Bringing Virtual Science to Life
Salmon says one of her biggest challenges has been bringing science to life on a computer screen, something she imagines is difficult for teachers of other hands-on subjects, too, like art and music.
“I miss doing labs, I miss kind of letting them get their hands dirty,” Salmon says. “We actually try to have them design a lot of their own experiments, so I just feel like I'm cheating them out of that experience … we tried to do a couple virtual labs, but it's not the same.”
Blundell’s large, public high school is just a mile down the road from the Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area. So he’s usually able to take his ornithology class—which he believes is the only full-year high school class of its kind—into the wildlife center, binoculars and all, on a near-weekly basis. ‘It’s real field-based,” Blundell says of the class. In rain, snow, and heat, “we're outside and being a part of nature and doing identification and drawing and tracking, collecting data.”
That, clearly, hasn’t been happening the past few months–during peak migration season. Blundell still ventures into nature and records videos of birds and bird calls for his students to watch at home, but it’s hardly the same thing.
“One of the greatest things about science is the A-ha! moments, when you discover something new,” Blundell says. “And being out in the field, when you spot a bird you've never seen before, and you're trying to identify it and you do, there's a real rewarding feeling about it. So they're missing a whole emotional experience tied in with doing that field work… it's missing the euphoria and the pride that comes into it.”
What’s more, there’s just no way to virtually replicate the important social interactions that take place on field trips and in the classroom, whether it’s just sitting on the bus together, eating lunch with friends, or getting guided support from a teacher. Blundell says his students are still learning academics at home, but it’s the friendships and human connections that are suffering. “That's what the students are really missing out on,” he says. “We can give them the knowledge at home, we can give them the data to review, we can give them tests to take at home, but you just can't replicate having a caring person standing there helping you.”
Salmon says that interaction is a two-way street—and the thing she misses most of all. “They make me laugh every day, I miss them a lot,” she says of her students. “We’re still trying to have a good time on Zoom, but it's definitely just not the same as having that classroom environment. I really enjoy their company, and I enjoy their feedback … I feel like they have as much to offer as I do.”