Prospective science teachers making most of remote learning methods

Jim Carlson
April 23, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Carmen Vanderhoof and her SCIED 458 class are proof positive that even with remote learning, students don’t have to be removed from the mainstream.

When the spread of COVID-19 forced educators and their students of all ages nationwide into staring at computer screens, the supervisor of field experiences and science methods instructor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State simply wanted to humanize the process.

“Learning through Zoom was new for most of my students and it was important to me to continue building our classroom community,” Vanderhoof said. “Allowing ourselves time to adjust was essential to this transition.”

She said she has students in her SCIED 458 and 495A classes share feelings and emotions about the new order that is remote learning. “The overall message I was hoping we could convey is that we’re all in this together, even though we’re not physically in the same classroom,” Vanderhoof said. 

For the two months that students were actually inside Vanderhoof’s SCIED 458 classroom, the prospective teachers used model lessons that showed how to set up a science investigation. They learned about magnets, a lesson that could be taught to first-graders, and about Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a lesson for third-graders, Vanderhoof said. 

“After engaging in each lesson as ‘students,’ we all discussed how to adapt it for their own students,” Vanderhoof said, including scaffolds for data collection, assessment modifications, extension ideas, etc. “Instead of our last model lesson on engineering, students were able to do a video analysis using the Engineering is Elementary video collection from the Museum of Science in Boston.”

When typical classroom lessons disappeared, so did typical teaching. Now, Zoom cameras zoom in on animals in the background — sometimes stuffed, sometimes real — and sometimes parents pop in to say hello, according to Vanderhoof. 

One student, Deja Lewis, is creating a stool she painted to look like Crayola markers that she hopes she’ll be able to use in her own classroom one day as the teacher’s chair. 

Another, Emily Pilewicz, has a photo wall behind her created to look like the dorm room that she wishes she were in, with photos from THON and other Penn State-related events on it.

And another, Elizabeth Berg, created a Facebook page with learning activities and even ideas for her community at home. 

Berg is from Frederick, Maryland, and said she was struggling a bit with the adjustment to remote learning. But she said she thought about the kindergarten students she was working with at Penn State and how their first year of school had become disrupted, and she thought about her two sisters, one a freshman at Penn State and the other a sophomore in high school, and she wanted to help.

“I wanted to become a teacher because I love to help people and the best way I know how to make a difference in this world is by helping others. I created Miss Berg's Education page because I have the ability to make a difference and the materials to help other people, so why not do so?” Berg said.

The early childhood education major, who has a minor in human development and family studies and will be graduating in December, said she wanted to create a community online and reach as many people as she could.

“On the page, I put lesson plans/ideas, arts and crafts, read-alouds and different units such as the science unit on Earth Day that I am working on now,” Berg said. “This way, not only does it work for my elementary-aged students, but I also have content available for my middle school and high school students. 

“Parents can also message me and I am available for tutoring as well. A lot of us education majors were displaced during this time and with all of us working together, who knows how many people we can help. I truly enjoy making this page and it makes me feel good knowing that in this dark time, I can bring a little light,” she said.

Vanderhoof said that type of cooperation and awareness has been prevalent. “My students amaze me every time they show up to Zoom (even the 8 a.m. session), and they engage with each other in new and creative ways. They have been working in breakout rooms for the last two weeks for an integrated unit project,” Vanderhoof said.

That final class project would have been done in Chambers Building; now students are in groups on Zoom working on Google docs and slide presentations and receiving peer feedback via Google docs.

“All my students have been really understanding and supportive of each other, including me,” she said. “I have been working full time with no childcare and it's been a challenge. My 8-year-old daughter has popped into Zoom sessions from time to time and they (students) have been so sweet to her. 

“One class asked if she could visit again the next week. One of my students is her student-teacher and I occasionally see her on Zoom sessions for her class. Our worlds converged in many ways and we have continued our learning journey, even though the format changed,” Vanderhoof said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 06, 2020