Burkies leverage well-established distance learning tools to
weather through COVID-19 and maintain studies while at home

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, BMA staff have sought creative ways to keep students engaged and stimulated in all realms of their lives while they are away from campus. Making sure Burkies take advantage of this time to stay on top of their academic progress has been no exception.

Unbeknown to students and faculty, the Academy’s implementation of a distance learning tool years ago to increase academic continuity during the busy ski racing season, has now turned into a strategic advantage in these challenging times.

BMA adopted Canvas as a learning management system as part of the blended learning initiative six years ago. Since that time, the faculty have used Canvas to push both content and assessment online during the competition season. This transition to an online space has allowed students to balance the challenges of travel and the rigorous college preparatory curriculum that is a hallmark of the Burke experience.

In light of the recent global challenges, BMA students and faculty are uniquely situated to be successful in a fully online learning environment. While nothing can truly replace the magic that happens in the classroom, the faculty and students are making the best of this situation.

Highlighted here are current examples of learning made possible by implementing the skills and strategies that have been acquired through the blended learning model. The BMA faculty are able to leverage these strategies to pivot their curriculum online and to focus their authentic instruction on the current global context.

“In a sheer but timely coincidence, the planned biology curriculum for last week was focused on viruses, bacteria, and pathogens,” explains teacher and alumna Ida Sargent. “Students learned how viruses infect cells and the different ways viruses hijack their host cell to either replicate or enter the host’s genome. In discussion board posts, the students discussed how soap breaks up the membranes of viruses, why soap is better than hand sanitizer, possible treatments for viruses including potential ends to the COVID-19 crisis, and how mutations can lead to new viruses. The students were able to recognize and discuss the biological mechanisms of why despite their low risk for severe symptoms from coronavirus, they are still able to incubate and spread this virus. This unit finished with a short research paper about a different virus besides COVID-19 which led to some interesting comparisons between previous pandemics and our current situation.”

“In statistics class, students finished the trimester with a project that investigated changes in their screen time as they adjusted to our new remote learning environment,” added Sargent. “Students tracked their personal screen time for the 10 days before leaving campus with the first 10 days of remote learning and then calculated a variety of statistics to determine, among other conclusions, if there was a significant change in screen time with the quarantine orders and remote learning model. Results were highly varied among the students with most seeing an increase in screen time but a few seeing decreases or no change. With the small data sets and an abundance of moderators and confounding factors, there was ample room for discussion of the limitations of these studies. Here are a few photos of graphs generated in this project.

“In my class, we’re trying to use the time to look at what is happening in the world around us and how it affects us and how we can possibly effect change,” said STEM teacher John McKinnon.

In the science 8 class, students’ final project is to develop a hands-free system with their Arduino and CAD systems. One of the students, Kate, is designing an automatic opening Lysol wipes dispenser. We’re also looking at how the youth maker community is responding to the current crisis with facemasks and how they could be involved with their own abilities with CAD and 3D printing.”

“In the Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 classes, all students are (conveniently) looking at exponential growth and decay systems. It’s given us an enormous amount of real-time data of exponential curves within a broad scope of populations. We’re also looking at the quality and value of select surveys and data representation to look for skewing or bias within the studies and surveys.”

“Chemistry students have just read a review article from Applied and Environmental Microbiology about copper as an effective antimicrobial on surfaces. We’ve used copper pretty extensively in our lab experiments for the year: extracted copper from solutions (single replacement reactions), used it in redox reactions, and compared the copper content in pre and post 1982 pennies. The latter lead to a neat discussion of how much copper we have in penny circulation that may instead be harnessed to cover high-contact surfaces (cell-phone cases, door handles, ATM buttons, etc…).”

“Overall, it’s been a great time to dive into direct application of what they’ve learned over the year,” adds McKinnon. “I’m excited to have three weeks of them applying the knowledge they’ve gained over the year to the current crisis affecting us all this spring.”