Schools around the world that have gone to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic have faced challenging times. Virtual learning makes teaching daunting for science teachers, who are used to hands-on teaching and learning. It is especially difficult to engage students in laboratory activities. But, as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
As Seoul International School (SIS) continues to follow a hybrid schedule or full-on virtual learning due to local government mandates, it is imperative that teachers continue to adapt to these schedule changes. Since SIS started virtual learning in March 2020, I realized the importance of creating science activities that involve the use of technology and readily available household materials that allow students to perform science lab activities at home that simulate what is done in the classroom. It is indeed very challenging to keep students engaged in science, especially at home. Frequently used online teaching strategies—research, note-taking, and class lectures—are not enough.
In one of my Grade 7 units on Cells and Heredity, students were introduced to the idea of cell parts and their functions as I created a simple lab using a chicken egg and other household liquids from home. This simple experiment allowed students to use a chicken egg membrane to model how certain molecules can pass into and out of cells by osmosis. As the Grade 7 students explored how different liquid molecules can pass through the egg’s membrane, this lab activity allowed them to take what they learned about cell parts and relate it to the different domains of science, such as structure and function, one of the NGSS cross-cutting concepts.
In hopes of keeping the lesson on cell parts and functions relevant to the most important subject of the day, which is the coronavirus, I found a very compelling hands-on activity from a great science resource called Exploratorium. I tasked my students with demonstrating how soap can inactivate the coronavirus membrane following the steps and learning resources presented by one of Exploratorium’s staff scientists, Julie Yu.
Julie Yu’s work focuses mainly on helping teachers to bring inquiry-based science learning to their classrooms. For this particular activity, a few modifications were made. Instead of demonstrating the concept to the teacher, Grade 7 students presented it to their parents, grandparents, siblings, or cousins and they used readily available household materials such as soap, water, straws, and strings to aid them in explaining the concept more effectively.
The demonstration was documented in a video. As a science teacher, it brings so much joy to me to know that there were 62 science demonstrations happening in different homes across Seoul, despite the fact that we were faced with the difficult challenge presented by this pandemic. I never thought I would enjoy grading each video presentation.
Despite uncertainty and constant changes in our daily or weekly schedule, science lab activities can continue to be implemented effectively through flexible thinking, creativity, and focusing on the possibilities rather than the limitations.
Mrs. Jean Candol-Piscioneri is currently teaching 7th Grade Science and MS Robotics at Seoul International School in South Korea.