Looking Past COVID: Science Education Post Pandemic
By Michele Israel
Science education during COVID has challenged the best of teachers. But even during the crisis, they dug in, designing creative digital learning experiences, using technology for enhanced remote engagement, and leveraging local phenomena and investigations for students and their families to do at home.
In a recent edLeader Panel, sponsored by The New Meridian Science Exchange, science leaders praised teachers’ innovation and courage during the pandemic. They also noted how their efforts illuminated science education gaps that COVID heightened.
The leaders agreed, offer important lessons that inform post-pandemic science teaching and learning.
What the Pandemic Revealed: Policy-Level Challenges
Where science teachers prevailed during the COVID, they also encountered obstacles, especially prominent during the start of the crisis. The 2020 Teaching K-12 Science and Engineering During a Crisis report said 88% of teachers indicated that students spent less time learning science remotely than in a face-to-face situation; only 38% had been involved in experiments and investigations while learning remotely.
But it wasn’t just the pandemic that diminished science learning. There were already systemic factors at play that tested teachers and demonstrated an urgent need for improvement at the policy level.
Underserved students from under-resourced communities, lamented Matt Krehbiel, Director of Outreach for OpenSciEd, have been the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Limited or no access to the internet has particularly undermined their remote science learning experiences. All students, Krehbiel emphasized, should have universal access to broadband internet.
Such inequity, said Tricia Shelton, Director of Professional Learning and Standards Implementation at NSTA (National Science Teaching Association), has propelled teachers and administrators to put marginalized students at the forefront of instructional processes and systems planning as they prepare for science education post COVID.
One equity-planning resource the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine supports produced a report offering guidance on the reopening of K-12 schools. It looks at how COVID-19 “safety decisions and practices can avoid reinforcing existing inequities in instruction and facilities, and if new safety practices can help reduce inequities.”
Krehbiel discussed President Biden’s proposed stimulus funding that would provide high-poverty school districts with the financial support to address the academic loss underserved students experienced during COVID and to help reopen schools.
While this support is necessary and admirable, added Krehbiel, funding should also be allocated to long-term solutions to issues that emerged during the pandemic. Principal among them is pairing professional learning with quality materials to advance teacher practice in the classroom.
As states and schools try to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) or state science standards, said Dr. Christopher Lazzaro, Director of Science at New Meridian Corporation, assessment approaches should be top of mind.
Dr. Lazzaro explained that it’s essential to move beyond traditional assessments (taking a test and getting a score) to design those that align better with what the NGSS recommends for science literacy.
“If you think of an old assessment item like, ‘How many protons are in hydrogen?’” said Dr. Lazzaro, “there’s really no science there, right? It’s just, you know, did you remember what the science teacher told me?
“But,” he continued, “if you ask students to justify student why hydrogen is placed in its position on the periodic table (in the first row in the first column), they’re using their science knowledge.”
This knowledge-based approach to assessment enables data collection that shapes science education and moves students towards more three-dimensional learning.
Collecting data this year, urged Dr. Lazzaro, is critical to determine how the pandemic affected science learning. As teachers design tests to be valid measures of what students know and can do, the data should indicate where equity played a role in scores. Students who had quality online experiences are likely to do better.
“It is essential to recognize these differences, identify teachers, schools, and districts that find success, especially with diverse student populations, and then use these best practices to support all teachers,” Dr. Lazzaro advised.
From the Crisis Comes Opportunity
There has been an upside to science education amidst the COVID chaos. Teachers have embraced technology to promote the wonder of science. And have discovered that professional learning can boost their grasp of the science framework.
Technology changed the scope of science teaching and learning during the pandemic.
“What students are now able to do in the classroom, with a small probe linked to their either computer or smartphone, is unbelievable,” said Krehbiel. “It allows students to practice science authentically.”
Leveraging and utilizing technology effectively can help students make their thinking visible and also helps marginalized students who are typically marginalized in face-to-face science classrooms.
Shelton described how teachers created virtual collaboration spaces, using tools such as Jamboard and Google Slides, where students could share ideas, get peer feedback and feel empowered within a classroom community, even in asynchronous learning environments.
Teachers, added Shelton, are discussing ways they can use digital spaces in the physical classroom to further student opportunities “to act, think and converse with each other as scientists do.”
Technology also changes science assessment, explained Dr. Lazzaro. It facilitates the testing of a greater number of students. And technology-enhanced items (TEI) allow teachers to assess across a wider range of standards, whether they be NGSS—and the three-dimensional learning processes outlined in the Framework for K-12 Science Education—or state standards.
TEI invites learners to use interactive tools, like drag-and-drop answers or examining a scenario or building a graph to tackle science topics in engaging ways. This is far more engaging than sitting at a desk to fill out a bubble chart.
Teachers, who had started to implement three-dimensional learning processes before the pandemic, wondered how they could continue to do this remotely. Some schools had on-site professional supports that helped them shape their instruction around the framework.
“Then the pandemic hit,” described Shelton, “teachers had a lot of anxiety about how they would continue that work remotely and manage that transition. There was quite a bit of concern that they would be forced to go back to the more traditional approaches.”
NSTA came to the rescue with phenomenon-driven sensemaking lessons that students could work on remotely and assisted teachers in conducting framework-connected instruction.
At the end of the summer, NSTA administered surveys that revealed many teachers had not received any support to design learning within the framework. NSTA wants to launch professional learning to help teachers do this work moving forward.
In the end, said Shelton, COVID has fueled forward thinking in the approach to science education. The question is: How can teachers capitalize on the things they have during the pandemic in ways that haven’t been considered before? The goal is to build on the momentum a crisis created.
This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by The New Meridian Science Exchange.
About the Presenters
James Pellegrino, Ph.D. is a liberal arts and sciences distinguished professor and distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is also the founding co-director of UIC’s interdisciplinary Learning Sciences Research Institute. Dr. Pellegrino is the former dean of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. He is also an American Educational Research Association Fellow; a lifetime National Associate of the National Academy of Sciences; and a past member of the Board on Testing and Assessment at the National Research Council. In 2007, Dr. Pellegrino was elected to lifetime membership in the National Academy of Education. His research and development interests focus on thinking and learning and the implications of cognitive research and theory for assessment and instructional practice. Dr. Pellegrino’s current research is focused on assessment of student learning in multiple areas of mathematics and science that span kindergarten through college.
Christopher Lazzaro, Ph.D. is currently the director of science at New Meridian. Dr. Lazzaro has worked in science education for over 15 years, most recently for over 11 years at the College Board on projects ranging from professional development programs for science teachers, the AP Science redesign, the creation of the Science College Board Standards for College Success, as well as working directly with state DOEs across the country on adoption and implementation plans associated with the SAT Suite of Assessments. Prior to his employment at the College Board, Dr. Lazzaro taught high school physics in New York City. Dr. Lazzaro’s research interests include national and international large-scale assessments, design-based research methods in education, science education, research and development of science standards, and the influence of national and state policies on local education. Dr. Lazzaro has earned undergraduate degrees in earth and planetary sciences and physics, a master’s degree in physics education, and a Ph.D. in science policy and education policy from Columbia University.
Tricia Shelton worked with Kentucky students for 22 years as a middle school and high school science teacher and teacher leader. Tricia is a 2014 NSTA Distinguished Teaching Award winner for her contributions to and demonstrated excellence in science teaching. Tricia has joined the NSTA team as the Director of Professional Learning and Standards Implementation, supporting educators and students across the county as they work to integrate contemporary research in science education into classroom teaching and learning.
Matt Krehbiel is the outreach director for OpenSciEd. His professional career began as a high school science teacher and he misses his classroom every day. After teaching high school science for a decade, Matt took on the position of State Science Supervisor for Kansas, where he coordinated Kansas’s role as a lead state in the development of—and one of the first states to adopt—the NGSS. Later, as Achieve’s Science Director, Matt led the development of the current version of the EQuIP Rubric for Science, the NGSS Lesson Screener, and NextGen TIME which were all part of a calculated effort to push the supply and demand sides of the market to develop instructional materials designed for the NGSS. He is a proud past president of the Council of State Science Supervisors and alum of the Board on Science Education (BOSE) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.
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New Meridian is a nonprofit assessment company on a mission to support quality education for all students by fostering deeper learning. Since 2016, our diverse team of assessment design experts have collaborated with classroom educators to develop a better way to assess students and prepare them for the opportunities of tomorrow. New Meridian’s standards-based tests emphasize the skills most important to success: critical thinking, deep understanding and the ability to communicate ideas effectively. New Meridian works closely with states to develop innovative assessment solutions, including the New Meridian Science Exchange. The exchange is a unique solution that allows states to quickly develop high-quality science assessments that are aligned to three-dimensional science standards.
Michele Israel writes about the ideas and best practices that are shared in edWeb’s edWebinars so they can spread innovative and best practices to the education community. Michele owns Michele Israel Consulting, LLC, which serves large and small educational, non-profit, media, corporate, eLearning, and blended learning organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans over 25 years of successfully developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development. In addition to lesson plans and other teacher resources, Michele’s portfolio includes published articles covering a range of educational and business topics.