Keeping Science Fun During Distance Learning

Today’s Contributor: Leslie Hibbard is the CIC and Science Department Chair at O. Henry Middle School. She teaches 8th grade science along with an SEL class called Mustang Foundations. Outside of teaching, Leslie loves to hike with her dog and play a competitive version of dominoes called “Texas 42.”

One of my favorite things about being a science teacher is all of the hands-on labs and activities we do during the year. Obviously, this is made much more difficult during Distance Learning; most content is delivered via screencasts or Playposits. While these are great tools, my PLC partner and I wanted to bring back some of that hands-on feel to our class.

We always start our weather unit with a fun demo showing how you can crush a can using only air pressure; it definitely has a wow factor for students. We decided we could demonstrate this on our weekly Zoom call! Our Zoom calls are labeled “live tutorials,” and they are optional for students because we know that it is not realistic or equitable to expect everyone to be able to attend. However, we knew it would be a wonderful experience for all involved if we could get as many students to attend as possible.

The Pre-Work

First, I recorded a video of myself explaining the setup of the demo, performing the demo (with slo-mo!), and then explaining the “why/how” of the demo. This way, all students can watch even if they don’t attend the Zoom call. It also gave me a chance to practice with the equipment I had at home which is different from what I have at school. Second, My PLC partner and I notified students that we would be doing this demo in our Monday Zoom call. We utilized BLEND (canvas LMS) announcements, Remind notifications, and even our teacher Instagram pages!

The Delivery

I set up my phone on a tripod and joined it to the Zoom call (in addition to my normal laptop). We utilized the “Spotlight Video” function in Zoom to make sure that all focus was on the camera, and then I crushed a few cans! Students loved it, and we had a chance to give a live explanation of how it all happened and how the demo related to weather. We were also able to answer student questions about what they saw.

The Response

Our Zoom attendance quadrupled compared to previous weeks, including some kids who hadn’t joined any past session. We were able to have a discussion about content with students; it almost felt like being back in the classroom! Students asked insightful questions and seemed genuinely engaged. If they were on the Zoom call, they did not have to watch the demo video I had made; they could get right to work. Of course, it was there for them if they wanted/needed to see it again. We also challenged students to try the demo at home (with parent permission), film it, and send it to us.

Until this week, I had never created a video like this; so I’m learning as I go. It’s amazing what you can create with just your phone and an editing app. Whether you teach science or another subject, I encourage you to think outside the box and try to bring a hands-on experience back into your virtual classroom!

Here’s the full video I made:

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