Advanced Topics’ Virtual Classroom Returns to Reality

By Haley Raphael

As senior Haarika Reddy walked into her mathematics class, she said hello to her teacher, who responded and continued to write on the board. This seemingly normal encounter is, however, vastly different from what Reddy and most other students have ever experienced before at South. This is because her teacher is not actually in her classroom, the board her teacher writes on is not actually in her classroom, and the marker her teacher uses to write is also not actually in her classroom.
This experience is unique to Reddy and eight other students enrolled in the Advanced Topics course at South, which was taught virtually until Oct. 27. Dr. Elana Sichel, teacher at Great Neck North High, taught South’s class of nine via Skype while simultaneously teaching class of nine from North in person. The class was transferred to Mr. Tom Weisswange at South on Oct. 27.
The class has taken multiple formats throughout the last decade: It had been taught for both North and South students at night until recently when both schools had enough enrollment to economically offer the class during the day. This year, the combination of recent budget cuts and low enrollment led to the creation of this “virtual” class.
The Advanced Topics class is for students who complete the BC Calculus curriculum in eleventh grade. The curriculum usually covers topics such as matrices, linear algebra, and multivariable calculus.
The class is “very much discussion-based,” according to Principal Ms. Susan Elliott. “The whole idea is that you are examining different types of problems with people who are exceptionally skilled at mathematics.”
Dr. Sichel agrees: “At this level, students appreciate the beauty of mathematics, and it almost seems silly to me to stay strictly with a given curriculum.”
However, because of the virtual classroom setup, “there has been little interaction between the students, which is really against my teaching philosophy,” said Dr. Sichel. Additionally, ccording to Reddy, “The students at South could never hear what was happening in the North classroom.”
And the issues did not stop there: Scheduling was also a significant problem. According to Ms. Elliott, “North has a special schedule on Wednesdays, so the class never met then. Little things also threw the class off: North had assemblies, we had fire drills, Dr. Sichel was sick, and so on.” Although Ms. Elliot “originally thought it would be an effective way of running a class with low enrollment,” she said that it has not turned out as expected.
Although the virtual classroom “will not be explored again very soon at South,” Ms. Elliott thinks that “it was an important experience because it is easy to forget that the most important thing is what happens between the kids and the teacher in the room, and when you do not have a room, it is hard for that to happen.”