Teachers in the time of corona – Peter Pallo

Because the summer holidays are already behind us and we would like to bring you some inspiration for the beginning of the new school year, we are bringing you the story of another of our inspiring teachers. As you may have read in our previous blog post, Peter Pallo from the Rudolf Dilong Elementary School in Trstený, Slovakia, has been using Corinth in his classroom for quite some time now. With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, he did not hesitate to grab the online counterpart of our offline app – Lifeliqe. It was well suited for distance learning, especially since it is so easy to be combined with other programs, such as Microsoft Teams and OneNote, which Peter had used extensively before the pandemic. Not only is he interested in innovation at the level of new technologies. He also cooperates with the Komenského inštitút organization, focused on teacher education and networking. Therefore, we are glad to welcome one of the pioneers of innovation in pedagogy in Slovakia among us, Mr. Peter Pallo. Videos and examples from lessons can be found at the end of this article.

Hello, Mr. Pallo, we appreciate that you have found the time for us whilst caught in the midst of preparations for the new school year. It might possibly be an extraordinary one again, just like the last year during which most of the teaching happened in the distance form. How did you and your students handle the situation and what role did Corinth, which you were used to in classical lessons, play in this?

I’ve been working with Corinth for the past three years and I really liked its models from the very beginning. As part of digital education at our school, we were able to purchase tools supporting the 3D functionality. The children grew very fond of it and really appreciated the fact that they could zoom in and edit the 3D models. What I liked about the subsequent shift in digitization and modernization is that the app switched from the desktop to the online version. As a result, completely different possibilities have opened up that were not possible before. The children welcomed it with pleasure because it allowed them to have the app on their own tablets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we switch to online learning. Thanks to the online app, we were able to share any model using the student code (QR code or a link – editor’s comment) not only with our students but also amongst other teachers. This possibility really opens up the doors for new ways of student teamwork. For the younger students, I often choose models related to the human body and plant biology to share with them. For example, we took the model of a flower in the app, examined each of its parts in great detail, and then tried to find the corresponding parts on a real flower picked from a field. 3D models offer the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective. It means a huge step forward and we would confirm to any other school how great it is without hesitation.

In distance learning, you tried to put the online version of the app into practice. So what do you see as the biggest advantages of the online version (Lifeliqe) over the offline one (Corinth)?

For one thing, there is the interactivity aspect. It is no longer just one or two students working with a model on the board but, for example, the whole class working on my tablet together at the same time. Another advantage is home learning. The students can see the model themselves. Until then, we only worked with the models in the classroom, just one model in a given time on the board. It's completely different now, everyone can use the models individually, based on the options they have. I started using Lifeliq during the coronavirus pandemic, as soon as it started, so I incorporated it into my teaching. It was nice to see the children’s reaction. The possibility to send learning materials to a larger number of students at the same time was a huge advantage as well! 

Did you combine Lifeliqe and Corinth with any other learning tools?

I imported some of the models to PowerPoint presentations. Our online lessons took place through Teams and we worked with the models directly during the online sessions. The students also examined the models while doing their homework. So the main combination was with Teams. I used Teams groups to which I inserted QR codes for students so they were available to them at all times.

We had been trying to push modernization and new ideas into schools for six years with no success. Now it all happened within two weeks because teachers did not have a choice.
Peter Pallo

How did your students manage distance learning compared to the standard one?

It really depends on how technically proficient the teacher is and how well he can combine these methods. Definitely, not every school in Slovakia was prepared for this. A lot of teaching mistakes occurred, the lessons were solved by a monologue, there was no sense of interactivity. Teachers at our school, and I personally, can teach flexibly and interestingly, thanks to Corinth. It moved us, it moved me. However, not every student managed it as much as possible, because he was not always well mentored by the teacher.

Do you think that the transition to distance learning will somehow subsequently affect standard teaching in the future? Will it ever be the same as before?

I believe not. We had been trying to push modernization and new ideas into schools for six years through training with no success. Now it all happened within two weeks because teachers did not have a choice. Some have even already realized that there is no point in only e-mail communication and that it is important to be connected. This is what really changed here in Slovakia. Everyone started with online learning but not everyone was prepared, not because they did not want to but because they lacked the needed knowledge. I believe that Slovakian schools will now try to push online learning more and give teachers the necessary training. The ministry of education is thinking about training for teachers in all schools.

What corona brought is a huge step forward. Modernization of education is necessary. It also brought to light some other problems in education. For example outdated technology, slow Internet, etc.
Peter Pallo

So do you think that they will also respond to this institutionally, both in the places where decisions are made and even in the schools themselves? Or that your colleagues themselves will try to be more trained in what they potentially need? Do you see, after the shock that has come now, a will to move more vigorously than before?

I believe that it will come from the teachers themselves. They need and literally have to move forward. So, what corona brought is a huge step forward. Modernization of education is necessary. It also brought to light some other problems in education. For example outdated technology, slow Internet, etc. It is important to renew everything, kickstart the whole system again, and then it all can have some purpose.

Do you think that some of your colleagues, whether at your school or in Slovakia in general, and therefore in Central Europe, will continue to resist this and take a negative approach to it? I understand that for them it can be an unimaginable leap in what they have to learn, how many times after many years and decades of practice. Do you think that there is still a large group of those who oppose this in principle?

Yes, the group of those who will be against it is large. They even consider it unrealistic to teach in this way, they have not mastered it methodically or technically. They can defend themselves as much as they like but the situation is as it is, and they understand it. They understood it, only there is definitely defiance of it, simply everyone would welcome to teach directly at school, in the desks, in contact with children. I also prefer being able to be with my students, so that these technologies are just a revival of our lessons. But whether they defend themselves or not, the situation is as it is, and there will be a second wave, schools will close, and then they will have no choice, it is simply the demands of the time and situation we live in now, and they have to combine and transform their teaching into the online environment very quickly.

Do you think that it would help to solve this situation if teachers had a methodological basis, of course, it goes hand in hand with the fact that it is necessary to have some technical background for this. Are these the things that teachers who have not yet adapted well to the new way of teaching would need? Or which ones do you think they are?

Yes, now it would be good to develop a complete training system and give these teachers the opportunity to have it available if they are interested, if they feel they need it. So it will be necessary to ensure that these trainings are available, and it is no longer possible to force them to use them, they must do so themselves.

Thus, the transformation to distance learning will certainly not be precisely easy. For example, do you think that there is something that cannot be taught at all, or would be very difficult to do so, and, conversely, is there something that is taught better in this way than through the standard form of teaching?

It seems absolutely pointless for me to teach musical, physical, artistic, or ethical education. Despite covid, it has been shown that common sense must prevail over rules and regulations. And the only thing that was quite nice was that as part of physical education, the PE teachers tried to send some workout videos and so on. But if they have common sense and there is such a situation, then the teaching of such subjects should go sideways and the science and mathematics subjects that are necessary should come to the fore. It is necessary to wait, then the other subjects can be caught up with. The only thing I see that makes sense in online teaching is doing workouts with children whilst they are connected and really work out. But to send videos was unnecessary effort from the teachers because many children did not pay attention to the videos. 

Yeah, I can imagine that (laughs). And do you think that there is something that can be taught better than through the standard form?

You know what? Not really. There simply always must be feedback in the class. You see children's reactions, social climate. Personal contact is simply best. But if teachers have gone through online teaching and digitization of education and can now put it together in practice, it would not be good for us to stop it. Simply put, everyone has already gone through the digitization of teaching materials or teaching methods, and as we come back to practice and this moves into teaching, it will make a big plus, it should not be forgotten.

I hope that will not happen. Thank you very much for your answers, Mr Pallo, and good luck in the new school year. Goodbye!

Thank you too. Have a nice day, goodbye!

We thank Mr. Pallo for his inspiring interview and below we enclose the promised example from his lesson, in which you can see how he used our app in distance learning.