Woodbury teacher's success with online video lessons leads to a sequel

Preventing the summer slide for grade schoolers is still the aim of the expanded website offerings put together by a Woodbury teacher.

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Megan Zachman, a second-grade teacher at Middleton Elementary School in Woodbury, launched a website and now is teaming with colleagues to film short videos that serve as summer refresher courses. The dog Gunner helped out with a lesson in algebra and geometry.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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As a veteran teacher, Megan Zachman has a stake in seeing that students retain their skills and knowledge over the summer months.

To fight the dreaded “summer slide,” she teamed with colleagues a year ago to create 36 video lessons for recently graduated second graders who could go online anytime to brush up on the previous year’s coursework while preparing for the pivotal third-grade year ahead.

The site, www.almostathirdgrader.com, had the bonus value of being relevant and available to any second-grader anywhere — although with special appeal to students at the Woodbury school where Zachman teaches. And it helped her win an invitation to a national education summit hosted by NBC News last October.

But what’s good for “almost third-graders” is almost certainly good for “almost second-graders,” too, she says. So, Zachman has expanded her reach by again enlisting fellow teacher Ginger Garry, Garry’s dog Gunner and other guests for a new round of videos tailored to last year’s first-graders.

Once again, the teachers are volunteering their time for a website, www.almostasecondgrader.com, which carries no advertising. For Zachman, the videos are a creative outlet offering a change of pace in instructional techniques.

“It’s a time to explore,” she said. “I think it’s fun.”

As she did with Almost a Third Grader, Zachman consulted with teachers at her school, Middleton Elementary, to determine which first-grade standards they’d like students to remember as they sampled lessons on the new Almost a Second Grader site. Many videos are skits. Each offers a review plus opportunities to put learning into practice.

For a math lesson, Zachman revived footage from a year ago about three cousins fishing. The girls are seen pulling fake fish of varying sizes from a small pond. A narrator then sets up the task at hand by saying: “After a long day of fishing, they decided to do what all great fishermen do — measure their fish.”

The ensuing exercise differs from its Almost a Third Grader predecessor by being delivered at a slower pace and with an emphasis on foundational skills.

The difference in expectations is apparent, too, in lessons involving coins and counting. In both videos, the coins are lined up across the screen in order of value. Then, they are added up. For the Almost a Third Grader lesson, however, there is a separate element introduced: making change after a purchase.

Zachman and her colleagues use humor to hook viewers. The presence of school staffers also adds unique appeal to Middleton students. But Zachman believes the lessons hold value to students everywhere, especially the Almost a Second Grader site, which emphasizes the Common Core literacy standards taught at schools nationwide.

She posts three videos each Sunday and has noticed students checking in almost immediately Monday morning.

Zachman said that she had no way of knowing whether students who viewed last year’s videos returned to school in the fall better prepared to learn — one of her goals.

Almost a Third Grader averages 300 views a day, and Almost a Second Grader gets about 100 a day, Zachman said. She also posts the videos on her Pinterest page and has drawn interest from teachers across the country.

All teachers, she said, herself included, are on the lookout for new ways to present their lessons.

Last year, it wasn’t until the summer’s final video that Zachman herself appeared on screen. She strummed a ukulele and showed a small vineyard in her back yard. She explained how it was possible to grow grapes in a cold environment.

The subject was lifelong learning, a concept that for Zachman continues to have relevance.

Next year, she said, she will be launching a new site, Almost a Fourth Grader, a project that is sure to be trickier, she added, because she’s never taught third or fourth grade.

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