Kindergarten teacher Ben Cogswell instructs his kindergartners online | Provided photo
By Susan Landry
Getting just one kindergartener to pay attention can be a near herculean task. Mix in 25 more, a virtual classroom and three weeks of cabin fever, and even the most seasoned educators might be tempted to run for the hills.
Despite these formidable challenges, Bardin Elementary School kindergarten teacher Ben Cogswell is taking the shift to distance learning in stride, breathing life into the virtual classroom and helping thousands of teachers across the country do the same.
Years ago, the Salinas-based instructor was one of several educators who helped spearhead the one-to-one program at Alisal Union School District, putting a Chromebook in the hands of every K-6 student.
“A lot of kindergarten teachers say, ‘Technology isn’t appropriate for kindergarteners, they shouldn’t be using it.’ But if you look at society nowadays, we have technology all around us. It’s a part of our lives and kids are already using it at home,” said Cogswell. “I want to show them how to use it for learning purposes, to use these technological tools in a strategic way.”
Now, as the coronavirus has catapulted all schooling into the digital space, Cogswell is utilizing his tech savviness to create dozens of instructional how-to videos for other educators on topics like “Managing Your Google Meet for Littles” or “Remote Learning with Seesaw.” Many of his videos have already garnered thousands of views on YouTube alone.
“I’m at a point in my career where I’ve had enough background using technology as a coach and I’ve had enough background in teaching,” said Cogswell. “There’s other people that have no idea what to do right now. So I’m doing my best to share everything I’ve been doing.”
In addition to posting informational videos, Cogswell makes his lessons and activities available free to the public through his website kindrockets.org, a resource page and across social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In addition to helping other teachers, Cogswell explained that using social media helps more students and parents access his content.
“I know not every family has Wi-Fi at home, but most families have a smartphone. And how many families, do you think, don’t have access to Youtube? Or Facebook? Not too many, right?” said Cogswell. “So we have to start thinking about some of these non-traditional ways of reaching our kids and communicating with them.”
Despite his technological bent, Cogswell explained that his daily lessons are actually a mix of what he calls, ‘digital and analog,’ pairing Chromebook activities with off-screen learning like counting with dice or drawing birthday cards for classmates.
Each day, he begins with a morning video message for his students — often while singing songs or clad in a space suit — to set the tone for the day and get students engaged. “I’m setting a schedule for people that’s consistent, that they can use every single day.”
His schedule follows the California Department of Education’s recommended 60 to 75 minutes of kindergarten distance learning each day, but he adds in some optional extras, too. “It needs to be rigorous enough where students are still going to grow, but it also needs to be doable for families,” said Cogswell.
As a father of four himself, he resonates with the challenges of supporting kids through distance learning. “They have four different schedules that my wife and I have to manage,” said Cogswell.
Unfortunately, some students have no in-home parent support at all. Cogswell said this is one of the most significant challenges he must overcome in distance teaching, even though his students have used Chromebooks and practiced virtual homework all year long.
“I’ll be in a Google Hangout with some of the kids and their brothers and sisters are home, but I’m like, ‘Turn off the TV please,’ because they’re at home and nobody’s there,” said Cogswell.
So in addition to communicating with parents as much as possible, he uploads step-by-step instructional videos to guide students through every single activity he assigns. “I’m able to get the kids, hopefully if they’re watching the videos, to be able to do it by themselves,” he said.
Overall, Cogswell said he’s incredibly proud of his students and will continue his work trying to support others in the digital space.
“I always say my naive thought is that we can save the world as teachers by helping our kids,” said Cogswell. “I think the teachers out there, everybody’s doing their best. So I’d say just be okay with what you’re doing and then push yourself a little bit farther. And teachers and parents, be patient with yourself and each other.”
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.