Written by Nikki Snyder, contributing author of Discovery Education Science Techbook
Meeting standards and expectations for science has only been made more challenging with the universal shift to remote and hybrid learning this year. Engaging students in scientific discourse and critical thinking isn’t necessarily easy in class but having the ability to control the learning environment and observe understanding in person does have its advantages. Luckily, there are practical ways for science educators to meet current challenges and continue creating meaningful learning experiences that reach students from beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Whether instruction is taking place face-to-face, online, or in a mix of the two, putting students first is imperative to their success. From taking time to build relationships with and between students to ensuring equitable access to lesson materials and technology, putting the needs of your students first will add to their sense of security and benefit them academically.
Similarly, put students’ authentic questions about science first. Utilize their natural curiosity for the world around them. Use their questions to guide instruction. Science is important for all students and having them build a rapport with you and with others in the class opens the door for the collaboration and discourse needed for them to think and behave like scientists.
Maintain high expectations for students and provide rigorous science instruction designed for student engagement around real-world phenomena. Resist the urge to provide less challenging content to try to “get through” the concepts. With students attending class from home, there is great opportunity for students to draw connections between the real world and scientific ideas. Focusing on phenomena will keep student engagement high while they are figuring out the concepts behind them. Remember that phenomena do not need to be phenomenal. The more directly students can observe the phenomenon the better. The phenomenon, be it a high-quality video, image, or observation from their own home, should get students to start asking questions which leads them to thinking critically and creatively about the science behind it.
Educators faced with challenging decisions on how to streamline instruction should prioritize sensemaking activities. Sensemaking activities include those that allow students to use scientific practices to figure out phenomena and help them to make connections across concepts. Allowing students to discuss prior knowledge, make observations and engage in argumentation deepens their understanding of science content.
With Discovery Education Science Techbook, teachers can utilize Studio (Discovery Education’s embedded authoring tool) to let students share through collaborative Studio Boards. Students benefit from using these online discussion boards to ask questions, share ideas and construct explanations. Sensemaking activities such as modeling and planning and carrying out investigations can be done during distance learning as well. Do not give up on investigations, but rather prioritize doing the ones that allow students to figure out the science behind phenomena and not just confirm ideas they already know. Having students at home during science instruction does provide some challenges. However, teachers can take advantage of this scenario to the benefit of the students. While teachers may not be able to provide students with the exact materials that are available in the classroom, having students use materials from what is available to them makes the science more relevant to their world.
When hands-on is not possible, students can make use of digital explorations and interactives to generate data for analysis. Challenges to instructional time should not mean sacrificing rigorous, engaging, and conceptually meaning for work. It is an opportunity to focus on and prioritize sensemaking of phenomena to provide for conceptually meaningful instruction.
In this challenging time provide students with autonomy over their learning experience. This does not mean giving students free reign on what to study or what topics to learn. But it does mean providing students with opportunities to direct their learning. Utilize their questions to guide instruction. Students can demonstrate their sensemaking in a variety of ways. Give students options on how to show what they know. For example, with student models some students may prefer to draw their models on paper and upload it to share with you and the class. Others may wish to utilize online whiteboard tools to construct and share their models. The idea is to give students a sense of power in their classroom experience in a time when they may feel they have very little control in other aspects of life.
The ability for teachers to monitor student progress is essential to inform instruction. These formative assessment check-ins will help guide teachers on the needs of the students. Formative assessment can take on many forms. With Discovery Education Science Techbook, just-in-time strategies are provided to teachers to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of scientific ideas. Studio Boards allow flexibility for students to demonstrate their thinking and explanations of phenomena. Technology enhanced items provide students with instant feedback and resources for reteaching as needed. If educators are able to track student progress and touch base with them as they go, then teaching at a distance becomes much more feasible and effective for both.