The Formula for Teaching Science in a Remote Environment

Beth Tumminello’s high school Chemistry students in Long Island  New York were able to keep their coursework going, even as the pandemic changed learning dramatically. Digital tools and resources helped to make it possible.

When asked about the biggest challenges she faced in the rapid transition to remote learning, Beth’s experiences mirrored those of educators across the nation.

“For me, the most difficult part was not being able to see my students face to face…and not knowing when I would see them again. School is about more than presenting the material. Not being in school meant I didn’t have the ability to use those non-verbal cues that help me do more than teach chemistry. And for chemistry, in particular, not having access to the hands-on lab equipment was a challenge, along with a more limited ability to provide 1:1 extra help…because chemistry isn’t an easy subject for many students.”

Collaboration to the Rescue

The chemistry faculty at Beth’s high school intensified their collaboration, figuring out ways to split the work and brainstorm ways to reach students effectively and compensate as much as possible around the “hands-on” components of their chemistry curriculum.

“I have some videos that I created previously, prior to the transition to remote learning. These show lab activities that are either a little more dangerous or a little more time consuming. They don’t take the place of hands-on labs that students do, but they’re useful in showing chemistry phenomena. In some cases, I’ve integrated probeware and I show the collected data on the screen along with the data analysis. Prior to the move to distance learning, I did these so students could preview them before an in-class discussion.”

Sharing those videos with her colleagues and taking advantage of some of the resources they’ve created helped the entire team address curriculum needs for students. Another collaborative boost was sharing online class schedules, so teachers knew when students would be available for the twice-weekly 40-45-minute class online sessions. Once schedules were structured, students and teachers alike could plan and that worked to sustain better student engagement.

Changing Instructional Approaches

“Once it became clear that schools would not reopen for the balance of the 2019-20 school year, we had to come up with a way to be mindful of the challenges our students had at home but at the same time be aware of the fact that our students wanted and needed to learn. Each day I posted a small, pre-recorded video, an assignment and an invitation for students to have access to me  for small group and individual questions and extra help.”

Beth offered this additional insight into how her teaching changed, explaining “I switched early on to a combined model on Google Classroom where instead of having a classroom on Google for each class period, the levels were combined. An example of a remote learning assignment for AP Chemistry was assigning the review videos the College Board offered. Assigning those videos was helpful because watching them enabled students to review the materials that were going to be on the AP Chemistry exam.”

“Many of my AP students were reaching out to me via Google Classroom or email with questions. I was either writing out an answer on paper and videotaping it or using my Wacom tablet to make a quick video. I could put their question on my computer and screen record my handwriting, answering the question as if I were answering it on the board. In my Regents Chemistry class, my colleagues and I were making assignments through EDpuzzle and quick videos, so we could use class time to answer questions.”

Beth’s YouTube channel gives students access to an entire portfolio of activity and concept introduction videos and she’s shared that with readers of this blog as well.

Digital Pen and Tablet Technology Have Helped Transform How This Teacher Delivers Instruction

Six years ago, Beth participated in a professional development program and the professor used an external tablet and digital pen. That piqued her interest and  after trying other solutions that didn’t quite work for her purposes, she found the Wacom Intuos, and that was the “advance” she wanted. She wanted to use a more “flipped” teaching approach, so she could spend more class time answering students’ questions and working through problem sets with her students. Being able to draw, annotate, and write freely with her Wacom Intuos has helped her move to a more flipped model and that has helped her students. She’s also discovered that many times, a five-minute video that students can watch more than once to grasp a new concept can be help a ‘lecture’ be more efficient, allowing for more student questions to be addressed during class. Beth’s YouTube channel also gives teachers ideas of the many ways she’s using digital technologies as a regular part of instruction.

As a side note, Beth encourages teachers to try digital pen and tablet technology, whether they’ll be teaching in class, remotely or in a blended learning environment. She said, “I think it’s just like anything else. There’s a learning curve, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s very easy to pick up and start using. I don’t think the Wacom tablet is difficult to pick up and use with programs you already have. It’s great with a smartboard and if you don’t want to stand at the smartboard, you can use if from the side and be facing your students. And in some cases, it’s more convenient than digital document cameras. If you have any kind of content up on your smartboard, you can use the Wacom pen and tablet easily from your computer without having to struggle with your mouse or track pad.”

Apps that Make a Difference

Beth uses Google Classroom, EdPuzzle and Kami. Both Kami and EdPuzzle integrate easily within the Google environment. She notes that Kami works especially well in a 1:1 setting and makes it easy for her to annotate and add notes and comments to PDFs and students can also interact directly with that content on their devices.  She also uses EdPuzzle to  capture videos, and add instruction along with review activities, and she can track students’ use of the content.

She added, “The most useful app that I’ve used with my Wacom tablet is Ink2Go.  They have a free trial and the program itself is inexpensive. It works in a similar fashion to a smartboard, so that if you are either screen-casting or screen recording, your work shows up the same way a smartboard works. It gives you a toolbar and includes an integrated screen recording feature. You can either have your webcam on or off, so you can talk to annotate your video. Most of my videos on my YouTube channel use the Wacom Intuos and Ink2Go together.”

Teacher to Teacher Advice

We asked Beth for any advice she could share with other science educators as the new school year begins. She responded, “Keep experimenting. As science teachers, that’s what we do. Science education doesn’t have to suffer because of remote learning or social distancing, and we can be creative. This is just another challenge for us to tackle head on. I’ve also learned a lot from teachers at other grade levels…I’m also using Flipgrid to encourage interpersonal connections with students. I learned about that from my son’s fourth-grade teacher.”

Shop solutions for Education Professionals now or contact us with any question!