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Pacific Middle School science teacher’s scavenger hunt keeps students engaged

A Vancouver middle school science teacher helped his students make the most of social distancing with an independent scavenger hunt in Pacific Community Park this week.

Tyler Carlson, a sixth-grade science teacher at Pacific Middle School, technically isn’t starting to teach from a distance until Monday. But he, like many other teachers, has spent the last three weeks trying to keep students engaged despite school closures.

“Teachers are really eager to support kids,” Carlson said. “School is a normalizing, consistent thing.”

Armed with a printer, some zip ties and plenty of candy, Carlson set out to build a scavenger hunt for his students. Along several spots in Pacific Community Park, just a block south of the middle school, Carlson hung clues dealing with the class’s current unit on food systems. Students are encouraged to wander through the park, find plastic-covered sheets with trivia questions on them and solve the clues. When they’ve completed the scavenger hunt, they email Carlson, who tells them where to find the treasure: a buried plastic container filled with candy.

Carlson isn’t taking the activity too seriously. It’s not required — he realizes not everyone might be able to make it to the park — and he’s not grading students. The point is to help kids find a way to get out of the house, safely, or to give parents a reprieve.

“If you’re cooped up with a middle-schooler, holy smokes,” he said.

Clark County teachers will begin formalized distance learning on Monday after guidance from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction mandated that districts begin offering some services. Some teachers have already been hosting virtual calls with their students, however, or sending home packets of worksheets.

The digital classroom will nonetheless look vastly different from traditional schoolwork, with students spending only about two hours a week with any given teacher on any given subject. Carlson anticipates there will be a lot of independent learning happening, with students reading, writing reflectively in journals or undertaking other tasks they can complete on their own.

“I don’t think there’s any way you can replace a teacher in a room with a bunch of kids,” he said.

Carlson has been teaching for 17 years, and in that time, hasn’t seen anything quite like this outbreak. There were the historic snowstorms of 2017, and the teacher strikes of 2018, but nothing of this scale has touched his life, or the lives of his students. Never before has he been expected to deliver instruction from afar.

He’s optimistic, but encouraged parents to be in touch with their students’ teachers and, above all else, be patient.

“It will be important for families and teachers to stay in contact and go slow,” Carlson said.


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