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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) - a framework for designing learning experiences that proactively meet the needs of all learners - is a great reminder that students require a variety of approaches to access their learning; this has never been more true than during Virtual School, writes Matt McGovern, Middle School Science teacher. At International School Bangkok (ISB), our teachers have been adaptable and creative in using UDL in virtual learning.

There are plenty of apps and different digital platforms that can spice up a zoom lesson, but at the end of the day, there is no substitute for hands-on learning through experimentation. Teaching science during Virtual School has huge potential for at-home hands-on learning. It is worthwhile to take full advantage of these opportunities for many different reasons.

Experiential Learning in the Virtual Classroom

For example, in this 7th Grade Science class conducted over Zoom, students were asked to gather some simple materials from around their house (or Quarantine hotel) for an investigation into the chemical properties of mixtures. 

 

 

When soap dispersant was added to an oil and water mixture, it changed (almost magically) from a heterogeneous to a homogeneous mixture. But - as the student asks in the video, “Why does this happen?” 

Inquiry-based learning is most effective when students experience scientific phenomena first-hand. When it’s the students themselves who control the experiment, they have greater ownership of the outcome and greater curiosity to understand the explanation. Provocations that have students asking the questions are the fuel that drives learning in an inquiry classroom.  

As students learned about how polar and nonpolar particles of water and oil will interact differently when soap is introduced, they made immediate life connections “hey - isn’t everyone washing their hands 100 times a day now?!”  

Globally-Minded & Meaningful Connections to Learning

Having first-hand experiences made students question the clean-up methods that were used for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Our Globally-Minded students were astonished to learn that thousands of barrels of soap ‘dispersant’ were added to the giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Now we are back on campus, we will simulate an oil-spill clean-up lab “with” and “without” soap dispersants, and consider the effects that adding soap dispersants to an oil spill might have on marine habitats. 

A hidden bonus of having students running experiments at home was the active partnership that was formed with parents. In reaching out to families to seek help gathering materials, an authentic student-teacher-parent allyship was solidified. When the zoom cameras are off, having a network of allies at home means families are increasingly likely to have meaningful conversations about their learning.

Science is all around us. Sometimes we are in a lab, other times at home, and other times we’re stuck in a Quarantine hotel. But whether we are using specialized lab equipment or salad dressing ordered in from room service, we make connections in our learning and with each other when we are actively involved in hands-on learning.

Matt McGovern - Middle School Science

Academics Middle School