Like many teachers, my fall 2020 teaching situation is the craziest I have ever encountered! Crazy does not mean bad, just different, new, and at times uncomfortable and unexpected. I have survived my first week in this new normal with my students. I want to share my reflections and thoughts in case it may help others!
I am teaching in a hybrid situation. I see my students once a week during one 97 minute block class. The rest of the week each student engages in my class virtually. Each class has up to 14 socially-distanced students. They sit two per lab station. Masks are mandatory. Since students are wearing masks at all times, we are prohibited from doing labs involving open flames and toxic chemicals for safety. In every class, I have a small group of full-time virtual students who I will not see in-person. The virtual students attend class through a Google Meet I have running on my Chromebook during class.
My Tech Set-up:
I have a Chromebook on a rolling podium with a Google Meet running. I roll my Chromebook with me where ever I am in the room. Virtual students have been able to hear and see me during class with no complaints. I also join the Google Meet again (but muted) on my desktop computer so I can share what I am projecting on a screen in my classroom with my virtual students. Virtual students either type questions in the chat or unmute to ask questions through Google Meet. I also have a wireless Wacom tablet so I can handwrite on my computer screen from anywhere in the classroom. This helps virtual and in-person students see everything I write clearly.
Figure 1: Screenshot of slide #1 of Google Slide template - video of Earth landscapes, count-down timer and writing prompt (you will find a link to copy below)
Reflection #1: 97 minutes is a long time!
Students need brain breaks. I came up with a Google Slide template (see figure 1) to help me time my classroom activities so that every 20 minutes the class takes a brain break. On the first day of class, I had students complete a get-to-know-you survey. One of the questions was “Pretend you are a famous basketball player or WWE wrestling star, what would be your song you would want to walk out to when they announce your name to your adoring fans?” I plan to take those songs and play them during a brain break while students stretch. I also will have students model different chemistry concepts through made-up interpretive dances. For example, one brain break during the States of Matter unit will be to dance like a solid, liquid, or gas while I play music. Another idea for a brain break would be to do a cell-phone scavenger hunt. For example, during my unit on the States of Matter, I plan to take my class outside. Students will take selfies with things that are and are not matter or examples of solids, liquids, and gases. The virtual students could do the same at home. I will have them post their pictures to a shared Google slide deck. Finally, there are physically active “Would you rather?” games on Youtube. Students would answer questions like, “Would you rather travel to Europe or Asia?” If they select Europe, they do high knees for a few seconds. If they select Asia, they would do butt kicks instead. Not only are students up and moving, but you get to know them and possibly spark a conversation as well.
Follow the link to create a copy of my Class Timer and Brain Break slides to use in your own classroom.
Reflection #2: Students want feedback and questions answered
I surveyed my students to see what they felt is most important to do during the in-person class. The answer was very clear: they wanted time to get answers to questions and to get help. This was more important than labs and group work with my students. I plan to meet their needs through a question-answer session and student conferences. The first 15-20 minutes of each class will be for checking for understanding and answering questions. I will open up a Google Meet so all my virtual students can join in the question-answer session each day (even if I saw them earlier or will see them later in the week). During class, students will be working through different 20-minute virtual activities. While they are working, I plan to conference with my students. I will call them over to an open lab station or whiteboard to check in with them, give feedback on their homework, and have them explain their understanding to me so I can help them improve. If I can keep the conferences to about 5 minutes, I will be able to get through everyone that day. I might meet with pairs of students with similar responses to formative assessments to help streamline the process. I can conference with my full-time virtual students through Google Meet during my prep time or class.
Reflection #3: Make everything digital
I had a quarantine scare the first week of school and it reminded me of how fragile the hybrid schedule is. At any point in time, I might have to quarantine for 14 days because I may have been exposed by a co-worker, student, child, or spouse. There are a lot of opportunities to come in contact with someone that tests positive for COVID. While I would love for my in-person class to run the same as it did pre-COVID, I need to be prepared to be away from the classroom for long periods of time with very little notice. So as I plan the week, I plan with a digital framework in mind. I plan to sprinkle in a few supplemental in-person activities to break up the 97 minutes for fun, but the bulk of the content and collaboration will be completed with a digital format.
Hang in there everyone! Please comment below on how you are surviving the craziness of a hybrid schedule. I would love to hear what is working for you! Join the conversation by making a free account on ChemEdX.