In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools, colleges and universities have been forced to make a breakneck switch to online instruction, which opens up its own Pandora’s box of challenges: Where do I start with online science education? How does a remote class even work? How can I tell if students are engaged in the lesson, watching, or even awake?
Here is the Laboratory Safety Institute’s list of free-during-COVID-19 resources for science instruction. Below, we’ll compare the best videoconference options for classroom education.
Free-During-COVID-19 Science Teaching Resources
The internet has no shortage of online science teaching resources (check out these lists from ACS and NSTA), but here are the sites offering something special during the COVID-19 closures.
American Association of Chemistry Teachers
AACT has a treasure trove of activities, animations, projects, simulations and videos to teach chemistry online. Normally, you have to purchase an AACT membership for access, but now through April 17, 15 lessons for elementary, middle, high school and AP are unlocked and free.
Alchemie is game-based chemistry learning students can access on their mobile phones. During COVID-19, they are offering full free access to Mechanisms, the first and only tool for organic chemistry that allows students to learn and practice reaction mechanisms by moving and manipulating individual bonds and electrons.
BrainPop has cartoon videos, quizzes, and games on hundreds science topics, and it’s all free during the school closures.
Flinn Scientific really went all-out to offer free resources during the crisis, including:
- Free video labs with related teacher and student guides to help students at home continue making progress on key science topics
- More than 40 free, easy and fun-to-do activities that use commonly available materials to encourage science investigation in the home
- On call scientists: over the coming days, Flinn is broadcasting live lab experiments conducted by scientific staff. As part of each live event, Flinn will have a full team of scientists available to answer questions from teachers and students participating online
Inq-ITS is a science learning platform with simulations for physical, life and earth science, aligned with NGSS standards. During the shutdown, they offer access to their complete collection of virtual science labs.
Legends of Learning
Legends of Learning advertises more than 2000 “super fun standards-based math & science games to support your lessons” for grades 3-8. To get free unlimited access to Legends of Learning while schools are closed, complete this form.
NSTA Free E-books
Pasco is offering these home science tools free of charge for the remainder of this school year:
- 6 month free access to Capstone and SPARKvue software
- Free access to Essential Physics and Essential Chemistry curriculum
- Distance Learning Labs and teacher resources in the PASCO Experiment Library
Vernier’s high-quality interactive video gives students the opportunity to observe and study hard-to-replicate experiments and phenomena no matter where they are. Hundreds of interactive activities and free experiments with sample data files are available to teachers by free trial during the shutdown.
Rather than letting COVID-19 stop you, learn to make lemonade. By taking full advantage of videoconference technology, making the switch to online instruction can be a huge opportunity to create an engaging, meaningful experience for your students.
The Laboratory Safety Institute has been teaching science safety using an online learning platform since 2014. We also regularly offer webinars and full-day lab safety courses via live videoconference. Here’s our shortlist of videoconference options to help teachers during the COVID-19 shutdown.
- Google Hangouts Meet
As part of Google’s G Suite, Hangouts Meet permits up to 100 participants, and they just temporarily raised that cap to 250 in response to COVID-19. The Basic plan is $6 per month, and it’s free for nonprofits.
GoToMeeting is what we use for all our webinars at LSI, so we’re partial. Hey, at least we admit it. It’s easy to use, and has some nice extra features, such as “commuter mode” which goes easy on data for students on limited mobile plans. Pricing starts at $14 per month for 150 participants. And it’s offering three-month site-wide licenses for free to organizations such as healthcare providers, educational institutions and municipalities.
- Skype Group Video Chat
Skype Group Video Chat offers a simple, functional webconferencing platform, complete with screen sharing, chat and other necessary features. And it’s free as long as you don’t exceed 50 participants. Yes, Microsoft Teams is the future and will eventually replace Skype, but right now we find Skype much more intuitive to use.
In reponse to COVID-19, WebEx has removed their 40-minute limit and now allows up to 100 participants on their free plan.
Zoom has some of one of the smoothest, most hassle-free interfaces we’ve seen. It offers free meetings up to 100 participants, but meetings are limited to 40 minutes. If you want more, it’s $15 per month. Zoom will waive that fee during the COVID-19 shutdown by request for verified schools. Tips and Tricks for Teachers Educating on Zoom is definitely worth a look.
- Sadly, Facetime is limited to 32 participants, and everyone must be using an Apple device.
A Word on Safety
An article from the Laboratory Safety Institute wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention . . . safety!
Actually, COVID-19 related restrictions may be a blessing in disguise when it comes to safety because teaching through video allows you to provide a wide variety of experiential instruction without the risks of a live, in-class demo.
But if you share videos, please do everyone a favor and limit yourself to legitimate science demonstrations designed to educate (such as the resources above), not entertaining backyard experiments someone posted on YouTube. No matter how many times you say “kids, don’t try this at home,” some will hear those words as an invitation. (And remember it’s not just your honor students who may be watching the content you present—younger siblings and friends may be looking over their shoulder.) Like it or not, if injury occurs, the teacher still can be ruled as negligent through proximate cause!
For more tips about being safe at home, see the National Safety Council’s Safety at Home page.