Thursday, March 19, 2020

My path for instruction during coronavirus...

might be different from yours. And chances are, yours will be more robust than mine.

The physics instructor (and high school instructor) social media sphere is rife with tales of how best to lead online courses complete with live video lectures. A tidal wave of software tool recommendations have flooded in. Solutions that were previously subscription-based are suddenly free. Industrious instructors are assembling indexes of quality resources. Online instructional veterans are posting pro tips for the flood of novices.

All of this is appropriate, natural, and good. And I am completely overwhelmed.

Whatever path colleagues take into the uncharted waters of this coronavirus transmission break is correct as far as I am concerned. There is no One True Path for this. Different districts have communicated different expectations. Different teachers have different students and different temperaments and different resources and different abilities. One size cannot fit all.

My district has directed instructors to make themselves available to students via virtual office hours from 8:30-10:30am and 12:30-2:30pm each school day. No new assignments are to be given. No student work is to be graded. I am in a suburban unified school district (about 38,000 students at 50 sites). The district is not 1:1 (one computer for each student). We were duly warned that giving assignments or grading work online would likely constitute a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In the face of my trepidation, I pulled back for a little perspective.

When we left school last Friday, this break was going to be shockingly long: no classes for a month. Administrators would continue to report to their respective sites in the interim. Classroom access would be allowed for instructors (6am-6pm). Less than a week later, our sites are now abandoned shut—alarms are armed 24/7. Counties are on shelter-in-place or full lockdown. The governor does not foresee schools reopening this academic year. This is objectively a full stop.

Students have been thrown into an unprecedented spiral of lost activities (sports and other extracurriculars, prom, graduation). Their parents may be newly unemployed. Families with lost incomes wondering how they will obtain groceries amid the hoarding. They may have loved ones suffering from COVID-19, and they should be doing what they can to avoid being a vector for the contagion.

So how pressing is the physics curriculum to my students? Answers will vary. But I think it's safe to presume that it's less than it was a week ago. Substantially less.

What to do? I don't know. Here's what I've settled on.

I already have a decent "static" online physics curriculum presence at Much to read, many worksheets to do. Students do have their textbooks. And the Internet bursts with resources. I am going to encourage my students to learn the remainder of the year's curriculum. To learn it as if they were going to have their final exam at the end of the school year. My final exams focus on the big, important ideas that should be internalized by the end of the semester.

As is always the case, learning physics is a conscious choice. Some students choose to learn physics without ever having enrolled in the course. Many students enroll in the course but never choose to learn physics. It has always been thus.

I will be in contact with my students through the school's SIS mass email feature to provide direction for how they can engage in learning. We will not have all the labs, activities, and demonstrations that face-to-face classroom instruction would afford. The learning may not be as robust. But the big ideas and fundamental principles should get through.

So that's my path. Providing some resources and guidance, with the student goal of being able to perform well on the semester final exam. With that vision, I feel like I can move forward.


lynnskutches said...

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your materials!

Lee Trampleasure said...

Good commentary. It's important to keep our priorities as the education AND health of our students. I like your reminder that learning physics is always a conscious choice. Those who can and want to will continue to learn physics. This semester will likely be an ✳ semester in grades and tests.