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At Waianae Intermediate, a collaborative approach focuses on COVID-19 impacts

Teachers engage students in interdisciplinary work on real-world analysis of the pandemic

Teachers in various subject areas are collaborating at Waianae Intermediate School to offer their students an educational experience based on the coronavirus pandemic.

Students are encouraged to use their skills in science, English, social studies, and math to analyze how different countries are responding to COVID-19. 

These educators share their insights with us below.

What is the project you are collaborating on, and how did the idea come about?

Alika Masei (science): The science, English, and social studies departments are collaborating on an interdisciplinary project for students around the impacts of COVID-19. The original idea was planned by the department heads and coaches, and was then rolled out to the teachers. The goal is to hopefully engage students in a topic that is relevant, and encourage high levels of participation.

What are your students doing?

Logan Veasey (English): For English, students are reading about several countries' responses to the virus, practicing writing claims and gathering evidence, eventually building to writing an argumentative essay on which country they feel responded the best.

AM: My students are currently doing background research on the virus, as well as investigating the preventative measures that are being used to contain the virus in multiple countries. Science in particular is focused on the United States’ response to COVID-19. In addition, even though the math department is not a formal part of the project, the students need to be able to do mathematical calculations and read data graphs, which the math teachers help with.

Tammy Cabral (social studies): ​In our social studies department, we focused on the C3 Framework relating to inquiry standards. Students learn to analyze primary and secondary sources, distinguish between credible and non-credible sources, gather evidence to support a claim, and at the end, take an informed action. Some lessons were designed for students to create slideshows to share their personal experiences about the virus, or share what they have been doing during this quarantine. We wanted our students to experience a real-life learning experience and explore possible solutions to the real-world problem that we are facing now.

How are you implementing this project?

AM: I am tasked with providing opportunities for students to practice collecting evidence from articles, data sets, tables, graphs, etc. which will later be used to support their claims that they will make in their final paper.

LV: Each assignment gets sent out, either online or in a packet, along with resources and instructional materials to aid students in their work. For example, if the assignment is elaborating on commentary, students will also have access to a PowerPoint reviewing different strategies and a document with sentence starters to help them get going. We are also available every day virtually in Google Hangouts, where kids can ask questions. We can video chat and help ensure that students are on the right track. This also affords us the opportunity to socialize with the kids, check in with them, and make sure they're doing well.

TC:​ Feedback is essential in this process. Every assignment has a specific rubric that I utilize when writing feedback to the students online or through the packets.

What are your students’ reactions to this project?

LV: For the most part, students have been very interested, especially because this topic is obviously very present and important in everyone's lives. They've been curious to learn more and see just how things have developed worldwide. 

AM: In the beginning, there was a good amount of interest in the topic because it was something they could connect to and was actively impacting their lives. As time has gone on, more students have begun to feel the redundancy of the activities since three out of their four core subjects are on COVID-19. As teachers, we are continuing to try and engage students as best as possible during this strenuous time.

TC: ​It took a lot for students, parents, and teachers to get used to distance learning. I do believe that students are getting engaged because they are living through this pandemic and can share personal stories, however, like for all of us, it gets overwhelming. So as a team, we have added Fitness Fridays to our weekly schedule, where we meet online with our students and do fun stuff which includes yoga, exercising, Zumba, and karaoke. It's been a nice break from all the COVID project work, and if anything, the students appreciate that break and will work harder on the project.

How do you think the project is going so far?

AM: Keeping students motivated is always the challenge, but I do believe it was nice to do a project where all of us as teachers can help support the students. Whether it is a science assignment or an English assignment, we can rely on one another to be there for our students.

TC: ​Our team does a great job by keeping our students motivated through fun activities, motivational messages, and daily conversations. From what I see in my students' work, I believe that the students are more aware of their roles in the pandemic by understanding the effects of the lockdown, wearing masks, quarantine, state mandates, and how all of this affects our state and community.

LV: I think it's going really well. Obviously, we'd much rather be in school, but given the circumstances, I think this project has been a success so far. Students are getting the opportunity to continue learning and growing, as well as to connect with staff and their peers.

Does this inspire you to consider similar projects in the future, even after COVID ends?

TC:​ I definitely have grown as an educator by learning to be more creative in finding ways to connect to our students. I used Google Classroom for my assignments in class prior to COVID, but have since learned many new techniques and strategies that I can use once we return back to the classrooms. I also learned that some students do really well using a computer and enjoy doing projects like slideshows, which I will consider in my future lesson plans.

LV: Whenever we can link our learning to current events, it benefits our students. I think that working on interdisciplinary projects like this one is a great way to engage our students in their learning. I would definitely consider doing something like this in the future. 

AM: We as educators have really been tested in our ability to deliver instruction and content through multiple platforms this year. I feel like we will come out of the COVID-19 situation as stronger educators who are open to trying new forms of learning in the future.

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