As the pandemic situation improves around the world, many teachers are able to enjoy face to face instruction again. I’m thrilled to be back in my physics classroom, but that doesn’t mean things are quite back to their usual routine. The challenges of distance learning meant that some students did not manage to complete the curriculum for all of their courses last year. Helping these students to catch up on learning is a top priority for me and many other teachers.
My school in Berlin has always focused on small group and autonomous learning so we are well-positioned to tackle pandemic-related learning gaps. At the beginning of the school year, my colleagues and I are assigned to work as coaches for a group of students throughout the year. Our regular coaching meetings present a golden opportunity to check in with kids on how they’re doing in classes and how they’re feeling about being back at school. Most students have told me that they are happy to be in school again and more motivated to learn in the school setting.
Berlin schools are also part of Stark Trotz Corona (Strong in Spite of Corona), a program to collect information and inform parents about their childrens’ academic and social/emotional progress. The program promotes assessments and individualized attention to identify areas where students need to catch up. These assessments need not be in the form of tests and quizzes, but can also be games, lab activities, and group or partner work.
Over the summer I created a motion graph matching activity to check my students’ understanding of motion graphs. The activity contains cards for each of seven possible motion scenarios. Students first work in groups to match the seven motion descriptions with the correct graphs. Then we form teams and the players randomly select a graph and have to place it in the correct location on the board. My ninth graders recently did this activity and said they enjoyed the team competition and the chance to review the kinematics curriculum.
Being flexible and willing to deviate from my standard lesson plans has helped me to identify and close student learning gaps early in the school year. My school also holds monthly team building activities with different themes to promote a feeling of confidence and community in our students and staff. Last month’s theme was mindfulness and this month our theme is personal responsibility. Bringing students and teachers together around themes that are important for their future academic and personal development is another valuable way to make up for lost time during the long phases of distance learning.