PopEd Applies New Tools for Virtual Teacher Workshops

Published: December 14, 2020

Periodically, our staff share snippets of their experiences traveling around the U.S. and Canada, facilitating PopEd workshops for current and future teachers. This fall, rather than meeting with educators in person, we’ve had to do it virtually through Zoom and other platforms. With our commitment to provide engaging experiences, even from afar, we’ve created a host of digital tools to adapt our popular teaching activities for our socially distanced reality. Here are some staff highlights of using those tools in over 150 teacher virtual workshops this fall.

Carol Bliese

Senior Director of Teacher Programs

Power of the Pyramids, our lesson on age structure diagrams, is a classic used by many high school teachers. Luckily for us, one of our trainers, Dr. Merryn Cole of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, reached out with a solution for facilitating the lesson virtually. She created a template in Google Sheets, enabling students to “draw” population pyramids and also see their classmates’ work during discussion and debriefing. We’ve since been using this tool in webinars, and sharing online, to rave reviews. Another trainer, Anthony Zanin, found that his AP students in Texas “were more engaged using the Google Sheet than they were last year when I did the activity in person.”

Lindsey Bailey

Senior Teacher Training Manager

Panther Hunt is one of our most popular lessons, and a powerful way to explore the concept of carrying capacity and food chains. Students pretend to be panthers, amassing prey—paper cups representing squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, beavers, and deer—in their classroom habitat. With the help of Google Slides, we created a digital hunting simulation that is just as captivating as the in-person version. Students “hunt” prey by dragging small circles from the digital habitat to their “den,” a labeled area on the screen. As the prey get snatched up, students realize there’s not enough for every panther to survive. You can feel the tension rising through the screen. Engagement is high, and the content discussions remain rich.

Laura Short

Education Program Associate

Adapting our census modeling activities to a remote learning environment was particularly challenging. Both activities require students to collect demographic data from classmates, which they analyze in small groups. For People Count (grades K-5), we built a census-like enumerator’s form in Google Sheets that several students can work on at once. In real time, they enter household information (name, age, sex, etc.), and the form automatically populates a graph to visualize the data. Everything Counts (grades 6-8) also gives students practice with various math and science population estimation techniques employed by wildlife biologists. Using an interactive Google Slide worksheet, students recreate the experience of catching and releasing mice into the wild.

Abby Watkins

Education Program Associate

A few of our fall workshops have been hybrids (remote/in-person), like the one Carol and I presented for Dr. Shirley Disseler and her grad students at High Point University. The professor had to conduct her live class in North Carolina, while also managing camera angles and passing a microphone around so her students could respond to our questions from DC. We had to pick activities that would be both lively and allow these future elementary teachers to stay socially distanced—all while running the activity remotely and through a proxy. One of the most successful activities was Green Spaces, where participants measure out individual squares of space (representing parcels of grassy, oxygen-producing land). Students have a much more intuitive understanding of five feet of distance than they ever had in the past.

Pete Bailey

Professional Development Associate

In addition to live and recorded webinars, PopEd now offers one-hour, online courses to teachers-in-training through the Canvas Instructure platform (also used for PopEd’s online graduate course). I’ve created a number of these “mini-courses,” consisting of several lesson demonstration videos, followed by questions about the lessons’ content and pedagogy. The platform allows professors to monitor their students’ progress, view their responses, and submit a final grade. Feedback from the mini-courses has been overwhelmingly positive from professors, who are excited to offer PopEd sessions that students can do on their own time.

Rafael Woldeab

Education Program Associate

One of my favorite virtual workshops this fall was for Suzanne Gulledge’s graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Laura and I presented For the Common Good, which includes two simulation games, where students try to determine individual short-term consumption strategies that will maximize resources for the entire group. We used a digital platform that allowed students to engage with each other using a shared board game. After several rounds of trial and error, they arrived at a sustainable consumption strategy to ensure their shared renewable resource did not run out. In discussion, the group drew parallels between overconsumption in the game and the overuse of renewable resources in society.

“I have to say the webinar was absolutely amazing! I was originally concerned with the virtual approach to the training. However, the lessons and activities were very well structured for the online environment. It was impressive, and the students were amazed with the resources. This is such an impactful and meaningful professional development. Keep doing the amazing work. I’m a huge fan and will keep reaching out to you all as long as I am teaching!”

-Cristina Viera, University of South Florida