All spring Tufts CSE fielded increasingly desperate pleas from teachers for lesson plans easily adapted to online learning – but sadly, we had nothing for this space. Our student material is solidly classroom-based, and our online courses are part of the ‘Teaching the Great Diseases’ program for teachers. As March segued into April, we decided the time had come to bite the bullet – so why not an online high school course about COVID? And so ‘COVID-19, the great pandemic of 2020’ came into being. Originally conceived as just a few lessons, it soon morphed into a comprehensive journey into how scientists are learning about the virus, the disease, epidemiology and vaccines, and how what they learn is impacting public health policy in real time.
Our co-design team – former high school teacher Valerie Solon and Karina Meiri from Tufts CSE started with a list of ‘must haves’ for the online curriculum format: teachers must be able to adopt it seamlessly; students must be able to interact with it independently, and the platform must have the flexibility for teachers to jump in to facilitate the lessons at any time. Pear Deck for Google Slides fit the bill: Pear Deck Basic is a free Google Slides Add-on that allows designers to embed interactive activities such as multiple choice or text questions and drawing responses into Google Slides presentations. It can be used in an instructor-led or student-paced mode, and teachers can switch between modes during class, so they can manage conversations about content while students do activities synchronously in groups or individually. Pear Deck also allows teachers to view and project student responses to embedded questions during class. After the lesson the responses can be either exported to a spreadsheet or to a Google Doc that teachers can comment on (this latter option requires a Premium account). Since students may often be working independently, Valerie and Karina added even more flexibility by dividing lessons into short blocks so students can self-pace. They kept our Great Diseases format of Socratic inquiry, multiple pedagogical approaches, a healthy dose of scientific reading and math, and added interaction with online databases for up-to-date COVID information. Each unit ends by asking students to ‘apply your new knowledge’ and interact with a media resource to show how what they’ve learned has fostered their understanding of current events. The course’s capstone is a Socratic seminar-type discussion that has students grappling with a thorny public policy dilemma from multiple perspectives. Teachers can select which units or even lessons are most appropriate for their students on an individual basis.
Right now, ‘The Great Pandemic of 2020’ has been through technical beta-testing and teachers are reporting such student enthusiasm, we want to make it available to everyone. Teachers can gain access to all the materials by making a request on our website (the link is here). It’s easy to get started – teachers only need a Google account and the free basic Pear Deck add-on to implement the curriculum. CSE also provides teachers with technical and content support, available through the website. Enjoy!