Teaching STEM during COVID
How can I create a safe lab experience for my students? How will I have time to sanitize everything in my lab before and after each class? Do I have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) at my school? What is the best way to engage my students when they aren’t in class? How can I continue to make STEM activities fun and interactive?
in an in-person, hybrid, or remote learning environment, science and
STEM teachers have likely grappled with one or more of these
questions as they start this school year amid COVID-19. And, while
there certainly is not going to be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way
to teach science going forward, the following considerations and tips
will help deliver a safe and engaging STEM learning experience this
coming school year and beyond.
all safety precautions. All
teachers – especially science teachers – know that safety comes
first when educating students, even more so now with COVID-19. As
such, strictly following the established protocols from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and guidance documents from
local State Departments of Education and local school districts will
be of the utmost importance.
those teachers providing any type of in-person instruction,
traditional protocols for science labs will understandably need to be
adjusted. This will include new practices for physical distancing,
minimizing exposure, and enacting extra vigilance when it comes to
disinfection and sanitation. For the latter, for example, high-touch
science equipment, such as microscopes, balances, glassware, and lab
instruments, will need to be sanitized before and after each use.
PPE, such as goggles,
should also be cleaned appropriately after use with an approved
liquid disinfectant solution and/or UV sterilizer.
should discourage the sharing of items and equipment that are
difficult to clean or disinfect and, if possible, ensure there is an
adequate amount of supplies available to minimize the sharing of
high-touch materials. The sharing of electronic devices, books, and
other games or learning aids should also be discouraged.
should develop a rigorous schedule for this increased, routine
cleaning and disinfection and build in extra time during science and
STEM classes to accommodate for these extra steps as part of the lab
activity procedure. Cleaning products should also not be used near
students, and staff should ensure that there is adequate ventilation
when using these disinfectant products to prevent students or
themselves from inhaling any potentially toxic fumes.
real data. Since
in-person lab experiences will be limited – or, in some cases, not
an option – it is important for teachers to find ways to keep
students engaged in the learning process. Providing students with
real data to analyze is one way to do this.
students can’t physically collect their own data during lab
investigations, teachers can provide them with the opportunity to
watch videos or simulations of investigations and lab techniques
taking place and then give them real lab data to analyze. This will
help students engage in scientific practices, such as making
predictions based on their observations and analysis of data, and be
much more impactful than just listening to a lecture – either
in-person or remotely – about various scientific concepts.
students with data also lends itself to increased opportunities for
collaboration. Students can share and discuss their hypotheses and
findings during whole class or small group discussions as they make
real-world connections. By also including prompts designed to promote
engagement with science practices, it is easier for students to make
sense of a topic or question rather than if they just hear about and
recapitulate it. This is a useful method for multiple learning
modalities including blended and remote situations. It can also be
used for in-person instruction as a pre-lab activity to focus
students on the observation and data gathering process when
performing these investigations themselves.
learning opportunities accessible. Especially
if students are learning remotely, it is important that they can
easily participate in the scientific discovery process. Try
incorporating common household items into investigations, as well as
have students take advantage of the natural world as much as
possible. This could include having students participate in hands-on,
outdoor learning opportunities where they explore soil, leaves, or
other items easily found in or around their homes.
the guidance from the State DOE and local school district about
performing any science or STEM activity remotely and, when possible,
encouraging adult supervision of these at-home experiments as an
extra layer of safety is important. Educators should only choose
tested and safe activities that are age- and subject-specific.
Incorporating digital learning
programs that students can easily access at home will also enhance
the learning experience and provide them with enriching, interactive
activities. When choosing digital science programs, it is important
to make sure they are aligned to the Next Generation Science
Standards (NGSS) and state science standards so students are learning
and mastering the appropriate grade-level concepts. Choosing programs
with labs or worksheets that can be easily edited or customized is a
plus as well. There is an abundance of free investigations, video
labs, and remote learning resources available online which teachers
can access and integrate into their curriculum to supplement and
enhance existing coursework. As always, teachers should review these
carefully for content alignment and safety protocol adherence before
sending to students.
year will certainly present its challenges and be a learning
experience for students and teachers alike. However, by being
adaptable, resourceful, and innovative, educators will be able to
continue to safely engage students in STEM education regardless of
where the learning is taking place. Science and STEM activities
provide a springboard for learning about the world, stimulate the
innate curiosity that all students have, and are the precursors for
future innovations in our society. Understanding that impact will
help guide educators in delivering content and genuine learning
experiences to students in the safest possible manner.
Palcik is the Director
of Education, Safety, and Compliance at Flinn