Dan Gaudiano on Teaching Science Via Distance Learning

As head of the Academy Science Department, Dan Gaudiano marvels at the creativity, dedication and resilience his colleagues have demonstrated teaching core and elective science courses. “This isn’t just distance learning, it’s crisis learning,” Gaudiano says.

There are 19 different Academy science courses underway virtually this semester, with approximately 2,300 students, some of whom are taking multiple science classes. While most science teachers would normally meet with students three to five times a cycle for labs, project work, presentations, tests, etc., Punahou’s distance learning protocols balance screen time, individual assignments and one-on-one access to faculty to ensure that students aren’t in front of a screen all day. Thus, most science classes are only meeting virtually as a class once each cycle, and students are focusing on individual and group assignments. Faculty are maintaining “office hours” by appointment or drop-in, and are finding these hours heavily booked. Class attendance also has been excellent, in the high 90s or 100 percent, with students often sticking around online after class to keep talking, Gaudiano says.

As far as the content, science teachers have been translating labs into projects that rely on ingenuity and readily available household supplies. For instance, in an email to parents, chemistry teacher Paraluman Stice-Durkin said her goal is to have students be active and experiment as much as possible. “Students may be asking for items such as coffee filters, sugar, soap, food coloring, salt or even red cabbage,” she wrote. “Every student should be able to choose an experiment with items they find in the kitchen.”  

Darcy Iams, who teaches an elective anatomy course, said providing clear instructions to students online is key, along with maintaining communication and responding to feedback. Her students are currently working in teams on “mystery cases,” where they’re presented with a medical problem and are providing a diagnosis to Iams, who pretends to be the patient’s parent. “You have to show care, compassion and professionalism in responding to a parent that is distraught,” Iams said. “I’m pretty good at crying, and students have to respond to that too. Individual students have really surprised me and bloomed. They’ve shifted their priorities and illuminated different learning gifts.”

Overall, Gaudiano says Punahou faculty are dealing with the same challenges that other work-from-home parents face. For instance, his own household of six includes Punahou faculty member, Wendi Kamiya, and four Punahou students, which means as many as six WebEx meetings might be happening at once. With faculty working from home, students are learning more about the lives of teachers, who may be juggling personal, parenting and professional challenges during the crisis. For faculty with children, every day is “take your children to work day,” he says.

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