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Can we teach hands-on science—and connect—wherever we are?

Can we teach hands-on science—and connect—wherever we are?

These days, coping with isolation is something to which we can all relate.

But if you’re a teacher, on the morning of March 14, 2020, you were tasked with much more: rebuilding your classroom community online and keeping young people engaged, despite their isolation and yours. Your lessons required adaptation; your students had wildly different tools at home and access to resources; and, as a science teacher, students and families were looking to you for answers to this new and scary situation.

The shift in the learning environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic was stark, both physically and emotionally. Fortunately, the Exploratorium’s Teaching and Learning team was ready to help.

They tapped into the Exploratorium’s California Statewide Science Leader Network, a robust community of teachers and education leaders, in order to discover, “What do teachers need most right now?” The answer was confidence. And connection.

So the Exploratorium team expanded resources and partnerships and used their decades-long expertise in online learning to reach more educators than ever before. In a world of unknowns, the Exploratorium worked to provide a home base where educators could build resources and strategies—together.

With April 22 fast approaching, our new environmental educator Dr. Suzanne Pierre teamed up with veteran Exploratorium educator Lori Lambertson to focus the team’s efforts on Earth Day. It was an opportunity to bring together the needs of teachers, the needs of families, and a fresh look at virtual learning.

Leading up to Earth Day, Suzanne and Lori presented two workshops that prepared teachers with the tools to bring environmental science to life in their own online classrooms—along with the space they craved to ask questions and connect.

Suzanne and Lori then hosted a public, online Earth Day program on April 22. Segments addressed broad environmental science topics, such as climate change and pollution, as well as conversations on environmental justice and activities intended to connect viewers with their immediate environments. The aim was to build confidence around environmental education in the many adults—both educators and caregivers— now supporting students in new ways, and from a wide variety of home bases.

The resulting program was watched around 10,000 times on April 22 alone and has (literally) gone down in history; the United States Library of Congress selected it for inclusion in its Earth Day 2020 Web Archive.

In a little over 10 weeks—between March 18, their first online workshop on the science of viruses, and the end of May—the Exploratorium’s Teaching and Learning team:

  • hosted 20 online workshops
  • partnered with four other education- focused organizations
  • and connected 3,197 teachers and teacher leaders and approximately 10,000 early childhood educators to resources they needed to succeed.

The impact of this work has been immediate and powerful. Said one workshop participant:

“I am so thankful for the online classes that I have attended with the Exploratorium this year. I never would have expected to be an online teacher, and without these positive examples I don’t know where I would have started. They provided me with the confidence to lead other teachers in engaging in this new realm we are living in, and they gave me the framework for providing online classes to students myself.”