Interactive STEM Teaching for Secondary Level Remote Learning

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Many science teachers appreciate the opportunity to use multimedia materials and engage their students in hands-on activities and experiments. However, the ongoing pandemic has presented science teachers, in particular, with a challenge to engage their students in these same ways while at home. In fact, a 2020 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated that in the early months of the pandemic, “only 38% of science teachers reported that students had been engaged in experiments or investigations through remote learning” (p. 1-1). Fortunately, there are numerous STEM teacher leaders who have not only embraced this challenge and produced new ways for engaging students in inquiry from home, but who have also become essential resources for their colleagues. 

For example, junior high school science Channa Comer (@ChannaComer) of New York City Public Schools has perfected her approach to remote interactive science demonstrations. Considering the high-needs demographics of her student population, which includes those living in poverty and learning English for the first time, she prepares demonstrations that can engage students joining synchronously in real time, be recorded for later viewing, and/or which can be performed at home with simple materials by her students. For a detailed explanation of her approach and tips for fellow teachers, check out this webinar recording and these slides, which she presented in June 2020 to teachers across Latin America and the Caribbean through the Inter-American Teacher Education Network. 

Taking another approach to inquiry-based learning, high school physics, Earth science, and math teacher Nicole Murawski (@physicsnico), emphasize the potential for students to collect data using widely-available technology through their smartphones. Nicole began encouraging her students to use smartphone technology like Physics Toolbox apps to collect data both at home and in the classroom before the pandemic, allowing students to determine fundamental physical principles on their own. This approach to using apps has spread worldwide, and is being used not only by high school teachers, but at the university level and in professional research settings as well.

Many teachers mix these approaches. High school physics teacher Lynn Jorgensen, for example, combines her training in the use of Modeling Instruction resources and approaches with a demonstration of instructions and basic laboratory techniques, students’ independent data collection, and the use of digital simulations such as PhET Interactive Simulations. For a detailed example of how she teachers about optics, check out this webinar recording, which she presented in May 2020 to teachers across Latin America and the Caribbean through the Inter-American Teacher Education Network. 

What is clear from these three master STEM teachers is that there is no one right way to do inquiry and labs at home, but that there are a myriad of resources available to help teachers improve their craft. Whether students are in distance learning, blended learning, or traditional classroom environments, engaging in phenomena- and lab-based learning need not be sacrificed.