Going 100% Online @ ATDP

Many lessons learned after all summer courses go online for the first time in 40 years

Cognitive Neuroscience: Students, taught by Dr. Anu Murthy, worked collaboratively on researching animal brains and comparing them with human brains. For extra credit, teams made creative brain models using household materials!

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Not So Simple M&M Dispenser
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The Simple Way to Recycle
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Sam's Super Celebration Machine

As educators, we often talk with our students about resiliency, encourage them to think creatively, and remind them that making mistakes is a healthy part of the learning process. This summer, it was our turn to model what we teach.

Turning our in-person summer program into a 100% virtual experience with just eight weeks to pivot required us to dig deeply into our own resiliency, creativity, and give ourselves permission to make mistakes. It was an immense task that ultimately proved to be a powerful learning experience for the students, instructors, and everyone at the GSE's Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP).

Same rigor. Different format.

This was our mantra for summer 2020 as we, for the first time in nearly 40 years, delivered our program 100% virtually. One of our big take-aways is that the virtual environment allowed parents, students, and guest speakers who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend to engage with the learning, whether it was parents dialing in on their lunch break, or a histologist discussing molecular diagnostics from her laboratory.

In the Elementary Division, rising third graders in Simple Machines presented videos—many using video editing and production enhancements—of their functioning Rube Goldberg projects. The projects were some of the most creative ever, in part because students had access to everything in their homes and didn’t need to transport and reconstruct projects onsite.

Donning chef hats, students in the newly designed Kitchen Chemistry (formerly Lab Chemistry) presented the “Great Kitchen Chemistry Show.” Attendees, including parents and administrators, learned about the chemical processes and interactions of select appetizers; main dishes; desserts and spices. ATDP’s youngest learners, 6 and 7 year old students in Seashore Science class, began their Zoom meetings with whole group hellos and played warm-up games of Scattegories, all before completing writing, art, and kinesthetic assignments about echinoderms.

In the Secondary Division, students enjoyed instruction from a published author living in Portland, Ore.; a managing partner from a Bay Area venture capital firm; and esteemed academics including Assistant Professor and immunologist Michel DuPage. Emerging orators in Public Speaking on the Digital Frontier delivered end-of-the-summer panel presentations that rivaled BBC programming.

Students in Introduction to Innovation and Entrepreneurship participated in ATDP’s first online Investor Symposium, showcasing their business concepts such as FabricATE; S-Mask; Snackery; and Cesonius. Aspiring roboticists in Advanced Robotics Engineering collaborated to refine their skills in digital teamwork and community building, especially when prototyping.

Preparation Pays Off

Just about every aspect of our program planning had to be re-imagined. To prepare, we offered multiple listening sessions to support instructors, while also reassessing applications and course placements; selecting a learning management system; and creating a technology support system.

We also created robust professional development for instructors – skills and knowledge that instructors are also finding useful in their year-round teaching positions.

To prepare students and families, we created technology and online learner readiness checklists; and organized a supply-pick up day for families whose children needed plants, anatomy parts, and other manipulatives. Our counselors offered resources about student mental health and created socially distant, friendly family, learning activities.

We also successfully prepared students prior to day one of instruction. Students (a) had successfully logged into their learning management system; (b) were able to access and use Zoom; and (c) were empowered with information about taking care of themselves, physically and psychologically.

Lessons Learned

What? No screen fatigue? That’s right! Quite a few students asked for more synchronous time. But what is synchronous time, anyway? It’s not necessarily a student staring at a screen during direct instruction. Many of our teachers remained synchronous as students worked at their desk, on their bed, or on the floor, with teachers only a single “unmute” button click away, as teachers were “present” in the Zoom classroom.

We learned that community building can be done online, whether through themes such as bring your pet to school day or crazy hat day, or playing Pictionary or charades, or breaking out in song.

We learned that long commutes can get in the way of community building and that having Zoom hangouts, even when we go back on-site, could be a good thing.

We learned that if you have a “cameras on” policy, it is important to emphasize that cameras be positioned to show a student’s face and that lighting be as conducive as possible to learning and communication.

Finally, we learned that it is important to collect ongoing feedback and to inform parents about how and when they need to support their learners, especially our youngest students.

What’s Next

On the heels of a successful summer, many parents have asked us to consider offering year-round online classes. While we don’t plan to replace our on-site program, we are exploring what types of online course offerings we may have in the future.

Those decisions will be made after our staff review summer 2020 evaluations and take a well-deserved vacation. We will share our plans with the Berkeley community and beyond. Stay tuned!

-- The ATDP Staff

Fundamentals of Art: Portrait by Sarah Yang.

Advanced Biotech: Students took “visual notes” which instructor Mr. Chugh describes as "a new age style of note taking that has been proven to increase retention by between 50-70% (and in my opinion, increases engagement and lowers heart rate, since it’s a mindful form of note-taking)."

ATDP Staff. Top row (l-r): Carrie Brown, Christine Gerchow, Mildred Flores. Middle row: Sam (Dev) Pierce; Frank Worrell; Tyleen Kelly. Bottom row: Cynthia (Kass) Nie; Stevie Jeung; Lisa Kala.