BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Pre-pandemic, students working as partners in a science laboratory, gathered around a microscope, was the norm.
This year, the reality of science classes is only one student per laboratory station.
No matter what the subject, the classes don’t seem like they used to. Teachers, students and staff had to adapt to the established guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but social detachment and non-sharing of supplies can pose a unique challenge for classes like science, which usually have labs done with partners or in groups.
Gary Sims, head of the science department at Edgewood High School, said the two things that are impacting classes right now are just being able to meet in person once a week and not being able to share equipment and materials.
“Just once a week is difficult for anything, I mean, this is big business, and then trying to determine what labs you can do to make it worthwhile that day,” said Sims. “So make sure they get the content, that’s always a challenge.”
Earlier this month, it was announced that EHS students, among the rest of Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. students, can return to school learning four days a week starting on October 19th. But now, EHS students are divided into two groups, with one group physically coming to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other physically coming to school on Thursdays and Fridays, with each group doing an e-learning on days when they’re not there. Due to the school’s blocking hours, teachers only see students in each group one day a week. Students who are all online participate in the school’s virtual gyms, which operate separately.
“This almost has to be our lab day, if we’re going to do one,” said Sims, who is in his 39th year of teaching and teaches biology and systems of the human body. “It has to be that day that we’re here, so you have to program around that.”
Sims said that normally two students would share a microscope for a laboratory and materials would be available for the day. The next classes would come and be able to use the same materials and the same microscope.
Sims said that even before the pandemic, he would always clean the eyepiece, but now he has to clean the entire microscope and only one student can use it at a time. There must be an entirely new microscope slide for each student, he said.
“So it was six times,” said Sims. “A laboratory that I would normally do once, I have to do the same thing six times because we have half the children and we are face to face with a microscope.”
Sheila Wright, professor of family and consumer sciences who is in her 21st year teaching at EHS, said she has seven lab stations, so in larger classes, students have to wait their turn. This semester, Wright is teaching careers in social and human services, careers in nutrition sciences, fashion and textiles and child development.
Wright said that normally, in a nutrition science lab, three people are in a lab at the same time, with one student preparing food, one cooking and one cleaning. These functions are alternated in each laboratory. Now, students are learning to be independent much more quickly, she said.
Since only one student can do one lab at a time, the labs have been modified to be shorter so that two people can do a lab within the 80-minute class period, Wright said. Everything has to be cleaned in the middle.
“They can’t handle a bag of flour or anything, so I have to put the pre-measured quantities they need into their food laboratory in advance,” said Wright. “They just come and get a plate or bowl that already contains the pre-measured quantities.”
With the hybrid model, Wright and Sims are providing content and activities to students at home that complement what happens when they are in the classroom.
“Preparation time was doubled,” said Sims. “You need to provide two classes, one for school and one for home.”
This week, Sims said he had students at home do a virtual gel electrophoresis activity.
“It’s not the same,” he said. “It’s not even close, but they have an idea of what we’re going to do when they come to class.”
They can virtually learn about the coarse adjustment knob on the microscope, switching from low power to high power on a microscope or what restriction enzymes are, so when they come to class, they keep an eye out for these things, said Sims .
“The balance between children in the classroom and those at home has been upset,” said Sims. “It has been difficult and tiring.”
Wright said she responds to emails from students who are at home as quickly as possible during the 10-minute approval periods.
“I check my e-mails to make sure that I am in touch with students who are at home, so that they are not suspended or arrested without being able to go on with their tasks,” she said.
Because of COVID-19, some tasks are simply not going on, Sims said, since they require group work. For example, in human body systems, there is an activity where students have a set of bones arranged and need to measure the bones and the angle of the bones to determine their ethnicity and sex. This is not happening because it cannot, said Sims. For Wright’s child development course, students usually bring a 2-5 year old child to school during the day to gain practical experience of being a caregiver for a day, but this is not happening this year either.
Despite everything, Wright said the bottom line is that teachers are doing whatever it takes to make it work.
“We want students to still have the best, the most experience possible,” said Wright. “I worked a lot of extra time to rework some of the projects and rework the curriculum so that we could make it work. That is all we can do. “
Source: The Herald-Times