Science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) learning is critical to ensuring our kids are prepared to fill the jobs of tomorrow– as we’re adapting to a new normal, we must keep this top-of-mind and adapt our educational practices along with us.

COVID-19 has created a rift in education. With students across the state uprooted from their classrooms, both teaching and learning have changed dramatically. In the transition to at-home learning, students, teachers, and parents alike have had to make a large-scale and rapid adjustment.

But that adjustment means that many of the benefits of a brick-and-mortar classroom fall through the cracks. Hands-on learning that captivates students — learning that truly inspires wonder and ignites creativity — is hard to achieve when lessons are planned around a screen. It becomes much more challenging to keep kids engaged– especially when there’s a barrier to personal connection. Students are no longer taking field trips to participate in exciting experiments.

As summer approaches this is even more the case. Kids have missed out on much of the learning they would have otherwise gotten in a classroom. With summer camps and summer learning programs in a place of uncertainty, we risk having them lose out on even more valuable knowledge.

We’re in a period of transition at the moment, and we don’t know what the “new normal” will look like for education. However, that transition doesn’t mean that students should be left with a gap in what they learn, or that teachers and parents should be without the resources they need to foster successful learning.

At the Discovery Museum, our mission is to engage, excite, and educate young scientists through programs that create a lifetime love of learning and discovery. But we recognize that this can’t be done without some adaptation. That’s why we’ve evolved our programming to meet the needs of a changing STEAM learning landscape.

Though our doors may be closed due to COVID-19, we are still offering remote learning opportunities through our Digital Discovery program, our upcoming virtual summer program, and regularly released free content on our social media. In doing so, we bring Discovery to the home, and we help fill the gap left by this unprecedented situation.

Our Digital Discovery program brings museum content to at-home-learners. Users purchase a program and receive all-day access to it, as well as lifetime, unlimited access to our bonus content, including video tutorials for experiments, special access to planetarium content, and science demonstrations.

Bringing back our summer program in a virtual capacity means that we’re able to offer young scientists the opportunity to learn about space exploration, oceanography, archaeology, and more– all from home.  At the same time, this provides parents with the resources they need to keep their kids occupied and engaged during a summer of social distancing, and to help combat the “summer slide” of learning loss.

We’ve also been engaging with current events. This past Saturday marked a historic space launch. NASA, in conjunction with SpaceX, sent two astronauts into space on the first crewed launch from the United States since 2011. We covered the launch via a live stream on our social media. During the stream, our assistant planetarium director was available for questions and commentary. Releasing free content like this on our social media gives our community access to valuable learning resources and relevant current events.

Going forward, non-profits like the Discovery Museum will have a critical role to play in teaching and learning. COVID-19 will leave a permanent mark on education. With uncertainty around what school will look like come the fall, it’s integral that we provide our students, parents, and teachers with the resources they need to succeed and be lifelong learners.

No matter what the future brings, science, technology, engineering, art, and math will be vital in moving forward. To prepare our kids for what is to come, it’s crucial that STEAM teaching and learning adapt to fit into our new normal.

Terry O’Connor is the interim executive director — and Sarah Tropp-Pacelli is the Director of Education and Strategy — at the Bridgeport-based Discovery Museum.

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