Scientists offer help for teachers and online programs for kids among pandemic

Teachers scrambling to assemble online learning get help from scientists

Students face challenges with online learning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The ongoing global health pandemic has disrupted traditional school learning, prompting Florida K-12 teachers to quickly mobilize, rethink their curriculum and launch virtual classrooms.

To help with this transition, the University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute’s Scientist in Every Florida School program has developed a suite of digital, on-demand K-12 resources that teachers can easily deploy using their virtual teaching platform of choice. The materials are readily available for use on the program’s website.

“As soon as schools closed, teachers were bombarded with a smorgasbord of curated online educational resources from various organizations. Based on feedback we heard from teachers, sorting through those while trying to move their classes online was overwhelming,” said Stephanie Killingsworth, K-12 education and outreach coordinator with SEFS, and a former middle school science teacher.

“Instead, the resources we are helping gather for teachers are based on individual requests. We then make those resources available to other teachers who may be teaching the same science standard, for example.”

The resources, organized by topic and grade level, are specifically designed to meet state science standards. Each topic package includes several elements to make up a complete lesson plan: a short educational video, a writing prompt or worksheet, a virtual field trip, supplemental reading material and hands-on activities. The lessons culminate every Friday during a live online discussion with a scientist on the subject. The idea is that teachers can pick and choose elements from different topics to meet their specific needs.

“The SEFS people reached out to me and organized this great opportunity in a time when we teachers are overwhelmed with learning new technology and staying connected with kids who don’t have technology,” said Leigh Larsen, a biology and environmental science teacher at Gainesville High School. “I am so thankful for the support I have gotten and I know the students and parents appreciate how opportunities like this keep the standard of education high in these weird times.”

Each lesson plan is rooted in current research that focuses on Earth systems science – the study of the interactions among air, water, land and life – and how human activities influence these systems. To leverage the breadth of scientific knowledge at the state’s flagship university, SEFS is partnering with UF Research to curate stories and short videos from the university’s Explore research magazine that can be packaged as part of the lesson plans.

“If a teacher doesn’t see a particular topic represented, they can email us and we will get to work on it. This is a truly on-demand and individualized process,” said Brian Abramowitz, K-12 education and outreach coordinator with SEFS.