Remote Teaching Is Not the Showstopper Challenge

Please don’t judge me… I have watched a lot of television since March. To clarify, I have watched a ridiculous amount of television during this pandemic. It’s probably not healthy but then again neither is COVID-19 so I am choosing to put this into perspective. I have an obsession and I’m okay with it.


Have you seen this option on Netflix, the “Play Something” option? I have to say, their algorithm is pretty good because that little play something on a whim has spurred an interest in The Great British Baking Show (Great British Bake Off for you purists) that’s still going strong several seasons later. This is especially odd because I have celiac disease and can’t eat 99.9% of the baked goods they make on this show.


Nope, can’t eat that. I will, however, endlessly watch people knead and bake.

When my husband asks, for the millionth time, “Why are you watching this again?” my response is always the same, that I’m watching the technique. This is true, I can back this up. I consider cooking shows to be educational, that I can pick something up just by watching other people and mentally cataloging tips, tricks, and flavor combinations.


Remote teaching used to feel like putting on a baking show, mainly in that when I talked to the camera no one talked back. Perhaps a baking show with live comments and an option to call in would be more appropriate.


You see, as much as I like to tell myself that lying on the couch with a bowl of popcorn watching The Great British Baking Show is an educational experience, it is not precisely because I am lying on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. Putting on a baking show is also not teaching.


My generation grew up with some classic educational television: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Electric Company and my favorite, Mr. Wizard. I spent my fair share of my childhood glaring at the TV to see what Lady Aberlin was up to or if Mr. Wizard was demonstrating liquid nitrogen that day. The problem was, I paid as much attention to all of them as I do to Prue and Paul today.


There was a meme circulating around social media showing Mr. Rogers, Levar Burton, Bob Ross and Steve Irwin that stated they were great virtual teachers. I disagree. I may have learned something watching their shows, but they weren’t teaching me.

This is really how I learned to bake, alongside a great teacher.

This is really how I learned to bake, alongside a great teacher.

Teaching is built upon relationships, upon knowing your students and responding to their individual and collective needs. Television shows respond to ratings, not formative assessments. There is no need to monitor and adjust or to change lessons because a great question was posed.


Remote teaching has pushed me to be less of an entertainer and more of a facilitator. To those that know me and what a miracle this is, I’ve learned to be comfortable with quiet. I’ve learned to be more flexible with time and to listen to my students’ words more, to dig deeper with questioning.


In remote teaching I cannot give my students a pared-down set of instructions and some ingredients for a technical lesson, then expect them to turn around and produce something showstopping the next day, to use an analogy with which I am quite familiar.


I’m learning to adjust to their needs more and to communicate using means that fit their individual personalities. Remote learning isn’t perfect but we’re learning skills beyond the physics I teach every year. My Dragons are learning to look out for one another, even at a distance. They have become attuned at shutting out distractions and focusing on tasks. They write to-do lists and afternoon plans like pros.

To Do: Watch someone create the perfect loaf of bread

To Do: Watch someone create the perfect crusty loaf of bread

I’m no longer talking to an inanimate camera and have learned to create alternative methods of group discussion. At the same time, my students have become comfortable asking questions and reaching out when they need help. I’ve learned to provide learning opportunities rather than lessons.


Someday our district dashboard numbers will be lower, and my commute will eat into my viewing time. Someday my entertainment will be plays and band concerts, basketball games and track meets. When that does happen, I’ll return to campus knowing that I did all that I could to teach my students something valuable and that they learned some physics along the way.


2020 may not be the year I learn to produce perfect lamination in my puff pastry or create beautiful patisserie, but I’ve become a more attuned teacher. That may be because we truly do have to learn by doing, not just watching.


Teachers, what have you learned this year?



Melissa Girmscheid

Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

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