Your View by a science teacher: Why my students are not panicking over coronavirus

March 7, 2020

Coronavirus has some in panic mode — but not so much my anatomy and physiology students.

Between their basic understanding of how diseases spread and the hands-on work they’re doing in our online learning environment, they know how to keep themselves healthy and spot signs of someone who isn’t.

Here’s how I, a science teacher who believes passionately in the importance of practical experience and was admittedly nervous about teaching in a virtual classroom, did it.

It all starts with Netflix and The New York Times. I’m a big fan of the Netflix show “Diagnosis," based on Dr. Lisa Sanders’ New York Times column of the same name, and one day, it dawned on me: What if I took a similar approach with my virtual anatomy and physiology students, giving them a list of someone’s symptoms and asking them to determine what’s going on with that patient as if they were a real medical professional?

I calibrated the symptoms to match the medical conditions a high school student would be more familiar with, required that they consult with one another and made it so they’d have to apply what they learned in the classroom.

Still, I knew this alone wouldn’t be enough to make students feel as if they were real-world health professionals in training. So I explored another innovation available to online learners: simulators. Simulators can mimic what goes on outside the classroom, or in the case of an anatomy and physiology class, what goes on inside the body. 

This technology shows how the circulatory and respiratory systems operate, and also enables students to make certain manipulations. For example, they can dissect and zoom in on different parts, where they’ll uncover even more in-depth explanations.

Of course, no one would want to be operated on by a physician who has only worked with simulators. That’s why I also took advantage of my schools’ unique ability to present students with opportunities for work-based learning.

I brought in industry experts from all over the place — a firefighter and EMT, nurse, and X-ray technician. They talked to my students about what’s going on in their field, what their day-to-day work involves, and the skills students will need if they want to pursue a job in that industry.

Hearing from someone with substantial experience made what my students were learning feel all the more real. And even better, they now have a professional connection they can return to when they’re ready to take on an internship, apprenticeship or job shadow experience.

With the “Diagnosis”-inspired assignments, simulators and an ability to connect students with people on the front lines of their industry, I now know that hands-on learning isn’t exclusively about tangibility. It’s about grounding lessons in reality and equipping students with the skills needed to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s most pressing issues.

My hope is that other educators see this too. It is possible to provide hands-on learning in an online environment. And by doing so, we stand to transform many students’ lives — if not the world as we know it.

Lauren Ardiff teaches anatomy and physiology at Insight PA Cyber Charter School based in Exton, Chester County.

To learn more about Insight PA Cyber Charter School, visit

KEYWORDS: Thought Leadership

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