BZS launches virtual programme
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Bermuda Zoological Society (BZS) partnered with the Department of Education (DOE) to launch the “BZS Virtual GASS Programme”. Using ZOOM lessons, the BZS educators were able to provide free, high-quality educational content to help Bermuda students, parents and teachers who were at home.
Prior to Covid-19, during a BZS Bermuda Union of Teachers professional development workshop, public school Primary 5 teachers requested to have BZS educators assist with their teaching of plant reproduction, which is the sole science topic for P5 students in their third term. BZS then created two plant classes to cover the material, and these classes became very popular.
Additionally, the BZS education department had been synergizing with Dr. Lewellyn Simmons, Director of Academics, to form a partnership between BZS and DOE to support teachers to deliver the Cambridge Science curriculum (P1-M3), Pre-School curriculum and the senior school's Marine Science course.
In September 2019, Commissioner of Education, Kalmar Richards, gave permission for BZS team to coordinate with school principals to have specific year levels be a part of the new BZS GASS (Generating Academic Success in Science) programme and, in response, five principals jumped on board to have their schools be a part of the new initiative.
The BZS GASS programme is STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) based and the aim of the programme is to try to enhance student achievement and collect meaningful data. Each programme package contains key concepts and vocabulary, a pre-topic and post-topic assessment so BZS educators can measure student learning, an outline of the BZS class, and a variety of follow-up activities to help teachers engage students further and increase student retention of the material.
As 13 classes had signed up to participate in the P5 GASS Pollination and Seed Dispersal/Plant Reproduction package prior to the closure of schools in March, due to Covid-19, the BZS educators pursued teaching the topic virtually to fulfill this obligation. Dr. Simmons approved BZS's proposal to use the GASS programme format to teach the topic of plant reproduction online to P5 students, and there was an overwhelming response from the public schools to participate.
“The GASS initiative had to make a shift due to Covid-19,” said Dr. Jamie Bacon, Education Officer, BZS. “Our focus was to hit every P5 student and teacher in the public-school system. With the support of Dr. Simmons, we were able to perform the incredible task of facilitating remote learning for these students. Our experience with Zoom has shown us that we can use a combination of in-person and virtual classes in the future to teach a topic where it is quite difficult to get a school to BAMZ more than once or twice in a school year.”
“Our partnership with the BZS helped us adapt quickly to extraordinary circumstances our island - and the world - has been faced with,” said Commissioner of Education, Mrs Kalmar Richards. “We are truly grateful for the efforts of Dr Bacon and her team and their commitment to enhance STEAM teaching and learning in Bermuda.”
A total of 59 Zoom classes (776 student experiences) were held for 23 different classes of students from 17 public primary schools. Each class had between 2-3 Zoom lessons delivered by BZS staff, and though they were virtual, the lessons were very interactive. BZS educators led live hands-on activities with the students, such as flower dissections and seed germination experiments, and also had students responding to questions via holding up pre-written answer cards in front of their cameras or via the Zoom chat.
“The BZS is an organization that puts the needs of students first!” said Garita Coddington, Education Committee Chair, BZS. “Their education team, led by Dr. Jamie Bacon, are dedicated, resilient, creative and they never have the mindset that things cannot be accomplished. Dr. Bacon is a leader who models expectations for her staff and goes above and beyond to ensure our public students' needs are met. I am honoured to have the opportunity to work with her and her team. I would like to thank our entire BZS Education Committee for taking time to develop and create opportunities for the budding young scientists of Bermuda.”
• Press release from Bermuda Zoological Society