahau'oli School, remote learning with his family in Makawao, Maui during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Brady Punu, a fourth grader at Hanahau’oli School, got his share of distance learning on Maui in April after schools closed when the coronavirus first began to spread.

Bryan Berkowitz/Civil Beat

As of this writing there are no official DOE changes to reopening plans, but that may change at any time. Different schools will organize themselves differently according to their communities, and some parents will opt to keep their kids completely at home. Still, one way or another digital education will occur.

This isn’t entirely bad. For all the challenges of distance learning, it also presents some opportunities. We’d be wise to recognize what those opportunities are, and maximize them as much as possible.

One of them is the possibility of applying classroom lessons to the real world. As a soon-to-be math teacher, I dread encountering the age-old refrain of “when are we going to use this?” Teenaged Eric probably barked that very thought at his math teachers, more likely as an attempt to justify his unfinished homework than a genuine concern about whether his curriculum was truly preparing him for life After The Bell.

Of course there is more to learning than direct applicability: the general sharpening of critical thinking and problem solving, the process of developing honest responsibility and task management. Beyond those kinds of things, however, distance learning makes it possible to bring learning home — literally.

Home investigations can transform kitchen cupboards into algebraic playgrounds. Oreo fractions come with particularly delicious denominators, and a pizza pi is a crucial component — along with its squared radius — to determining the pie’s area, potentially liberating kids from the high-stakes “I cut, you choose” gambit known to siblings the world over.

And since most kids have cameras in their pockets, it’s not hard to get proof that lunch was, in fact, academic. Students can also look up the average rent in their neighborhood and, as I once had to do while living with roommates, measure the area of each room to determine how much it would cost to live there.

These specific ideas are not available to all teachers; different subjects and grade levels will utilize different kinds of home investigations. Regardless, distance learning has the potential to do things that can’t be done in a classroom. It’s worth exploring those options, whatever they may be.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of distance learning is its flexibility, and we’d be foolish not to capitalize on it. Some schools are holding classes as if they were the same as always, expecting students to be present at the beginning of class and sit through it until it ends. This sounds reasonable at first – students should absolutely treat class with the same seriousness whether they are at home or at school – but it compounds many of the issues endemic to the medium.

Mother and children working at home

Flexibility on the part of educators is important since there may be multiple family members trying to use limited bandwidth and devices at the same time.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

What if there are multiple siblings who share one computer, or if class is scheduled at a time of high bandwidth usage in the household? What about parents who work evenings and nightshifts who need their mornings to be as disturbance-free as possible? Is it easier to troubleshoot these problems on a case-by-case basis, or simply grant broad leeway as to when students need to do their classwork and turn in their homework?

There are always exceptions, and some cases like online labs or exams may be better suited for a set schedule, but intuitively it seems much smoother and more practical to make daily deadlines end at midnight, or to use weekly deadlines instead. If anything, that’s a more realistic way to learn time management that exists in college and/or the workforce.

Most of all, embracing flexibility would model the real world skill that we as a society have had to learn quickly — adapting to unexpected situations. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do anyway? Equip students with the skills to thrive in the world outside the classroom?

If flexibility and adaptability are necessary for working adults, they should at least be acceptable, if not preferable modes of learning for students. Instead of shoehorning how things used to be into how things are now, we should adapt in whatever ways our schools and communities can.

Distance learning may not be instructionally ideal, but it is the reality we currently inhabit, and rightfully so. We have to work with what we got, and do so in a way that gets the most out of this situation. If anything, turning a negative into a positive is the ultimate and most universal lesson anyone can learn.


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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


Latest Comments (0)

Alas, the folks who have enough space in their home or condo to set up a study area for their kids probably have enough money to send them to a private school that provides on-campus education.

Chiquita · 2 months ago

It is important to be flexible and to teach our kids to be able to adapt in this ever changing world. The problem is how do you propose that parents pay the bills, avoid eviction or bankruptcy, put food on the table etc etc?Many of us can’t work from home so what do you propose we do??? Obviously I would not want anyone to get sick from going to school but there is a bigger picture here including a lack of socialization being at home and a lack of exercise. If parents are spending their time providing recess, lunch, snack time as well as scholastic help throughout the day then how do they even work from home???

oahu49er · 2 months ago

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