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Let's go to Death Valley!

As a preservice teacher at Youngstown State University, I have many opportunities to go into the local schools, mainly Youngstown City School District, and work with the students. This semester, my field is focused on teaching reading and writing skills to students. As a preservice middle level math and science teacher, I was admittedly intimidated at the start of this semester being asked to work with elementary school students on their reading and writing skills. All semester, I have struggled finding ways to get my students to write. My assigned time to work with the students was during their recess break two to three days each week. My struggle to make up fun activities based around writing truly showed, especially when the student boredom led to behavioral issues.

In my ongoing efforts to improve my instructional strategies both within this field and beyond as a future educator, I decided to attend EdCamp GCC where I was reminded of a great ed tech tool, Nearpod! I learned that Nearpod can be used to do virtual field trips, taking students anywhere in the world for a few minutes without leaving the classroom!

My first thought with this was wow, I can take my students outside of the classroom, teach science lessons by taking students into a different environment, and provide them with experiences that they may never have any other way.

Along with viewing this feature as something that I can use with my future classroom, I also saw ways to use in my current field experience. I realized that I can use a virtual field trip across content areas. I used Nearpod to take my Project PASS students in Youngstown City School District on a virtual field trip to Death Valley National Park.

For the virtual field trip with my Project PASS students, I knew that I needed to incorporate a writing lesson into the field trip, and I wanted to incorporate science into the lesson. For the lesson as a whole, I began by having the students do a virtual field trip through a few points in Death Valley National Park and asked them to notice things such as what the weather looks like, the landscape, the ground, any buildings or structures, signs of life, vegetation, etc. Following this activity, which the students loved and were pointing at each other’s laptops pointing out different aspects, the students answered two open ended questions. The first question asked the students about some of the things that they noticed and what surprised them during the field trip. The second question asked the students to write a persuasive paragraph convincing their best friend to go to Death Valley National Park with them. All of the students loved the activity and another tutoring group even asked to join in on the activity, so of course I allowed!

Some of my favorite features of the tool was that I was able to control the pace of the lesson through the feature that puts the teacher in control of all of the student devices and control which slide the students are on. I also liked the feature of me being able to tell if a student leaves the lesson. The first time that a student left the app I told them that their name turned red and that I know when they leave, they viewed it as a game and laughed then none of the students ever left the lesson again. I also liked that I can anonymously share student responses.

One student asked in an answer I still don’t understand why it’s called Death Valley. I shared this without any of the students knowing who asked, and it sparked conversation among the group where all of the students debated reasons for the park to be called Death Valley, most reasons being scientific which made my inner science teacher very happy.

This lesson was extremely successful! The students loved doing it, it was inclusive for students of all ability levels in science and writing, it connected the content areas of science and writing, and it created an environment of collaboration among the students. There were a few points within the lesson where I was able to step back and let the students take over. I highly recommend lessons like this to all teachers, no matter the grade level and not matter the subject area.

As educators, we need to create lessons that require deep thought and peer collaboration. While this exact lesson will not work for every classroom, no lesson will work for every classroom, look deeper into the idea of constantly searching for ways to create lessons that will work for your classroom. Go to professional development opportunities such as ed camps, learn from other educators, and don’t be afraid to try something new in your classroom.

Mackenzie Mettille

YSU Class of 2021

Middle Childhood Education Math & Science

Minor in Spanish


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