When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the country to move to a distance learning model, educators were understandably concerned about keeping students engaged in coursework. Science teachers who use laboratories and hands-on experiments had an even greater challenge.
Carla White, an eighth-grade science teacher at Magnolia Science Academy in San Diego, a California Distinguished School, didn’t worry, though. The public charter school at which she has taught for the last three years is among the most agile, student-focused campuses she’s ever seen. White knew that school administrators would embrace her ideas about using technology to enhance learning for Magnolia’s 441 middle school students.
Before the pandemic, White had already seen how her curating videos on various disciplines brought lessons to life for students. When she asked them to watch well-produced content prior to classroom study, White said her students “were hooked and engaged before I even started.” Then when in-person teaching ended last March, White began digging even deeper into video production and technology so her students wouldn’t miss a beat.
“When we started the school year 2020-2021, we took advantage of the hype of livestreaming on YouTube to provide orientation to students, parents and teachers to prepare them in navigating the online learning spaces and be familiar with distance learning,” she said. “These virtual orientations are another way to bring our community of stakeholders together to ensure we provide quality education during the pandemic.”
White’s passion extended beyond the virtual classroom. White also hosted an online “Celebration of Science” that featured professionals in three spaces of engineering: computer science, civil engineering, and biotechnical engineering. Additionally, White created a virtual platform for live science talks, guest speakers, student projects, science scavenger hunts, and other resources to deepen scientific knowledge. She even created a YouTube channel that featured Magnolia Science Academy Wizards.
The 21-year veteran of the classroom also knows how important it is for students to feel connected to their school community. With the inherent risks involved with moving from in-person to distance learning, White decided to reimagine the morning announcements. Magnolia students began tuning in for Morning DONUTS (Daily Online News Uncut Through Streaming), a live broadcast that built community through student broadcasts covering a variety of topics and themes such as “This Day in History,” special guests, holiday greetings, month long celebrations such as Black History Month, Earth month, trivia contests, and more.
“Apart from community engagement, the social emotional component of our morning broadcast is also an integral part of this effort because we connect with students using infotainment relevant to our students’ school life. We want students to feel connected even when we can’t see each other face to face,” White said of Morning DONUTS. “There are several things this pandemic has taught us — the importance of taking care of one another, the importance of our mental health, relationships over content and most importantly, a sense of belongingness while we find ways to stay connected in the virtual spaces. Through our different virtual events, daily broadcasts and social emotional learning activities, we brought the school to our students in their homes.”
Moving into the new school year, Magnolia will continue to leverage the technologies it used during the pandemic. Even when students and staff return to in-person learning, Morning DONUTS will continue to be a way to connect. And the school will stay engaged with the community through more online events that encourage stakeholder participation.
“Moving to a distance learning model challenged us to think about ways to serve our students during a crisis, but we can keep those solutions that served us so well,” White said.