Conducting Class One Hundred Miles Away

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Marialice Curran’s Elementary Education prepratory course “Science and Social Studies as Continuous Inquiry” at Saint Joseph College in Connecticut. Marialice asked that I share my thoughts on the importance of elementary teachers teaching their science curriculum in their classroom with the same rigor they do their reading and math curricula.

With my only collegiate education experience coming on the receiving side of the grades, I was all too familiar with the “listen politely, take notes” style of learning my classmates and I often approached our education with in younger years. Determined to avoid extolling the virtues of a scientifically literate society via soapbox to a nodding (off) group of pre-professionals, I asked Marialice to make sure her students had cellphone access during the session. Marialice also supported me with a well-wired classroom, equipped with two projectors and a camera eye to help me better connect with the class by seeing them.

I started class by asking students to think for themselves what kinds of coming challenges our world, nation, and communities would face in the coming century. The question was posed verbally, but also posted on one of the projector screens with specific instructions for students to text their responses. The results, collected and posted via varied but were easily postable for students to view and connect to science education.

It shouldn’t surprise me that the students were initially more curious about wiffiti than elementary science, but both students and I were able to settle in after the initial discussion, particularly because Marialice had set up our skype classroom so that I was on one screen for students to see carrying conversation with the class I could also make eye contact with on my end. In some ways I was able to engage with the classroom just as I would face to face (asking questions, gauging student apprehensiveness to specific questions, etc.) Other standard practices were less easy (prompting distracted students, attention via proximity and so forth.)
I was also able to embed a “polleverywhere” question into the lesson to gauge student understanding regarding forces on the playground. Polleverywhere gives question writers the choice of either receiving feedback in open response or multiple-choice format. Admittedly, more of these would have been ideal but I didn’t want to push it on the first go-round.
From the feedback received via twitter from Marialice and many of her students, the class was a success. Students were impressed with the inclusion of social media, but more importantly were exposed to some simple ways science could be easily included in their more “pressing” goals like reading, writing, and mathematics – all of which are great blog posts for later. As Marialice put it I “had them hooked!” Pretty good catch from 100 miles away!

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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