Virtual, in person science labs come with challenges this year

This school year, students and teachers have been met with new challenges in the classroom. With COVID-19 precautions placed around the school to ensure everyone’s safety, science labs are not an exception. Like other classrooms, science teachers have all had to change their methods of teaching. Leslie Hoyt, Melisa Jennings, and Cassie Ferguson are all science teachers who have had their classroom labs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID has had a huge effect on my classes,” Hoyt said. “I teach my class with interactive notebooks and hands-on activities and that’s just not allowed during a pandemic.  I have had to get creative about how I teach and sometimes there’s just no substitute for lab activity.”

This year, teachers must get approval from administrators in order to perform a lab activity. If and when their labs get approved, teachers must ensure their materials are being disinfected after each lab. Group work is very minimal and students are only allowed to work with other students who they normally sit with. The Arkansas Department of Education has also set guidelines for teachers to follow when conducting a lab. 

“For the labs, we do supervised hand washing before and after the lab for 20 seconds and then everything has to be disinfected before and after each lab,” Ferguson said. 

 Despite the lack of in classroom labs, teachers are finding other methods to give students the necessary instruction. Teachers must now find websites and other methods of teaching online to ensure students are capable of learning the material without the need of a group or in-person lab work.

“I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing because I have learned new platforms and computer skills, but I so miss hands-on activities and real group work,” Hoyt said.

The new regulations in science labs have also impacted the way students are grasping on to information. Junior Abigail Burr is currently taking chemistry in which labs are a big part of the curriculum. 

“I honestly like doing labs in person a lot more because I feel like I get a better understanding rather than just doing it online, plus it’s more fun doing it hands-on,” Burr said. “I feel like I can understand it more with my teacher actually explaining the subject along with us in a lab.”

Although the unprecedented challenges within the science classrooms this year, teachers are continuing to find ways to make their students’ education and school experience as productive as possible. 

“The most difficult thing about teaching this year is keeping up with everyone’s attendance, ensuring students receive good, quality instruction whatever their learning model, and keeping track of where everyone is in their work,” Jennings said. “I look forward to things getting back to normal and having full-on labs again next year.”