On a lovely fall Saturday, OC Online hosted its first of two in-person fall semester lab days on Oaks Christian School’s main campus. Our students attend lab days to complete the required number of in-person labs for their online lab science courses. As part of the University of California accreditation requirements, students must complete one lab per unit in their science courses. OC Online offers 8 laboratory science courses with this requirement: college-prep and AP level Chemistry, college-prep and AP level Biology, college-prep and AP level Physics, Marine Biology, and AP Environmental Science. Since OC Online is home to students from all over the country and the world, students at a distance also participate in this lab requirement by receiving a lab kit with all their required equipment. They meet with a qualified adult in their homes or at one of our participating partner schools to complete the lab experiments. Having this lab component in our science courses not only promotes academic inquiry through scientific exploration, but it also provides a unique opportunity for students to connect with their teachers, peers, and staff.
Furthermore, spending hands-on time in a laboratory setting brings the scientific process to life. Students spend time asking questions and then planning and carrying out investigations. They also practice the skills of collecting, evaluating, and communicating their scientific data; all of which are vital skills for university-level studies. Moreover, these lab days also provide teachers and students a time to meet each other in-person and create more personal connections. Having this extra time together also allows teachers to informally assess student learning and provides an opportunity to go more in depth on any areas which students need further clarification.
As the OC Online chemistry teacher, these lab days are one of my favorite parts of the course. They provide me with important insights into who my students are and how they learn best. As I observed these students, I was able to see their excitement for chemistry as they burned different salt samples in a Bunsen burner to identify which color flame resulted. In this lab, we connected the concepts of electron energy levels with the visible spectrum of light and realized how firework manufacturers produce the desired colors in their firework displays. During our lab day, we also spent time fine-tuning scientific skills such as making observations and accurate measurements, interpreting data, and drawing conclusions.
In a neighboring science classroom, my colleagues who teach Biology, Physics, and Marine Biology were carrying out equally engaging lab experiments with their online students. Our Marine Biology instructor, Christine Carroll, led students through a spiny dogfish shark dissection. Students were able to explore the anatomy and physiology of the shark, identifying unique characteristics and adaptations which aid in the creature’s reproduction and survival. OC Online’s Dean of Students, Jeff Ogne, also facilitates these on-campus lab days by ensuring the necessary lab supplies are provided and interacting with our students and staff throughout the day. These lab days are just one of the opportunities our students have to connect with teachers, peers, and staff, and they are certainly one of the most enjoyable.