Science Labs Adjust to COVID Restrictions

By Kaylee Rowe

Science labs have always been an integral part of the learning process for students. These hands-on in school projects help students achieve a better understanding of why a certain science theory works. With the new COVID-19 guidelines, labs can be difficult to perform. The Upper and Middle School science department is working on tackling this issue head on.  

Kristin Wilson, Upper School science teacher and science department head, along with her colleagues have worked on adapting to the guidelines, while researching new lesson plans for almost all science classes. For lesson plans for COVID-19, we had to rethink how we do lab activities,” Wilson stated. “We are still struggling with how to incorporate our online students into the lab,” she continued. Quinn Bohan, Upper School physics teacher, and Dr. Sharon Karackattu (affectionately known as Dr. K.) Upper School chemistry teacher, both have been working hard on changing their classes to adapt to the COVID lab terms. “The biggest challenge was educating the students about proper personal protective equipment and making sure each student always has their own pair of safety-rated goggles on lab day,” Dr. K. explained. A new challenge has been student responsibility for maintaining their own lab equipment. 

Students in Dr. K.’s class take precautions during labs due to COVID-19 restrictions

Other teachers have decided to alter their lesson plans. “I’ve changed my curriculum so that all of our labs in physics will be completed in a separate seven-week module at the start of March, rather than at the same time we learn the material,” said Bohan. “I’ve also had to change my lesson plans to include a lot more demonstrations and a slightly quicker pace to finish with the material we need to cover before starting our lab module,” he added. Each teacher has worked on slightly altering their lesson plans to be able to fit labs into the curriculum. 

The Middle School has been working on adapting to some of these challenges as well. Scott Davenport, Middle School life science teacher, noted that he has struggled with some of the same situations as his Upper School colleagues. “Challenges are how to manage close contact of students with a full class and time needed to clean all equipment properly before next use,” Davenport noted. 

Students have always been required to take precautionary measures when handling lab equipment, but in the midst of a pandemic, the measures are heightened. Because of this, confusion and difficulties have occurred while trying to create a lab. “We had a long discussion about using gloves in the lab for every activity this year,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we use innocuous items like eggs and vinegar, everyone knows that household materials would not normally require gloves, but we discussed whether everyone should wear gloves this year no matter what,” she continued. 

The hardest part for all the teachers and students at Oak Hall has been trying to adapt to these new COVID-19 restrictions. The science teachers agree that they have had to do a lot more work and preparations before starting any labs. “I will have only the AP Chemistry students in lab on Monday and then take down their lab and set up another lab for the first-year chemistry students on Wednesday,” Dr K. explained. “Last year I might have had both labs set up simultaneously for the same day and just had certain tables dedicated to the AP labs, and other tables dedicated to the first-year labs,” she continued. This extra work can be a hassle to handle, however, Dr. K. mentioned the additional work is worth seeing students excited while doing a lab. 

An OHS student helps her distance learning peer with a science lab

When it comes to distance learning students, Wilson has her students work on FaceTime to help the online students see what is occurring in the lab, which is an extra step from what was required last year. “My in-class students have been good sports about it, even going to far as to put the camera from their phone onto the eyepiece of the microscope so the online students could ‘see’ what everyone else was seeing on the slides we were viewing,” Wilson explained. 

COVID- 19 might be a big roadblock in the way when it comes to science labs, but the virus isn’t powerful enough to stop the Oak Hall faculty from making science labs possible for their students.