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Virtual learning with SNHS resources

By Wendy Li

Patrycja Anna Krakowiak is a teacher at Arkansas School for Math, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs, where she is the Co-Director of Advanced Biology PLUS. Just like other educators throughout the country, she is now tasked with keeping her students engaged in a new virtual learning environment. Next year, she will be leading her Advanced Biology PLUS cohort using SNHS resources. We recently caught up with Patrycja to see how she has been using these resources to continue STEM education outside the classroom.

How long have you been using Science News in High Schools (SNHS) resources in your classroom?

I have been using SNHS resources for the past three years. I use articles as main assignments together with questions from the Educator Guides. In fact, I have converted one of these Guides into a Google quiz that I attached to my Google classroom so all of the answers from students are collected in one place and I can grade each question from all of the students one at the same time, which makes my grading more uniform and efficient. In another class, I pick two to three Science News articles of a specific topic and give students a choice to read one, summarize it in 200 words and critique or ask questions about it. We have also started working with students on new research questions and had them search the Science News website for ideas. Finally, I use Science News as an introduction and springboard into virtual labs (using Labster simulations and Howard Hughes Medical Institute resources) and analytical assessments (using case studies). More than ever, students need access to resources that help them understand complex topics while captivating their imaginations and letting them see how science applies to and affects their daily lives—Science News amply fulfills these roles.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your students and classroom? What challenges have you faced, successes have you achieved, and/or funny anecdotes do you have to share?

I teach at a public residential high school to which students have to apply to. However, despite my students being highly motivated, they are facing some of the same challenges that none of us were expecting to have to deal with. They sometimes feel like learning is now “optional” and “unstructured”; they are struggling to keep up because their days are not nearly as “scheduled” as they used to be; and many of them have additional responsibilities like taking care of younger siblings which makes it difficult to focus and complete school work.

What truly warmed my heart was that once our school set times for Zoom meetings once each week for each class, even though they were not required to, 100% of my students participated. Most were engaged and fully participated (with parents and siblings sometimes in the background). I was even able to successfully utilize a Pear Deck with students answering questions on their devices while in a Zoom meeting (so I could encourage them and react to misconceptions in real time). Though shy at first, my students started to type questions in the Zoom chat box and eventually even raise their hands virtually when they wanted to answer questions using their voices. I truly appreciate being able to check-in with each student when I welcome them to the virtual class while also giving them an option to check-in with me during our one-on-one virtual tutoring.

Do you have tips for other teachers who are also navigating the virtual teaching and learning world?

The most important advice is to keep it simple. If you are use to a specific platform like Google classroom, use it to its fullest capacity before moving onto other resources. If you have never done any online teaching, Google classroom is a free resource that is easy to use and works well. One of the best ways to learn how to use it is to watch the many YouTube videos devoted to step-by-step guides.

Additionally, many services are temporarily free to educators. These include Labster (an amazing experiment simulator), Quizlet or Quizizz and Pear Deck (interactive questioning). Several publishers, like BFW High School Publishers, are also offering free e-books (for at least 90 days). Finally, keep in mind citizen science projects (from SciStarter, Zooniverse and National Geographic) that students can engage in as part of their science literacy. By participating and contributing to the greater scientific community, they become not only more engaged but more excited about how science impacts their daily life.

Aparna Paul