Behrend’s Youth Outreach Wants to Send You on a Wild GooseChase this Summer

By Heather Cass, 

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

goosechase

With many camps and activities canceled this summer, it can be challenging to keep the kids entertained, but Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach program came up with a fun and family-friendly idea: an all-ages digital scavenger hunt utilizing a free smartphone application called GooseChase.

Just download the application and join the “Behrend Summer Fun” game to get a list of weekly tasks. Behrend will add new “missions” every week until the end of August.

The missions might be indoors or out and will include things like photo challenges, family games, hands-on activities, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) challenges, and more. Trying new things will be encouraged!

This week’s missions are themed around the Fourth of July. A few sample tasks (each worth 100 points): Take a photo of yourself dressed in red, white, and blue; build something using only red, white, and blue LEGOS; take a photo with an American flag; design and enjoy a home-made slip-n-slide, and more.

“The tasks are designed to get kids out and about having fun while also sneaking in some educational activities and lessons,” said Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach at Penn State Behrend.

Need more incentive? Prizes will be awarded to the top three players and other randomly-drawn players, too.

Download the GooseChase application at your favorite app store and search for “Behrend Summer Fun” or use the code: JW9WLZ to join the game.

For more information and the latest news on the “Behrend Summer Fun” scavenger hunt, follow Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach program on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PSBOutreach/.

Student’s discovery is measure of success

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

ethan fontana

Some of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries have been happy accidents. An experiment goes not quite as expected, and the scientist says something like, “Huh, that’s weird.”

For many, that moment comes after years, even a full lifetime, of work. For some, like Mechanical Engineering senior Ethan Fontana it came in the first year of college in a class outside of his major. (Huh, that’s weird.)

Fontana, a native of Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, had passed college-level physics in high school thanks to a dual-enrollment AP course, but he needed a lab credit for the course to be accepted as a replacement for PHYS 211: Mechanics at Penn State.

He talked to Dr. Chuck Yeung, professor of physics, who helped Fontana craft an individual study course that would meet the college’s requirements. While working in the lab independently on an assignment involving a ticker tape timer, an apparatus used in introductory physics courses, Fontana noticed something odd.

“I was obtaining inaccurate and inconsistent values of gravity,” he said. “I approached Dr. Yeung about it. He was unable to find anything about the issue online, so he suggested we do a research study on it.”

“After rigorous hours in the lab, performing trial after trial, we finally concluded that an external friction force was present in the apparatus,” Fontana said. “Better yet, we were even able to calculate it with minimal uncertainty.”

Conclusion reached, Fontana worked with Yeung to produce a poster for the Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research Conference where they tied for first place in the Physics/Chemistry division.

“We were both sort of amazed because I was only a first-year student at that time,” Fontana said.

Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics, said the ticker tape timer has been used in introductory physics classes in high schools and college for decades.

“It is a useful pedagogical tool to introduce important concepts of motion, such as velocity and acceleration, to students,” he said. “I was astounded to find no articles in physics education journals about the results to expect or suggested best practices when using a ticker tape timer to measure motion.”

 

 

 

 

 

So the three collaborated on a paper, with Fontana as the lead author. It was published in the May issue of The Physics Teacher.

 

“I think the paper fills a gap in physics education literature, and will be a helpful resource, especially to new physics teachers,” Hall said. “Ethan is a remarkable student. It’s quite unusual for a student to take their first college physics lab and end up as the lead author of a peer-reviewed scientific paper.”

 

Fontana is looking forward to getting his Professional Engineering license and a job as a mechanical engineer in the Pittsburgh area after his graduation in May of 2021.

 

 

 

Summer School for the Preschool Set

Science Story Time continues remotely

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s School of Science began offering free Science Story Time events to the Erie-area community a few years ago, pairing a storybook reading with a hands-on science lesson for preschool-age children.

The outreach program not only offered young children, accompanied by a parent or caregiver, the chance to visit campus and learn that science can be fun, but it also gave Behrend student volunteers the opportunity to share their passion with a new generation of learners.

The program, which was started by Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor in chemistry, was instantly popular. Sessions have often filled in a matter of hours or a single day after registration opens.

So when the COVID-19 crisis forced the cancelation of all gatherings on campus this spring, Halmi and her student volunteers decided to take Science Story Time online.

“We have such a great turnout for our on-campus Science Story Time program that we did not want the kids to stop learning at home,” Halmi said. “We decided to use the storybooks previously used during our on-campus events as inspiration to find hands-on activities that can be easily completed at home.”

Kennedy Wittman, a senior majoring in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, has been hosting Science Story Time videos and posting to them online at behrend.psu.edu/storytime. A half dozen videos are already posted presenting fun experiments such as “lava lamp in a glass,” “baloon rocket,” and “three-ingredient slime!”

Wittman was referred to Halmi by Jodie Styers, associate teaching professor of mathematics education, who thought Wittman would be a good candidate to help Halmi facilitate the program.

Under Halmi’s guidance, Wittman takes the lead on lesson planning, which gives her valuable experience for her future career as an elementary school teacher.

“Every week, I look for ideas online or adapt experiments we have done at past preschool events and choose ones that can be done simply in the home without having to buy many, if any, materials,” said Wittman, who always tries the experiment in advance to be sure that it works and that she can easily demonstrate it on video.

“I have really enjoyed being involved in Science Story Time because it’s fun to interact with the kids,” Wittman said. “It is amazing to see their excitement and joy when they try an experiment or learn something new. While we can’t see that right now, I’m confident it’s still happening at home.”

Wittman said the experience has help build her confidence and boost her science knowledge.

“I have learned so much more about science myself, and I feel that I will be much more confident in teaching science to my future students.”

Halmi and Wittman plan to continue offering Science Story Time online throughout the summer, posting a new video about once a week.

Check out all the current Science Story Time videos here.

 

 

 

How (and Why) to Conduct an Oral History

Penn State Behrend archivist offers tips to help you record a little history

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

With nearly all extracurricular activities, sporting events, parties and concerts canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you may have a little free time on your hands. One pandemic-safe activity you can do is conduct oral histories with family members, many of whom may be eager to chat with you on the phone and answer all the questions you can come up with.

For Jane Ingold, a reference and instruction librarian and archivist atPenn State Behrend’s John M. Lilley Library, one of the hardest things about doing an oral history is not turning it into a conversation.

“The job of the interviewer is to ask a question and then be quiet,” Ingold said. “This can be hard for me because I get excited about what they are saying and interrupt. I really have to avoid that temptation and let them do the talking.”

Ingold is passionate about the college’s history and has worked hard to preserve a variety of items, including nearly sixty oral histories that she has recorded with Penn State Behrend community members, from first-generation faculty members and alumni to members of the Behrend family who donated Glenhill Farm for the establishment of the college.

We talked with Ingold to learn more about oral histories, why they are important, how she records them and who some of her favorite interview subjects have been so far.

Why are oral histories important?

History books give you the big-picture events. Oral histories give you access to the daily lives of people and often they uncover small pieces of information that bring the past to life. When I interviewed Dick and Bill Sayre, the grandsons of Ernst and Mary Behrend (who donated their farmland to develop Penn State Behrend), they told me that the reason that their grandparents relocated from their mansion on the grounds of Hammermill (the paper plant they owned in east Erie) to Harborcreek Township was that Mary was tired of her house being filled with sawdust. That detail really allows you to imagine the sight and smell of that grittiness in the air near the mill and why Mary wanted to be miles away from it.

Who should people interview?

Though you could start with the oldest person for obvious reasons, you might ask yourself who in your family tells the best stories, the old ones you’ve heard over and over. Interviewing someone who you know will talk comfortably and openly will help you get your feet wet and ease into the process.

How should people prepare for an interview?

You’ll need something to record with and that can be as simple as your phone, tablet, or computer, or a digital recorder. When you start working on family genealogy, experts advise that you write down everything you already know about the person you are interviewing, and that advice works with oral history, too. Write down some of the stories that you have heard, names of people you want to ask them about, places the person has lived, jobs they’ve had, pets, hobbies, etc. This will help you come up with questions.

What types of questions should they ask?

I start all my interviews by stating my name and the name of the person I am interviewing as well as the date and the location of the interview. Since I do some of my interviews over the phone, we may be in two different locations. I ask them to state their full name, and date and place of birth. I have several lists of questions, depending on who I’m interviewing. These questions revolve around the interviewee’s relationship to Behrend, i.e., alumni, faculty and staff, Hammermill employees, and folks who knew the Behrend family. I also ask questions based on stories I’ve heard about the particular person. For instance, I asked retired math professor Bill Patterson about all the photographs he took. He was at Behrend from 1953 to 1989 and he enjoyed photography. He took most of the photos that we have in our oldest archives. There is a nice list of questions here and here.

What question always garners you an interesting response?

“Is there anything you hoped that I would ask that I haven’t?” Sometimes when I ask that question, I learn about events or people that I didn’t know that I should ask them about.

What method do you use to record?

I started doing them over the phone when necessary, though I prefer to do them in person, if possible. I use a Tascam DR-40 Linear PCM Recorder, but you can just as easily record them with an app on your computer or cell phone.

Any tips for recording oral histories? What have you learned the hard way?

Make sure that you have extra batteries, that any cords are plugged in securely, and that you have enough space (memory or tape) to record the interview. Also, I try to control the ambient sound as much as possible, which is more difficult if you are doing the interview in someone’s home. This is especially important if they are on the phone and you can’t see their environment. Don’t be shy about asking them to find a quiet room and close the door while you do the interview. Also, I’ve learned to ask before I start recording if there is something they would prefer not to talk about, such as a loved one’s death or a traumatic event.

Do you then transcribe all of your oral histories?

I have had some students work on transcription in the past. We have now subscribed to a service called Trint that makes an electronic transcription, but it still has to be edited. Over time, the software learns the words that you commonly use. For instance, it always thinks Behrend is baron and makes Hammermill two words, hammer mill. The next time I upload new recordings, however, it should translate those properly. Most of the editing is being done by the library staff and it’s something we’ve been able to get caught up on while working remotely this spring.

Who has been your favorite or most surprising interview?

I can’t pick one favorite, but I’ve talked to a lot of wonderful people like Harry Hahn, a Hammermill retiree who died at 107 a few years ago. He was a champion of our archives and brought us lots of goodies. I also spoke with Marie Hatie Taylor, a woman the Behrend family practically adopted after her father died in the influenza epidemic.

Can people hear or read the oral histories you’ve completed anywhere?

We haven’t put them on the website yet, but we hope to in the future! I also plan pan to use some of them in future exhibits at Lilley Library.

 

Behrend Student Researchers Awarded for Excellence in Information Literacy

By Heather Cass, 

Publications Manger, Penn State Behrend

The libraries across Penn State have a common goal: to ensure students have the information literacy skills they need to enter a scholarly conversation and create new knowledge. In support of this goal, each spring, the libraries reward outstanding student work with undergraduate research awards.

The awards recognize research that showcases exemplary information literacy skills. Students demonstrate these skills in a variety of ways, for example, in a bibliography that captures the scholarly conversation in a field of study; in a literature review that contextualizes the student’s work within their discipline; or in the use of manuscript, archival, or other primary sources to conduct original research.

The librarians in Penn State Behrend’s John M. Lilley Library recently awarded The University Libraries’ Undergraduate Research: Excellence in Information Literacy Award to three Behrend students:

  • Anabella Lassiter, a senior majoring in English, won first place and $300 for her research work with Dr. Amy Carney, associate professor of history. “The Men Behind the Swastika: German POWs in Northwestern Pennsylvania,” which focused on researching German prisoners of war in North East, Pennsylvania.
  • Anny Lin is a sophomore Nursing major who received $100 for her research work “Optimizing Sexual Identity Development Among Asian Americans Adolescents” with Dr. Charisse Nixon, professor of psychology.
  • Marissa Litzenberg is a senior dual majoring in History and Political Science. She won $100 for her research work “Richard Strauss’s Role in the Aryanization and Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany” with Dr. Amy Carney, associate professor of history.

Visit libraries.psu.edu for more information about the award.

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What’s it Like to Work in Health Care During a Pandemic? Bio Majors Share

Biology alumni, students share their experiences on the frontlines

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manger, Penn State Behrend

For several Penn State Behrend biology students and recent graduates, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a baptism by fire—calling on them to put their new skills to use helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and caring for those who have it.

We talked with some of those students and graduates to find out what it’s like working in health care during the pandemic.

Rachel Adams ’19 is a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) at Dobler Hose in Girard, Pa.

Jessie Kibbe ’20 is a new graduate. She earned a degree in Biology in May and works as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) at an Erie senior living facility.

Emily Jaskiewiecz1

Ellen Jaskiewicz ’19

Ellen Jaskiewicz ’19 is an EMT at EmergyCare and also a volunteer EMT for Brookside Fire Company in Harborcreek, Pa.

Rachel Sinnott ’19 is a patient care technician at UPMC Hamot Hospital in Erie and a volunteer EMT with the Brookside Fire Company in Harborcreek.

zillman2

James Zillman, junior Biology major

James Zillman is a junior majoring in Biology in the Pre-Health option. He is an emergency room technician at UPMC Hamot and a COVID-19 specimen collector at the UPMC collection center in Erie.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how you do your work?

Jaskiewicz: The worst part now is having to wear a surgical mask all the time. It’s very difficult for our patients, who are often elderly, to hear us and nearly impossible to get a full assessment done enroute to the hospital. We all take precautions with every patient, of course, but EmergyCare now has designated COVID crews who are trained to transport patients who are positive for the virus.

Zillman: When I first started at the emergency room, it was fast-paced every single day with a lot of patients, and although there are still individuals in cardiac arrest or suffering traumas coming in, the ER has actually slowed down a lot. We are, however, ready to assist and we all have proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and follow the proper guidelines for limiting exposure.

Sinnott: I’ve always been very conscientious about wearing appropriate PPE for the situation I’m in, but I think more carefully about what I bring in and out of work. I no longer bring my purse or a reusable water bottle, and I’m more aware of things I touch regularly like my cell phone, door handles, elevator buttons, and such.

Many remain untouched by this virus. It is certainly a different experience for you. What’s it like being on the front lines?

Jaskiewicz: Our call volume is significantly lower than normal, which is good because it means that people are understanding the importance of staying home. I worry, though, that some people may be too afraid to go to the hospital for treatment now (for fear of the virus), but they should know that health care facilities are following all protocols to keep them safe, and that includes in ambulances.

Kibbe: Before the pandemic hit, it was already a bad year for influenza and pneumonia, which we have to be very careful about in senior facilities. The care center I work in was already taking significant measures to guard against spread of the flu, so the quarantine orders were something we were used to. One of the hardest things has actually been the constantly changing policies and protocols since the pandemic. Some of this is inevitable, as it’s based on new information about the virus and PPE supply availability. Despite the changes for us, we try hard to maintain a normal and optimistic atmosphere to avoid worrying our residents.

Zillman: I truly enjoy my job and helping others, but I do worry about my three-year-old brother who has respiratory issues. I try to limit my exposure to him, and I make sure to wear protective gear around every patient I encounter, whether they are suspected of having COVID-19 or not.

Sinnott: I find myself spending a lot more of my workday trying to keep patients company since they are no longer allowed to have visitors. I try to spend a little extra time talking to them, asking what they are watching on TV or looking at pictures of their family so that they feel more comfortable and have someone to talk to.

What drove home the seriousness of the situation for you?

Adams: In mid-March, I was on wheelchair transport and encountered my first severely at-risk patient. He was a recent organ transplant on immunosuppressants. As I helped transport him home, he told me how frightened he was about contracting COVID-19 because he did not think he would survive it. I cried all the way back to my post. I think about him a lot. I hope he is doing well.

Jaskiewicz: I transported an older gentleman who had spent 90 days in a hospital and then a rehab and was going to a nursing home where visitors are now restricted. He told me he had to say goodbye to his wife for a full two weeks, and they had spent every night together for the past forty years. It was beyond heartbreaking.

Kibbe: When some of the nursing staff gathered early on to discuss the ‘what ifs’ and make plans in case the virus hit our facility, it was sobering and forced me to confront and accept uncertainty.

Zillman: I was at the COVID-19 collection center, swabbing a patient who told me that we were all heroes and that he appreciated us. I understand that there is always risk when you’re on the front lines, but for some reason, his calling us heroes made me realize how serious the pandemic is.

Sinnott: The first week we restricted visitors was really tough. I had a young patient who had a major setback and another who refused surgery because she did not want to go through it alone. Later that week, I had a patient who was receiving end-of-life care and could not have his family there to be with him. It’s scary enough to be sick and in the hospital, but it’s even more frightening for patients when they are not able to have their families with them.

The pandemic is a scary situation to be thrown into as a young professional. How have you dealt with it?

Kibbe: I have not felt frightened. Concerned, sure, but not scared because I have faith in modern medicine and I know that we will find a way to combat the virus. I’ve worked as a CNA for three years, and though the uncertainty of this virus is disconcerting, I’m confident in my training and skills. When someone needs help, your training kicks in and you just do your job.

What’s giving you hope right now?

Kibbe: The people I work alongside. There’s no way for me to fully describe the measure of their compassion and dedication they give to our residents. In my three years here, I’ve seen firsthand the selflessness, sacrifice, and sense of responsibility they have, and that has only been amplified by the pandemic.

Jaskiewicz: Honestly, the free food. It’s nice to be appreciated as a health care employee.

Zillman: First, the people I work with; everyone has such a positive attitude. Also, how the public has responded to health care workers, cheering them on and thanking them. It’s gratifying and motivating.

Sinnott: My coworkers inspire me every day. They’re continuing to risk their own health to help others and they go above and beyond to put patients at ease.

Has this experience confirmed or helped focus your career choice?

Kibbe: I’m planning to attend physician assistant school and this pandemic has without question confirmed my choice to advance in my medical career.

Zillman: I’m planning to apply to medical school in June, and I could not be more motivated to become an ER doctor. I’ve spent more than 100 hours shadowing physicians in the ER before I began working there, and it has confirmed that I’m on the right path.

Sinnott: It has absolutely confirmed my career choice. While this is a challenging time to work in health care, it is also incredibly rewarding.

Parting words for those not on the front lines?

Jaskiewicz: Please do what is asked of you. Wear a mask, stay at home, limit contact with others. I realize it’s an inconvenience and may be financially detrimental to some, but your actions can and will affect others. You don’t see the look on the family’s faces when we transport their mother who is in cardiac arrest and they cannot follow us to be with her at the hospital. You don’t see the patients dying alone, unable to have the comfort of a loved one during their last moments. Honestly, I’d rather wear a mask for the rest of my life than let one patient suffer alone.

 

Join the Behrend Digital Dash ~ May 15-17

If social distancing has you feeling cooped up, Penn State Behrend’s Alumni office is sponsoring a fun way for you to get outdoors and connect with the Behrend community (remotely, of course) — the Penn State Behrend Digital Dash 5K

All runners, joggers, walkers, and rollers are invited to join in the college’s first-ever virtual 5K race on May 15-17. This race is open to all Penn State Behrend alumni, students, faculty, staff, and family.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Register by emailing Kristen at kcc146@psu.edu. Include your name, affiliation with Behrend, and the names of anyone else in your circle participating.
  2. Run, jog, walk, or roll a 5K on your own (6 feet apart, please!) any time between Friday, May 15, though Sunday, May 17.
  3. Submit your times to kcc146@psu.edu.

A few notes:

There is no cost to participate. It’s free!

If you wear Behrend gear during your run, organizers will shave ten seconds off your finish time! They want proof though: just take a photo before or after your run and tag it with #BehrendDigitalDash on Facebook or Instagram. (You can also email it to kcc146@psu.edu if you don’t do social media). They’ll do the math on your submitted time.

There are prizes! The overall winner and five other randomly selected participants will receive a gift from Behrend Athletics.

Happy running!

Related: If you live near campus, check out this blog post from the archives that lists several running route options around Behrend. NOTE: it is an old post, so the races listed at the end are not current.

 

Marketing students prepare plans for Hagen History Center

In January 2019, Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing at Penn State Behrend, tasked forty-four students in Marketing 444 Buyer Behavior and Applied Research with writing a marketing plan for the Erie County Historical Society (ECHS) to help the museum attract visitors under the age of 30. This is a demographic the museum staff knows it is not reaching.

The students worked in small groups through the semester and generated detailed marketing plans for ECHS. One of the recommendations was to use the name Hagen History Center for all marketing efforts. (Thomas B. Hagen ’55 is the chairman of the board of ERIE Insurance and a benefactor of the ECHS). Another recommendation was to use the slogan Make History With Us. Both were adopted by the ECHS staff in 2019.

Other recommendations included enhancements to the society’s website, increased utilization of social media, and the creation of events aimed at audiences under age 30. Many of these recommendations were implemented and continue to be expanded upon.

In 2020, the Black School of Business asked ECHS’s advancement director, Geri Cicchetti, to serve as adjunct professor for the Marketing 444 classes. With an MBA and a concentration in Marketing, Cicchetti has more than twenty years of experience teaching in an adjunct capacity at the college level.

This year’s Marketing 444 students, forty-three juniors and seniors, were hard at work on their marketing plans for ECHS when they left for spring break in March. But that’s where the lesson diverged for this semester’s students because the COVID-19 crisis forced Penn State to implement remote learning for the remainder of the term.

“For students working together in teams, it is difficult not to be able to meet physically,” Cicchetti said. “In addition, once they returned home, many students were living in different time zones. Some were international students; one was from California, and many others were also out-of-state. Some students lived in rural areas and needed to drive to other locations to get Wi-Fi. And these were just some of the challenges that students faced.”

They needed to be especially creative in completing this project, and Cicchetti said they rose to the occasion.

“They met via Zoom,” she said. “They worked independently and then shared their work with their teammates via email or Google Docs. Because of their perseverance and diligence, The Hagen History Center will again benefit from ten creative, insightful and detailed marketing plans.”

With the changes recommended and implemented from the 2019 class, what additional recommendations would the 2020 class have?

“As the museum has no marketing director, the 2019 class started from scratch and they had many opportunities to recommend basic marketing enhancements,” Cicchetti said. “But, with several of these recommendations implemented from the 2019 marketing plans, the 2020 class had a different starting point. They needed to bring the museum’s marketing to the next level.”

Cicchetti is confident they will do so and said she looks forward to sharing their plans in May with the board and staff of the Hagen History Center.

 

 

New Tech Tools Add Up for Future Math Teachers

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

The COVID-19 crisis this spring gave students in MTHED 427 Teaching Mathematics in Technology Intensive Environments an unexpectedly immersive educational experience. They, like every other math teacher in the tri-state area, were suddenly thrust into teaching (and learning how to teach) math remotely using a variety of technological tools.

To help with that transition, teacher organization and educational resource websites have been offering new professional development opportunities.

Recently, the students in MTHED 427, who are just a year or two away from being high school math teachers, were invited to participated in a virtual “unconference” centered around tools for teaching mathematics in an online environment. “21st Century Math: Engaging Online Students in Multi-Sensory Learning” was an all-day event offering various sessions that current and soon-to-be math teachers could attend virtually.

“As the title suggests, the ‘unconference’ is all about leveraging technology to teach mathematics in meaningful and engaging ways,” said Dr. Courtney Nagle, associate professor of math education. “It was an exciting opportunity for our students to be invited to attend.”

The students found it to be a valuable experience, not just because of the content covered, but also because they had the chance to interact with and learn from veteran mathematics teachers.

“There were a couple of hundred teachers in each of the sessions that I attended, and we got to interact at various points,” said Angela Dale, a junior dual majoring in Mathematics and Secondary Education in Mathematics. “In some sessions, we were sent to breakout rooms and given the chance to try different activities with the other teachers in that session. The interesting thing about that was that we were able to help one other with the software and explore a bit like students would do.”

Dale said one session piqued her interest in a new teaching tool.

“One of the sessions explored the role of music in the learning process,” Dale said. “I left the session wanting to know more about how they set up their platform and the topics the video covered. I definitely plan to look further into that concept.”

Taylor Montagna, a junior Secondary Education in Mathematics major, also attended the “unconference,” and learned a lot about the parental role in education.

“One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about parental un-involvement and how that can be addressed,” Montagna said. “I learned about ways I could handle that when I have my own classroom and students.”

Both Montagna and Dale think some of the online learning tools pressed into use during the COVID-19 crisis will remain a tool in the belts of high school math teachers.

“The activities we saw at the conference were very focused on promoting collaborative effort among students and making learning accessible for all students,” Dale said. “Some programs were games students could play at home to improve their math fluency, while others will help them continue to work with their peers to get a deeper understanding of the material that is being taught in class. I think teachers, and students, will continue to utilize these resources in the future.”

“I do believe this experience will help ‘normalize’ a level of online learning,” Montagna said. “I think teachers will likely incorporate more technology into their classrooms, not just in case of a future pandemic, but because some of these technological tools are a nice addition to traditional methods of teaching.”

The Show Must Go On(line)

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

There are few things that singers look forward to more than a chance to get on stage and share their talent with an audience. When the COVID-19 crisis put an end to in-person gathering and, in turn, the culminating event for Behrend choral students this spring, Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich, director of Choral Ensembles and associate teaching professor of music, decided the show much go on. She came up with a plan to allow each student to step in the spotlight – a virtual cabaret performance.

We talked with Dietrich to learn more and get links to some of the students’ performances:

Behrend Blog: What were students tasked with doing?

Gabrielle Dietrich: In a typical semester, the big project we work towards in Music 103 Concert Choir) and 104 Chamber Singers is a full-length concert. We were busily working toward that goal right up to spring break. When it was announced that we would be learning remotely for the rest of the semester, I knew we needed a new project. I knew the students enjoyed a variety of musical styles and might like the chance to work on individual vocal development and a piece of music that spoke to them personally. So, we decided to do a video cabaret, featuring music, song, dance, or drama. Each student chose their own song, which I then purchased for them to use, and they had several individual coaching sessions with me to prepare for the performance.

You discovered early on that live performances on Zoom would not work well, so you asked students to record their performances?

Yes, any music-making on Zoom is impacted both by delay, which is impossible to compensate for in real time (Try singing “Happy Birthday” to someone with a group of friends on Zoom and quickly see what I mean), and sound quality because you’re dealing with both Zoom’s noise filter, which can be turned off on computers, but not on tablets or phones, and also the noise filter of the devices themselves, plus wide variations in equipment quality and sensitivity, not to mention connection speed. Making videos gave students more control over the quality of their performance and the ability to do multiple takes, experiment with microphone placement, the volume of the recorded accompaniment, etc. Once they were happy with their work, they uploaded a video to YouTube and sent me an unlisted link.

Then you gathered at a certain time to watch all the performances at once?

Yes. We kept the date and time of the original ceremony and gave friends and family members the chance to attend virtually, too, as many of them would’ve come to a typical concert. We used a different video sharing system called watch2gether. It turned out to not be ideal, but it was a learning experience. If I were to do it over, I would have requested the videos be done sooner so that I could have had time to assemble a slick playlist in YouTube or even a single video in iMovie.

How many attended/participated the cabaret? 

There were twenty performers, and probably fifty or more audience members in attendance, though that number may be higher as there were likely multiple viewers at some screens.

What was your overall impression of the event?

I was very impressed with the creativity, and I think the students had a lot of fun hearing one other. One of the things I love about Behrend choristers is how quick they are to appreciate and cheer each other on. Singers can be a competitive bunch, but our students are very supportive of one another, and I am really proud of that.

How was the transition to remote learning challenged you?

The hardest thing for all of us seems to be the visceral absence of singing together. If you haven’t had that experience, it’s hard to describe. The full-brain, full-body experience of singing in a choir pulls you out of yourself and connects you with others in an immediate and strangely intimate way, and there’s just no substitute for it. I know we are all incredibly eager for the days when we can get together and sing again.

Have there been any silver linings? Any techniques you plan to keep when you return to in-person classes? 

I like that my students had the challenging experience of being confronted by the honesty of a recording. When we’re in rehearsal, they rely on me for feedback. I work hard to focus on the positives and play to our strengths. Recording devices have no tact. I know that has been really hard for some of them. Hearing a recording of one’s own voice is challenging for most human beings. A big part of my job in the last few weeks has been to help students hear the good rather than focusing on what could have been better. I think I might do more videotaping in the future, simply because it’s a valuable check on our perceptions.

I truly enjoyed the light-heartedness some of my students brought to the table in their interpretations and their staging, and also the deep feeling and musical sensitivity and instinct they demonstrated.

Here are links to some of the students’ cabaret performances. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

Stephen Humphries – Everything by Michael Bublé

Maribeth Miller – I’ve Got Somebody Waiting by Cole Porter

Jack Golec – Be Prepared (from The Lion King) by Alan Menken

Claire Nicholson – Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me by Irving Berlin

Victoria Ma – In my Own Little Corner (from Cinderella) by Rodgers & Hammerstein

Emily Green – With Every Breath I Take by Cy Coleman