Designing Online Distance Learning with Science by Doing

Responses to and management of the COVID-19 pandemic are evolving as the spread of the virus continues in Australia and globally. Teachers in schools across Australia are responding to the need to offer online distance learning to students in self-isolation.

Distance education teachers have been successfully using Science by Doing for online distance learning long before this pandemic. This document is a starter’s guide for teachers embarking on online distance learning and contains insights from distance education teachers and classroom teachers now organising online distance learning for their students.

To support your planning and thinking about whether Science by Doing is suitable for you and your students we have developed a set of questions and answers for your consideration.

Starter’s Guide for designing Online Distance Learning with Science by Doing

Can you and your students log in to Science by Doing?

Ask your students to go to Science by Doing, click on ‘Are you a student?’ and click ‘Register’. Ensure that all students write down their email address and password in case they forget.

Alternatively, set up a single, generic student login and password for all your students to use. That way every student will be able to access Science by Doing immediately.

What are the internet restrictions on your students?

  • No internet at home - Provide each of your students with a flash drive containing all Student Guides and eNotebooks. Mail out to students a worksheet with set tasks or SMS the set tasks to their mobile phones. Students then can access most of Science by Doing coursework on their device and complete the set tasks in their eNotebooks. Follow up progress with regular phone calls.
  • Poor internet at home – Consider how you will communicate with students? (Email, Skype, Zoom, Edmodo, Moodle, Learning Management System, etc.) See here the wide range of collaboration tools on offer. Avoid asking students to access the videos or learning objects that will cause buffering and delays.
  • Good internet at home – Consider setting both Student Guide tasks and Student Digital tasks (videos, simulations, quizzes) for your students. Consider the use of Google Docs or OneNote for sharing eNotebooks between students and teacher.
  • Excellent internet at home – Teach at set times and use video conferencing to great effect to invite class discussions. Use both Student Guide tasks and Student Digital tasks (videos, simulations, quizzes) for your students. Consider the use of Google Docs or OneNote for sharing eNotebooks between students and teacher. Record the lesson so that students can revisit it.

How to set work?

Instruct students which Activity to open in their Student Guide and provide them with a sequence of clear tasks to complete by a set time.

How to maintain student interest and achievement?

Monitor the progress of each student and give them feedback on their work. This is as vital with remote learning as it is in the classroom setting because receiving feedback contributes to students feeling like they’re connected to their teacher and their school community.

Advice from Distance Education Teachers using Science by Doing

How do you teach remote students?

I include individual tasks from the Science by Doing site for students to complete and to send their findings back to me by email or submission via our learning managements system (Moodle). Smaller class sizes are needed to teach by distance education.

Colin McKay, Distance Education Teacher, NSW

I have prepared a unit around Circle of Life for Year 7. The ecology unit lends itself to including local “backyard’ ecology.

I made lesson by lesson PowerPoints and weekly E-notebook which was a combination of my own work plus the SbD enotebook. I included fillable sections so the entire workbook could be emailed back. This workbook was also suitable for paper copies.

Susan Shew, Mirani State High School, Mirani, Qld

Our classes are mostly fully synchronous (in real time) so the way I use the resources probably isn’t that different to how a teacher in a bricks and mortar school uses them, i.e. we have whole class discussion around the learning intentions and complete whole class activities together then students complete the work. Our students work independently so some activities which involve group work are skipped or modified.

Materials for hands-on activities have to be mailed out well in advance of running those activities. Where materials cannot be posted we either substitute something similar or change the task entirely.

The school uses Canvas as our learning management system (LMS) and I generally create an assignment or quiz where students enter/upload the work they would normally put in the eNotebook.

I have experimented with setting up lessons so they can be done by students asynchronously (in their own time). Leave details of what the student needs to do. e.g.

  1. Create an assignment or quiz in Canvas
  2. Write some learning intentions
  3. Write a quick overview of key points
  4. Write instructions telling which activities to do
  5. Complete a given Task or Quiz in the LMS.

I sometimes include a pre-recorded mini lesson as well and put a link to that on page too. If it is practical task, I may include a video of someone doing a similar experiment if I can find it.

Distance Education Teacher A, Tasmania

I work through a combination of live classes and materials presented asynchronously in our LMS (Canvas). This year, I have been attempting to use Science by Doing as the base for all of my Science classes, including the use of the eNotebook, and digital resources.

I have not signed individual students up to Science by Doing, as it has been difficult to manage in the past. Instead I search for the digital resources externally (YouTube and ABC / Catalyst and Scootle quite often) and embed or link them directly from their source, attributing the source, or I share the videos and interactives through our live room (by sharing my screen or application, although this isn’t great for videos, as the sound quality isn’t always wonderful).

I have embedded the eNotebook pages in OneNote with one activity per OneNote page, and also have made the complete word document eNotebook available for students who can’t get OneNote working for whatever reason (mostly poor internet).

In my asynchronous materials, I work from the provided lesson plans to plan a lesson progression, and embed information (the words the teacher would say), activities for the students to complete, and links to videos etc, with direction to complete eNotebook activities and any assessment tasks at the end of the page. I often link to the pages from the student guide for that lesson, so students can see the rich visual materials provided by Science by Doing. Sometimes, if I have a favourite video or interactive for an activity or skill, I add that too, in addition to materials and resources provided by Science by Doing.

When there are hands on activities (laboratory activities, for example), I look for alternatives and simulations on the internet that can be used instead, or for similar activities that students can complete safely at home.

Distance Education Teacher B, Tasmania

How do you keep your students engaged in the learning?

Students must email attendance each day and submit a log. Regular emails and some phone calls. Phone calls to at risk students. As a school we are uploading fun activities. E.g. Today all staff did push-ups and the humorous video up loaded.

On Monday of the second week will be a whole of school audit, to identify students who have not been engaging or making contact. This will be a tracking of Learning Place engagement, returned work (paper and email), attendance at school etc. Teachers to follow up with phone calls.

Susan Shew, Mirani State High School, Mirani, Qld

Contacting them directly to talk through tasks for those less motivated helped engagement.

Colin McKay, Distance Education Teacher, NSW

For synchronous lessons I try to engage them in whole group work and use interesting videos and examples. For asynchronous lessons I try to provide videos/activities that complement the Science by Doing materials.

Remove barriers disengaged students will use to avoid work:

  • Set up an easy way to get info out to students. An LMS if available but email and/or Google docs would work.
  • Set up a way that makes it easy for students to submit work they would normally put in eNotebook. E.g. email, OneNote, etc.

Encourage group work but don’t rely on it. Our LMS has all sorts of group work capabilities but our students are very resistant to online group work.

Distance Education Teacher A, Tasmania

I try to keep my talking time brief (doesn’t always work...), include a range of different activities and change tasks frequently – we might do some brainstorming, watch a video, do an interactive, feedback with one new thing we learned in the video or interactive, then do a hands on activity, then work in the eNotebook to summarise and embed the learning of the day or record our data from the hands on activity.

Distance Education Teacher B, Tasmania

Do you progress through each activity in the unit or only selected activities?

I select activities – I try to use each activity, but some of them don’t translate well to online delivery. If I can’t use an activity from Science by Doing, I either skip it (if it is noted as an ‘optional activity) or look for alternative materials to deliver the same concept or skill.

I don’t send the entire Student Guide to students – either digitally or on paper – I give them just the pages that they need as a PDF. Often, I share the pages in class on our virtual whiteboard, and students don’t get a copy at all.

Distance Education Teacher B, Tasmania

What advice would you give to classroom teachers who want to begin using online distance learning for their students?

Manage passwords! i.e. make sure students have it written down somewhere they can’t lose and/or have info how to reset passwords front and centre for students.

Plan ahead! Work out which theory tasks your students can do without additional support and which practical tasks they can do based on the materials the students have access to. Supplement theory with good videos/webpages. If you can’t get the students to do a prac as written try to design an alternative that addresses the same outcomes? Failing that can you find a good video which shows others completing the activity.

Distance Education Teacher A, Tasmania
  • Be really clear and explicit in your instructions / directions (whether written or spoken)
  • Use lists for sequencing tasks and information
  • Make sure students know which work is ‘class work’ or formative activities for your benefit, and which work is for summative assessment (and which work needs to come back to you)
  • Be aware that many people in Australia have poor bandwidth – don’t rely on videos, or interactives that need flash
  • Sometimes videos randomly disappear from YouTube and Vimeo. If you can save videos to your school’s Clickview account or similar, then do that. Try to make sure you have some ‘low tech’ activities to do as well.
  • Think carefully about safety. Not all students have adult supervision at home: be aware of heat, sharps, toxic materials and other dangers. Also, students may not have easy access to some materials. If you can provide a kit of materials to support the learning, that can be helpful. Also, some chemicals and equipment cannot be posted...
Distance Education Teacher B, Tasmania

Our College is gearing up for remote teaching (using MS Teams). The SbD lessons will be adjusted.

E.g. If there is a practical we will ask students to watch a video then continue with lesson. We will also be reducing the number of lessons from 30 for term 2 to 15 and keep to bare minimum of content and syllabus expectations.

Our aim is to complete … term 2 but in a very much reduced form, I believe SbD resource will be very useful here. We will use the weeks ahead to edit the SbD “at a glance” document to ensure all students will still receive science lessons, that all classes are covering the same content, and that we keep moving forward through the syllabus.

Neil Quinn, Science Coordinator, St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, NSW

Science by Doing is an excellent resource for schools to adopt. It is aligned with the Australian Curriculum and has tasks that engage students and teachers alike. It is also a very useful platform to help deliver content during this time of online learning.

Gemma Paterson, Amaroo School, ACT

Try to make sure that you use the Lesson Plans as they give you the KEY LEARNING points for the lesson. Often teachers have made the mistake of focusing heavily on the content and have missed the Science Skill that was underlying the whole lesson.

We are INCREDIBLY lucky that we have the SbD material - we have just continued our normal teaching and learning (just with the addition of Investigation Videos).

Cameron McDonald, Science Head Teacher, Narrabeen Sports High School, NSW

Be prepared for work. I strongly recommended using Science by Doing as the basis of your unit supplemented by your own school resources. Develop your own eNotebooks with your selected activities and own school flavour. I did PowerPoints but you could get away with a good self-developed eNotebooks.