Teaching in a hybrid classroom presents its own challenges and opportunities. Ensuring that every student gets the same exposure to the material and feels included in the class can present logistical challenges, especially when it comes to more hands-on subjects like math and science.
The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham, North Carolina, is a residential high school that has offered a virtual learning program for several years. This fall, students returned to the school in a hybrid environment where half of the class began on-campus, then switched to virtual halfway through the semester, while a handful of students opted to learn virtually the entire year.
We spoke with several high school math and science teachers from NCSSM to learn more about how they optimize the experience for both in-class and remote students. Here are their top tips for a successful learning experience in a hybrid classroom:
1. Have everyone on Zoom
That’s right — even your in-class students should join the Zoom meeting from their personal devices when it’s time for breakout discussions. In-class students can bring headphones and engage directly with one or two virtual students during discussions using Breakout Rooms. For the majority of the class, a webcam at the front of the room can give the remote students a view of their peers, while a projector or large monitor can be used to display a gallery view of your remote students at the front of the classroom.
Nick Koberstein, an 11th and 12th grade math teacher, likes to clip his webcam to the top of his screen. “It helps me remember to teach to the virtual students,” he explained, “and it also keeps the class visible.”
2. Group virtual and in-person students together
When assigning groups for discussion, be intentional about placing virtual and in-person students in groups with each other. “The most important part is making sure everyone feels like they are in the same class,” said Letitia Hubbard, who teaches engineering and computer science.
For older students, math teacher Cheryl Gann recommends allowing in-person and virtual students to use the chat feature to communicate, and appointing a chat monitor to keep track of the conversation.
“Students are used to communicating in that medium,” Gann said. “I like to make one student in class responsible for bringing up questions from the chat in our discussion. Sometimes students feel more comfortable typing out their questions.”
Pro tip: Design interactive labs
Take extra care in designing labs to include virtual students. When possible, use common household materials in your experiments, or have lab kits sent to students’ homes. Hubbard had her students take part in a lab where they measured their gait as they walked across a force plate and then used the measurements to design shoe soles. She made sure everyone felt included by having in-person students take measurements using the force plates, while virtual students carried out analysis and led the computer-aided design (CAD) for the shoes. When the two cohorts switched places midway through the semester, the new cohort repeated the lab tests with their 3-D printed shoe soles so all students could get the full experience.
3. Think way beyond the lecture
Long online lectures can be tiring for both students and teachers, but Christine Belledin, who teaches math, chooses activities to avoid that meeting fatigue. “I don’t think lecturing was ever a good format, even in person,” Belledin said. She recommends changing up the class format so students are never doing the same thing for an extended period by mixing in online breakout discussions, polls, activities, and videos. She also asks students to bring back their favorite beverage or snack as an active break during longer class periods.
4. Find ways for students to share their work
Annotating on a touchscreen with a stylus using Zoom’s whiteboard feature works well for classes with access to this technology.
“I actually like the Zoom annotation tool better than a physical whiteboard because I can let students annotate, too,” Belledin said. “The remote students can participate, and in-person students can show their work without needing to come up to the board.”
She has also had students photograph their work and drop pictures into a shared Google Doc. “We found that even holding your paper up to the webcam works surprisingly well,” Koberstein added. “You might want to have your students write in pen to make it easier to read.”
5. Design & equip the classroom so everyone can see & hear
At NCSSM, each hybrid classroom has been equipped with a ClearTouch panel, a large-screen monitor that connects to the Zoom class. This works as a whiteboard, but everything written on it populates as a Zoom annotation, allowing the in-class and remote students in the Zoom meeting to have the same view. You can also simply connect a phone as a document camera, or use the annotation tool in Zoom and then project to in-class students to ensure each student can see the same material.
Virtual students may have trouble hearing everything being said in the classroom due to the use of masks and physical distancing. Koberstein advised repeating students’ questions before answering and summarizing discussion points every so often to be sure virtual students can follow the conversation.