Navigating Challenges of Virtual Science Instruction During and Beyond COVID-19

Blake Touchet, Heidi Hitter, Lauren Leonpacher

Abstract


This paper provides narrative experiences of mentor teachers involved with the planning, preparation, implementation, and reflection of a virtual mathematics and science summer camp in the summer of 2020.  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Advancing Mathematics and Science Excellence summer camp was forced to pivot to a completely on-line format. The staff set to lead the weeklong camp were faced with the task of converting this traditionally in-person, hands-on experience into a format that would educate a group of middle school students from their own homes without sacrificing engagement or educational quality. Primary concerns discussed by mentor teachers in early planning stages included accessibility, Zoom meeting etiquette, selecting activities that used only household items, and student safety during the activities. Through weeks of collaborative planning, activity and lesson preparation, technology troubleshooting, and practice run-throughs, the team was able to implement a successfully engaging camp for sixty students. Informal feedback from students and focus groups with mentor teachers and undergraduate interns revealed the efficiency of particular strategies, technologies, and activities that were implemented during the week. The team found that attendance was lower than expected; while there were 138 students registered for the camp, only 60 students actually attended the scheduled meetings.  Setting clear norms and expectations for the students during the sessions in general and clear objectives for each activity specifically were found to be essential.  Strategic use of the breakout room function in Zoom to facilitate small group discussion and the private chat function to maintain communication with students who were not able to use audio/video technology was very effective. Finally, the team found that it was absolutely necessary to emphasize flexibility and understanding in all aspects of the camp. This information can be used to refine practices for future or similar virtual science camps and, with appropriate modifications and considerations, may be able to inform best practices in science classrooms in the event K-12 schooling will occur either partially or completely through remote learning in upcoming school years.


Keywords


COVID-19; Science Camp; Science Education; Remote Instruction; Teacher Preparation

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References


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