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Evolution & Adaptation: Introductory Biology Labs in the Time of SARS-CoV2

 

 

By Dr. Christopher Peter Malinoski, Laboratory Manager, Department of Biological Sciences

 

Adaptation (noun): modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment (from Marriam-Webster).

 

BIOL 1107 is a large introductory course at the University of Connecticut, Storrs campus, servicing nearly 1,300 undergraduates on an annual basis. The course guides students through a rigorous life sciences curriculum delivered through both lecture and laboratory components.

 

The laboratory portion of the course is focused on teaching both concepts and techniques. Units of lab exercises are offered focusing on various broad topics, like biochemistry, cell physiology, and molecular genetics. Students are also taught to use basic laboratory equipment, like microscopes, spectrophotometers, and pipettes.

 

I mention this to emphasize that the laboratory curriculum was designed to provide students with an authentic laboratory experience. To say that we were unprepared for the sudden emergence of SARS-CoV2 and the COVID19 pandemic is perhaps an understatement. When the difficult decision was made to offer BIOL 1107 via distance learning during the Fall 2020 semester, I knew that a significant challenge lay ahead.

 

The Process of Adaptation

 

The concept of adaptation is a common one in biology. You might as well consider the sudden change from in-person to distance learning labs as a rather radical shift in the learning environment. In a biological sense, then, we were being asked to alter the structure of the laboratory portion of the course to better fit the limitations (and strengths) of this new, online environment. How could we adapt a course designed to provide in-person, hands-on experiences for a fully hands-off format?

 

I began by searching for existing commercial products. Those that I found varied in approach to the material. Some were essentially online textbooks with inline questions and feedback, whereas others offered simulated virtual lab environments, like sophisticated educational video games. The simulated lab products were technologically impressive, but I had concerns that students might not own computers powerful enough to run the software. Further, while the simulation might provide a good visual representation of a lab exercise – for example, clicking and dragging a micropipette to a given solution – such an activity was really only assessing a student’s ability to arrange the steps of a procedure in the proper order. While this might help the student understand the order of operations, so could an ordering of question-types in our typical Blackboard LMS environment (HuskyCT).

 

Ultimately, both solutions had a fundamental problem; neither would provide students with the tactile experience and muscle memory that comes from physically working in a laboratory. While I did not – and still do not – have a solution to this problem, I was not convinced that these commercial products offered significant value to the student beyond what we might be able to develop ourselves.

 

With the support of the faculty instructors for the course, we began to adapt the BIOL 1107 laboratory content to the online-only format ourselves. The general course format was as follows: Teaching Assistants would hold synchronous lab meetings at the regularly scheduled times using the Collaborate video conferencing tool on Blackboard. During these meetings, Teaching Assistants would remotely administer password-protected quizzes and deliver lectures on the relevant lab topics for the week. Students could be split up into smaller break-out groups and tasked with participating in discussion topics relevant to the current exercise. Additionally, on their own time, students are required to read through the exercises in the lab manual and to complete weekly assignments.

 

I was bolstered in my decision by the fact that the course was not starting from square-one; the BIOL 1107 labs already had a robust online presence in place. In 2015, in conjunction with the eCampus Learning Team and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, a modern Blackboard site for the laboratory portion of the course was developed. In addition to redesigning the layout of that site for more intuitive navigation, I created student-centric learning objectives for each lab exercise. With the help of several Teaching Assistants from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, all the laboratory quizzes were redesigned to fit an online format that students would access in-lab using University-owned tablet computers. Much of these existing resources could be used in the distance-learning lab environment with little to no additional alteration.

 

We would supplement this online experience with as many additional online resources as we could. In the time since the collaboration with the eCampus team, I spearheaded a project to create introductory background videos covering topics from each lab exercise. Students could watch these videos to supplement the synchronous lectures and being available online meant that students could watch and re-watch the concept videos as needed. With the increased dependence students would have on these videos in the new course format, I tried to incorporate best practices wherever possible. Some videos were edited into 5- to 7-minute segments, and others had to be filmed again.

 

Next, thanks to the invaluable contributions of the BIOL Lab Services staff, we began the laborious process of planning and filming a series of demonstration videos. These varied from simple equipment tutorial videos to full overviews of performing the laboratory exercises. Staff were able to capture the needed footage using smartphone and tablet cameras over the course of just a few weeks. I then spent several more weeks editing the videos, adding title cards and speeding up sections of the video demonstrating repetitious physical manipulations. For exercises where it made sense, we filmed videos demonstrating experimental results, and we took photographs of samples both before and after the exercises so that students would be able to interpret experimental results for themselves.

 

To once again address the elephant in the room, these demonstration videos are not a 1:1 replacement for the traditional BIOL 1107 laboratory experience. Obviously, watching a video of equipment being used does not create the same type of muscle memory gained by physically working in the laboratory. However, to put this in another context, if I were going to try to change the brakes in my car – I will be the first to admit that I am not mechanically inclined – would I rather try to do so on my own, or with the assistance of a YouTube tutorial video? For many visually oriented learners, seeing the laboratory equipment being properly used in a video can be a valuable supplement to the experimental protocol written in the lab manual.

 

The Evolution of a Course

 

As I said up front, reconsidering the BIOL 1107 laboratory experience in the face of the pandemic was a significant challenge. However, it was important to realize that it was also an opportunity. How could we best utilize the strengths of the new course modality? What skills could we teach that would be equally as valuable and better suited to the online format? (The question is meant to be rhetorical, but the answer in our case was renewed focus on the principles of the scientific method and on scientific writing skills.)

 

These types of compromises were necessary in adapting the BIOL 1107 laboratories to the distance-learning modality, and I would like to emphasize that these were not easy choices to make. I think the following sentiments are ones that many educators will identify with: the prior course design was not broken, and years of iteration had resulted in the what we considered to be the very best laboratory experience that we could offer. At many times during the adaptation process I felt as though we were being forced to leave behind some of the best and most valuable parts of the student experience. I could not shake the feeling that I was somehow betraying the natural evolution of the course.

 

However, I realized that I was making a fundamental mistake in my understanding of evolution. Anyone that has taught evolution knows that it is a common misconception, the idea that evolution results in organisms that are perfectly adapted to a given environment. But that’s not how evolution works. Evolution’s dirty secret is that it often only results in solutions that work well enough. To adapt to the pandemic environment, the BIOL 1107 laboratory experience would need to be different by necessity. The experience might not be perfect, but it would be different.

 

And it would work.

Something Old and Something New: How Pre-College is Changing

 

By Nicole Hyman and Cody Olson

 

Over this past year, hundreds of thousands of couples have had to move or postpone their wedding day due to Covid-19. Is it the responsible and safe decision? Yes, absolutely, but, that doesn’t make it any less difficult. A wedding takes months to plan and coordinate, and there are so many variables to account for. Countless engaged couples are now grappling with the arduous task of rethinking their special day, and all the difficult feelings that come along with that process. We, at UConn Pre-College Summer (UConn PCS), can’t fully relate to this feeling, but we know a thing or two about having to cancel a “special day.”

 

After months of planning, we made the difficult decision to cancel our 2020 Pre-College Summer program to prioritize the health and safety of our students, faculty, and campus partners. As a team that works year-round to prepare for a few special days in the summer, we did not make this decision lightly.

 

While we did not host a program, we made sure our summer did not go to waste. We spent time reflecting on the best aspects of our program, rethinking a few of our offerings, and retooling as we prepare for next summer. Our 2021 program will certainly look different, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less engaging, exciting, or enriching. While we were planning and preparing this summer, we came to the realization that we
would need to figure out how to marry our typical offerings to the university’s e-learning and technological capabilities. Weirdly enough, the marriage of technology and our program was not the only wedding related thought we’ve had. In fact, as we reflect on the work we completed since March, we can’t help but notice a matrimony motif emerge. Our efforts may be best categorized with the old wedding day adage: Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Our major projects from this past summer reflect these categories, and we are optimistic they are helping us work towards a “ring”er of a summer.

 

“Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Our major projects from
this past summer reflect these categories, and we are optimistic they are helping us work towards a “ring”er of a 2021 summer.”

 

Something Old: Rethinking Student Workshops

For the UConn PCS team, summer 2020 meant adapting an older and integral component of our program: exploratory workshops. Traditionally, workshops allowed students a safe, in-person space to explore a wide variety of emerging academic and personal interests in addition to their class. Many of our wonderful workshop presenters worked with the PCS team to transition their work shop into a recorded virtual mini-workshop that was shared out with students who registered for the program. We understand that many students spend their summers preparing for their futures, and we were pleased to continue supporting students in their college and career preparations in a virtual space. These workshops all pertain to college preparation, and can still be accessed on the Pre-College Summer YouTube Channel.

 

Something New: A New Graduate Assistant
For the UConn PCS team, summer 2020 brought a new teammate: a new Graduate Assistant, Deanna Gallegos. Deanna joined the team in August and hit the ground running working on social media and preparing to recruit, hire, and train our summer staff. While summer 2021 is looking different than those prior, Deanna is working to ensure that our student staff will have a safe and engaging experience. She has spent the last month rethinking the role our student staff will play and making sure that by the end of the summer our staff will have enhanced their leadership capabilities and grown in their professional competence. Deanna is from West Sacramento, CA and graduated from the University of California – Davis in 2019 with a double major in English and Chicana/o Studies. She is now pursuing a Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs in the Neag School of Education at UConn. We are elated to have her on the team!

 

Something Borrowed: Relationship Building and Benchmarking

Collaboration is a key component of our work as a program. Conferences provide our team with opportunities to connect and network with other pre-college programs across the country and the partnerships we’ve formed with other UConn offices are integral to creating a dynamic summer program. Building and maintaining relationships has been a challenge as of late, but this summer we set out to create a community of practice with similar programs on and off campus.

 

The community we are building came to fruition after our Program Coordinator, Cody Olson, conducted a benchmarking analysis this past summer. Since the completion of that project, we’ve been able to develop stronger relationships with other programs, share new and innovative ideas with our peers, and in many ways “borrow” unique practices and strategies that we will
implement in coming summers. A project like this would not have been possible to complete in a typical summer, and the community of practice we are building will benefit us for years to come.

 

Something Blue: A New Pre-College Website
For our new website and branding, “something blue” means adopting a dynamic, minimalist design to bring us closer to our UConn Nation roots. This summer, we had time to develop a new website and rebrand the program- a major undertaking and something we may not have been able to do without the extra time we had this summer. It’s not just the look of our website that has changed. We have also restructured the website to better address the specific needs of three different populations. We want to directly communicate with students, parents and guardians, and high school and community partners as well as other program stakeholders. With education entering a new age of online and blended learning, we are excited to share our new website and to use it to better serve our students and their families.

 

Rain Date: Planning for Summer 2021
Like most happy couples planning to celebrate in 2020, we have a rain date for Summer 2021. We are thrilled to be in the midst of preparing for this upcoming summer as we utilize the old, new, borrowed, and blue ideas from our unexpected summer of collaboration and growth. We are excited to announce that #SummerAtUConn for 2021 will be held virtually. This includes online course offerings, workshops, and social programming for our student participants. Students can now submit an application at no cost by navigating to connect.pcs.uconn.edu/apply. For a list of courses that will be offered, please see this link: pcs.uconn.edu/courses. Among the many courses that will be offered, we have a great opportunity for students interested in Geoscience. Through a collaboration of UConn’s Department of Geoscience & UConn PCS, scholarships will be awarded to students to participate in the three-week virtual GEOPATHS: Introduction to Geosciences course at no cost. Visit pcs.uconn.edu for more information on this scholarship and overall program details.

 

2021 Summer Dates:
• Session 1A & 1B: 6/14/2021 – 7/2/2021
• Session 2A & 2B: 7/5/2021 – 7/23/2021

 

“We want to directly communicate with students, parents and guardians, and high school and community partners as well as other program stakeholders. With education entering a new age of online and blended learning, we are excited to share our new website and to use it to better serve our students and their families.”

 

UConn ECE Student Perspective: Learning in Today’s Environment

 

 

By Elizabeth Kindt

 

Being a high school student is difficult enough without any additional pressures or major world crises going on. In March of 2020, Connecticut high schoolers experienced a sudden switch to online learning due to COVID-19, and just two months later on May 25th witnessed widespread political action in the United States in response to the murder of George Floyd. Between the uncertainty and fear brought on by the pandemic, and the injustices of our country finally coming to light, our students are facing extreme global events as they try to navigate their own personal and educational growth. To better understand the challenges our UConn ECE Students are facing during these trying times, UConn ECE staff conducted interviews with some of our students to learn more about how the online educational changes and the current political discourse has impacted them in both their education and lives at home. We asked each student two specific questions to start the conversation; “How has the current political discourse and injustice affected you? How has it affected your classes and learning both inside and outside the classroom?”

 

Valerie, a UConn ECE Student from Cromwell High School answered, “For the first part of the school year, I have been virtually learning from home and I must admit, it has been challenging in multiple ways.” Her response to courses switching online was similar to other students, who found the transition difficult at first, but manageable towards the end of the school year. In making the most of a challenging situation, Valerie has been using her time at home to “continue to educate myself and keep updated on what has been going on in the world. I’ve also been making sure to keep myself in the mindset that there is always room to learn and improve.” Valerie concluded, “Overall, the current political discourse and injustice has really made me see how much I can do to help the community become a better place and continue to encourage others to do so as well.” Once again, her response mirrored other students who wanted to help their communities, despite setbacks as a result of the pandemic.

 

Another UConn ECE student, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained how the political discourse has affected their learning directly. This Manchester High School student answered, “[The political discourse] affected my classes and learning because more people are talking about it and spreading awareness to it, so more people…can take action.” This was a common theme among students as many wanted to discuss what was affecting classroom learning. This student also mentioned that, “The most memorable [course] was UConn Human Rights because we were able to talk about current situations happening in the world.” Many other UConn ECE Students mentioned that in courses such as UConn Human Rights, and UConn U.S. History, instructors allowed for a more open discussion about the current events going on in the U.S. since these topics were aligned with their course curricula. Students were pleased when this happened and open to a discussion about how these events affected them and those around them.

 

We also had the opportunity to interview Camila Lopez, a sophomore at J.M. Wright Technical High School who spoke about the political events that affected both her family and her education. When asked about how her peers were getting involved with political issues she answered, “Here in Stamford, there have been a lot of protests downtown,” and continued by saying, “there are issues going on that need to be spoken about, and I’m a big fan of peaceful protesting.” When asked if today’s current events have also been addressed within the classroom she said, “Yes, especially since I’m taking the UConn ECE Human Rights course our teacher was like, ‘yeah we’re talking about this’. What I really like about it, and what a lot of students I’ve seen like about it, is there’s more real-world subjects.” She went on to say that she liked the platform students were given in class to speak their minds, especially in her UConn Human Rights course. She mentioned that, “What I like about it is the flexibility that the teacher has, like if there is a problem going on [our teacher will say], ‘does anyone want to talk about it?’ He’ll give us the platform so we can say what we’re thinking and then we start discussing it. There aren’t necessarily debates or arguments about it, it’s just discussing it in general which is really nice.” Camila also mentioned that she and other students believe bringing up these issues in class is the first step to bringing about change. “There’s a curriculum but because it’s a human rights class you can kind of go off of it in different directions. You can have an assignment on race, but because there are still racial inequalities today, you can talk about what’s going on today.” Camila also mentioned that although students were quieter in their online classes, once a conversation was started on a controversial topic or current event, students were more willing to jump in and share their thoughts. She reminisced about being in the classroom in the beginning of the year and explained, “Once one person starts [the conversation], it kind of goes from there, and with a couple of people joining it leads to more. I feel like with online classes a lot of kids are quieter than I’m used to seeing in class.” And although high school students may not be as outgoing or willing to participate over Zoom, Camila emphasized that their voices are still being heard. Towards the end of the interview, we asked Camila how the political discourse had affected her family. Her response was, “I’m Guatemalan and I love talking about politics with my dad.” Once again she mentioned that talking about these issues is one of the most important things students are doing. At the end of the interview Camila reiterated how important it was to spread awareness about current topics in the class room, and to keep students involved in the conversations.

Although this school year has been an unexpected one to say the least, we found that
students are ready to get involved in both their communities and classrooms to make positive changes in the world. Despite the pandemic, many students feel more empowered and encouraged, even if it is through a computer, to speak out on the current political discourse and other issues they are passionate about. As we reflect on 2020, we are hopeful the new year will bring peace and good health to all our students and community partners, and the passion for change, dedication to taking action and raising awareness will continue to grow and their voices will be heard.

Principal Confidential–People, Places, & Pedagogy

 

 

Crosby High School, Waterbury
Cathleen Newmark, Interim Principal

“Crosby High School is an urban school in the City of Waterbury. It serves 1,220 students and has a staff of 140. The demographics of the student populations are: 733 Hispanic, 303 African American, 135 White, 20 Asian, 17 two or more race categories and 12 American Indian.”

 

 
 

J.M. Wright Technical High School, Stamford
Phyllis Bartoli, Principal
“There are 450 students who are currently enrolled at J.M. Wright Technical High School. Our students primarily come from Stamford; however, other communities represented are Greenwich, Norwalk, Wilton, Westport, Darien, Fairfield, and Bridgeport. There are 9 trades (Automotive Technology, Carpentry, Culinary Arts, Digital Media, Electrical, Health Technology, Hospitality Management, Information Technology, and Plumbing & Heating), each with 2 instructors. On the academic side, there are 20 teachers.”

 

The Woodstock Academy, Woodstock
Christopher Sandford, Head of School
“The Woodstock Academy is an independent “Town Academy” which was founded in 1801. There are only 22 Town Academies in the United States and three of them are in Connecticut. The majority of our day students come from six of our nearby towns. In addition, we have day students from the local area who pay tuition to attend along with up to 200 students who enroll through our boarding program. This boarding environment attracts students from all around the country and the world. In total, we have about 1,100 students in grades 9-13. While our school sits in a very rural area in northeast Connecticut, we have students in our boarding community who come from more diverse areas all over the world.”

 

 

Xavier High School, Middletown

Brendan Donohue, Principal
“Xavier High School is an all-boys, Catholic, College Prep school located in Middletown, Connecticut. We are co-sponsored by the Xaverian Brothers and the Diocese of Norwich. We have 662 students enrolled in grades 9-12. We have 55 full- and part-time teaching faculty.”

 

 

 

 

Principal Confidential–People, Places, & Pedagogy

By Brian A. Boecherer

 

 

They say, tough times make for resilient people. If so, we are in a period of reinforcing our resilience and as a result we have become and will even still become stronger and wiser. What have we learned in 2020 that challenges and also reinforces our previous thinking and what will we carry with us into the future? As the pandemic rages on, most of us are still trying just to manage the current situation. Instructors are thinking about which parts of their curriculum can be restructured to fit a new course pace and how to offer compassionate assessments that suit the moment, but still require students to deeply engage. Principals are thinking about their students as well, along with district mandates; the health, well-being, and obligations of their teachers; and their high school as a cohesive society. This became clear from my interviews with four UConn ECE high school principals [introduced to the left]. They are thinking about the people, the place, and the pedagogy.
These four high schools show four very different spaces and highlight unique situations as well as some important similarities. To set the scene, all four schools have different demands based on whether their students are mostly onsite, mostly remote, and somewhere in between. The students who attend Xavier High School are mostly in-person, with a small percentage of students opting for distance learning. The Woodstock Academy, on the other hand, has gone completely remote, although they have a residential student population to consider as well. Crosby and Wright Tech are hybrid, with the majority of their students at a distance, but about a third of their students are on campus at any given time.

 

How does structure influence teaching and learning?

Cathi Newmark, Crosby High School: “Waterbury Public Schools is in a hybrid learning model. ALL students and their families were given the option to choose to attend school in-person or enroll in the district’s Virtual Academy. At Crosby, ALL students (in-person and virtual) participate in synchronous learning every day from 7:20 to 11:20 a.m., with an additional 80-minutes of asynchronous learning when they return home. In addition, all students and families are afforded the opportunity to meet with teachers from 1:25-2:00 p.m. for additional individual/small group assistance.”

 

Phyllis Bartoli, J. M. Wright Technical High School: “Because students at J.M. Wright Technical High School manage two programs – trade and academic – they operate on two-week cycles. On their academic cycle, students have been divided into two groups (virtual/in-school) [to de-densify the building]. There are approximately 33% of students on campus daily. There are about four students per class, and they travel in cohorts. Teachers have designed their classroom so that students are sitting six feet apart. On the trade side, all students stay in their shop except for lunch. There is very limited hallway “traffic”. It is the students’ responsibility to recognize when they are to be on campus and when they are to access their academic program from home. Even with this model, [with all students and instructors wearing masks] there are families who have opted to do their learning completely virtually.”
Chris Sandford, The Woodstock Academy: “About six years ago we started a one-to-one program where every student has been given an iPad. This initiative has been a game changer in terms of technology, equity and shifting our overall pedagogy throughout the entire school. It has led to new courses being created or courses being restructured in almost every department which has expanded our ability to meet our mission as an institution.

 

“Also, we have offered online classes in the evening for those students who may find those type of classes better suited for their schedule. We have eliminated snow days to provide a continuous educational experience that limits the movement of commencement. Right now, we are considering shifting our weekly schedule to one that has only four in-person days each week. This might be a way for students to become more familiar with the virtual format they will undoubtedly see in college, while providing more valuable and precious professional development time for staff.”
Brendon Donohue, Xavier High School: “Normally, Xavier has a seven-period day; 45-minute periods. This year we returned fully in person with a small percentage of students choosing to learn remotely due to family medical reasons. As part of our reopening plan, we reduced the number of classes per day and lengthened the periods. We now have five-periods a day [with] 60-minute classes. This was done in large part to minimize the number of times students are passing through the hallways. Of course, we have many other protocols in place that I am sure are universal in other schools. Designated dining areas [with plexiglass], directional signals in hallways, one-way stair wells, hand sanitizer in every room and in common areas, no lockers, etc.”

 

What is the most difficult part of managing a high school during COVID-19?

 

Cathi Newmark, Crosby High School: “Students have varying responses to this new way of learning. Some are more comfortable and prefer learning at home, sharing a greater ability to focus with less distractions in place, while others miss the routine and social interaction of the traditional school day. They have all demonstrated resilience and an admirable ability to adapt to the pandemic and the uncertain times we are all navigating through together.
“While we recently had a change in administration at Crosby, the staff continues to navigate the challenges of teaching and supporting students during a pandemic with resilience. The faculty has stepped up and they offer each other support and guidance where and when they see the need. They share teaching tips with each other on our new platform, ParentSquare, which is a communication tool our district launched this year. They support each other emotionally and have demonstrated empathy and understanding when challenges arise.”
Phyllis Bartoli, J.M. Wright Technical High School: “What’s most difficult is that the schedule changes daily. It is imperative to communicate the schedule on a weekly basis to families, students, and staff. Students are managing as well as possible. To establish consistency, online norms were created: Video on; Audio off, unless speaking; Arrive to class on time; Follow their schedule; Check their email; and Dress appropriately, preferably in uniform. Faculty are having a difficult time with hybrid teaching, namely, there are only a few students in their class and the rest of the class is virtual. Web cams were donated by the Parent Faculty Organization (PFO) to enhance video clarity. They feel, overall, comfortable with the way administration has managed the schedules and students. Communication is extremely important, so weekly staff update meetings have been scheduled.”

 

Chris Sandford, The Woodstock Academy: “Our largest challenge rests with meeting the social and emotional needs of our staff and students. Both our school goal and many of our Board of Trustee’s goals for this year were created with this focus. Fortunately, we have had very few issues with technology, but with our community so spread out and diverse, we are always concerned about the isolation of our students and staff.”
Brendan Donohue, Xavier High School: “A key characteristic of Xaverian education is “enduring personal relationships”. This is a hallmark of the Xaverian Brothers who have always had a presence at Xavier and who sponsor the school though the Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools network. Throughout the pandemic it has been hard to conduct many of our programs in the same manner that we typically do. This has hampered our ability to interact with our students in the manner we are accustomed to. Of course, it is also difficult to maintain these relationships with those students learning remotely. The freshmen are of particular concern.”

 

What is the biggest silver lining in teaching and learning that came from the pandemic?

 

Cathi Newmark, Crosby High School: “One of the greatest milestones we have achieved as a district is the increased access to technology for our students. The bar has been raised for educators and students to utilize technology to improve instructional practices and student assessment while using various online tools and platforms. This year, teachers have been afforded a wealth of professional learning time (daily) and have been using this time to focus on SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] practices, engaging students in the hybrid learning model and gaining certifications in the areas of Google and Kami as tools to guide their instruction.

 

“We have a very active Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) team that acknowledges and rewards both staff and students on a regular basis. We recognize that this is a difficult time for all of us and have increased our efforts to boost morale among our students and staff. Some of the initiatives that have taken place include sending handwritten postcards to all students and staff that are currently learning/teaching virtually and a FALLOWEEN celebration where we distributed treats to all students as they exited the building. We have implemented a walking club during our lunch block to encourage healthy practices and camaraderie amongst our staff. We promote FineArt Fridays and Music Mondays on our social media platforms where we post Crosby student pieces. We also announce an SEL quote of the day during our student-led morning announcements.”

 

Phyllis Bartoli, J.M. Wright Technical High School: “Wednesday is now a virtual day for students. They also operate on an early dismissal schedule. While teachers are on campus, the teaching portion of the day ends at 11:30am. They can have lunch delivered to the high school or step out. They then can use the rest of the day for collaboration and planning.”

 

Chris Sandford, The Woodstock Academy: “While it has been a struggle, I can say that I have never been prouder of the individuals that work and study at The Academy. This has not been easy on anyone, but what I have seen from adults and students has been nothing short of inspiring. Sitting with students in the boarding community around a fire pit and just chatting about how things will be different after the pandemic, or meeting with students (virtually) as they advocate for social justice issues, or hearing how people have coped while struggling with sick parents or family members (or their own sickness), has brought some important things into focus this year. Even though we have been forced to distance ourselves, we have never been more connected together.”

Brendan Donohue, Xavier High School: “People are resilient and innovative. They rally around each other in difficult times. That has been the greatest takeaway for us here at Xavier. Because of the pandemic, everyone has been forced to try new things. We have had to learn new ways to educate. Many of us find this very uncomfortable. I have watched our faculty and staff and students roll up their sleeves and figure it out. When this is all over, there will be many things that we will be glad to see go, but there will also be things we retain because the challenge has made us better – better educators and students, better people. I am eager to see what a Xavier education looks like in the future because of this. Some things will always stay the same – academic excellence, enduring personal relationships, a strong moral foundation rooted in Catholic Social Teaching and Xaverian values. How we do things might look a bit different because of this experience. The Xavier community will be better because of this pandemic.”

From Our Faculty Coordinators: Scott Campbell, Ph.D.

 

By Melanie Banks

 

 

A. One thing I’ve been telling teachers and students is that writing is a technology designed for bridging gaps between people. If we’re all in the same room anyhow, we don’t actually need to write. Going online or being physically apart helps students see the need to consider audience, situation, and the goals of writing: who needs to hear this and how can I affect them? We’re using writing, more than ever, to locate ourselves in a conversation and see ourselves in relationship to others.

 

Q. Professors in the humanities and social sciences are uniquely positioned to read the news and put it in a larger context. How do you engage with the news in your classes and give structure to the moment we are living in?

 

A. Our focus this semester is on education itself, which allows students to share experiences and write as experts, since they are themselves, of course, deeply involved in educational systems. Additionally, because education is supposed to be a place for engaging with and we hope changing the world, we talk and write about where our schools and courses come up short and what we might want them to be. What should a school be leads into questions of inequality, injustice, and systemic racism, and we’ve read about and explored a range of possible responses to the emergent needs of our world in 2020.

 

Q. While you give structure and context for your students, how do you advise students who come to you confused, disaffected, and/or angry and not knowing how to make positive change?

 

A. I am entirely online this semester, which makes the personal interactions with students, most of whom are in their first semester of college, much harder to initiate. I worry quite a bit that we’re not hearing enough from students in need. My personal style is to be talky and energetic in videos, constantly sending emails, writing individualized notes to them, being present in online conferences. It takes time, but I think many or most begin to trust that I am telling the truth when I insist that I am here to help them. Our course is a seminar, which means it needs their contributions and will go in a direction they choose. My role is to help them see that school can be a resource for them to do and make things that interest them.

UConn ECE News Briefs

 

By Carissa Rutkauskas

 

 

NACEP 2020 Connect 2020: The NACEP Digital Forum

Brian Boecherer, UConn ECE’s Executive Director and Carissa Rutkauskas, Program Specialist for Outreach and Evaluation, presented “Pivoting to Online During COVID – Data and Trends” on October 26th for the annual national NACEP Conference: Connect 2020. Seventy attendees from around the country streamed the 40-minute session. The presentation touched on topics like communication strategies that foster a stronger community, solutions to common classroom problems, best and worst practices from the UConn ECE professionals, qualitative and quantitative student data, and UConn’s new practice of recording high school teachers and their lessons.
NACEP 2020 Accreditation Commission

 

On November 4th, Brian Boecherer, UConn ECE’s Executive Director, presented at NACEP’s Accreditation Commission, and spoke about UConn ECE’s approach to accreditation standards. Familiar with the process, UConn ECE has been accredited with NACEP since 2007. UConn is one of 116 concurrent enrollment programs throughout the country that holds this distinction and the only program in New England.

 

 

NACEP 2020 Concurrent Enrollment Review
On November 5th, Brian Boecherer, UConn ECE’s Executive Director, presented with colleagues Fabiola Juarez-Coca of Boise State University and Melanie Nappa-Carroll of Syracuse University on the much-anticipated peer-reviewed concurrent enrollment journal: The Concurrent Enrollment Review (CER). This peer-reviewed academic journal on concurrent enrollment, which is three years in the making, will be the first to offer educational professionals, researchers, and policymakers insight into this interdisciplinary model of education.

 

 

 

 

UConn ECE 101
What is UConn ECE? What courses are offered at my school? How much do courses cost? How does it differ from Advanced Placement? Answers to these questions and more can be found on our new UConn ECE 101 page. ece.uconn.edu/uconnece101/

 

 

Meet our Community
Who are the people of UConn ECE? Visit our newly updated “Meet our Community” page for insights from UConn ECE Students, Alumni, Instructors, Site Representative, Principals, and Faculty Coordinators. Complete the form to be featured on our website as well! ece.uconn.edu/meet-our-community/

 

 

Community Reviews
You can read reviews about restaurants and hotels before you go… here is your opportunity to read about UConn ECE before taking a course. Take advantage of this new program feature to discover first hand experiences of others, or complete a review to share your own UConn ECE experience: ece.uconn.edu/about/uconnecereviews/

 

 

Middle School Outreach

On November 25th , UConn ECE staff spoke with students at Mansfield Middle School for the third year in a row during their College and Career Readiness Day. Although we were unable to be in person this year, we were still able to interact virtually and play a dynamic game of UConn ECE and College Ready Jeopardy with the students. If you know of a middle school who would like more information on UConn ECE and outreach activities for their students, please contact us at ece@uconn.edu.

Registration Reflections: Holly Saad and Maureen Steinhoff Stonington High School

 

Registration for the 2020-2021 academic year created many new challenges for high schools and their students to navigate. At various points in the year, schools made the decision to move to remote learning and could only communicate with students through e-mail and video calls. This means that each school had to adjust how they helped students register for their UConn Early College Experience (ECE) classes. The article below highlights some of the creative ways that Site Representatives found success in helping students register for classes this year.

 

HOLLY SAAD – Site Representative (LEFT)
MAUREEN STEINHOFF – Site Representative (RIGHT)

We are honored to be featured in the Early College Experience Winter Magazine as the site representatives for Stonington High School. We are both school counselors and have been Site Representatives together for three years. Just when we felt we had the ECE registration process down, COVID-19 forced us into distance learning mid-March. This school year, we’ve been operating in a hybrid instructional model, splitting our student body into two cohorts. With little to no in person contact with students, we were forced to create new ways to communicate and follow through with our UConn ECE Students and families.

 

One procedural practice that we’ve always had in place that helped us tremendously during distance learning and the hybrid model is making deadlines for students about a week earlier than UConn’s deadline. This allowed us time to cross check rosters with applications and enrollment status reports then track down students that had yet to complete the process. “Tracking down” students looks different these days. We can’t always pull students from study hall (or class when we are desperate) if they are not in the building so we’ve been proactive with our frequent email reminders. We created email groups for UConn ECE Students and their Parents/guaridans. This was a time-consuming task, but well worth it with all of the deadline reminders, instructions and links to resources we’ve been sending. When email hasn’t been an effective way to communicate, we divide and conquer and call home. We’ve also utilized our daily morning announcements to remind students of deadlines and resources for assistance. The resources on the UConn ECE website have been super helpful! We share them with students often.

 

It’d be remiss of us not to thank Todd Blodgett for his help and accessibility throughout the registration process. In a typical school year, we would hold workshops to assist students with the process and Todd would join us to answer questions and expedite the process. During full remote learning in the Spring, we advertised and held a couple Q&A Google Meets to assist students. The Google Meet link was sent out to all of our UConn ECE Students and families encouraging them to join and Todd was there as well to assist. Communicating with our UConn ECE Instructors has been helpful as well. We’ve asked them to relay information to their students and we have even joined their classes to assist students with the process.

Thank you to all our Site Representatives who are working so hard to make sure our students are successful and have the support they need during these unprecedented times. We are all in this together. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office if you need anything, and know that we are here for you year round.

Change is Good: UConn Pre-College Summer’s Most Successful Summer

 
By Erin Donohue, Pre-College Summer Graduate Assistant
 

In the summer of 2017, UConn’s Pre-College Summer (PCS) program for rising high school juniors and seniors expanded in more ways than just increasing numbers. This past summer, the program has also extended its reach both nationally and globally! Thirty-five percent (35%) of program students out of the 383 total registrations came from states outside of New England, including Puerto Rico. The program also had a total of 8 international students from countries such as Canada, France, Romania, Luxembourg, China, and Taiwan! This is the largest and most diverse group of students that have ever attended Pre-College Summer, which prepares students for college life through a non-credit, academic enrichment environment.

 

One of the main goals of UConn’s Pre-College Summer program is to allow students to “test out” an academic area that they may be interested in pursuing in college before they attend college. This year, to accommodate the growing number of students, PCS ramped up its course selection. This past summer’s course spread included new courses in the Arts with Animation and Photography, as well as a range of Pre-Med courses on topics such as Anatomy and Physiology, Kinesiology, and Human Pathology. These new Pre-Med courses provided the students with an opportunity to aid in the dissection of a human cadaver right on campus! We additionally added a Pre-Law course to the line-up, and as part of the course students were able to visit the UConn School of Law and a local courthouse! The hands-on experiences provided by these courses allowed students to really get a feel for whether this academic focus is something that they would want to further pursue in college, or not. As Sarah from Ohio put it, “UConn has given me an incredible experience that reassured my desire to pursue medicine.” Other students learned based on their class experience during Pre-College Summer that perhaps the subject they chose was not the best fit for them. Ina from Massachusetts who studied Statistics while at Pre-College Summer remarked, “The UConn Pre-College Summer Program was a good experience in that I left the program with many new friends and a glimpse into what college life will be life. The academic course itself, however, was one that I would definitely not repeat.”
 

Another goal of the Pre-College Summer Program is to make sure that students gain the full experience of what college life is like before actually attending college. Students who attend our program live in residence halls on the Storrs campus where they attend interactive classes for 19 hours a week for up to four weeks and participate in engaging afternoon workshops of their choice. New workshops popular with students this past summer included Creating a Vision Board where students were able to highlight their future goals using pictures, participating in a Hands on Drumming circle, and DJ Session 101, an introduction to disc jockeying. While all of this is daunting to high school students at first, by the end of their time in the program they begin to understand the importance of their experience on campus and get, according to Christina from Connecticut, an “eye-opening experience of what life at UConn could possibly be.” Justin from Connecticut remarked, “It was even better than I imagined it would be. I felt like a college student and got more information about college life out of the program than any other experience.” And Michele from California added, “This program provided me with a good balance of college lifestyle, subject based learning, and workshop learning.The summer staff members were very sweet and welcoming and we were able to do a lot of evening activities that were really fun.”

 

Students also experience social opportunities similar to that of incoming college freshman. While spending time in the program, students are able to hurdle social obstacles and make friends, which can be difficult when in a new environment. Our summer staff, including mostly current UConn undergraduate and graduate students, are as inclusive as possible of all students and convey the message that students are in a safe space where they can express themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin. On the first day of student check-in and drop off, students are usually anxious about meeting new people and may be shy to get to know one another, so making friends can be difficult. Once students realize that they are all in the same boat, however, friends are made quickly. Emelyn from Connecticut could relate, saying, “Even people who are shy like me can find people to hang out with.” The Pre-College Summer program provides many fun and exciting experiences and activities through which students can bond, such as unorganized sporting events, game and movie nights, visiting downtown Storrs, taking walks on Horsebarn Hill, and even a talent show! This past summer we also included horseback riding lessons provided by the Department of Animal Sciences for students who are passionate about riding. It’s clear by the end of the week that after all of these amazing experiences, students are sad to leave campus and their newly made friends to return home. Meira from Massachusetts remarked, “I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous about coming to UConn, but everyone is friendly and it only took a day for me to get comfortable. I definitely wish I stayed longer, it’s an unforgettable experience! It may be scary at first, but you’ll have a 50+ person family to back you up!” Yazmin from Massachusetts also reflected on her total experience in the program, saying, “It was a truly unforgettable experience. I had the opportunity to create bonds with different people and experience the ACTUAL college life while sleeping in the dorms, eating in the dining halls, and being taught by an actual college professor. We were also given a bit of freedom just like real college students. This program has a lot of variety and it’s a must.”
 

The impact that Pre-College Summer has on students is truly remarkable. While the experience is new and intimidating at first, students learn so much about themselves and who they would like to become in college. It’s amazing to think that UConn’s Pre-College Summer Program will host its 5th summer beginning in July of 2018. The 4-week program will run from July 8th through August 4th 2018, and program registration will open in December of 2017. For more information, please visit pcs.uconn.edu or contact our office at 860-486-0149.

 

DJ Workshop PCS Dairy Bar Trip PCS

The Development Plan

By Brian Boecherer
The audience was riveted. Our guest speaker for the October Political Science workshop, Professor Akhil Reed Amar, lit-up the room with his conversation on the election. The last time the country was in a similar position was 1864, he said, when the election had the chance of pulling all four levers of government in the same political direction. Prof. Amar clarified that in this election, just like in Lincoln’s second campaign, it is completely possible to have a result where the president, the House, and the Senate could all shift to either completely Democratic or Republican controlled. If this were to happen, the nominee for Justice Antonin Scalia’s position would also be from the party in power. The next justice, who will be nominated and elected under the new government, will shift the balance of power. As we now know, all four levers of power did/will move in one direction. Professional development workshops should always be so engaging and so informative.
Prof. Akhil Reed Amar is the preeminent scholar on Constitutional law in the country. His expert analysis has been cited in a score of Supreme Court decisions and his name has been mentioned as a possible nomination for Scalia’s seat on the bench (not by the Trump administration though). We were
honored and quite fortunate to have him as our guest speaker, the result of UConn ECE Instructor Aaron Hull (Greenwich High School) who was previously acquainted with him.
The Political Science workshop is an example of a larger UConn ECE effort to deepen our academic impact on the ECE community. A year ago UConn ECE examined budgets and reapportioned funds to deepen our academic investment in faculty and students. We have always been very proud to receive feedback that our workshops are the best PD faculty attend all year. But these comments spurred us to reach even higher. Departments like Biology forged the path already a few years ago, when Dr. Tom Abbott, faculty coordinator, designed his workshops to get ECE faculty back into the labs, the greenhouses, and using equipment that is generally inaccessible to high school faculty.
Departments have been using these new financial resources in unique ways. U.S. History hosted experts from the Pequot Museum in November to lead a discussion on indigenous approaches to teaching U.S. History. Last spring Statistics purchased specialized software called R and organized an online Summer Institute to learn proficiency. Maritime Studies hosted their annual workshop offsite at the Connecticut River Museum. In December, UConn ECE Chinese (pilot program) will host a leading scholar on the teaching and learning of Chinese, where workshop attendees will receive a complementary copy of her
textbook.
The development plan for UConn ECE has always been built around rigorous academic standards. NACEP standards were a guiding light for our development, just over 10 years ago. Now that NACEP
standards are institutionalized, our new endeavors are the deepening of academic resources. Additionally, UConn ECE is hosting a number of small grant opportunities to develop the classroom and the community. There are also student scholarships and opportunities for increased student participation, like the hugely popular UConn ECE Ambassador program. This edition of the newsletter will highlight many of the new development initiatives. We hope you enjoy reading about them, we hope you enjoy participating in them, and we welcome your input always.
Maritime Studies Workshop