Theme of the month

Theme of the Month

Join us each month as we focus on a topic of interest to STEM Teacher Leaders with a webinar panel, open
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Teaching During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The onset of COVID-19 throughout the country has canceled classes and shifted in-person instructional time to distance and remote learning. Many classroom teachers are now trying to understand the ins and outs of distance learning, OER’s, some for the first time and navigating online resources.  Preparing for the job of learning digitally in an increasingly globalized world is a task our education system did not face squarely before the coronavirus. Of course, online instruction and learning have been around for some time, but we have never delivered it at such a large scale, to almost every learner, with so little lead time.

With the advent of the pandemic, teachers are tasked with using familiar modalities to teach in extremely challenging circumstances every day.   Will I be able to track student learning? What does the instruction look like? How can I ensure that my students are receiving access to high-quality resources? “It is important that we support the creation and adoption of Open Educational Resources (OER)”, says Dr. Sian Proctor. Teachers and students should have the ability to openly retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute resources in order to ensure equity and access for all. OER’s give students more adaptability flexibility in learning, with research showing that most students perform as well or better using OER course materials compared with students using traditional materials textbooks.

As teachers, we are no strangers to being asked to do the impossible, but designing effective distance learning programs requires planning and professional development. Some schools have the support systems in place that will make the transition easier, while many others have students who do not have reliable internet access. The good news is help and access to resources is available! Many ed-tech companies are now offering free access to online platforms for the duration of the closure. A new education landscape is forming to navigate these unfamiliar waters.

STEM ecosystems are also working together in response to the challenges that are facing families, educators and districts.  Debbie Reynolds, a middle-level STEM Specialist who is serving as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow within the Department of Defense at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock sees first-hand how the different federal agencies are coming together to address the needs. “Whether it is the Department of Education, NSF, the Smithsonian or the Department of Defense, everyone is taking the time to pivot and bring the needs of learners and educators to the forefront in this time of crisis. With over 50 million students in K-12 public education alone, it has been great to see the partnerships that are being created and the resources that are being shared across all different national organizations, non-profits, Ed-tech companies, and agencies. Just recently, a new site called Tech for Learners was launched to help schools, districts, states, families, etc., find educational resources. Users can utilize the search tool and filter to discover the best educational technology to meet that learning or educational need. The website is located at www.techforlearners.org  We are finding ourselves in an extraordinary time, and it will take all of us working and learning together as we rise to meet this challenge.”

Meeting diverse learning needs is a constant struggle and the online environment adds an additional layer of challenge.   According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), online learning environments that incorporate SEL practices encourage students to grow into digital learners who can communicate boundaries and needs, solve problems and tackle obstacles with the confidence and knowledge necessary to solve and navigate. Integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) skills is critical for short and long term student success. 

Social and emotional learning, or SEL, is the construction and usage of educational processes that help students learn to understand and regulate their emotions, feel and express empathy, communicate, set and achieve positive goals, and make decisions responsibly. SEL is a connection and commitment driven process for learning essential life skills such as self-efficacy, managing emotions, and setting and achieving positive goals can happen anywhere. By implementing SEL in your online instruction, you can empower students with the skills and understanding necessary to succeed academically and in all other aspects of life. Actively promoting social, emotional, and academic learning with the intent of creating enriched, nurturing classroom environments helps students develop and practice social and emotional skills.  

As a tool for making communication and design, STEM learning can have a profound impact on the social-emotional health of our students. Problem-solving and design are skills used over and over throughout the maker process, as students must work together to make responsible decisions that can yield a successful build. Whatever approaches to SEL that you implement digitally, it’s important to show your commitment to and operate with the intent of creating enriched, nurturing classroom activities that actively promote social, emotional, and academic learning.  Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t expect perfection.

We are starting to see creative solutions around all parts of this growing crisis. It doesn’t matter if it’s urban or rural, it is a collective attempt to figure out how to keep students safe, ensure that learning can continue and how to salvage the experience of this school year. As educators, we must be prepared to have both good days and bad days with remote instruction and learn from both.  We're all on a steep learning curve right now.  Let's share our experiences as well as our resources, and keep track of lessons learned.  If we keep  focused on the fundamentals of STEM education in this challenging time, the lessons will be valuable, no matter what the "new normal" looks like, or when it arrives!

Use this time to share your experiences, challenges, and successes with other teacher leaders.  What's worked?  What hasn't?  What questions for research are emerging as teachers and others work their way through these months of uncertainty and opportunity?  What resources have helped?  Feel free to post a comment to this blog post or add to the ongoing discussions.

 

Links to resources that address these tasks. 

 

About the author: David  Lockett is a middle school STEM+CS teacher at Edward W. Bok Academy, a public, charter school located in Central Florida. Bok Academy is one of the many schools across the country impacted by recent school closure mandates, which call for a shutdown of all K-12 schools in response to the growing COVID-19 crisis. 

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