Mrs. Jill Norton’s fifth-graders were hyper focused on a new task Monday morning.

It wasn’t the usual lesson they had to absorb that day.

Sheets of paper and scissors next to their laptops gave a clue of the creative challenge they had to tackle — craft three-dimensional snowflakes.

They had just finished watching a YouTube tutorial on the project, and the task seemed pretty straightforward, and frankly, within reach, as is often the case when an expert performs a task.

Watching it done is easier than doing it yourself, as many a hands-on learner can attest, but that was exactly what was at stake here.

It was detail-oriented, intended to teach students how to follow instructions.

As it turns out, the seemingly simple process of step-by-step learning was not that simple at all.

Wearing facial coverings while working, the students pushed through their challenges at their own pace.

Some stemmed from inexperience, others from their own fear of “messing up,” even though there were no grade points assigned and neither was there a specific time frame required to turn a flat sheet into an imaginative ornament.

A sign on the board, a reminder of the pandemic times, read:

“Flipped Lessons

“Read and follow all directions

“Pause/rewatch video(s)


“1. Try again

“2. Ask your neighbor-explain

“3. Ask a teacher/adult

“Take ownership of your learning/education.”

These steps would not have to be spelled out on the whiteboard in normal times, but the coronavirus pandemic turned teachers and learners into a more integrated team than in a traditional classroom, experts say.

They depend more on each other, often share the same challenges with the unknown, discover new things together more often, and have more appreciation for each other.

In her first year of teaching at the Waverly-Shell Rock School District, Mrs. Norton has been in the thick of that complex teacher-learner experience in pandemic times.

She is grateful for her eight years of teaching fifth-grade at Clarksville.

It is a blessing, she added.

With some of her students online, and most in the classroom, like her colleagues across the world, Mrs. Norton is stretched to ensure her students achieve their learning goals.

Had she not had the experience of having taught at the fifth-grade level in her previous job, she said, she would have had a much harder time in her first year at W-SR.

A former golfer at Upper Iowa University, Mrs. Norton said her students, and others in the district, are really diligent about wearing their masks and abiding by safety protocols during the pandemic.

“They missed school,” she said, referring to the first months of the pandemic in March. “They realized how much they miss it and how much they missed each other.”

To uplift her students as the holidays approach, Mrs. Norton made a Christmas card with her students’ pictures in holiday attire, as well as snow globes, which she laminated, so the students can take them home and hang them on their Christmas trees.

She also held an ugly sweater drawing contest and let the class vote on the most vibrant one. The artifacts now spice up the cupboards along the wall in the classroom.

Monday’s 3D snowflakes appeared to be the next step in honing creative skills for the fifth-graders.

Some welcomed grappling with the logistics of an unfamiliar task, while others fought it and took their frustration out on the paper.

“It’s so much fun to let them be kids and let them find the coping skills to work through their frustrations,” she said.

Many of the latter were the result of the overall shift in activities and the isolation during the pandemic, but being among peers in a constructive learning environment, Mrs. Norton said, nurtures coping skills.

“It’s nice to see them let loose,” she said. “They are much more grateful to be in school, they keep their masks on, they take care of themselves and each other. It gives you appreciation to value lots of things in life.”