Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Science Teacher and Distance Learning


There is nothing in the world like the mind-blowing moment that a group of young scientists experiencing a lab activity has light bulbs going off. There are no words for the expression that comes across their face- it is the biggest ego boost on the planet for us science teachers. If you were to ask me why I went into teaching science I would tell you that I chose science because of the collaboration, the hands on activities, and the genuine interest students show every single day. With an increasing emphasis on technology in today’s world, all of these are still possible. 

Collaboration

Students can collaborate through the amazing use of technology. In the past, when I was getting my education degree, it was a big deal to work with another student through Google Docs. Nowadays, Facetime, Skype, Google Meet, and Zoom, are second nature to our students. We are not teaching them the technology platform, we are teaching them the skills to be able to use that platform effectively. 

One way to ensure successful collaboration in a group setting is to assign roles, or provide a list of tasks and let them assign themselves, and notify them that you will be asking for a report on what contribution was made by who after. My students know I always give a group feedback form to students after projects, so they know they are held accountable to their assignments. 

Genuine Interest

Another way to ensure students are engaging with the science content is to incorporate student choice and give them options. One of my favorite ways to assess student learning is to give choice projects. In a choice project, students know they can demonstrate their learning through a variety of different platforms. For example, they can show they understand a cycle of matter using a slide presentation, making a poster, writing a rap song, or performing a skit. Students will shine if they have choice over how they share what they know. If they are doing a skit or a song, they can record it and upload it for sharing with their students. If they created a poster, they can simply take a picture of it and upload it for sharing. This free editable PDF by 
The Moeller Express will make creating a custom choice board for your class a breeze!


 Alternatively, give students a passion project, such as Genius Hour. Projects like these ignite the fire of passion in some students and the results are really surprising! Give students opportunities to be proud of themselves and their work. One way to do this is to provide students with multiple opportunities to show what they know. This might look like starting with a virtual lab, giving written questions to respond to, and finishing with a choice project. Here is a free genius hour form from Miss W's Classroom to use when starting a passion project with your students.

Hands-on Activities

Students can still complete hands on activities while away from the science classroom. One of my favorite activities is to have students step away from their technology and go on a nature walk looking for different biotic and abiotic factors. Alternatively, students could complete a scavenger hunt for genetics looking at old family photographs (e.g. find one recessive trait such as freckles or blue eyes). If students are learning about forces and motion, they could look for pushes and pulls around their house. Students can pick a mechanism in their house such as a garage door opener, blender, shower valve etc and research how it works.  

If your students are feeling brave and want to try a lab, there are many sites that have lab ideas for students to do at home. One of my favorites is Science Bob or Steve Spangler Science, where you can see ideas for experiments as well as videos and pictures of what it might look like. Remind students that it is possible to do science without fancy science equipment. Many of the materials for the experiments may be things students already have at home, such as an old film canister, vinegar, or white glue.  

For example: Here is a simple energy experiment that answers the question: How does water temperature impact air temperature? It can be done with a kitchen thermometer, two cups, hot water, cold water and foil. Students can take the initial air temperature of the air above the liquid and then take the air temperature above the liquid after 2 minutes. This simple experiment shows how energy transfers from warm to cold and can be applicable to many science topics!



Be Open-Minded

Teachers forced to do distance learning can feel overwhelmed and tied to their norms for instruction, grading and accountability. We need to remind ourselves that distance learning instruction is very different and does not have to follow the same flow as we have in a face-to-face classroom environment. As yourself if your expectations are reasonable and adjust your policies and approach to match the vibes you are getting from students. That Google assignment didn't have the outcome you expected? Kids just aren't understanding your Screencastify notes? Are many students falling behind? If something isn't working, think outside the box for a solution and be willing to admit your first attempt wasn't quite right.  


Survey your students and consider their ideas!  

Here are some questions to ask:

Is the amount of material covered each week achievable? (Rate the workload.)
Are the notes and examples easy to navigate? Is it organized in a logical way?
How could the material be presented more clearly? Are some things harder to find?
Rate the fairness of grading, the points assigned etc.
Do the tests and quizzes represent the material covered in the course?
Are there ample opportunities to ask questions and get help from the teacher?
How could the distance learning course improve?



Make it Interactive

Just because your students are at a distance doesn’t mean their learning has to be. Have students interact with their websites. Some very useful interactive laboratory sites include PHET, Glencoe, and Gizmo. All of these sites allow students to control tools, zoom in, collect data, etc. Another great way for students to connect with their science learning is to provide them links for virtual labs and field trips. Even if you were physically in school with your students, they would never be able to fly over a volcano in the way that they can digitally. 

Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash

Just because your students are out of reach does not mean the science content has to be. Best science teaching practices are still possible in the age of technology through providing opportunities for student choice and harnessing student interest, providing opportunities for hands-on learning, and by steering them toward interactive content. 

Resources: 
Genius Hour https://geniushour.com 

Other Links for Distant Learning Science: 
Science projects for home: https://sciencespot.net/Pages/classhome.html 
Smithsonian Virtual Field Trips https://www.si.edu/kids 
Explore the surface of Mars https://accessmars.withgoogle.com/
Daily free at-home science experiments http://www.clubscikidzmd.com/blog/
Earth Science https://www.everyday-earth.com/

Written by Chelsea Roy
Additions by Kate Wright
Captivate Science

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