UCM Gets Creative Online and On camera

KMOS-TV, College of Education Create a New Kind of Classroom

By Kathy Strickland

Fall 2020 KMOS cover

When students left the University of Central Missouri for spring break, they had no way of knowing they would not return to campus to finish the semester. Nor could they have imagined how their worlds would be altered.

But there’s one thing all of the students, staff and faculty who carried on in the face of the pandemic demonstrated: this university community is Mule Strong! Faculty across UCM didn’t miss a beat adapting coursework to an online environment, and after just one week of preparation following spring break, nearly 2,000 virtual classrooms were up and running.

Out of this challenging situation grew a different kind of classroom that had not existed before. Josh Tomlinson, ’02, director of broadcasting services at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station on UCM’s campus, created KMOS Classroom to provide standards-based, grade-level instruction to families who were suddenly separated from the educational system they knew.

“Once school started shutting down, I knew KMOS had to do something,” says Tomlinson, who came up with the idea in early spring. He took the concept to PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, who was also strategizing ways to serve their member stations’ communities when schools began to close. Especially in locations where broadband is an issue, including rural and urban communities, broadcast was a way to reach students who did not have access to online learning resources.

“In a circumstance like this, we were able to step up,” Kerger says of efforts like KMOS Classroom, which she’d like to see expand to other university stations. “We’re storytellers, we know how to use the platform, our roots are in education, and I think the most important secret ingredient is our stations live in the communities that we serve.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of PBS, the nation’s largest noncommercial media organization, with more than 330 member stations across the United States. Kerger says her team had been planning retrospectives and a series of events to mark the milestone. Then the pandemic shifted their direction toward serving the public through educational programming, as they have famously done with shows like “Sesame Street” and “Reading Rainbow.”

“We had anticipated that we would be celebrating in a really different way,” Kerger says. “We’re actually celebrating our 50th anniversary in a way that I think is so much more important, which is ... to serve the public during this very challenging time.”

 

“I’ve been dreaming of being in this career since I was 4 years old, and never did I think that I would be teaching in this way.”
— Kamryn Williams

 

While PBS celebrates 50 years, UCM is gearing up for its 150th anniversary in 2021. “Education for Service” has been the university’s guiding principle since its founding as Normal School No. 2 preparing elementary school teachers to work in rural counties. Tomlinson soon found the perfect partner in UCM College of Education Dean Robert Jae-Min Lee.

“Serving our communities across the state of Missouri has always been a part of our history,” Lee says. “Our legacy of graduating well-prepared teachers has established UCM’s College of Education as the ‘go-to’ provider of exceptional educators.”

Many College of Education undergraduates who were in the middle of their student teaching practicums at schools from St. Louis to Kansas City were prevented from going back to the buildings after spring break. Some remained engaged in a virtual classroom environment and kept in contact with their cooperating teachers, but those whose schools chose not to continue the semester had a harder time.

For three UCM seniors whose student teaching was interrupted, the pandemic offered an opportunity they could not have imagined at the start of their academic careers — the chance to teach thousands of children on broadcast television.

With supplemental funding from a Bank of America Community Grant and the Missouri Arts Council, KMOS Classroom Summer School was born. The goal was to tackle the “summer slide,” which this year was compounded by the “COVID slide,” the gap in learning caused by school closures this spring.

Angela Danley, ’09, associate professor and undergraduate program coordinator for elementary education at UCM, coordinated summer school programs during her 25-year career in public education. She says that many districts did not offer summer school this year, and those that did started later than usual.

“I was really feeling a heavy heart knowing that students were not in the classroom and some students were not receiving any instruction,” says Danley, who selected three College of Education seniors to conduct lessons on KMOS Classroom Summer School. The student teachers were assigned to specific grade levels: Alli Hickey, K–1; Kamryn Williams, 2–3; and Ashley Zades, 4–5. They developed approximately 72 fifty-minute lessons in math, reading, social studies and science, which aired in threehour blocks Monday through Thursday in two rotations starting June 1 and ending Aug. 20.

Filling a block of air time required the student teachers to plan and rehearse their lessons. Many lessons involved a project students could follow along and make using minimal supplies at home. The KMOS Classroom Summer School teachers delivered six lessons a day in a typical recording session, which was equivalent to or longer than a full day of teaching.

 

“My student teaching got cut short, so this has taken the place of it.”
— Alli Hickey

 

“You really don’t realize how much you have to plan just for one day,” says Hickey. “My student teaching got cut short, so this has taken the place of it. … It’s just been such a cool experience with lesson planning and making the best you can out of the situation and just helping those you can.”

All three UCM students who taught on the program now have jobs as elementary school teachers in Missouri communities. Williams already had an offer and got recruited by another district after they saw her performance on TV.

“Working with the PBS station has given me an advantage as a distance educator,” Williams says. “This is an experience unlike anything I ever imagined doing. I’ve been dreaming of being in this career since I was 4 years old, and never did I think I would be teaching in this way.”

In a Zoom meeting with Danley, Tomlinson, Dean Lee and the three student teachers toward the end of filming, Kerger emphasized that the success of an educational program is not measured by how many children watch but by what they take away from the experience. That said, there were nearly 150 school districts in the KMOS viewing area, encompassing more than 440 schools. Tomlinson estimates that KMOS Classroom Summer School reached approximately 16,000 children a day.

“They’re going to be more prepared to teach virtually their first year because they were teaching not just 20 kids but thousands of students across the state of Missouri,” Danley says. “I think the impact KMOS Classroom made on students is far greater than we’ll ever know.”

 

 

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