Delivering effective education during a shutdown: When you're still teaching in school

I teach science in a 11-18 comprehensive secondary school. During the lockdown I have been running science lessons for students who are still in school. Some of these students may not be happy about being in school without their friends. They may carry fear for loved ones or guilt for being in school when all messages emphasise that staying at home will keep others safe.

My primary aim when welcoming young people into my lab is to let them know just that; they are welcome to be there and that I care about them. I prefer to plan lessons where students can be engaged in a task, but also able to speak freely about their day.

Our young people know that it is not “business as usual” and they have no preconceived expectations, so this time provides an opportunity to provide challenging but enriching science lessons.  Students enter with variety of ages, prior attainment, educational needs and science capital and I quickly realised that we needed opportunities for connection, discussion, building on curiosity as well as prior knowledge.

I’m faced with challenges of not knowing who will walk through my door, no support from my fantastic technician team and as advised by CLEAPSS here, no access to most of the practical resources that I would use in a normal week.

I decided to adapt STEM activities that I have run in the past as well as try out those that have been recently shared by organisations. As I am still setting and assessing home learning tasks, replying to student queries and reviewing the KS3 curriculum, I didn’t want to spend too much time adapting activities for year 7 to 10 students. I also have limited resources, so most activities need to use equipment that is freely available in my lab. To ensure social distancing within the room, any activity must allow students to manipulate resources without the need for close support.

Two sets of activities that I have run are shared below...

Identifying organisms through observation

These activities took two one- hour lessons and are suitable for any age group or prior ability.

Resources:

  • various animal skulls and bones placed around the room.
  • pencils
  • A3 paper
  • erasers
  • identification keys, books or access to the internet.

Tasks:

  1. Ask students to choose a skull, carefully examine it and draw all features (opportunity to connect).
  2. Use prompt questions on the board to spark discussion about the animal features. For example: How large are the eye sockets in comparison to the size of the skull? Are they front facing? Can you identify the type of teeth and therefore what the animal may eat?
  3. Choose a herbivore and carnivore or omnivore skull to do a comparison.
  4. Talk about how the adaptations are linked to food and habitat and whether the animal is a predator or prey. Make predictions and identify the animal.
  5. Identify the habitat, food source and animal using research and review the difference between mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians.
  6. Research British birds, flowers, insects and/or trees and go outside to identify a selection (opportunity to connect with the environment).

World Record Fingerprint Challenge

Based on the 2014 National Science and Engineering Week World Record fingerprint challenge.

This selection of science and maths activities are suitable for students from 5-16 years old and can take from 1 hour to 4 hours.

All the resources may be downloaded here:

 https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1_27vf07IM0VZlHxtHrpzw9fxCtnTSiNs?usp=sharing

I swapped the ink pads out with a graphite pad drawn with 4B pencils. I also added a starter “hidden objects” activity to encourage students to notice small detail as well as provide the “connection” challenge for the lesson.