You may have wondered what the COVID-19 chapter will look like in a history textbook — but students may be tackling the coronavirus pandemic in the classroom sooner than you think.
Troy Sadler, a UNC professor in the School of Education, is leading a one-year research project that will produce a set of high school science lessons focused on the coronavirus epidemic. The team of researchers for the project includes investigators from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“There's lots of very complex dimensions of the issue itself, but there are ways of parsing some of that complexity and focusing on some aspects of the overall epidemic that are relatable and make sense to students, and are important for students to understand,” Sadler said.
Sadler said he started conceptualizing the project in January when he saw reports of the virus spreading in China. The project was awarded a $200,000 grant through the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research program March 1, and work on the project began immediately after, said Sadler.
Because the research team needed to rapidly prototype the lessons in time for them to be tested in several classrooms this spring, Sadler worked with a group of Missouri high school teachers, who were familiar with his approach to issue-based teaching from an earlier project. The teaching style uses compelling and complex social issues — such as climate change, genetic engineering and pandemics — as contexts for teaching and learning, said Sadler.
By integrating real world issues into the classroom, Sadler said students can see how the material they’re learning can translate to bigger picture issues and inform important decisions in their lives, which he hopes is achieved through the instructional materials his research team and partner teachers designed.
While Sadler said his team is still working this summer to develop and refine more lessons to form a coherent instructional unit that teachers can use over the course of a week or two in their classrooms, some early versions of activities have already been tested in a few classrooms.
Sadler said one of the activities that has been created shows how social distancing can impact viral spread through a modeled simulation that allows students to manipulate variables to see likely outcomes. Another activity is intended to help students develop a set of skills that can be used to analyze their information sources.
Sadler said all activities will be developed with enough flexibility to be suitable for both in-person or online instruction, due to the uncertainty of returning to the traditional classroom setting in the fall.