Editor's Note: "A Return to in-Person Classrooms" is a four-part series during which district spokeswoman Jillian Daley visits classrooms all over the North Marion campus: four schools, four classrooms.
When Petula Clark belted out the "Downtown" soul hit of the 1960s, she could never have known that "Calculus: The Musical!" would set math lessons to the earworm ditty — the mathematical lyrics include "derivatives of constants are always a slope of zero."
But earlier this month, North Marion High School seniors were whispering or subtly mouthing the 2013 numbers-centric version in math teacher Remy Strapp's calculus class. Strapp says that returning to in-person learning makes it easier to reach students through teacher or peer support and to offer more dynamic lessons, such as those that use singing or movement, or even a Jeopardy!-style math competition.
"We did songs last year, distance-learning style, and it was entertaining because somebody's mic would kick in and you could hear that one voice a little louder," Strapp said. "It was harder, a little more strained, but it was also more memorable. The students could really stand out in the competition, yet some of them seemed to fade into the background. It is definitely easier to keep them all engaged in an in-person classroom."
It's actually very impressive for North Marion to offer this class in the first place. Only 107 out of 430 high schools in the state offered it in the 2020-21 school year, down from 146 high schools providing the class in 2018-19, according to research analyst Robin P. Stalcup, Ph.D., of the Oregon Department of Education.
This class is not only a less-common offering, senior Evan Holman says that hands-on projects and activities make a class more enjoyable.
"It's very engaging; it's more fun," Holman said, noting this in-person class offers many opportunities for light-heartedness. "My group dressed up as sharks for a presentation."
Senior Eren Martinez appreciates the structure of the class.
"We have the warm-up and we'll do kinesthetic learning," Martinez said.
Senior Shawn Ostrander says kinesthetic lessons come with body movement, offering an example.
"What we were doing was trying to imitate what the graph was doing with our body," Ostrander said.
"If we try to do a sine graph it would be like this," Martinez said, creating an s-like shape with his hands. "Or a quadratic equation," he added, drawing a u-shape in the air.
Lessons in community
Students can do similar lessons online, although not as easily. However, what makes in-person learning especially valuable is that students have a built-in learning community of not only teachers, but peers they've known for many years. The students in Strapp's class cluster together in small groups like tiny communities, so students can easily ask a friend for support if they're struggling with a polynomial equation.
Strapp says that having a support system is huge for students.
"Some students are too intimidated to ask their teacher for help, so if you have someone you feel comfortable going to who is a regular support system, that is a benefit to you," she said. "Those who don't need help but can offer support to someone else develop a deeper understanding of the material. So a support system benefits students whether they need the help or they offer it."
Strapp explained that a teacher's job is not just about delivering content, but about showing students how to collaborate: communicating, compromising, and interacting respectfully as a group.
"I try to build in opportunities every day for students to turn and talk with their group," she said.
Senior Mallory Patzer says the students in the class have been taking math classes together since eighth grade, so there is a strong foundation of trust there.
"We've had class together so long; we definitely help each other study for tests," Patzer said.
Senior Jaydan Sahlin agreed that she feels seen in this little learning community, and not just by other students.
"It's a small community," Sahlin pointed out. "All my teachers know me."
Senior Thomas Bonser said Strapp always tries to help if she can, but sometimes she's helping someone else.
"It's kind of hard to clone yourself and be in two places at once," Bonser joked.
Strapp noted that she is just one teacher and that the whole school is full of incredible people.
"All teachers try hard and do their best," she said.
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