March 30, 2020
Notre Dame Prep students explore plants and animals in their own backyards as classes shift to online learning.
As the second week of virtual learning wrapped up, Notre Dame students and teachers were slowly finding their groove and adapting to a new normal. Classes like IB Biology that normally require a lot of hands-on learning present hurdles but also opportunities to tackle the curriculum in new ways.
“Mrs. Yaroch has done a great job allowing us to continue our learning while not simply assigning busy work,” said NDP junior Andrew Marsheh. “Everything in remote learning is obviously extremely different from what we do in the classroom. We must take more of our own notes with less supervision. But Mrs. Yaroch has done a great job keeping the style of the class similar and keeping the same positive effect the IB Biology class has.”
For her part, Yaroch, who serves as chair of the NDP science department, said teachers are relying more on simulations, virtual labs, and at-home lab activities to keep the students engaged.
“I had a chance to speak with my IB Biology seniors this week. The IB has made some changes for this year (i.e. no May exams) and I wanted to see how my students would like to proceed for the remainder of this year. It was unanimous — they want to keep learning!” Yaroch said. “Now that we no longer have an exam looming, I can tailor instruction to things that they are interested in but haven't had the opportunity to learn about yet. This should be a lot of fun for us all.”
Similarly, Yaroch said she is having to adapt courses for underclassmen.
“For my juniors, I've simply rearranged when topics are being covered and am meeting with students online, as needed, to address points of confusion. Hopefully, if we are able to get back to school before the end of the semester, I can start working with them outside on their Group 4 project,” she said.
The school’s apiary is part of that project, as is turning the 1300 Giddings campus into a certified pollinator habitat.
“We have the plants needed to start the project, we just need to be able to work together,” she said.
As for the bees, Yaroch said, “We set the hive up Wednesday so that they will be fine for a few weeks. Fortunately, we are in spring and temperatures are warming up. Pollen is already available for them and nectar flow will be starting soon, so we won't have to worry about them running out of food.”
The shutdown prevents students from being able to work the hives for the spring maintenance activities, but Yaroch will be making videos to show how the bees are developing as spring approaches. (Watch here)
Horticulture teacher Carolyn Tuski is also having to pivot when it comes to teaching her students about plant life.
“I've been going into the greenhouse almost every day to take care of the plants. Not only do we have the new perennials that we’re using for our pollinator garden, the students also have been growing plants for Oakland Hills Community Garden. I've been making video updates for my horticulture students so that they can still see their plants,” she said.
Tuski said she misses the face-to-face interaction with her students during the coronavirus pandemic that forced schools in Michigan to shut down.
“The students miss their plants and have been worried about them; that's why making the video updates has been comforting for them,” she said. “Every week, I am assigning what’s called an ‘outdoor learning’ experience, where I have the students go outside and observe the world around them, and do various outdoor activities. These assignments, though simple, get the students outside, get them to breathe in some fresh air, and gives them an opportunity to slow down and reground themselves. So far, the feedback that I've gotten from them is positive!”
Maegan Fitzgerald, an NDP senior, said transition issues have been negligible as far as adjusting to a digital classroom.
“Ms. Tuski has done a great job making the transition from class to home pretty seamless. She has a variety of assignments that we do to keep us outdoors that can include anything from planning a fruit and vegetable garden for our homes, to just spending some time sitting outside enjoying the peace and quiet,” Fitzgerald said. “She also had us doing scavenger hunts to find plants in different locations before the governor’s order to stay home, and all the students have a website with a blog that we update weekly with our plant findings. Besides the physical location of it, the class isn't all that different.”
Fitzgerald, who plans on attending University of Kentucky next year to study psychology, said the workload hasn’t been too bad, allowing her to catch up on her favorite shows or engage in a fun activity.
“After I am done with my homework, I like to watch Netflix and movies and bake desserts for my family and friends,” she said.
Tuski said while her classes meet only online now, horticulture is still very much hands-on.
“Some of the students have begun taking care of the plants that they already have in their house and some have started their seeds for this upcoming growing season. They are going to be making garden plans for their own yards soon,” she said.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three school are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.