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!
Links to resources that address these tasks.
- Astronaut Anne McClain’s Tips for Living in Close Quarters – You Tube NASA astronaut Anne McClain spent 204 days living on the International Space Station and shares her tips for living in close quarters with only a few other people. She shares what human behaviors create a healthy culture for living and working remotely in small groups. Read her advice at: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/an-astronaut-s-tips-for-living-in-space-or-anywhere Learn more about how NASA helps prepare astronauts for the social isolation they will experience: https://www.nasa.gov/hrp/social-isolation
- My Sky Tonight: Early Childhood Pathways to Astronomy (Grade level: Preschool) - The My Sky Tonight team has created a set of fun, science-rich astronomy activities for pre-K children, as well as supporting resources for educators on how to effectively work with young children and engage them in science practices. Resources can be found at: https://astrosociety.org/education-outreach/early-learners/my-sky-tonight.html
- NASA At Home Resources - Let NASA bring the universe into your home! This website includes a repository of E-books, activities for families, virtual tours & VR, podcasts and videos.
- Story Time From Space Watch astronauts on the Space Station read children’s books and perform science demonstrations! Story Time From Space offers a delightful combination of science, literacy, and entertainment through its library of free, family-friendly videos. Together with NASA and the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, Story Time From Space arms parents, formal and informal educators with the necessary materials and knowledge to teach fun, accurate STEM lessons.
- Space to Ground Video: Embracing Self Isolation: 03/27/2020 - NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station. Got a question or comment? Use #AskNASA to talk to us.
- SciGirls in Space (Grade level: Middle School, High School) - This video shows how youth, educators and families can access the SciGirls in Space videos and aligned activities across multiple platforms. SciGirls is an Emmy award-winning PBS Kids television show, website, and educational outreach program that draws on cutting-edge research about what engages girls in STEM learning and careers, with many videos and resources. Resources can be found at: http://www.scigirlsconnect.org/
- WGBH: Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms (Grade level: Elementary, Middle School, High School) - WGBH in collaboration with NASA presents digital media resources you can use to teach topics in K–12 Earth and Space Science. These free resources are organized into four grade bands. Each resource emphasizes engaging students in phenomena related to core ideas and science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards. Resources can be found at: https://ri.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/universe/
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.