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Jefferson High School Band and Choir teacher Matthew Bowman performs an inspirational piece for his students on Facebook, and posted about a month ago. 

While teachers of academic classes have adapted their lessons to mostly online platforms for remote learning due to COVID-19, some hands-on curriculum instructors have had a harder time. 

It’s been “semi-difficult” to get students to do the classwork, said Mike Robbins, who teaches small engine repair, construction, woodworking and workplace safety at Jefferson High School.

JHS band and choir director Matthew Bowman has tried to have his band students rehearse together online, but that didn’t work too well due to internet delays.

Dave Heimann teaches welding as well as architecture and CAD (computer-aided design) and drafting. The latter has been easier to do under the distance learning model, as students can access the program online. 

Not so with welding.

“Welding is so hands-on,” said Heimann, adding that 90 percent of the curriculum is work done in the lab. 

To compensate, Heimann has had his welding students focus on book work and theory, as well as research and career exploration. He’s made some videos, and in return, his students respond with summaries, reflections and discussion. 

For the few students who were working toward certification, the shutdown has made that more of a challenge albeit still possible. Heimann is frustrated because he hasn’t been able to help them practice for the test.

“There’s nothing I can do, it’s all hands-on in the lab,” he said. There are options for getting certified, Heimann said, such as a traveling welding service that can come to town or a local workplace with a welder who is certified to administer the test. 

“There are other routes,” he said. 

Bowman said many of his band students have told him they miss playing together as a group. 

They say it’s hard to get motivated at home because part of the experience involves the camaraderie and sense of teamwork they create with each other, said Bowman. 

“That isolation does get hard,” he said of his homebound students. 

Senior Mariah Maichel said the band tried to play together, but it didn’t work really well.

“Oh, yeah. Really bad,” she said of the internet timing issues. 

Maichel plays the trumpet and practicing at home has been hard because her stepmother is also working from home, plus practicing alone isn’t the same as at school with her fellow music students.

It’s hard doing it solo,” she said. 

Bowman urges his students to keep practicing — and he uses Smart Music to do that — so that when most return in the fall they will be able to bounce back quickly to their former skill levels.

Smart Music is a computer application that has a catalog of method books, solos and warmups that students can access at home, said Bowman. 

Smart Music allows Bowman to work along with the students on notes and fingering techniques on the various instruments. When a student submits a lesson, he or she hits record and plays through the piece, said Bowman. 

That way, Bowman can listen for a missed note or other mistake and help the student make the correction.  

Bowman has also created videos so his students can see him perform various music theory concepts, such as “largo” or “marcato,” so next year when they see those words he won’t have to explain them as much. 

Robbins has also worked to adapt his woodworking classes to the distance learning model. 

One idea Robbins used was asking his students to find an object in their house, such as a coffee table, and create a set of exact manufacturing instructions. That is, go through the entire process of turning a plank of wood into a finished piece, he said. 

In his construction class, one student is helping to build a house, while another is installing shiplap siding, said Robbins. 

Those students take photos of their progress and write descriptions of what they had done, he said.

Kaden Johnson has been working with a construction company to help build a house near Townsend. So far he’s helped with framing and putting on the roof. The sophomore said he’s been able to work on Thursdays and Fridays — an opportunity he would not have had if school had been open. He plans to work full-time for the contractor this summer. 

In Robbins’ small engine class, the students can do some chapter work, as well as watch videos, such as “Science Garage.” 

“I’m trying to adapt for my kids,” said Robbins, adding that shop students typically are not fans of book work to begin with.  

At the same time, many students don’t have access to tools and supplies for projects and he doesn’t have enough tool boxes to hand out to everyone, said Robbins. 

The one class that has really suffered for Robbins is workplace safety. It’s a class designed to teach students how to work safely with the many types of tools and other equipment — a process he says involves a lot of in-person nuances, such as how to position one’s hands and body when working on a particular piece of equipment to avoid accidents, he said. 

This is a freshman class and it has been mostly suspended during the shutdown, he said, adding that it may require some sophomores to take it next year or he will have to teach it individually.

“Those will be some hindrances,” he said. 

Jefferson High School P.E. teacher Dave Ternes said he wasn’t optimistic when the shutdown began, but has since been pleased that many of his students are sending in regular reports of physical activity — ranging from chopping wood to antler hunting. Ternes estimates that 75 percent of his students are staying active and are dedicated to send in regular reports. 

“My feedback has been better than I thought,” he said. 

Heimann misses being in the lab with his students. Because his classes are electives, he is mindful of the workload from other subjects, so he ends up just doing a fraction of what he would like to. 

Meanwhile, Bowman praises Smart Music for what it does allow him to do, but if someone would invent an app that allowed a band to play together while physically remote, well, “that would be the moneymaker of the century,” he said. 

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