Ms. Rebecca Harvey
Western Academy Charter School
Royal Palm Beach, Florida
Ms. Rebecca Harvey, 6th Grade Science Teacher, 6th and 8th Zoology Teacher
Keeping a middle school student’s attention in science while virtual last year was a challenge that I accepted with enthusiasm. Using special effects and green screens to show experiments and teach lessons helped students trapped at home stay engaged. Now with hybrid teaching, half of students at home and half at school, a new challenge has begun.
With a Behavioral Biology background, it is important to me that students don’t simply learn the science I teach them, but do it while still interacting with each other. With all students utilizing Google classroom, that presents another challenge. For attendance each day my students answer a different question instead of saying the routine, “here.” From Favorite color, hobby, food, plant, and outdoor activity, to “how was your week?”, or “What do you want your career to be?”. Student responses elicit cheers as students promise to get each other courtside seats when they are NBA players and use of Air Force One when they get elected president. One of my personal favorites was a class invite to a student’s theme park on Mars. Also popular is what color do you feel like today? WACS uses a Green, Yellow, Red color system that students enjoy; it allows them to share their mood without having to explain it.
With social distancing separate group projects are more difficult. In my regular science classes, we work together as one group. Students in class can see students at home on the classroom smartboard, while a camera streams the classroom students into view. We stand up or sit down to visually represent ‘True’ and ‘False’ using motion to interact at a distance. When learning the Scientific Method, students are encouraged to come up with their most imaginative creations with invented experiments and data. With imagination there are no physical restrictions on their pretend experiments. For real hands-on experiments, I try to find safe alternatives with supplies students can easily find at home. When discussing bacteria and viruses we decided as a class that waving was a preferred greeting and we each created a vinegar/baking soda reaction that inflated a disposable glove that would look like we were waving from our windows at home. This was popular with students and parents.
Science calls for sticking with facts and learning procedures. My students quickly learn it doesn’t have to be boring. The first lab of the year is my “Science of Kindness” lab. Students learn that kindness, to themselves and others, starts a chemical reaction in their brains. They learn laughter is science, and in my classroom laughter is highly encouraged. Laughter allows an outlet for all emotions. By channeling our frustrations and fears into laughter, students learn the coping mechanism of turning negatives into positives. One day students logged on to see that I had a “Co-teacher” for the day. Their giggles and gales echoed in class and virtual, as they recognized the classroom skeleton set up in front of a second computer; co-teacher Fred was participating that day. Recharging Energy/Stretch/Wiggle/Dance breaks, bring a lot of laughter, both at home and in class, allowing students to clear their heads and refocus on the topic at hand. Bill Nye The Science Guy Music videos are a particular favorite to energize the class.
The challenges are real. The inability to walk around the room while you teach, because the students at home would not be able to see you, causes limitations. The internet crashes. The Code Red Drills confuse the students at home as you say “see you tomorrow” and quickly close your laptop as you scramble to socially distance students into one corner of your room. Teachers and students will be learning and adapting as these challenges continue to arise.
With all the challenges, there are also great advantages that come from being back in the classroom. As a teacher, I now have access to better technology, all of my classroom resources, and a more focused environment. Students in the classroom enjoy seeing their classmates and socializing, even at a distance, outside of their homes. To include the virtual students in this positive social aspect we often study for quizzes using Kahoots. Students in the class team up with a virtual student to see which team can get the most correct answers. Kahoots is full of cheering, “It’s ok we’ll do better next time”, and my personal favorites “I can’t wait to meet you in person” and “Look I made a new friend!”.
No one would have expected that hybrid, socially distanced, mask wearing teaching would ever be something we had to acclimate to. I am a firm believer that positivity is contagious, laughter helps learning, and challenges make us better. As a Zoologist, I have seen positive adaptations happen in the world of wildlife over the years. As a Science Teacher I am confident that we will also be able to adapt and eventually thrive without having to sacrifice our student’s quality of education.
Disclaimer: Content provides insights on education practices from the perspective of schools, parents, students, grantees, community members and other education stakeholders to promote the continuing discussion of educational innovation. Content and articles are not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to be an endorsement by the Department or the Federal government of any views expressed, products or services offered, curriculum or pedagogy.