An Unexpected Guest:
Bringing authentic learning to the classroom
The day that teacher Rob Kohl invited a genetic counselor into his classroom was unlike any other his students had experienced.
Rob, a science teacher at Napa High School, was interested in bringing opportunities for deeper learning to his students. After reaching out to NapaLearns to learn more about professional development opportunities and involving the community in his classroom, he learned about a program called Nepris. Napa County Superintendent, Barbara Nemko, has purchased 10 licenses for teachers, which NapaLearns is helping to distribute.
Nepris is an online service that connects industry experts live into the classroom to show and tell how specific curriculum topics can be applied in practice, in the workforce. Teachers may invite subject matter experts to help students with their projects, provide feedback, or make a presentation, all virtually.
“I never imagined there was something like this,” said Rob. “It was especially easy since we already had the equipment to use Nepris with teacher laptops.”
Rob’s first time using Nepris was during the Fall 2016 semester, during a genetics unit where students had to research a genetic disorder and create a genetic counseling brochure. They then worked in pairs to role play as the patient and genetic counselor, where they discussed concepts such as pedigrees and punnett squares. Through Nepris that he was able to connect with a real genetic counselor.
“It was really amazing, and very easy to put in a proposal to request a speaker,” recalled Rob. “I think it’s great these professionals have time to give back to our schools.”
In his request Rob was able to describe the topic and session type of his classroom unit and provide keywords that industry experts can search for. He detailed what students would be studying, what he wanted students to learn from this project, and questions the professional should answer.
“I didn’t expect to find an actual genetic counselor- and one in the bay area who was female and could meet with us right from her office.”
During the session the expert was live-streamed using a webcam and displayed through a classroom projector. A microphone was also set up so students could step up and ask questions. In total his classroom spent about 45 minutes with the expert, and could follow up by email if they had further questions.
Rob described the experience in his classroom as very authentic. After discussing professional development with colleagues and how to make projects more authentic, Rob believes he has found a very useful and versatile new tool to engage students.
“Students asked, ‘How do you give patients bad news?’, and the genetic counselor turned her webcam around to show a tissue box on her desk. This experience really made learning real.”
For Rob, bringing in an industry expert to his classroom was a meaningful part of having a project-based learning unit. An expert can be integrated throughout multiple parts of a project, while also highlighting meaningfulness communication and collaboration. It is also a great way to demonstrate how professionals apply their knowledge and allow students to see the personal side of a career.
Rob plans to use Nepris again in his classroom this semester, as students learn how microbiology affects organ systems. Students are equally excited to try this tool again, with one student writing in her project feedback, “This changed me. Now I know what I want to do.”
Rob added, “For even one student to say they’ve been connected that way feels pretty good.”
Rob would like to acknowledge his colleagues who have been involved in designing this project and using Nepris: Karin Blackwood, Brad Fisher, Kelli Mulligan, and Mike Vanderschoot.