Teaching and learning may have shifted online, but your pedagogical practices remain critical to your students’ experience. Many of your favorite teaching moves still apply, but need to be reconsidered and applied to the virtual space. Keep the following goals in mind as you plan for your next class.
Know your audience
It’s always important to have a sense of students’ experiences, perspectives, and prior knowledge. In the era of online learning, it’s also especially important to know what your students have access to in terms of materials, computers, cell phones, technological tools, apps, space to work, and internet speed, bandwidth, reliability, and accessibility (i.e. how many people in the home will be using the internet at one time?).
“Meeting students where they are” now has additional meaning because we’re virtually meeting students where they literally live. Try not to make assumptions about what’s available to them in those spaces, and consider how their home environments might affect their interactions online. Try to make accommodations for students when possible.
Learn science by doing science
People of all ages learn science best by actually doing science, which means making observations of phenomena, engaging in hands-on activities, experimenting to answer questions, constructing arguments using evidence, and communicating with others. We believe it’s possible to provide students with opportunities to do science even when they’re at home or learning from a distance.
Consider how you might be able to leverage students’ own diverse settings and experiences to engage them in phenomena that surround them, whether in the house, on the sidewalk, or using materials commonly found at home. The Exploratorium has a library of science activities using simple materials that might help.
Make the online experience engaging
Even through an online platform, students can find joy in being together and learning. First, consider how you’ll go about building community among your students. Consider putting together fun welcoming activities, like scavenger hunts and activities that utilize items that might be different in each student’s home, so students look forward to joining you online.
You can also make them feel welcome in your home by sharing some stories about parts of what they see in your backdrop. Make activities and discussions as interactive as possible by having students work in smaller breakout groups.
For recording data, use shared database software like Google Sheets so students can learn from each other’s work and share in the data-collection process. Encourage students to show their thinking and solutions to one another using their cameras.
You might find that engagement becomes more difficult after a certain period of time, so consider how much time needs to be spent online synchronously and what might be able to be broken into smaller bits or turned into projects to access asynchronously.
Plan and build lessons with intention
Learning and teaching online is a new paradigm, and we have to think differently about how to build lessons. We’ve found that preparing to teach effectively online can take more consideration and time than a face-to-face environment does. Think through and be clear about your goals and intentions for the session or lesson in terms of content, process, and community. Have contingency plans if something doesn’t go according to plan, including what might happen if there’s a technical glitch or you run short on time.
Remember that something easily adjusted in a classroom setting might be more difficult to adjust online. When breaking students into separate groups, for example, you can create a shared document with instructions for them to follow in their respective rooms. Think through how you’ll assess how a lesson is going, since you won’t be able to read body language in the same way as you might in a classroom.
Consider offering ways for students to give you feedback on how they’re feeling about your lessons and how you can meet their specific needs. How might you use chats, audio recordings, video recordings, polls, or other methods to check on student progress? Last but not least, if possible, we encourage practicing or running through the lesson to test for challenges.
Everything takes more time; be patient with yourself and your students
We found that it takes longer to grow accustomed to an online learning environment and its tools, and as a result, transitions (e.g. in and out of breakout rooms, showing up to class, etc.), monitoring the chat window, and even responding to raised hands can take longer than in-person interactions. Build some buffer time into your lessons and learn to be patient with yourself and your students as you adjust to this new way of interacting.