Distance Learning has made hands-on learning especially difficult, however this has not stopped the science department. With a wonderful stroke of brilliance, the science department designed the idea of lab kits, little bins personalized for each student based on what household items they do or don’t have, in order for students of science to complete their science labs at home.
Taking home a lab kit allows each student to interact with science and certain experiments in ways that never could have been possible with Distance Learning, something that was clear when interviewing Claire Davis, a Junior in Jesse Stonewood’s biochemistry class. As soon as the interview began, Davis expertly explained to me exactly how certain atoms bind together to create a molecule. Distance Learning is known for being difficult for many students, but Davis thinks that the hands-on learning experience that the lab kits provide is definitely helping her through it.
“Chemistry is super abstract because of everything that is going on that you cannot see,” Davis explained. “All of Distance Learning is happening in a two dimensional way, so if someone was trying to explain this to me in two dimensions, I would be super confused. I would be doing so bad in this class if I didn’t have this visual [that the lab kits provide].”
Lab kits are different for each science class. For biochemistry, Stonewood has created lab kits filled with “science legos,” small pieces that create model molecules. Biochemistry provides students with just the one lab kit for the entire year, but for Todd Hobein, teacher of sciences across the board, lab kits are handed out at the beginning of each new unit and returned at the end of the unit. Hobein then has to do the tremendous job of cleaning and sterilizing each lab kit.
“I have to go through and run it through the dishwasher and spray it all down and make sure that it’s Covid-free,” Hobein said wearily, “then I’ll restock it for the next chapter that we are going to be doing.”
In the first lab kit of the year, Hobein sent out a pre-organized experiment on enzymes. This was meant to prepare them for creating their own inquiry lab, where students are assigned to come up with their own variable to test and experiment to complete. Students finish the lab at home, and then proceed to turn the lab write-up into Canvas, just like students would turn them in if they were physically in school. The simulation of real school that the take-home lab kits were designed to create appear to be working. Not only have they enhanced students’ learning to a level that never could have been reached during Distance Learning without the lab kits, but they have also been providing a way for students to get off their computer screens and simultaneously have more social interaction with fellow classmates.
“One of the downfalls of this whole pandemic is that students are stuck at home and they don’t get to socialize with other students,” Hobein said, a note of sadness in his voice. “Once I tell them to get into their groups and they have to unpack their lab kits, it kind of forces them to talk.”
Though Hobein and the other science department members have put incredible amounts of work into the take home lab kits, they are not the only ones. Aimee Cork, Christie Lawson, and Emily Pew have also contributed greatly to this element of Distance Learning. Not only have they set up pick-ups for student materials, but also, most importantly, they have subjected themselves to enormous amounts of work, as well as interacting with the public and increasing their risk of exposure to Covid-19.
When asked, “Why take home lab kits?”, Hobein explained that the lab kits were purely for the sake of the students to help them learn as much as possible during Distance Learning. His goal was to help students gather a deeper understanding of the class content and give them a sense of normalcy during this strange and difficult time.
“To be quite honest, it is a moral thing for students on top of the learning. I could easily teach this subject matter without doing this and putting forth the effort…but I really feel an obligation to my students.”