Most days for students in this age of social distancing involve a laptop with each other’s images in little boxes on the monitor. But one teacher at Ursuline Academy is trying to inject a little variety into the at-home experience.
Eileen Koenig, known to her middle-schoolers as “Eileen the Science Queen,” recently produced a video for a sixth-grade class on watersheds. She could have stayed in her dining room and talked about the subject, but instead she tapped her creative juices and ventured outside, bringing a camera and her son, Robbie.
“I thought, let’s try to make this fun while everybody’s out. Try and make fun videos. I’m still teaching them. It’s still kind of like a lecture, but at the same time, it’s a lot more fun,” she said.
So, while walking around her home near Oxford, Pa., Koenig explained what a watershed is, how to recognize one, and why they are important. A stream near her house, for example, ends up in the Chesapeake Bay, so everything that happens along the way plays a role in the health of the water supply.
This is not the first time Koenig has sought to make science more enjoyable for a young audience. She said one of her sons, when he was younger, wanted to have a science-themed birthday party.
“A lot of his friends were like, ‘Eh, science isn’t fun. I don’t want to go. That doesn’t sound interesting.’ And I thought, well that’s sad, because science is really fun,” she said.
Koenig had been an environmental health and safety officer for a chemical company, but she concluded that was not the line of work for her. She eventually went to work at her sons’ school, then pursued an advanced degree in teaching and, for the past four years, has taught at Ursuline. That is where the science queen was born.
“Eileen the Science Queen came from my current eighth-graders when they were sixth-graders,” Koenig said. “They gave me that name and made up a song based on Bill Nye the Science Guy. At the end of the school year, they actually gave me the shirt that I was wearing in the video.”
The idea of making instructional videos began before the students left for spring break, as the possibility that they would be gone for an extended period was looking more likely.
“So, I was trying to come up with ideas. How do I still do lectures and lessons but make them a little shorter and a little more fun for the kids?” she said.
The watershed video was made for the seventh grade, and there was more to it than just watching.
“They had to watch the video, and then they had to go and do a little research. I gave them some links to try and find out what watershed they live in and then report back to the rest of the class,” she said.
Koenig said she has a few more ideas for this week. The sixth-graders are starting to study genetics, and they can expect a video about Gregor Mendel and his experiments using peas, which led to the study of genetics. For the eighth-graders, wave properties are on the horizon.
Eileen the Science Queen will be there, tiara and all.
“You’ve got to do what you can with what you have.”