Some Thoughts About Distance Learning
Distance learning is difficult. This is not just the case for teachers, but we have to consider the difficulties that students and parents will experience throughout this too. We’re going to be trying to allow students to learn from home, often content that the vast majority of parents would shy away from.
No one can claim to be an expert in this as it has never been used before in this way. It is all trial and error, an experiment if you like, of seeing what works and what doesn’t work with student learning. There is no hard and fast evidence of this, so what we are doing now will work in some cases and not in others.
I thought that I would share some thoughts about distance learning and the way in which I have set about this with our students.
I have seen so many people looking at live lessons, luckily for me, my school haven’t asked us to do these. They may be working great for some, but I have a face for radio and am not overly keen into allowing students, albeit virtually, into my home and vice versa.
The approach that I have adopted is for the use of online booklets which can be delivered via google classroom. This allows the students flexibility, one of my key considerations against live lessons is that in a number of homes there will only be one computer or device which could be used for these and more than one students. At least by using the booklet approach the time on the computer could be split for the students and there wouldn’t be clashes and then students missing out on the experience.
It is also important to realise that not all students have access to laptops or even tablets, a vast majority just have a phone, which is more than capable of accessing Google classroom. These booklets also allow the flexibility for the students to print off pages at home, or for those with very limited internet access to have the school print these off for them – but still, I think the digital copy is crucial.
We need to introduce some familiarity to this. Everything has become so turbulent, that familiarity throughout lessons will be so crucial. I appreciate that it won’t be normal, but using the same style of activities, the format of lessons and as similar as possible teaching structure should really help students.
Booklets can be found here.
Using online simulations
We’re incredibly lucky as science teachers, we can do things in the classroom which no other subject is able in terms of experiments and investigations. I think that we need to try and carry this through to distance learning as much as possible, but without putting pressure on parents or students to complete compulsory projects which will cause extra stress or the need to go on a scavenger hunt to find the resources needed.
One of the key ways in which this is highly and easily possible is through the use of scientific simulations. PHET simulations and Focus e-learning are two really good sources. PHET is completely free and Focus e-learning is free if you sign up for an account. These allow students to get results for a range of experiments, allowing them to analyse data and to describe trends and patterns.
I’ve also thought carefully about possible home experiments but made clear that these are ‘optional but recommended’. I’ve tried my best to make these with objects which are found around a home, for instance making a Cartesian diver, dissecting a flower or investigating shadows with the torch of an iPhone. The creativity of other educators has also massively influenced these lessons, with one of my possible favourites being students forming velocity-time graphs by timing a chase scene from the Terminator two!
The data collection activity from the Terminator two chase scene
The simulations can be used in a variety of ways, data collection and analysis or for the visualisation of a principle. However, when doing this is it is crucial that instructions are clear and direct otherwise the goal of the activity will be lost. The example below shows an example of how this has been achieved below, by combining integrated instructions into the simulation so that students can see exactly how they will use the simulation and what this data will be used for.
A Phet simulation to investigate how the number of particles and collisions will affect the pressure.
I know that it is an ambiguous area, but I feel that providing some feedback to students is also so important. Again, going back to familiarity, we do this in school, it is an opportunity to interact with them, and for all, you know this could be one of the only interactions that they have outside of their immediate family. In some senses, it is about education, but on a broader sense, it is about maintaining human connections, keeping up morale. By using Google classroom and the associated apps you can also view students working live, and if you even want access the chat feature where you can just ask them about their day, it’s important to not underestimate the impact of these small interactions! After all, who would be motivated to do any work if you knew that it would just sit in an online file and never be looked at?
So overall the whole point of this article is just to give others an idea about what you could do – it may work with your students, it may not, but you simply do not know until it has been tried. At the moment I think there is and should be a key focus on educators sharing ideas, resources and concepts which will help students learn in the best possible way. We should not be in competition with each other in any way, nor should we be looking to pick holes in each others approach, instead we should be learning from each other to best adapt to this situation, however long it will last!
I know that it is really easy to describe what I have done without anyone actually seeing it, so the link below will take you to the booklets in full. After all, if we as educators do not take this opportunity to share and improve our practice, when will we ever!
The resources I mention in the article can be found here: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1iU_3Wl6BdN7-vtWrJ0ZXS7m-l8-EuK-H
Focus e-learning: http://www.focuseducational.com
Phet Simulations https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/physics