Michal Bendet, Yehud Comprehensive High School
(in conversation with Naomi)
For me, learning how to use Zoom was the easy part.
I’m good with technology and mastered the necessary technical skills quite quickly.
However, teaching students majoring in chemistry remotely, without a laboratory – that was the challenging part!
I see that you want to hear about “chemistry experiments without a lab”, but wait a minute.
There were some basic obstacles to overcome.
At first, there was a time limit to a Zoom session. Chemistry lessons are typically scheduled for three consecutive hours, so logging in and out of links was inconvenient and time-consuming. Fortunately, once teachers got access to unlimited sessions, that was no longer a problem.
Then there was the issue of “the whiteboard”. As a chemistry teacher, I don’t simply write words on the board – diagrams, and drawings, calling for all sorts of shapes, are frequently needed. I quickly discovered that using a mouse to draw on the “Zoom Whiteboard” was really inconvenient. Drawing on a little whiteboard (like a child might use) and holding it up to the camera wasn’t a great improvement, but I did that until the digital graphics tablet ( which I ordered, “out of pocket”) was delivered. That enabled the students to see what I was drawing directly on the screen.
Cameras, you ask?
My 12th-grade students had studied with me for an entire year before the pandemic, so they were more cooperative when it came to turning on their cameras. But with the 11th graders, I needed to be more emphatic.
In order to emphasize the importance of eye contact, I made sure to completely stop screen sharing when someone asked a question.
When we talk to each other we look at each other.
So, back to the painful topic of EXPERIMENTS…
The students could not participate in active experiments. Many of the students were at the stage where they were supposed to be designing and conducting their own research experiments in the laboratory. I was supposed to be moving around the room, assisting and guiding as needed.
The students were supposed to be learning by doing.
During remote learning, I showed them videos of experiments. The students then had to spend hours writing detailed reports of experiments they hadn’t experienced themselves. This affected the students’ ability to really pay attention to details as well as their motivation. Such a report can take several hours to write.
At some point, we got permission from the Ministry of Education to ask the students to conduct an experiment at home. That was a complex experience involving frustration on both ends. When a student encountered a problem I couldn’t simply approach and immediately identify the problem.
To counter the alienation of learning by just watching experiments in class as opposed to a hands-on experience I relied heavily on my most powerful teaching “tool” – enthusiasm!
My students have always said that I get very enthusiastic in class about whatever it is we’re doing. During remote learning, I made sure they felt the enthusiasm in any way that I could. I tried to get them excited about the phenomena, despite the experiments being on video. The students remarked on it too!
Do you know that we even had a competition of fun Chemistry Memes created by students? It was awesome!
Would you like to see it?
I DID want to see it.
Michal put aside her handwritten end-of-the-year notes for each student and showed it to me.
It was indeed awesome.