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When TCU classes went virtual in March, associate professor Hayat Hokayem and doctoral students Savannah Graham and Alex Tolar needed a way to motivate their undergraduate students to learn scientific concepts in an online environment. Without the use of their typically hands-on learning activities in a classroom, they developed a lesson plan on a subject top of mind for most: COVID-19.

Home DNA experiment

Hokayem and Graham teach the Science for Elementary Teachers course for future early childhood educators to learn scientific concepts. Tolar joined them to develop lesson plans about how viruses work, how scientists use data to make decisions and how the scientific process changes with new information.

“We wanted to know how students’ views about the scientific process change or don’t change after a unit on COVID-19,” Hokayem said. “There’s also the problem of motivation in distance learning and one way to motivate students is for them to learn about what’s going on in their lives.”

Tolar helped develop the lesson plans to help students learn the nature of science in a time when they receive constant information updates.

“Having these preservice teachers understand the fundamental nature of science helps them understand why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might change their recommendations, based on new information,” Tolar said.

Graham developed interactive activities for the course, including a home experiment to extract DNA from a strawberry. Her students developed a presentation and a timeline using real-time data. Graham said that while students felt anxious talking about the virus, they were glad to make sense of the information received from many different sources.

COVID-19 timeline

“We looked at maps from the CDC and Johns Hopkins University—real things students were seeing every day,” Graham said. “Students developed their own COVID-19 timelines and chose the events that affected them personally.”

The team published an article on their lesson plans and initial findings in the Electronic Journal for Research in Science & Mathematics Educationalong with many other contributions by TCU faculty and students. The team plans to further their research and to use their work as a model for K-12 educators.