Virtual Learning: Contributing and Connecting in New Ways
Katherine McCandless

As the Tilton School community continues to work through our virtual learning experience, some days I find myself in a routine that seems almost exactly as if nothing has changed. Other days, I’m struck by the fact that my world has completely turned upside down. 

I have enjoyed the experience of virtual teaching–I have found the opportunity to be a bit more creative in my instruction and the work that we do together feels much more student-driven. I am able to have more individual contact with my students and can provide feedback almost instantaneously because we are sharing student work rather than having me describe a task and then wait for students to complete it. I like the flexibility of our virtual learning schedule in that it allows us to have large group meetings, smaller workgroups, and one-on-one time. I get the opportunity to meet with students all over the world by creating smaller class sections at times that work for specific time zones.  

I love seeing my students in their home environments and have been so proud of their ability to contribute and connect–my students have really developed their independence as learners. I have been so impressed with the engagement and activity of the students. 

Students in AP Physics C have taken ownership of their learning, and I have found ways to guide them through practice questions rather than simply moving through an example problem on the whiteboard. Instead of me as the teacher telling students what to do, students are working on projects independently and asking for help as they need it.

Tilton School has adapted to virtual learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic

While it may be tricky to teach a class like engineering in a virtual learning space, my students have really risen to the challenge. Students have been working on a reverse engineering project where they had to find a household object that they could take apart and then describe how each part contributed to the overall function of the device. Hopefully, no family members are missing anything!  

While I have enjoyed the flexibility and independence of virtual learning, what I miss the most is being able to walk through the halls of the academic building and hear the teaching and learning from the entire community. I miss the laughter coming from the classes, the intense focus on the students’ faces as they take a test, the projectiles coming from the physics classroom, the engaging discourse with thoughtful questions. I miss walking along the pathway from Maloney to Plimpton, never knowing exactly who I will see but knowing how happy I will be to say hello. I miss tennis (although I do not miss driving to Kimball Union Academy on an April Wednesday when the weather is 40oF and threatening sleet).  

Maloney Hall is empty and it is a little heart-breaking to go out into the dorm to see all of the closed doors. I am so very proud of the seniors and all the hard work that brought them to their senior spring; I have been so lucky to watch them both embrace their upcoming new adventures while also finding a certain peace and connectedness as they conclude their time at Tilton School.  

I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to share time with the Tilton School community, and I know that I would not have enjoyed or been as successful with my virtual learning experience if it had been with anyone else!


Katherine currently teaches courses in Chemistry and Physics at Tilton School.

Over the course of her 23-year career, Katherine McCandless has taught high school chemistry, biology, physical science, and physics; an online course to graduate education students for teaching science; and chemistry courses to college students. She received her Master of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Maine and her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Cornell University where she was a Cornell National Scholar.

Katherine currently teaches courses in Chemistry and Physics. Along with teaching, Katherine coaches Girls' Varsity Tennis. 


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