Remote STEM instruction that's both engaging and impactful is possible--with a little determination and creativity

Using digital tools for engaging remote STEM instruction

Remote STEM instruction that's both engaging and impactful is possible--with a little determination and creativity

Providing science and math content online can be relatively straightforward, but engaging students in true distance learning requires more than just transmittal of information. Secondary students in particular need to be able to see and ask questions during remote STEM instruction, such as during laboratory experiments or when receiving feedback when developing their own solutions to math problems.

During a recent edWebinar, two experienced teachers explained how they made the transition from teaching in a classroom to remote STEM instruction during the spring, and how they are prepared to teach online or in hybrid settings during the new school year.

Related content: How collaboration enables meaningful distance learning

By using a combination of programs and digital tools, middle school math teacher Kim Gardner in Utah and high school chemistry teacher Beth Tumminello in New York have found ways to provide effective remote STEM instruction and also replicate other important aspects of the classroom experience that can motivate students and enhance distance learning.

Math made meaningful

For Gardner, a Friday the 13th in March was the day when she and her students learned they would not be returning to the classroom. Fortunately, Gardner was already using a combination of digital tools to work with her students, so continuing the process online was not a huge transition.

Gardner was not only able to create and deliver interactive lessons, but using a program called Classkick, she could see her students working on their answers to questions in real time, and thereby gain insights to the processes they were using. Student could use a hand-raising tool if they had questions, and also share screenshots of their work for feedback.

Gardner could then write notes on the written work the students submitted and provide annotated responses in other ways with text and drawing tools. Based on the students’ work, Gardner could then create new assignments and lessons that could be saved and used with certain students or classes, but not others. In these and other ways, Gardner was able to support her students’ diverse learning processes and improve their understanding of the content.

Continuing the chemistry

For Tumminello, “distance learning isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being you and being human.” She found that students prefer to watch their teacher rather than professional videos, and this includes brief videos Tumminello created showing everyday, real-world science, such as what happens to dry ice after a food delivery. Videos like these can become “phenomenon-based learning” and teachable moments, even though not part of the official curriculum.

Tumminello has also found that creating pre-recorded videos without audio can be helpful, because that way she can provide narration and answer student questions while the video is being shown. A screen recording app can be used in a similar way to demonstrate how she works with data, so she can then be discussing the process she used while the app replays what she did.

Another distance learning technique Tumminello has found helpful is to encourage students to post brief videos of their own in which they ask questions verbally rather than in writing. This makes it easier for some students to communicate, and provides an option for students to ask questions they don’t want other students to hear.

To see how students feel about lessons she is teaching online, Tumminello keeps a separate window open in which students can post yellow circles if she is going too fast, and red circles if they have urgent questions. Based on the volumes of differently colored circles she is seeing, Tumminello can modify or even stop the lesson as she is teaching, and in this make up for the missing social cues that an experienced teacher would normally notice in the classroom.

To stay connected with students on a personal level, and have something like the quick conversations that occur when students are entering or leaving the classroom, Tumminello uses separate software to pose questions or exchange brief videos about non-curricular topics.

Through the use of digital tools and techniques such as these, teachers can offer effective remote STEM instruction, interact with students in both academic and interpersonal ways that strengthen student-teacher relationships, and make distance learning more effective.

About the presenters

Beth Tumminello started teaching Chemistry at Calhoun High School in September of 1999, where she currently teaches both NY Regents Chemistry and Advanced Placement Chemistry. She graduated from The University of Scranton with a dual major in Biology & Philosophy and completed her Masters Degree in Secondary Education at Dowling College. During her time at Dowling, she participated in data collection for The South Shore Estuary Reserve as a graduate assistant in the Chemistry Department. Beth has been using technology in the classroom to reach her students where they are most comfortable. She began making and posting videos for flipped teaching 5 years ago and started her YouTube channel 4 years ago. The recent challenge of teaching chemistry from home has sparked a renewed interest in learning about available technology for teaching. Beth is eager to share what she has learned!

Kim Gardner is beginning year 30 in the Utah Public School System. The first 24 years were spent at the elementary school level where she taught 3rd-6th grades in the classroom as well as K-6 in the computer lab. After receiving her Masters Degree, and a level II math endorsement, she made the jump to middle school math where she is beginning her 6th year. Kim has been a presenter at multiple technology and education conferences through the years where she has been able to share some of the tips and tricks that she has found to make her classroom teaching more engaging for her students and more do-able for herself.

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Ignite Digital Learning is a free professional learning community on where educators, librarians, and administrators can explore strategies and tactics for getting every child to be a better thinker, better reader, and better writer through the use of digital resources

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Wacom. View the recording of the edWebinar here.

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