Compassionate, curious, subject matter experts. Teachers are often described this way. Educators in the year 2020 can also be described as adaptable, flexible, creative and determined. Most parents who spent time at home with their children during the spring’s quarantine would agree that teaching can be difficult. This year, more than ever, teachers are being challenged to engage students in creative and appropriate ways. They are rising to the challenge and finding ways to do just that through collaboration and innovative thinking.
How do you teach science six feet apart?
Middle School science teacher Stacy Hill loves teaching science, especially the hands-on experiences that her sixth graders enjoy, such as archaeological digs or constructing model buildings to withstand earthquakes. To make science come to life this school year, Hill teamed up with Roman history expert Steve Latuso and tapped into technology to create a lesson on volcanoes that wowed students.
Sixth graders are naturally intrigued by volcanoes. These disasters seem far away and more exciting than the summer hurricanes that are common closer to home. Students were eager to learn about the causes of volcanoes, the types that exist and the impact that volcanoes have on the planet. They were also excited to learn about historically significant eruptions such as that of Mount Vesuvius which buried Pompeii in 25 meters of ash in 79 A.D. To build upon student enthusiasm, Hill collaborated with Latuso who previously taught Middle School Latin in addition to his role in the Episcopal IT department. While Hill discussed the ash and its impacts, Latuso focused on the details of daily life in ancient Rome. “The kids felt like they had a guest speaker,” says Hill. “He’s an expert in something I’m not.” The collaboration provided the students the best of both worlds as they learned science and history in the same class period.
Would you stay or would you go?
To create a complementary hands-on experience, Hill and Latuso turned to technology. Using Google Earth, the duo took students on a tour of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Discussions quickly turned to the realities of living near an active volcano and whether the students would stay or go in the event of an eruption. For the lesson, students had to stay and devise a way to reduce the impact. In years past, constructing a volcano and an eruption reduction system would have been done in groups using modeling clay and props. In 2020, students brought their ideas to life using Minecraft: Education Edition. This tech twist was a hit. “I’m blown away,” says Hill. “I was completely amazed at the level of engagement.” Hill says students assisted each other and imagined the impacts to homes, people and even pets near their virtual volcanoes. Students who may not otherwise speak up in class had the opportunity to share their building talents with classmates, providing them a meaningful opportunity to shine. “It’s meeting them where they are,” says Hill. “It puts the engagement at another level.”
Latuso used Minecraft: Education Edition in a similar way last school year when he challenged Middle School Latin students to construct a Roman bath using the virtual blocks. “Student engagement was off the charts,” he says. He was pleased to see a similar reaction this year. “It’s not surprising, but it is inspiring,” he says. “It’s an inclusive way where everybody could experience it. Students worked individually and collaboratively simultaneously. I think it’s cool that we are a school that can do this.”
There is more excitement in store for students. Before the Christmas holiday, the volcano enthusiasts will participate in an archaeological project in the QUEST Center in Foster Hall. Center Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth Lewis teamed up with Hill to organize an exciting experience that is sure to send students home with visions of the ancient past dancing in their heads.