When I tell people that I am a teacher, one of their first questions is “Oh, where do you teach?” They are expecting to hear the name of a local school, something they are familiar with. After nearly two years, I have gotten used to their reactions when I tell them that I teach online. The general look I receive is one of confusion, sometimes mixed with a touch of intrigue and a dash of hesitation. Of course, they want to know how that is even possible? Who are these students? Why are they at home during the day? Can they see you? Can you see them? Wait! How do you make sure they don’t cheat on homework and tests???
Not Just About The “Test”
This was a question I struggled with myself during my first months of teaching online. Recently though, I took a graduate class at McGill titled “Evaluation and Assessment”. This class told me everything that I already knew and needed to hear: worksheets and standardized tests will never tell you how well a student knows a subject. I could get into the scientific details of why that is, and cite many studies, but for the sake of brevity, let’s agree that is true. Example: we have all “crammed” for tests and then forgotten the material days, hours or even minutes later.
So, in a virtual classroom (or any classroom for that matter) how would I know if my students were understanding the material or simply Googling answers? First, I got stuck in my old ways, and would assign worksheets and quizzes. After several weeks I got tired of correcting them. I can only assume if I was tired of correcting them, then my students were tired of completing them. We can all agree that students deserve better.
This is why in my biology class; students are responsible for building and observing an ecosystem over the course of a month. This is why students in my chemistry class are solving crimes. This is why students in my geology class are taking us on virtual field trips. This is why students in my paleontology class will try to convince you that a velociraptor is the perfect pet (they created posters telling us all the facts we need to know about caring for a vertebrate of their choice, including diet, habitat, etc.)
Slowly but surely my classes are moving over to performance-based assessments. These assessments require students to APPLY the skills and knowledge we have been learning about, not regurgitate it. It uses higher order thinking skills and is considered by most to be a more authentic form of assessment. That doesn’t mean that I’m doing away with worksheets and quizzes, it just means that their weight on the final grade is far less than it once was.
“Samantha, how do you evaluate your students online?” my Evaluation and Assessment professor asked me. I hesitantly replied, “with projects, experiments and activities.” I was expecting more confusion and hesitation. I was relieved to hear her reply of “You know, that’s how it should be. For everyone.”
Samantha Star was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Education (with Distinction) from the University of New Brunswick, as well as a certificate in Experiential Jewish Education from Yeshiva University. She is currently completing a Graduate Certificate at McGill University in Teaching English Second Language. Samantha has been teaching English online for nearly two years and has taught over 1000 classes with children in China. Samantha believes that good teachers have empathy and patience and can put themselves in their students’ shoes. In order to understand what her Chinese students were experiencing, Samantha began to take Italian classes online. She feels that being an eternal student will help make her a better teacher. Samantha believes that learning should be student-centered, flexible and fun. Students should be encouraged to explore and research and take control of their education. She specializes in learning languages, math and science education. She can usually be found making a mess in the kitchen, doing yoga or reading a good book. Samantha loves meeting her friends to play board games and competing in trivia tournaments.
Samantha will be teaching the following courses for Open Tent Academy in 2019-2020:
- A Class 65 Million Years in the Making: Introduction to Paleontology – Fall 2019
- Can You Dig It? Introduction to Archaeology – Winter 2020
- Design is a Journey of Discovery Introduction to Interior Design – Spring 2020
- Don’t Trust Atoms, they Make Up Everything High School Chemistry – Full Year – 2019 – 2020
- Earth Science – Fall 2019 & Winter 2020
- Geology Rocks! Introduction to Geology – Spring 2020
- If the Genes Fit High School Biology – Full Year – 2019 – 2020
- Introduction to Psychology and the Brain – Spring 2020
- Introduction to the Human Body – Fall 2019
- Physical Science – Fall 2019 & Winter 2020
- Physics – Full Year – 2019 – 2020
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star: Introduction to Astronomy – Winter 2020