Students learn from home and connect with peers while engaging in hands-on activities with educators from Florida International University. CONTRIBUTED

Another school year is underway in Monroe County. For teachers and parents, implementing new and effective ways to engage their students and children via the computer screen is the task at hand.

With trips out to the mangroves and in-person lab sessions on hold, one institution is providing teachers and parents with programming in the way of virtual field trips, chats with scientists and more. 

Over the summer, the College of Arts, Sciences and Education at Florida International University hosted virtual camps that spanned four weeks for children. With opportunities to meet scientists, students were also able to conduct cool experiments and make rocket launchers from their home using household items. 

As Analisa Duran, education program coordinator, notes, everyone is learning ways to teach, and more importantly, interest students from their homes. Going into this school year, programs offered through FIU’s camps and other fun activities will be offered for teachers and parents of Monroe County. Programs are being extended into the school year, Duran said, including the Florida Keys and Me Lab virtual field trip for local schools, thanks to a grant from the cruise line Royal Caribbean. 

Through the Florida Keys and Me virtual field trip, students can explore nature in real time, ask questions of experts and virtually collect data.

“The kids can’t get outside, and it’s not the same experience as being out in the mangroves or under a hardwood hammock,” Duran said. “It gives them a sense of excitement and gets them interested in the natural world, even if they can’t physically be going out to do these things.”

Duran said virtual sessions use different features on Zoom, like breakrooms, to make it a more engaging and comfortable experience for students. Instead of 30 faces in front of them, breakrooms allow for smaller groups and one-on-one instruction.

Usually, students in the Florida Keys and Me program would join educators like Duran in the field for a trip to collect and document marine debris, which goes to NOAA’s marine debris tracker. Now, Duran and fellow educators will go into the mangroves and bring children along from their screens at home. 

“We’ll pick up debris, the kids will categorize it, depending on what it is. From there, we’ll compare all the different breakout rooms’ findings,” she said. “Then it goes into creating crafts and conceptualizing and visualizing data. I think it’s going to be a different experience, but I think it still will be a cool experience.”

FIU is also offering a program for parents whose students might not be attending school all day and need to be entertained. It’s known as Mini Camp Inspire that features 90-minutes programs for 6- to 8-year-olds and 9- to 12-year-olds. The mini camp involves hands-on activities, labs, virtual field trips and some meetups with scientists like Mireya Mayor, a world-renowned primatologist who co-discovered the world’s smallest primate.

“They’ll get to learn about her and what she does at FIU, which is really cool,” Duran said. “To get that one-on-one with such a big name is really a great experience for children.”

The program will be offered on Fridays from September to November. Each month contains a theme, with September surrounding the recording, categorizations and observations in science. 
For more on the virtual school programs and Mini Camp Inspire, contact Duran at 786-542-4240 or email to [email protected].

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