Love Virtually – Chapter 2

“Way to make a first impression.”

Cassie Maxwell mumbled to herself, checking that her microphone was turned off. Her camera was still on, but she needed a moment. She enabled the share screen option and let her Be Right Back animated rabbit bounce across the screen with the timer on a five-minute countdown.

She needed a moment to digest what had just happened. It was the start of the school day, but this was important. A fan girl scream was in order. Sean Jarvis. The Sean Jarvis of the Gravity Jones adventure series was sitting there on the other side of the screen. Cassie spun around in the living room she had converted to her virtual classroom. Her classroom had been inspired by his teenaged superhero who had a penchant for coding and solving mysteries.

At strategic points around the room, there were three mounted cameras for capturing video. A worktable sat under a fourth camera so she could record her experiments. While she did not come from rich parents like the novel’s superhero, Cassie had scrimped and saved and applied for grants to enable her to purchase the video equipment and other tools she had needed to build her virtual classroom. Today, she would get to see it in action with the children. She really believed it could make a difference. This would be the future of learning.

Her phone beeped with an alert which could only be from her friend Kyle. He was requesting to show video.

“Hey Cassie. How’s it going?”

Kyle Matthew’s face was filled with his usual thousand-watt smile. She could see he was in Miss B’s Workshop. It was the place where he was busy creating one of the Caribbean’s largest food brands. She was often impressed yet intimidated by him and was happy to count him as a friend.

“You do know I’m supposed to be in class now, right?”

Kyle laughed. “So why did you answer? I wanted to wish you well. I know you’re excited about your virtual classroom and I think the children are going to love it and learn a lot from it.”

Cassie beamed. “Thank you, Kyle. I need this to work. Getting more grants and winning over more teachers hinge on the results my students get this term.”

“I am not worried. Your plan is solid and the work you’ve created with just some basic equipment and your imagination is game changing.”

Cassie grinned. “I should probably get back on now, but I needed a dance break.”

“What now?”

“You would not believe who is here. On St. Michaels and breathing the same air as us mere mortals.”

Kyle rolled his eyes. “Sean Jarvis.”

Cassie was deflated. “You knew and didn’t tell me?”

“Sorry, I thought you knew that. He is from St. Michaels you know.”

“I don’t know what to say, Kyle. I think this friendship needs a relook. You know how I feel about his books and, and you would keep such vital info from me. I no longer feel safe with you.”

Cassie shook her head dramatically, making sure her face expressed complete dejection.

“Just go easy on the guy. He recently lost his wife and he’s got enough on his plate. I know you can come in like a hurricane.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize he was married or even that she’d died. I will keep that in mind when dealing with the girls. They are in my class. Speaking of which. I got to go. Just know I’m taking you off my Christmas greeting card list.”

She sent an animated X into the video and blew him a kiss. He stuck his tongue out at her before disconnecting the chat.

Cassie was a bit disappointed when she rejoined the class as Sean was no longer there. She hoped this meant he was off writing a new book. It had been two years since the last and she now knew the first three books in the series by heart. A new Gravity Jones novel would make her year. Now that she knew he was widowed, she wondered how he and the girls were coping. Both Reagan and Riley seemed well adjusted and her email communications with him had never hinted at any concerns he had about their emotional well-being. She would keep an eye out on the girls. Losing a parent so young was something she would never wish on her worse enemy, having lost her parents in a plane crash at the age of nine.

The rabbit timer beeped to announce that it was counting down to the final ten seconds. Cassie took a sip of water from her glass and prepared to switch on her camera.

For the next fifteen minutes, Cassie spoke to the students about her expectations and guided them through how the learning management platform worked. While they would not be bogged down with homework, each student had to work on group and individual projects throughout the year.

A tech nut since the age of three, Cassie had gamified the entire Math and English curriculum for third grade. She was currently working on the science and Caribbean history components.

Her dream was that eventually she could win a grant to transform all levels of the education system to eLearning that made sense for today’s children. It was more than copying a textbook and plunking it on a PowerPoint. Her project was met with much resistance by some teachers, but she was undeterred. The principal had told her as long as the students met the government’s milestones, she had the freedom to teach as she liked.

Riley raised her virtual hand and Cassie pulled her video into the main screen.

“Riley, do you have a question?”

“Yes Miss Maxwell. When do we get to play?”

Cassie smiled. “Each of you should have received a package filled with activities for play time. You will have two fifteen-minute breaks and a thirty-minute lunch time. During those periods, I don’t want to see any activity on your computer. I can monitor what you do from here. You are to use the activities in the package to entertain yourself, play outdoors or learn something on your own.”

“Let me ask dad if he got a package for us. I will be right back.”

Riley disappeared from the screen and Cassie had to admit she would have liked to have seen Sean’s face again. His book covers never included an author photo and she had combed the internet many times to find images of him. There were very few. Neither of the girls had inherited his light caramel skin. Both must favor their mother, she thought. She wondered if he had forgotten to shave or was growing out his beard. She was not a fan of the current trending quarantine beards, she called them. All beards were not created equal, and some men would serve humanity better by not growing one. The jury was out as to whether he would look good with a beard. Would it work with his unruly brown curly hair which also looked like it needed to be cut? The low beard and curly hair made him look like a rebel. She had a thing for rebels.

“Dad, says we got it. I can’t wait to see what’s inside.”

Riley’s face beamed back at her.

“Good. I am looking forward to seeing how you all use the activities. Let’s get to work. First up. Everyone you should be seeing a big green button on your screen. Click it and work your way through each question. I just want to see where everyone is at, so we can be sure to fill in the gaps where you need help.”

Groans peppered the airwaves as the children all turned on their microphones to complain about a test on the first day of school. She wished them good luck and set the rabbit to bouncing again for fifteen minutes.

The beauty of what Cassie was creating was that the practice of pushing students upward regardless of whether they had mastered the previous levels would be a thing of the past. She had built in content so if they had not mastered multiplication, the system would recommend a series of videos and practice exercises to help them through it. They would receive stars and points and opportunities for other sorts of games and privileges with each level they achieved. Making learning fun and practical was important to Cassie. She could not wait to see what the students created.

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