My high school biology classroom looks quite different from last year on this warm September day. My students are seated six feet apart, we are wearing masks, the windows are open, and everyone has their own set of supplies. Even though I am an experienced teacher, I feel a little awkward as we begin our day. My students’ facial expressions are a mystery. I have to ask a student to repeat his question because his voice is a little muffled. I see a look of uncertainty as a student realizes that she has forgotten her supplies. I assure her that she can borrow some from me. We will sanitize them before and after she uses them. It is a challenging situation for students, parents, and educators as we return to school safely. We will keep getting better at this. When I ask students to share one fun thing they did over the weekend, the room erupts with stories of visiting the beach, seeing family, pet projects, and special moments. I see my students smiling under their masks. It feels so good to be in school.
As I introduce today’s class challenge — to build a prototype of a seed that can be dispersed by the wind — I deliver the materials to each student and students open the Google Slides from their laptops so that they can record and share their data. Although students are socially distanced, I am able to assign them to groups, albeit a little farther away than usual. I ask students to brainstorm and then design their own prototype to ensure that all students are engaged. As they build their prototypes, test them, and make improvements, I disinfect supplies and answer questions. I notice that students are completely absorbed in improving the ability of their seed to stay aloft. The room is alive with energy and purpose. It feels so good to be in school.
Students and teachers alike thrive in an environment of interaction, whether it is discussing an issue, solving a problem together, or working on a project collaboratively. To accommodate social distancing as well as my students working remotely, I have replaced my lectures with shorter screencasts that all of my students can view either at school or at home. I have swapped out my white board with an online bulletin board (Padlet) where students share their ideas or lab data. My students at home can connect with my in-school students during class time while performing a lab using Zoom or Google Meet. Yes, school is very different this year and can be little awkward or uncomfortable at times. Some students need to work independently from home, some are hybrid, and some are in the school building every day. As unique as our individual experiences may be, we are united in the common goal of education. We will keep getting better at this. It feels so good to be in school.
Lori Christerson, Ph. D.
Bishop Brady High School