Hands-On Elective Courses Through Zoom


Photo by Sean Donlan

Rachel Gauer and Sean Donlan

This year, teachers have had to significantly modify and change their lessons and traditional teaching methods to fit the needs of distance learning. The student body has persisted through nearly a year of online-learning, following their teachers through their new methods. Some courses have seen minimal change, whereas others have had to significantly shift their coursework–most notably, hands-on elective courses. Four of the many elective programs on campus–hatchery, autoshop, art/photography, and band– all include work that is most successfully done in-person. Several students and teachers from these electives give their accounts as to how this school year has shifted from years past. 

The Gaucho Garage is home to our school’s automotive program.

The automotive courses (both the beginner course and the advanced course) are known for being hands-on. During a normal school year, students spend a significant amount of time practicing the course’s material on automobiles in person, learning from the manual work. Senior Bronson Lasley, a student in Mr. Rolle’s advanced auto shop class, explains how the distance learning shift has impacted the course’s normal layout.

 “We have to do mainly book work when usually the advanced class would be doing shop work. [Rolle] has done videos and in depth explanations with diagrams instead of going through everything hands-on,” said Lasley. 

Though the class has not been what Lasley had expected this year, he has no regrets in taking the course despite its changes:  “I would have taken the class anyway because Mr. Rolle is one of Casa’s finest and he does his best for his students, and his integrity is second to no one,” said Lasley.

Like the automotive program, the art and photography electives normally include a hands-on example by the teacher followed by student application of the material. Mary Grehan, the art and photography teacher at our school, describes the challenges she has found in teaching her courses via Zoom. 

“[The coursework] is very difficult to model over video, and [it is] extremely difficult to support students who are struggling.  I’m used to seeing students work on their product in front of meso that I can gauge their progress and jump in to help when I can see where they’re having difficulty. It’s really hard to do that over Zoom,” said Grehan.  

Though the hands-on work has been especially difficult for Grehan and her students this year, she notes that some of the coursework that requires less of a hands-on approach has been successful throughout distance learning. 

“I did learn that some assignments are better when done ‘asynchronously,’ like units on Art and Photo history. The students can watch videos and write responses on their own time, at their own pace, without cutting into class time,” said Grehan. 

Another large program on campus that has been significantly impacted by distance learning is band. In addition to the lack of hands-on opportunities this year has created, the band has also been impacted by the absence of concerts and performances that a traditional school year usually includes. Additionally, they cannot play together, in sync. 

The band room has remained vacant for the past year: now, few students return for hybrid learning.

Senior Matthew Tribble, a jazz and symphonic band student, describes the unique, distance learning approach that the program has adapted. “[We’re] focusing on aspects of band other than performance, which is exciting for some people but understandably disappointing to others. It’s definitely not what people signed up for when they signed up for band last year,” said Tribble. 

Though Tribble notes that the students are able to play the instruments with the new hybrid learning method, the 4-year band student concludes that it simply is not the same as years past. 

“I think it’s gotten to the point that band as a class is almost unrecognizable. With the new hybrid schedule we’re actually playing our instruments, but it’s not a class that translates well to computer screens. It’s like turning a song into a book,” said Tribble. 

Unlike the other elective programs, the environmental conservation and restoration class (ENCR) and the advanced course (United Anglers) have been briefly working with in-person activity.  

Julia Dietlin, a second-year hatchery student, describes how the instructor, Dan Hubacker, has shifted the course for distance learning. 

“Mr. Hubacker would do Zooms from the creek and different locations to try and show us where we would be working in addition to teaching material from the classroom. He kept us updated on things going on in the hatchery as much as possible,” said Dietlin.

This semester, Dietlin has been one of the few students who has worked both in the creek and in the hatchery for fish care. She describes her experience and the necessary COVID-19 precautions the class had to take in order to bring students to the classroom.  

This semester, our campus’ fish hatchery program has allowed a group of advanced students to manage the hatchery using proper COVID-19 protocols.

“We have fish in the building [and] we adjusted to a much lower number as less people would be caring for them. Like usual, students who passed the necessary requirements were allowed to participate in fish care so we’d come in small groups taking as many COVID precautions as needed,” said Dietlin.

One of the most significant changes that the hatchery program faced this year was the absence of the fall fundraiser, which typically brings in a large amount of their annual donations to keep the program running. Dietlin describes how the program dealt with the loss of this yearly opportunity. 

“Due to COVID, we were unable to host our annual fall fundraiser to support the hatchery, so we did a virtual fundraiser instead. The students worked very hard to raise money online in order to reach our adjusted distance learning budget. I’m proud of how our team was able to adapt,” said Dietlin.  

Though this year has taken a toll on many of the courses and programs offered at our school, it is clear that each course  has taken unique steps to ensure they are successful and interesting despite the shift to online learning.