Debi Bober’s classroom at Cubberley does not look like your average LBUSD school room. It’s decorated with vinyl wood-inspired wallpaper, inspirational quotes, and pink chairs that give the space the feeling of warmth, fun, and a home-like atmosphere.
Naturally her virtual classroom looks equally as impressive. Bitmoji rooms, virtual libraries, interactive welcome screens, the works. When her fifth graders at Cubberley School log on to begin school each day, she hopes they feel just as comfortable and excited as entering an in-person classroom.
Dr. Bober is excited about a lot of new opportunities this school year. She never was a tech-savvy teacher until recent years, when being tech-savvy became a must. In the past two years, she has claimed the title “Teacher of the Year” in Long Beach, Los Angeles, and a top 10 finalist in the state of California out of over 300,000 teachers.
The idea of virtual teaching worried her so much that Dr. Bober decided to teach summer school this year for the first time in 26 years. She wanted to learn the ropes of distance teaching starting out with a smaller class size.
The plan proved beneficial because Dr. Bober went from knowing little about technology to becoming one of its campus leaders. One of her favorite online tools is Jamboard, an online white board that students can write on simultaneously. This allows Dr. Bober to give an assignment and watch students as they all contribute collectively. During a Jamboard activity, she closely observes, allowing her to understand in real time who is grasping a concept and who is struggling.
Dr. Bober became such a fan of Jamboard over the summer that she even started a Facebook group to show other teachers the many tools offered by Jamboard. She definitely sees the Google app becoming a tool in her teaching for years to come. Bober is equally inspired by other resources the digital classroom allows her to utilize.
“I really do feel like, after 26 years of teaching I’m starting over. This feels like my first year.”
She is discovering the power of online resources. “In a way we used to be stuck within these four walls,” she says, pointing at her classroom. “We had a finite number of books and resources, but now online we can make digital libraries that house endless possibilities.”
For example she is having a specialist in children’s’ physical education teach her P.E. classes via a YouTube channel from Australia! In addition, she will be able to share countless clips, online books, and documents via her digital classroom this year.
“I’m more of a facilitator of information now. I’m designing an experience and environment for learning to occur, but I’m not necessarily the only one giving information anymore.”
Perhaps the most important part of the experience Dr. Bober is creating in her digital classroom is space for socialization. In the spring when schools first closed, students journaled each day, and almost every student said something about missing their friends. Therefore, she tries to combat these emotions by allowing time for the kids to be on Zoom together for “recess” without having an actual assignment. They also participate in group projects using breakout rooms.
In an isolated world, it’s tough to recreate the in-person experience exactly. So last year, Dr. Bober pivoted a big part of her efforts to helping students journal their feelings about what was happening, rather than trying to recreate something that was fake.
The responses she ended up getting were incredible. Kids were talking about their feelings and their families. Some were scared, some liked being at home, and all of them kept talking about how much they missed their friends. Debi was so inspired at the amazing responses that she hired a publisher to help her self-publish the students’ book on Amazon, intended primarily for parents and extended families to see what her class had written.
To Dr. Bober’s surprise, the book ended up becoming an international best seller. It’s called “Socially Distanced: Voices of a Teacher and her Students During a World Pandemic,” and has taken off so popularly that she has even had other teachers from across the United States reach out to her wanting to deep-read and analyze it in their classes.
Dr. Bober’s new 5th grade students will be journaling again this year because she truly believes in the power of social and emotional wellness. Everything about her classroom revolves around a nurturing atmosphere. That means clean desks, pretty walls, and healthy students. It’s happening online now and will continue to happen in the classroom for years to come at Cubberley.