Norwalk Students Bring Marine Science Lessons Home and to Life
New Haven, CT [October 27, 2020] – Through the continued response to COVID-19 challenges and opportunities, RISE Network educators have reached a milestone in securing more than $61,624 for 110 projects so far during the 2020-21 school year. These educator-led projects supporting student learning and engagement in distance and hybrid instruction were made possible by the RISE Educator Innovation Fund in partnership with Dalio Philanthropies and DonorsChoose.
Through one of these projects, remote learners at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk have the opportunity to develop an at-home aquaponics mini ecosystem to ensure the hands-on experience at home is as enriching as the learning experience in the classroom. This effort to support learning at home and at school proved valuable when the school was closed for two weeks in mid-October, illustrating the need for creative approaches this year.
“When the school year started I knew that regardless of whether students chose in-person or remote learning, I wanted them to have the same experience” said Eva Bartush, a Marine Science and Marine Biology Teacher at Brien McMahon School in Norwalk. “When you’re in the classroom you can see the excitement in the room, but that piece is missing when you’re on a video call. For a teacher, I think that’s the hardest part about communicating through a computer. After my students got the equipment, I could see them light up and that reassured me that I’m reaching them.”
Educators participate in the RISE Network’s Educator Innovation Fund to access hands-on resources that students can use remotely to further support their hybrid and distance learning. Educators are also adapting the classroom experience for safe in-person learning, such as having personalized supplies or resources that can be used both in school and at home. All donations submitted to projects launched by RISE educators are matched through the Educator Innovation Fund. Since September, educator participation and public support through DonorsChoose have increased the resources the fund has made available to educators so far this year from $30,000 to $60,000.
“As we continue to work through a school year unlike any other, the response to the Innovation Fund highlights the importance of providing educators with resources to proactively respond to changing circumstances and provide students with high-quality learning opportunities,” said Emily Pallin, Executive Director of the RISE Network. “We applaud educators for their ongoing creativity and resiliency.
Earlier this month, Bartush distributed the at-home aquaponics kits, which included a Betta fish, plant and fish tank, to students who did not have access to the sophisticated aquaponics system in her classroom. Bartush’s students use the kit to help reinforce and expand beyond what they’re learning in their class, while also being responsible for caring for marine life. With the success of the at-home aquaponics kit, Bartush said her department is looking to adopt similar individualized practices for students to continue their learning outside of the classroom even when in-person instruction resumes.
“Being responsible for these systems at home opens new doors to self-directed, individualized learning,” Bartush said. “I don’t have to give the students all the answers, and they’re motivated to do their own research. They’re asking questions that I didn’t anticipate, and when they run into problems, they’re troubleshooting and problem-solving on their own. It’s a bonus from the project that I didn’t expect to happen.”
Bartush said she hopes this year’s creative instruction will also spark a deeper student interest in career opportunities in Norwalk’s marine-based industries.
Across the state, educators like Bartush are using the Innovation Fund to support projects in their hybrid classrooms. In Meriden, students at Orville Platt High School are getting access to the technology needed to succeed in Algebra I, in person or remotely, though receiving individual TI-84 graphing calculators used to prepare for college level courses and SAT tests. In Stamford, one educator at Westhill High School is using a microscope imager digital camera along with a ring-light, cell phone holder and camera lens kit to cast and record live specimen demonstrations that students can follow along with from their homes.
RISE educators have been working diligently to think outside of the box to provide their students with experiences that heighten their engagement in learning. With more than 100 projects funded through the Educator Innovation Fund since the summer, educators have secured the resources needed to continue creating and pursuing ideas and projects that will provide new and stimulating learning experiences for students, even as the immediate future of how instruction will take place for the rest of the school year remains uncertain.