Saturday, August 22, 2020

Cosmos in the Classroom updated for Distance Learning

Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage spoke to many of us of a certain age who were interested in science. I remember watching every episode of the series with my family as it aired on PBS in 1980.

That series remains relevant in science classrooms, today. I began showing it in my Physics course a few years ago. We watch one episode after each unit, and there is a set of questions for students to answer while each episode plays. Eventually, I posted those question sets to a Cosmos in the Classroom web page that I added to the phyz.org site.

In 2014, season 2 arrived. It was called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and featured Neil deGrasse Tyson as host. I developed a question set for each episode and integrated that series into my Conceptual Physics and AP Physics 2 courses. (AP Physics 1 gets no Cosmos. Shoehorning Kirchhoff in with All Things Mechanics means we have no time for any enriching tangents.)

When I entered the strange, new (to me) world of Teachers Pay Teachers, my Cosmos question sets were early product offerings. Originally available only as a complete season bundle, I have since made individual episodes available while offering the complete set at a discount. The first episode is free.

I purchased both series on optical discs (DVD and BD) so that I could easily show episodes in class. In the era of streaming, both series have gone through various iterations of streaming/not streaming on various services. Presently, episodes of Sagan's 1980 series stream on YouTube and episodes of Tyson's 2014 series can be purchased on YouTube. It may stream on a pay service, too. I can't always keep up.

Showing these episodes during Distance Learning presents a new challenge. Any series that streams on YouTube is easy and can be assigned as an asynchronous activity. Non-streaming episodes can also be shown. But only over Zoom, during synchronous sessions. 

But the question sets? In class, they'd be printed and given to students to write their answers on. Remember those days? 

Soon after the pandemic shutdown and the imposition of crisis teaching, I slogged through the task of turning video question sets into Google Docs format, so I could assign student-editable copies to all my students in Google Classroom, and they could turn in their digital copies when they completed the assignment. The task of converting each and every question set was not at all enjoyable.

I've worked out (through trial and error) how best to show episodes to my classes over Zoom. But as my EL student population grew, the language-intensive nature of this exercise worried me more and more. Such is the challenge of language instruction in high school: we want it to be challenging, but we cannot leave our EL students behind.

To mitigate what could be an overwhelming language load, I sought out and linked transcripts to each episode of both series. It's an open question as to whether or not transcript support is enough. But I'm grateful that the transcripts are available.

The Cosmos in the Classroom page, newly updated with transcript links, Teachers Pay Teachers links, and video search links, can be found here:

Cosmos in the Classroom 

I know that season 3, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, has been released. I hope to produce question sets for it someday. Perhaps a project for summer, 2021.

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