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The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the paradigm of education in a previously inconceivable manner. The thought of a busy classroom full of students working collaboratively on a lab or assignment seems like a distant memory in our new world of remote and hybrid learning. The hands-on nature of science classrooms has been reduced to virtual labs, simulations, and lessons via Google Meet. We could spend hours discussing the physical and mental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, both inside and outside of the classroom. 

However, I think it is far more productive to use the pandemic as a learning tool. It has shown us many things, starting with the lesson that we should never again take for granted the ability to spend time with our families and friends, go out for a meal, or attend a concert. When the pandemic ends, we are either going to be better or worse versions of our previous selves. We are all in our own unique situation, but I have used my time to appreciate being with my 1- and 5-year-old daughters. The pandemic has allowed me to spend precious time with my children that I would have otherwise missed had I been at school while they were at daycare/kindergarten. My house and lawn have never looked better, and I have decided to use my remaining time to try to improve my overall health and well-being. 

In the world of education, we have temporarily lost the ability to do many of things we typically do in our classrooms to create a great lesson. It has been stressful, frustrating, and downright exhausting to attempt to deliver quality education in a remote or hybrid setting. But if you take some time to reflect on the new techniques and practices you have utilized during remote learning, I think you will find many positives that will come from being forced to educate our students in a different way. So, I wanted to share four practices that I have been using during remote learning that I will continue to use after the pandemic has ended.

Virtual extra help and review sessions

We all love helping our students. However, many of us lead very busy lives outside of school. We are parents, coaches, and club advisors, or may even work second jobs. Spending time after school helping a student is simply not possible if you are a coach needing to attend practice, a music teacher needing to get to rehearsal, or a parent needing to pick up a child from school or daycare. Remote learning has made students and teachers very comfortable using virtual meeting technology via Google Meet or Zoom. 

This year I have been holding review sessions in the evenings after my children have gone to bed at 8:30 PM, and it has been delightful. I can help my students without the stress and anxiety of getting to my next obligation. Teachers can use whiteboards, tablets, or webcams to help their students virtually on a schedule that works for everyone.

I also plan to use virtual review sessions to help my students prepare for the AP exam. The meetings can be scheduled with a student or group of students who need help on a particular topic, or you can simply post in your Google Classroom that you will be live at 8:30 PM to answer questions about an upcoming test. The key advantage to virtual help is not being confined to holding the review session immediately after school. Many of our students are just as busy as we are after school, and evening review sessions seem to be more convenient for many of them. Virtual review sessions allow you to schedule help for your students during times that work best for you and your students, and in the comfort of your own homes.

Figure 1. Student view of a review video after a day in which they were absent.

Save time going over completed tests and homework

Spending class time reviewing problems from a recently completed test or homework assignment can be a very effective way to reinforce previously learned or new material. However, I am sure we have all been in situations where we felt like we were only talking to a handful of our students during these guided review sessions — and the rest of the class is completed zoned out, because they either got the problem correct or are not interested in the solution to the problem. 

Remote learning has forced all of us to become more comfortable on camera and making videos for our students. Therefore, I started by having students tell me which questions (whether from a previous test or a homework assignment) they would like me to review via email, Meet, or in-person. Then I prepared a video of myself going over the selected problems, posted it in my Google Classroom, and informed the students to reach out to me if they needed further assistance. Students can let me know via Google Classroom, email, or face-to-face which questions they would like discussed on the video. Based on the responses I receive from my students, I can get a better understanding of where students are really struggling, and guide the class accordingly. 

Having the opportunity to submit their questions via email or Google Classroom provides a solution for students who would not normally self-advocate during a live class session. By providing students with review videos, I’m not in any way dismissing the importance of going over test and homework questions. It is simply a method to focus our very valuable class time on reviewing concepts and questions that benefit a larger portion of our students. The videos I create range in length depending on how many questions are asked.

Do not worry about being perfect in the video. I complete my videos in one take, and do not edit them in any way. What I have learned during remote learning is our students want to learn from us — much more than from some stranger’s stock YouTube video. They do not care if you stumble over your words or make a small mistake, or if your child runs in screaming. They want to see us, and will appreciate the time you are dedicating to helping them learn.

Using digital lab notebooks

When remote learning began in March, I quickly started looking for methods to organize the countless Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides I was receiving on a weekly basis from my students. I also wanted a way to monitor students’ progress during an assignment to make sure the work was getting completed. I realized this could be accomplished by sharing a Google Doc with each student and then monitoring while they added each assignment to the same document — but I wanted something a little more polished.

Google Sites is a very user-friendly tool for creating web pages, available in the Google Workspace. I informed each student to make the cover page of their web site “about the author,” which should tell me about their interests, goals, etc. Students then shared their web pages with me, which allowed me to monitor their progress during assignments. For each new assignment or lab, the students created a new subpage on their site, which is completely dedicated to that particular assignment. Google sites allows students to upload files from their computer, Google Drive, YouTube, images, etc. to their subpages.

A nice advantage to Google Sites is that once the web page is shared (similar to the other Workspace apps), the students do not need to re-share the page with you for each assignment. This allows the teacher to have fewer files in their Google Drive, and also provides students with easy access to their work. When an assignment is due, teachers can simply check each student’s shared Google Site to make sure the assignment was completed. Teachers can also offer feedback and assistance, and make sure progress is being made on assignments. Using Google Sites also creates a digital portfolio for students’ work over the course of the year, rather than a stack of papers that they will inevitably throw in the trash.

Figure 2. Google Site digital lab notebook example from a lab in which the student needed to estimate absolute zero from experimental data. Google Docs and Sheets can be easily uploaded to Google Sites.

Optimizing communications

The practice of reaching out to parents and students with complimentary or good news is not new or groundbreaking. However, how many of us have actually taken to the time to do it? Remote learning has made the process of connecting with our students and establishing a rapport infinitely more difficult. In one of my favorite TED Talks, Every Kid Needs a Champion, Rita Pierson says, “Students cannot learn from someone they do not like.” That does not mean we as teacher need to be soft on our students, nor avoid disciplining them in hopes they will like us. It simply means students learn better from people they know, trust, and respect. 

Establishing a connection with our students in a remote setting requires significantly more effort than in a classroom setting, where trust and respect can be developed organically. In hopes of establishing a rapport with my students, I have made an effort to share positive news and encouragement with my students and parents a few times each week through Google Classroom, email, handwritten notes, or phone calls.

The feedback has been amazing. People need positivity in their lives right now more than ever, and I was moved by the level of appreciation shown by both students and parents for a simple gesture of positivity. Sending positive communications has always been on my to-do list, but in the past I often set the task aside so that I could take care of “more important” items. After seeing the tremendous impact of these gestures, I will make positive communication a priority moving forward. 

Staying positive

While we cross our fingers and hope that the pandemic is soon coming to an end, and we will return to some version of education normalcy again, I encourage you to embrace the positive things, even the small things. A positive attitude is infectious, and could make a tremendous impact of the lives of our students and colleagues during a time when they need it the most. I also encourage you to reflect on any new teaching practices you may have implemented that could be valuable post-pandemic, and share your ideas with the community. We are in this together, and we will come out of this together!

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