Blog#1


Science Teacher Education in a time of a public health emergency

This is my first blog and I recently realised that science teachers and science teacher educators have an important role to play in a time of a public health emergency. Hopefully some of my later blogs can be on less life-threatening situations, but here we are.

For beginning science teachers

What could you be doing in school right now?

Looking on the NHS website in the UK (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/), it begins with the following information:

“COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.”

There’s a tremendous amount of science education that we could do with young people, to help them in understanding what this is about, and in educating them about, in particular, keeping their elderly and vulnerable relatives safer. Sadly, quite a lot of people will soon be having conversations about their health with medics as a result of Covid-19 infection, so one of our tasks is to ensure that young people have a working knowledge of some relevant aspects of biology.

Respiratory system

Not all pupils will yet have studied the respiratory system in school, and now might be a good time to bring forward the topic, or to re-visit it. Hopefully most current science teachers (and beginning teachers) will already have access to good resources for teaching. If not, one possibility is to look on the SciberMonkey website (http://www.scibermonkey.org) which is recommended by the Royal Society of Biology ( https://www.rsb.org.uk/index.php/education/teaching-resources/secondary-schools). This link will take you to the part about the respiratory system: http://www.scibermonkey.org/level-ks34.3m.html

In the context of Covid-19, sadly those who are worst affected are suffering from pneumonia. These links are to sites intended for patient education, but could be adapted to use with children, so that they can understand this illness:

Patient education: Pneumonia https://www.nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=1068960&Journal_ID=54016&Issue_ID=1068787

Treatment : Pneumonia https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pneumonia/treatment/

World Health Organisation: Pneumonia https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/pneumonia

It would be worth mentioning the advice to stop smoking.

Some of this material is quite challenging, e.g. ‘after six months most people will feel back to normal’, so do check with colleagues and work within school guidelines about how to introduce sensitive topics to children. Unicef has published some guidelines on it: https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/how-teachers-can-talk-children-about-coronavirus-disease-covid-19 In good news, it looks like most children will themselves have relatively mild symptoms, but unfortunately it’s probable that lots of them will have older relatives who are more badly affected.

It’s also worth mentioning that we know that Covid-19 is a virus, so antibiotics are not going to work.

What is a virus?

Again, pupils might not yet have learned about viruses, micro-organisms and disease. SciberMonkey points us to a wealth of resources about how pathogens cause disease on the ABPI site: https://www.abpischools.org.uk/search-results/?authenticityToken=2a53f239b43f4d51e6aafc372ca6d08edebd314f&search=Pathogens+cause+disease&currentPage=1

This includes some potentially useful resources about how diseases spread. At the moment, the NHS information (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/) suggests that we’re uncertain how Covid-19 spreads from person to person because it is a new illness. However, it’s likely that it is spread by inhalation of droplets produced when someone else is coughing, because this is how other similar diseases spread. 

Prevention

At the time of writing, we don’t yet have a vaccine for Covid-19, and the human population has not yet built up immunity. Public health efforts are largely concerned with slowing down the rate at which people become infected, because this will allow hospitals to cope better with treating people.

Most of us will probably have heard by now that one of the things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus is to wash our hands, but I wonder how many of us follow correct advice about how to do this properly. This link gives an accessible explanation of why hand washing is likely to protect us, and how to do it:  https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/everything-you-need-know-about-washing-your-hands-protect-against-coronavirus-covid-19

The NHS site also gives a detailed description of how to wash your hands, which could be shared with children: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/best-way-to-wash-your-hands/

To prevent the spread of droplets containing the virus, it’s recommended that we sneeze or cough into a tissue, or into your bent elbow (not your hand). The Catch it, Bin it, Kill it poster might be useful: https://www.england.nhs.uk/south/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2017/09/catch-bin-kill.pdf

Advice on the NHS website  goes on to state that you should stay at home for 7 days if you have a new, continuous cough, or if you have a high temperature.

Body temperature

Have your pupils yet studied material about normal human body temperature, and do they know how to measure it?

The NHS shows clearly how to measure the temperature for babies and young children (under 5 years of age): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/how-to-take-your-babys-temperature/

I am not a medical expert, but this site looks correct for how to use a thermometer to measure temperature in the mouth for people over 5 years of age: https://www.drugs.com/cg/how-to-take-an-oral-temperature.html

For KS4, there’s a link to an activity on STEM Learning (https://www.stem.org.uk) about measuring temperature while exercising, sitting in the topic about homeostasis: https://www.stem.org.uk/system/files/community-groups/topic-replies-files/legacy_files_migrated/863-Homeostasis%20Core%20Temperature%20as%20you%20Exercise%20Lesson%20Plan.pdf

Whilst the context of exercising is not entirely relevant to the topic of disease, it would give pupils valuable practice in using digital thermometers to measure their temperature.

I’m seeing the figure of 37.8 Celsius as the indication of fever that may be associated with Covid-19 infection. I’ve subscribed to Dr John Campbell’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF9IOB2TExg3QIBupFtBDxg

His guidance on protecting yourself and your family is very helpful, but it’s challenging at the moment if you still need to go to school or another workplace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkdPFCStA38

For science teacher educators

One of my first thoughts is that we’ve become quite exam-focused in England. Whilst it’s undoubtedly helpful to children’s life chances for them to get good grades in their exams, I wonder whether we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. When we teach beginning science teachers, to what extent do we discuss the many purposes of science education?  Do we need to revisit our plans for taught sessions to make sure this gets sufficient attention? Harlen (2018:11) suggests that one of the purposes of science education is to ‘provide a basis for … making decisions that affect learners’ own and others’ health and wellbeing’.

I’m interested to hear what other science educators are doing, or planning to do, to support the young people in their care at this challenging time. I’d also welcome feedback on this blog post. So please do leave a comment if you would like to contribute to the discussion.

Reference

Harlen, W. 2018. Aims and approaches of good science education. In Banner, I. and Hillier, J. ASE guide to secondary science education. Fourth edition. Association for Science Education. pp 2-13.


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