05/07/2020|Inside Verizon

Keeping students engaged from a distance.

By: Rebecca Nicole Laming

Teacher Catherine Twitchell shares how technology fosters a sense of community to keep her classroom on track.

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This week marks Teacher Appreciation Week during a challenging time for educators. Tasked with providing a sense of normalcy and structure during remote lessons, many teachers simply miss their students.

One of those teachers is Catherine Twitchell, a Verizon Innovative Learning educator and 7th grade math teacher at RM Marrs Magnet Center in Omaha, NE. While the hardest part of digital learning is the distance, Catherine makes it work by leveraging 1:1 devices and access to keep her classroom collaborating. I sat down for an interview with Catherine to learn how she stays connected with her students.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I teach 7th-grade math and I also serve as the Instructional Facilitator and Academic Data Representative. I have three young children at home, 6, 4, and 2, which pretty much consume any free time that I have outside of school. However, should I have a rare moment to myself, I enjoy sitting by our fire and reading a good book.

Q: What motivated you to become a teacher?

A: I have always had a passion for working with kids, even from a young age. I initially thought that I wanted to go into medicine, but realized my calling was to be a teacher. I love the relationships built with students that can extend beyond the classroom. Growing up, I had this 6th-grade teacher that I stayed in contact for many years and even babysat his kids. Beyond the relationships, one of the things that I enjoy about teaching is when you see those lightbulb moments from your students.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the way you engage your students?

A: Much of my classroom teaching is through cooperative learning and small groups with students. It’s challenging to engage students when my ability to see their progress and watch their thought process is so limited. I miss the energy that you get from being in the classroom by working and learning alongside them. You cannot replicate that feeling digitally.

Q: Can you share any tips on how to teach and connect with students remotely?

A: My math team created videos of our lessons to provide a similar structure to what our students experience in the classroom. We ask students to pause the video to answer questions and then unpause to check their work. It has allowed us to reach and engage our students from a distance.

We also hold digital office hours on Microsoft Teams every day. Some students check in and say hi, others have questions, and some want to go through extra problems and review their work.

During the school year, we select a student of the week from each of our blocks who demonstrate our school qualities of being respectful, ready and safe. Many of the students recognized have gone above and beyond by helping their peers, using excellent math talk, making improvements, etc. We have continued that tradition through our digital learning. I believe that celebrating the positives, especially during this time, can increase motivation and continue to build relationships.

Q: In a time of social distancing, what do you miss most as a teacher?

A: I miss the kids. I miss being in the classroom, listening to them talk about math, building those relationships. I miss the waves from the end of the hallway from former students. I miss the energy of the middle school.

Q: What’s one of your favorite memories or stories as a VIL educator?

A: I have enjoyed using breakout boxes with my students digitally, as well as watching them use their iPads to collaborate. Thanks to the Verizon Innovative Learning program, utilizing iPads has allowed my students to work together in ways that were not possible before. It levels the playing field. Students who are not as confident in the classroom feel empowered by technology and encouraged to step up as leaders.


There are many educators out there like Catherine, who are going above and beyond during this challenging time. Even though their classrooms are empty, teachers are providing a sense of normalcy and connection to students. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, join us by showing your gratitude for teachers nationwide.

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