This original post can be accessed via STEM.org on this link.
The COVID-19 crisis forced many STEM educators to make new pedagogical shifts and pivots to adjust to teaching remotely—which in many districts throughout the United States is set to continue in parallel with in-person schooling at least for the foreseeable future. As the educational community has recently learned—for remote teaching to be engaging for all learners, educators must design-savvy lessons that focus on equity, incorporate sound teaching strategies, edtech with breakout room capabilities, interactive slides, while being socially relevant enough for the most informed students. Additionally, the murder of George Floyd, racial tensions in America, and talks of dismantling systemic racism by the collective are no longer topics that STEM educators can avoid—nor should they without developing a more in-depth understanding of the issues at play and from an appropriate lens. Here are some basic items to consider—that can yield surefire results if we take the current circumstances as a professional development opportunity to make remote learning more engaging for students. One: Focus on Equity and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Equity in education is only achieved when all students receive what they need to be successful, both academically and socially. Therefore, STEM educators must consider the academic, career, and social and emotional learning of all their students. And although STEM teachers alone cannot solve all of the issues plaguing students socially—we can respond by improving our social and cultural competence by focusing on equity and integrating SEL into lessons. Focusing on equity in this context requires STEM teachers to know the systemic conditions that led to the disadvantages and associated traumas facing our most disadvantaged students'. Right areas of focus for helping to educate us and improve our SEL teaching plan in tandem with STEM lessons include the effects of structural racism and the traumatic stress it causes students, culturally responsive teaching, trauma informed teaching, and restorative justice. Two: Use interactive and dynamic slides in presentations When teaching remotely we must develop our ability to keep students engaged with our digital presentations — which is very difficult to do with traditional PowerPoint slide decks. Luckily, the Nearpod platform is designed for student engagement during lessons, and STEM teachers are able to upload their existing slide decks and then tweak them to add a variety of interactive features in lessons/projects using the ‘add activity.‘ Incorporating slides using the ‘add activity’ feature in Nearpod enables student participation during lessons in real-time! Spruce up your STEM lessons by adding polls, fill in the blank activities, short quizzes, open-ended questions, and drawing (among other interactive activities). Three: Use virtual breakout rooms for student collaboration One hallmark of STEM education is learners working collaboratively to solve design challenges. Fortunately, the Zoom platform enables STEM teachers to place student design teams in breakout rooms for group work. The breakout feature is excellent for helping keep students socially engaged and also allows STEM teachers to engage and coach by visiting the breakout rooms to help clarify misunderstandings about the material being taught. Before using video in virtual lessons — teachers must connect with students ONLY via platforms supported by their school district. So, if your school system doesn’t use Zoom — other video conferencing platforms with the breakout feature also include GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and RingCentral. Final word Undoubtedly, the current issues plaguing America and the world is changing many aspects of how we think, live, work, and do school. I believe the same holds true for our teaching pedagogy — it needs to evolve to keep up with the current events. As we work to fill our knowledge gaps, we must bear in mind that our STEM students are accustomed to a world of their own design — which they now view as being threatened. To coach them through this, I believe we will need to be both strategic and empathic in how we teach. With both the availability of research-based resources and the capabilities of today’s technology — it’s our duty to prepare ourselves with STEM lessons that are relevant and engaging to the modern learner.