Doing Science from a Distance: Virtual NVSEF at AIS Kuwait

By SEZIN SAGLAM KARACAL
MYP Science Teacher, American International School Kuwait, Salmiya


AIS values the intense learning that happens when students design, conduct and report on a science experiment that helps find answers to real-world problems. NESA’s Virtual Science and Engineering Fair (NVSEF) has made learning science a more rigorous experience at AIS.

We began having our own science fairs in 2011 and were glad to become part of the NVSEF starting in 2012. The opportunity to engage online with other students from the region fit with the inroads being made into providing students with a hybrid face-to-face and online learning approach. This would prove to be an invaluable experience and has prompted just over 1000 AIS students to look forward to this annual middle school opportunity to showcase an interest in science, research, investigation, and discovery.

The motivation of students greatly increases when their work is judged at the local science fair. Especially for the high-achieving students, being judged and competing with students from other schools even further intensifies their effort to achieve their highest standard. AIS has been proud to celebrate students who have risen to the top, modeling the attributes of a knowledgeable, principled, and collaborative learner. Risk takers design novel experiments that push their understanding and science skills.

AIS has been proud to celebrate students who have risen to the top, modeling the attributes of a knowledgeable, principled, and collaborative learner.

As NVSEF has increased its presence within the NESA community, students have been awarded in many ways beyond placing in the Champion’s League (top five projects) by gaining recognition for their work in the categories of Environmental, Physics, Biology, and Research. Being an online event, NVSEF has been a leader in bringing students and teachers together virtually by allowing students to ask university professors and graduate students questions as they work through the science of their experiment.

In the Champion’s Round, science professors create scenarios related to the students’ experiments, and determine the top three projects by having the students design another experiment to find answers to the scenario’s problem. Truly amazing online interactions between Grade 8 students and university science professors!

In 2012 (long before COVID-19), AIS students were new to the Moodle platform. However, in 2020, Moodle and Microsoft Teams have become normal ways to collaborate and learn, allowing students and teachers to continue learning and teaching although they are outside the classroom and in their homes across Kuwait. AIS students have a long history of engaging virtually with scientific field experts to engage their thinking about their hypotheses and variables. Students and teachers have been equally impacted by their peers outside of Kuwait, which has led AIS to improve in both content delivery and the soft skills required of collaboration and perseverance.

AIS Kuwait students have a long history of engaging virtually with scientific field experts to engage their thinking about their hypotheses and variables.

Last year, when Kuwait schools were closed due to COVID-19 in late February, thankfully our students had completed their final experiments and were ready to submit their NVSEF projects. AIS Kuwait’s Virtual School began on March 3, and our transition to online learning was seamless and partially due to the thinking behind NVSEF that had been many years in the making. At AIS, we had identified our platforms (Microsoft Teams in the middle and high schools), and students were able to smoothly continue engaging online.

In virtual school, teachers coached students to learn how to use various virtual platforms to organize data tables, draw graphs and analyze their data. With the use of Microsoft Teams, students completed the complex task of writing a full report of their experiment. Teachers broke up the experiment into smaller tasks with explicit guidelines and expectations. Microsoft Teams allowed teachers to monitor the progress of students as they completed each task. Doing this virtually made possible flexible pacing and frequent feedback from teachers who were working from home. This helped students to achieve their goals. Virtual learning also helped students to work individually or with partners from home as Teams enabled easy sharing of material.

Our Teams page which supported collaboration during the NVSEF process.

Our experience has been a remarkable learning opportunity since we run NVSEF with all our Grade 8 students. Last year, 86 groups participated in the AIS Science Fair. After the completion of final lab reports, projects were assessed based on the IB MYP 3 Science rubric. The first step of the evaluation was to choose the top 20 projects. These top 20 groups prepared a short video to present their projects virtually instead of at our annual Science Fair Showcase in the auditorium. Each of the 20 projects was judged by two science teachers from AIS, using NVSEF rubrics. After calculating averages, the top 10 groups were entered into the second round of the NVSEF. The experiments were transferred to Moodle.

After judging by teachers from other NESA schools, we were so proud to have six of our groups in the top 20 at the end of the second round, and one in the top five of Champion’s League! Our Champion’s League student, Najlah Al Essa, investigated the impact of surface oil volume on the dissolved oxygen level in water produced by an elodea plant. Her topic was valuable in terms of real-world application when we consider that oil is the basis of Kuwait’s economy, and that environmental protection is so important.

Our transition to online learning was seamless and partially due to the thinking behind NVSEF that had been many years in the making.

Virtual platforms allowed for continued interactions to complete the Champion’s League between Najlah and her teacher even though the school year had ended in Kuwait! We are looking forward to hearing results from the Champion’s League and sharing her success with our community.

In 2012, we took a risk to join NVSEF and are so grateful that this initiative has become a rite of passage for our middle school students. NVSEF is a vital part of our AIS learning community and has helped our school to transition to a full #AISQ8Virtual school experience at this more than challenging time.

Thank you, NESA, for providing our students an opportunity to connect our schools, our students, and our teachers towards the same aim. It is through these types of endeavors that we will transition to a better and more impactful learning experience within all of our schools.

Sezin.Karacal@ais-kuwait.org

 

For more information on how to join the NVSEF/NVSEF5 Projects, please contact Dr. Stuart Fleischer: sfleischer@wbais.net.

 

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