Lærke Bang Jacobsen is an educator at Borupgaard Gymnasium in Ballerup, a large stx high school 15 km from Copenhagen. During the period of Covid-19, she has been teaching physics at C level in the school year 2020/2021, and the second year of physics at B level in the school year 2019/2020. She is responsible for 31 students in the C-level class and 23 students in the B-level class last school year plus a large number of math students.

During the past year, what percentage of your classes have been online?

This school year: Since the students start at an introductory class and are not placed into their real classes until around November 1st, I have only taught them in November and about half of December at school, and then January, February and Marts online.

Last school year: I can no longer remember the number of lockdowns days, but I had the class for two years, and the lockdown was from mid-March till around May 1st, so a much smaller percentage.

How did you handle this new situation when you first started doing online classes? What new tools and approaches did you start using?

All of my teaching during the lockdown have been present online with the students; I have not done any asynchronous modules. I was able to do so because I have not had to teach my own kids at home at the same time, since my kids are in the last years of primary school.

My desk at home have been a bit of an experimental lab of digital equipment – I now have two screens, a moveable whiteboard, a moveable camera to record my writing on paper, a pen-shaped mouse for drawing, multiple mouses, an iPad for drawing etc.

We set up meetings through Google Meets, since our students all are users of Google Drive. During the lockdowns, more features emerged – so now I can make randomized breakout rooms, have them raise their hands, write in chats, make polls etc. I now also use Jamboard a lot, which is also part of the Google Drive, and is like Paint, but where multiple people can write and draw at the same time – they use it to illustrate physics points like drawing waves with different frequencies and amplitudes, draw electrons jumping between orbitals emitting or absorbing photons and much more. The students also answer quizzes, make video-recordings, write collaboratively in google docs and google sheets, make slideshows, produce quizzes and much more.

I have used a few simulations, both homemade in the CAS-program TI-Nspire and online versions as PhysLet, but that hasn’t changes that much since my normal classes.

Finally, I have thought a lot about experiments at home. Some experiments I have made as demonstrations for the students, while I was at school and they were at home. Some experiments they have done from home, and some have been cancelled. At home they have done the following experiments:

  • Inductive experiments of cooling canned soda with newspapers, water, cloth, wind (a hairdryer). It was quite difficult, since a number of my students didn’t have access to a food thermometer, but still it was something different, which they appreciated.
  • Singing and making various sounds in an app to test the frequency and sound level, as well as detecting overtones.
  • Looking at different light sources “through” a DVD or a CD (many students don’t have such things).
  • Looking at reflections from mirrors placed differently (over a sink in their bathrooms as well as full figure mirrors in order to investigate the relation between the size and placement of the mirror on the wall, their own height and distance to the mirror in order to be able to see one’s own feet.
  • At a distance of around 200 meters meeting fellow students at local parks and popping a balloon while on the phone with their partner in order to hear the pop in the phone earlier than the pop in real life to realize the speed of sound isn’t very large.

What are some positive experiences you have had with online classes? Are there any activities which work just as well as in normal classes, or maybe even better?

Classroom management has been quite easy compared to a room full of students – the disturbing students just disappeared from the screen. Some students talk about it being easier to concentrate, since there is less disturbance in the sequences, where they work alone or in small groups. I actually experience more time to talk to single students or small groups than in normal classes, where a lot of questions are related to going to the bathroom, where they can find a pen and paper and all these things not directly related to the taught subject. It has been very easy to make small discussion sequences of maybe 2 minutes with different group members compared to classroom teaching, where moving 30 students around is time-consuming and takes a lot of work for the teacher. For the engaged students, the learning outcome of each module I believe is sometimes larger than for a module at school. But for the less engaged students, they just disappear, and then there is no way to talk to them or to try to pick them up again. I have actually phoned a number of my students asking them how they are, which I have never done before – since this is the only way to get in contact with them.

In your experience, what does not work well in the virtual classroom?

Physics, especially the first year, I believe should be fun, playful and also sometimes beautiful, and this has been very difficult at home. Spectral lamps are less impressive from home, I have not shown them a Rubens tube, and all of the kinesthetics exercises have not been done: normally I would have them doing stadium waves and pushing each other around to experience longitudinal and transversal waves with various wave speeds, frequencies, wavelengths, periods and amplitudes with their bodies, as well as playing electrons in various orbitals by catching and throwing balls around while jumping towards and away from the center.  All of this has obviously not been possible.

The experiment with the balloon popping would normally be something we did at school grounds for 10 minutes, but this year it took maybe 30 minutes to figure out who lived close to whom, and then an entire module for them to buy balloons, go to a park and do the experiment, so some things take a lot of time.

What will you take with you back to the physical classroom when it becomes possible to teach in person again?
Before I was quite skeptical about online teaching, but now I have seen some possibilities of it. All one-to-one guidance, as seen in grade talks, SRP guidance (third year large assignment), formative evaluation talks etc., I think will no longer be planned live, since it makes a lot of logistic complications.

Normally in longer-lasting group work activities, the students scatter around the school, leaving the teachers to wonder the school corridors looking for students. I think I from now on I will seat myself at a fixed place at the school and visit the groups online instead.