Dr. Diana Neebe, SHP English teacher and assistant principal of instruction and faculty development, and Dr. Sharon Sikora, SHP chemistry teacher and coordinator of science curriculum, learning, and teaching, co-wrote the article last June after a year of pandemic-era teaching. Their research evaluates over 4,000 lines of data collected from four student surveys spanning from April 2020 to May 2021 and explores how remote teaching during the pandemic necessitated student-centered practices to increase engagement.
Neebe and Sikora posit that some adaptations to curriculum and teaching made during the pandemic should inform teaching going forward. In their article, they offer a set of reflection questions to help guide teachers and academic teams in these decisions.
When SHP pivoted to remote learning in March of 2020, the school was already prepared with an online learning plan
that Neebe and Dr. Joy Lopez, SHS director of technology, had begun formulating in February. Their plan was rapidly circulated and used by educational institutions around the world, and the pair spoke on various education podcasts, and were interviewed for education publications.
After the infrastructure was set up to forge a student experience within Schoology and Zoom, Neebe and Sikora began to partner on learning experiences and support for teachers.
“We were focused on what it actually looked like to do the work of instruction, and engaging students, and assessing students, in this online space. We thought—we owe it to our professional practice to reflect on what we learned, and take some of that learning forward with us,” said Neebe.
Their original work focused on student learning and the tools they needed to adapt to an online environment, Sikora added. “That became the foundation for how to support our teachers—we realized, ‘if that’s what students will need, then we have to ensure our teachers have the support to reinforce it,’” said Sikora.
Together they designed resources for teachers based on educational research about effective engagement practices, and “Google-proof” assessments that would allow students to demonstrate an understanding in each subject.
“There was this incredible ethos of experimentation and connection,” said Neebe. “I think because we’re a school that so deeply values relationship and community, and because it was so difficult to foster that last year, our teachers went the extra mile to put kids in scenarios in which they would be working together… and working on something to feel more connected to the world in which they live.”
Science students conducted experiments with professional lab equipment they were able to check out and take home. In chemistry, one experiment tackled the real-world problem of coral bleaching, with each student ultimately able to explain the chemistry of coral bleaching. Social science students participated in moot courts as attorneys and UN Security Council members, and English students created podcasts that were selected for KQED’s 2020 election series. These are just a few of the hundreds of active learning projects students described as particularly meaningful during the 2020-2021 school year.
The student reflections revealed that they appreciated problem-solving in teams, the transparency in which teachers shared learning goals and described assessments, and flexibility that allowed completion of their best work—even if it fell outside a prescribed timeline.
“What they knew, they knew deeply,” said Neebe. “They were proud of the products of their learning, excited to share what they discovered, and enjoyed the process of creating with their peers.”