The COVID-19 time has brought many challenges in several institutions including schools. Change in education brings along ‘loss, anxiety, and struggle’ (Marris, 1975). However, I believe teachers are among the first ones to be responding to this new reality and giving a lasting contribution to students, their schools, and the community at large. After all, teachers are familiar with the need to adapt and change in the classroom, to meet diverse students’ needs, and this, was once again, is a new challenge teacher’ suddenly must face and readjust.
Challenging as it may be, the new reality of dependence on digital media and the use of digital platforms came to the forefront. Educators are presently exploring how to apply them to be able to reach out to their students and continue the learning process in the current scholar year.
In this scenario, I decided to upskill not only to various digital tools but also to some aspects of STEM. The following are some adaptations I so far consider better to reach out to my students and Physics teachers -whom I support in my work as Head of Department for Physics in Catholic Schools in Malta.
a) MOOCs/ Webinars by the European Schoolnet
I enrolled and finished the MOOC by the European Schoolnet on ‘Our Fragile Planet’ and learned how to incorporate further new aspects of climate change in my teaching of Science and Physics such as the use of satellites. Then I learned how to enable the use of digital tools like Mentimeter, Kahoot, and similar ones in the Flipped Classroom setting. I have been using it in my lessons for the past 6 years through the Edmodo platform. It is very student-friendly.
On this platform, I decided to start using more regularly the Gradebook option to view students’ work and give formative feedback thereon while keeping a record of the associated assessment, possible through Edmodo. I also remind my students to check the Gradebook regularly to note any pending work and assignments needed for submission. This way, students who were already confident to use Edmodo in my classes became empowered to become better organised and learn some time management skills. I am also recently registering and following new webinars produced by EUN to keep improving my skills.
b) STEM training locally
I am following training organised by the American Embassy in Malta which is beneficial in my Physics class and for the support I provide to Physics teachers. This is possible through a virtual tech workshop series entitled “STEAM Connect,” which started at the beginning of April 2020. The first session presented details on the use of Tinkercad and explored 3D design, electronics, and coding using the online platform @Tinkercad.
c) Online lessons with my classes: live or recorded?
I had a dilemma what would work best with my classes: live or recorded lessons? Initially, I learned how to record audio on the Microsoft PowerPoint presentations to leave for my students on the different Edmodo classes to be able to learn at their own pace.
Then I decided to give a try to online live classes using the Cisco Webex platform. Due to data protection policies, I decided to send students some netiquette rules and tips beforehand to enable the smooth running of lessons and the best use of time online.
The adjustment was worth the while as the feeling of proximity with the students was amazing and they said that they enjoyed it as well. During the lessons, through the possible permission to students to annotate on what is shared on the screen, lessons are interactive, colourful, and fun.
What struck me in this new experience was that besides participating in the lesson, students at some point would share their daily, what they miss about school and life before Covid-19. By giving them space and time for students to express themselves in this challenging time it can mean and sustain a good relationship between students-professors. Moreover, it made me rethink the type of homework tasks given, and as much as possible I have been trying to incorporate different skills. For instance, the first task given on the topic of stability and center of gravity was about building a balancing toy. The following pictures are a few of students’ work and ideas.
In view of the students’ response, therefore, I decided to keep the live sessions for the third term especially since so far attendance was at 100%.
My plans in case someone misses a class:
- Access to the related resources are still possible through Edmodo platform
- The uses of the Messages on Edmodo also makes easier for students to contact me in case they need any clarification or further explanation.
- Students have been paired up so that one student supports the other following a missed lesson. In class we use the Think-Pair-Share pedagogy, so students are used to working in couples on a regular basis. This can empower students with different values and skills.
d) Encouraging STEM Careers uptake in a local school
In late March, I meant to do a presentation in a secondary school to encourage students to choose a STEM career by studying further the Science subjects and Mathematics to the tertiary level. However, the face to face presentation was canceled, I created a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation (containing audio recording) to send to teachers, parents, and students around the Easter holidays. This session aimed to empower students (between 9 and 11 years old) in the choice of subjects that they intend to follow.
e) STEM Careers’ Promotion
I am currently working online with the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) to follow up necessary preparations for the running of the coding of AstroPis done earlier in World Space Week Malta Event 2019 (see photos below). These programs will be running on the International Space Station (ISS) during April/May 2020. Certificates received, stating the date and time of ISS when the program was run and which coordinates on Earth the space station was facing at that time will then be passed on to the respective schools and parents who participated in this initiative.
All in all, the current circumstances have presented some new opportunities to educators and the students. I feel that these times are helping highlight the need to delve deeper into the importance of good communication, support, and encourage one another. Allowing this experience to introduce some positive memories into our lives and hearts.
MARRIS, P., (1975) Loss and Change, NY: Anchor/Doubleday. Commentary.
MANASSE, A.L. (1986). Vision and leadership: Paying attention to intention. Peabody Journal of Education, 63(1), 150-173.
Author: Stephanie Maggi-Pulis, Malta Scientix Ambassadors