Hands on Science in a Virtual Classroom

Samantha LaCroix
May 16, 2022

Most people can probably agree that the best part of a science class are the hands-on activities and labs. I don’t know about you but I love to get my hands dirty, build something, or see how things work. Doing labs and activities breaks up the monotony of worksheets, lectures, etc. and can teach students how to work through problems on their own or with a group. It’s not just the science, these are life skills they are practicing!

How do we take that hands-on learning into the virtual classroom? It’s a little easier when your students are at school with a teacher in the room, but what about our at home learners? How can we still engage them in labs and real life science?

It’s not always easy and the activity can flop, but hopefully this article can help you find meaningful, engaging, effective online tools.

Things to keep in mind when picking a virtual lab

  1. Can students access it for free & without downloading software?
  2. Does it match their academic level?
  3. Is it actually engaging?
  4. Does it meet the standard(s) you are teaching?

What to avoid

  1. Tools that need flash (it’s gone folks!)
  2. Anything requiring downloading software 
  3. Anything that requires sensitive student information

My favorite completely virtual science tools

  1. Nova Labs

Nova labs provides a couple great completely virtual labs for middle/high school. There are a few that might work for elementary students as well but make sure to run through the entire lab beforehand to double check. These labs are very informative and most are set up like games.

In the Polar Lab, students “facetime” (they are recorded videos not live) with real scientists as they explore the different missions.

  1. Metamorphic Rock Lab from Mr. Hollister
    I found this while hunting for virtual rock identification labs. What I LOVED about this resource is the ability to manipulate some of the rock samples, the quality of the images, and the examples of environments where those samples can be found. He has a few different labs like this sedimentary rock lab and spectrum analysis activity.
    Along the same lines is this sedimentary rock lab from Open Geology. I absolutely loved how much you can zoom in on these rock samples. 

Image from Open Geology sedimentary rock lab

  1. Gizmos
    This is a pretty popular one, and for good reason. There are so many manipulatives, virtual labs, and simulations in a variety of science topics. The downside to Gizmo is most resources are not free. There are some free ones for sure, but a membership is required to access the majority.

My favorite not-completely-virtual but you-could-make-them-virtual science websites

  1. Science Friday

I sing high praises to Science Friday and I’ve only scratched the surface of what is on here. Not only does this website have audio resources (radio & podcasts) but under the education tab you can find oodles of activities.
A great feature on this website is the filtering you can do (see below). This cuts down on time searching and narrows things down to better fit your needs.

I usually turn these activities into either completely digital ones (which takes some behind the scenes magic –helllloooo Google Slides!) or make sure it uses materials my students and their families can easily access. If none of that is possible I do the activity and the kids watch (which is not as much fun for the kids).

  1. How to Smile
    How to Smile is very similar to Science Friday. There is not as much filtering ability so you do need to spend some time hunting for what specifically you want. Again, these are mostly meant to be hands-on activities so you may need to get creative with digitizing them. If you want students to be able to do the activity themselves, give families plenty of time to gather the materials BEFORE they are needed. Maybe talk to the TA or school facilitator to see about funds or access to materials.

  2. Mystery Science
    The activities on this website are geared towards K-5 students but that doesn’t mean they can’t work for middle school/early high if you adjust a little. You can access many lessons for free, however, you can sign up for a membership as well (check to see if your school has one).
    Mystery Science is great because it has amazing real-world scenarios that will actually interest students and make their learning relevant (yes Jose, you will use this in real life). There are extensions, warm ups, readings, pre-digitized materials, videos, etc. for use which makes this resource very easy.

Bonus: If you use TEKS Standards, they list them for you!

Remember: Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Your time is valuable!

There are so many more resources I could have listed, it was hard to pick my favorites! More tools could be NearPod, OER Commons, PBS Learning Media, etc. The list is never ending, you just need to know what to look for.

Interested in seeing more virtual teacher resources? Check out our Pinterest!

about the author
Samantha LaCroix

Samantha LaCroix has a Bachelors Degree in American History from Lesley University. She obtained her teaching license from grades k-12 from Colorado and has been a virtual teacher for two years. Creating welcoming and supportive environments both in-person and virtually is the most important aspect of education for her. She loves the challenge of online learning.

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