Group work becomes a challenge with social distancing


Isabelle Nunn

Students in Galster’s third bell Chemistry class participate in a lab where they light various solutions on fire to determine which element is present.

With new social distancing protocols and safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and students challenge themselves to find different methods for working on group projects that keep everyone in good health.

Rules and guidelines have been instituted to prevent the virus from spreading while allowing students to learn in person. One of those rules being social distancing, which isn’t easy to put into effect while working on a lab in chemistry with your lab partners. 

“Well, I’ve tried to separate you as much as I can, and with just two or three people in that area,” Nancy Galster, chemistry teacher, said. “I feel like it’s not ideal, but you’re not really close together.”

Students find themselves weighing out the safety of completing group projects when they cannot properly distance from their peers. Junior Lauren Deaton lives with a family member at high risk for catching the virus, yet she attends classes in school.

“Doing group projects right now does make me a little nervous, but I do think that if we are all wearing masks, washing our hands regularly, and using our own materials, that makes them at least bearable,” Deaton said. “I’ve done one group project so far. It was in AP Language and Composition with Mr. Hicks. I worked with one other person, and since we got to choose our groups, it was one of my friends that I see outside of school. Since I got to work with someone I see outside of school I was comfortable, but if the groups had been randomly assigned, or something along those lines, I may have been nervous.”  

Sophomore Alexandra Spoelker is also an in-school student with a family member who is high risk for COVID-19. She hasn’t been part of a group project so far, but would not be opposed to doing one in the near future. 

“I don’t think group projects are essential, but sometimes it is good to talk through how you’re thinking instead of just writing it. You get to hear other peoples’ opinions and you can learn some things from other people instead of just hearing things through your own voice and a teacher’s,” Spoelker said. “It depends on what project you’re doing, but if you are doing a science experiment hands on and very close. I think you should only work on it for little bits at a time. If you’re doing an English project where you’re only discussing and typing, then you can socially distance in a circle.”

Group projects can play a very crucial role in one’s real-world experience, like the health and yoga/core fitness class.  Mrs. Boehner believes getting rid of group projects could deprive students of the opportunity to build on necessary skills for their future. 

“I don’t want to fully take it away from those people who really thrive off of working with other people. I see that there are some students who need someone to take that leadership role, and it gives the other students a chance to be a leader for them. Also working on social skills and collaboration because we already feel so isolated as it is. In the real world I collaborate all the time with people and other teachers. You have to have those skills in life,” Boehner said.

Some classes, such as chemistry, would not be the same without their group projects and labs. Those experiences can be what makes the class fun and an exciting learning environment.

“We have a lab coming up where you light different solutions on fire and they make these beautiful colors, and you wouldn’t be able to experience that. You can’t do that on lab simulation, it just wouldn’t be the same,” Galster said.

Teachers may consider making modifications to their fun labs and projects in order to make students feel more safe while participating in them. Deaton suggested everyone use their own materials, have time to meet in school to work on the project, and have the ability to choose their own partners so you can work with someone who is taking COVID seriously outside of school as well as in school.

“I believe we can still do projects and be safe because of google slides. You can share the information and have an open dialogue within it, and in the beginning you can still distance and say ‘okay i’ll do this and you’re going to do that’ and still communicate through the computer maintaining that six feet distance. I’ve also thought about maybe going outside and having a little bit more open dialogue with that, depending on the weather.” Boehner said.

Group work will continue in classrooms for the time being. Meanwhile, teachers and students will still be thinking outside the box to experience group projects with our peers throughout the school year, in a way that keeps everyone virus-free.

“Teachers and students are doing their very best right now during this time, and the only way to get through is together,” Deaton said