Will you be teaching science by distance learning for the 20-21 school year? Or will distance learning be used in a hybrid model of teaching, with some learning being face to face and some via remote teaching?
You may not be sure what model your district will follow yet. As of this writing there are many districts that are still deciding, my own district being one of them.
In my humble opinion, distance learning is here to stay, at least in some form. And when this pandemic is over, the learning technology will not go away. Many teachers/districts were embracing technology as an important addition to their teaching pedagogy even before the pandemic.
However, I think that we have a challenge that the other core subjects don’t … the fact that science is supposed to be hands on!
As science teachers, we love doing demos and engaging students’ curiosity. We love watching them having fun in lab and learning at the same time. We love using our interactive notebooks/binders and we love creating engaging lessons that are fun to teach and also fun to learn.
Is it still possible to incorporate all the fun stuff when you’re teaching science by distance learning?
I believe the answer to that question is YES … if we start thinking somewhat out of the box.
Teaching Science by Distance Learning
One of the biggest issues we have is figuring out how to do labs and hands on science activities. With distance learning, we lose that personal interaction and the ability to spot-check our students’ understanding of a concept. So finding ways to maintain personal connections with kids is paramount.
1. Get personal! One way to keep that classroom community and also do science demonstrations is to record yourself doing it. Today’s technology has made it very easy to set up. All you need is your cell phone and a tripod. Anything you can rig up to hold the phone at the right level will work. Then you do the demo and talk through it, just like you would with your students in front of you. Just make sure to have all of your materials ready and within reach. You don’t want to have to run off camera to grab some matches or a raw egg!
I can hear some of you cringing … honestly, it’s not that bad. I absolutely hate having my picture taken, but I was still able to produce videos that were personable and engaging. The more I did them, the easier it got!
There are several free sites where you can record your screen while you use it. This is really helpful if you want to make videos for a flipped classroom or blended learning lesson. You’re allowed the option of using your webcam with it, so you don’t have to show your face if you don’t want to! I do think that students like seeing their teachers’ faces though … it makes it much more personal. Check out Loom, Screencast-O-Matic, or Screencastify for quick and easy video recorders/editors.
2. Keep it simple, especially if you weren’t using much technology before the pandemic. There is so much out there for online instruction that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Just try one or two apps or sites that look intriguing and get yourself proficient with those. If you’re fairly tech-savvy you may have more options, but remember, the students have other classes besides yours. If all their teachers are using different online tools, that’s a lot for them to keep track of.
3. Get the basics online somewhere. Just like during the first week of school, you’ll need to establish your online class atmosphere. Whether it’s in your LMS, your class blog, or Google Site, you’ll need a “home base” to post your expectations for online learning, a clear routine, instructions, links, etc. That way students will know where to go if they have questions.
4. Set up synchronous and asynchronous instruction. This is something that you’ll most likely be working on throughout the duration of your online teaching. Good distance learning should maintain a balance between the two. That IS one of the benefits of online learning, right? Having the ability to learn and complete activities at their own pace when it’s most convenient for them, with flexible scheduling, will make your students more apt to engage with your material and get their work done.
There also should be times when students know they will be together with you online. Zoom has become the go-to app for teachers to set up their online classes. It has a lot of great features that make it easy to use.
5. Facilitate small group instruction. This may seem impossible to do with online learning. But Zoom and Google Meet (both free) have made it fairly easy to use “breakout rooms” where students interact online and can then meet back together with their teacher for discussions at a specified time. When you’re planning these breakout sessions, make sure that you have a clear and specific task for students to complete. It’s also really helpful to have roles for each student in the group. Just as in face to face teaching, knowing exactly what’s required of them cuts down on off-task behavior.
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as you navigate this uncharted territory. If you have any other tips for teaching science with distance learning, please share them below. We’d love to hear!