Graves County High School teacher Stephanie Duke teaches some of her school’s most talented students in the academically challenging subject of physics. In the midst of the current worldwide coronavirus epidemic, she was surprised by her own “teachable moments” and media interest in the process.

“We recently completed a project in class, where the juniors actually researched the coronavirus,” she explained. “The tie between coronavirus and physics class is not a natural one, necessarily. My students are accustomed to conducting research through collecting and analyzing numerical data — quantitative, as opposed to qualitative data.

“So, they normally make calculations and analyze them through charts and graphs, but the big science idea that sometimes we overlook in a numbers-heavy class like physics is researching actual articles — scientific literature,” Duke added. “A lot of my students take physics as juniors. So, they tend to do well in school, but they don’t always know how to read detailed, scientific text, identifying the most important factors.”

She said that normally they’re not as interested in this type of research, but with the coronavirus, they want to know more about it.

“So, there’s a more natural interest,” Duke said.

The teacher recounted the classroom experience the first day of nontraditional instruction in the Graves County Schools, during the two-week hiatus in Kentucky, the United States, and beyond.

“We already completed this project before we started NTI days,” she recalled. “The students were very interested to learn more about the coronavirus. Then, I attended a meeting on science education, where I found materials. It was perfect — the timing couldn’t have been better. It was a mini-unit that only took two or three weeks. After completing the project, the students were talking about the latest news on the coronavirus.

Duke added, “One girl came into class, saying, ‘My boss said this about the coronavirus and I knew he was wrong. So, finally, I just told him that, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.’ So, these students had some interaction with people in their lives about practical applications of the material they’re studying.”

Duke’s next, own teachable moment soon followed.

“I was asked to write a blog post for the National Science Teacher Association website,” she concluded. “I never imagined that people actually would read it. Shortly after that, Wisconsin Public Radio contacted me about the project. Our schedules (for an interview and news story) couldn’t work out, but I was amazed that they’d heard about our project.”