ISP launches middle school COVID-19 curriculum

Free unit meets historic moment in both content and design

Heather Milo, ISP educational specialist, used questions from Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls students as a starting point for the free COVID-19 middle school curriculum.

The Institute for School Partnership (ISP) at Washington University in St. Louis has launched a comprehensive COVID-19 curriculum. The free unit boasts both synchronous and asynchronous elements and helps students understand the history of infectious disease, the nature of COVID-19, the power and limitations of modeling and the importance of scientific literacy.

“This unit gives educators the opportunity to open the curtain and show learners how science works,” said Heather Milo, the ISP instructional specialist who developed the curriculum. “We didn’t want to give students answers to just memorize. Rather, students engage in scientific habits of thought, like how to obtain and evaluate information; how to use models to explain phenomena; and how to communicate useful and evidence-based information.”

Several districts and charter schools have adopted the curriculum for the fall, including University City, Ritenour, Ferguson-Florissant and KIPP St. Louis as well as Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, whose science teacher Mary Bueckendorf partnered with ISP to pilot the curriculum in the spring. Milo expects other districts that have opted for online-only education this fall to use the program as well, as it provides ready-to-go lessons, assignments and links to all needed materials. The four-week unit aligns with national Next Generation Science Standards and Missouri learning standards and is one of many free remote learning resources made available to educators by ISP, a recognized leader in STEM education.

Actual questions asked by  Hawthorn middle schoolers serve as the unit’s starting point: Have we seen anything like this before? How does the coronavirus spread, and how do we prevent it? What does the future look like and how do we know? How do we keep ourselves and others safe and informed during the coronavirus pandemic?

To find the answers, students analyze graphs tracking the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in Philadelphia and St. Louis; use scientific models to explain how viruses reproduce; write scientific arguments that account for how and why the Imperial College London researchers revised their models; and complete a range of other activities.

“We have learned that remote learners engage best when they are offered a variety of materials, so our module presents a combination of news stories and graphs and videos,” Milo said. “We also made sure that these lessons can be completed without equipment or tools which might not be readily available in homes. So while the unit is not a ‘hands-on’ lab or experiment, it features engaging ‘minds on’ assignments, like drawing a model of virus spread and creating a social media post promoting safe behaviors.”

The unit will not only boost learners’ grasp of science, but also provide a sense of agency. That matters in an uncertain time when students can′t study at school or play with friends.

“Students may hear stuff on the news or overhear a conversation between their parents or just be the subject of a decision without ever hearing an explanation,” Milo said. “That can be scary. Knowing the scientific reasoning allows your brain to say, ‘Oh, OK. I get it now.’ It’s really powerful for students to understand the how and why behind their realities.”

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