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Communication with classroom teachers and support staff is key to a successful digital or virtual experience. These conversations provide an opportunity for museum staff to learn about the needs of students and teachers, as well as to set expectations and provide resources.

Consider asking the following questions when planning a program with K-12 audiences:

  1. Do you have any students who have a special education plan or a known disability that could impact their experience during the online program? If yes, what accommodations does each student require?
    • Note: In the United States and Canada, a student might have an Individual Education Plan or IEP. In the United States, a student might also have a 504 Plan, which is for medical reasons. Both are federally supported and teachers need to meet the requirements. The teachers and case managers are by law required to modify and meet the needs of the student. 
    • Be sure to have a frank and open discussion regarding what your museum staff are able to do and not able to do to support these accommodations. 
  2. Will there be any interpreters or aides assigned to any students joining in the synchronous program? If yes, can we get their contact information prior to the program to help them prepare?
    • Whenever possible, provide interpreters with slides or other information about the program ahead of time. Keep in mind that STEM has its own language that not all sign language interpreters know. If there are specific scientific or technical terms that will be used in a program, provide them to the interpreter so they come prepared. Regarding student aides, they may answer questions on behalf of their students, give them frequent verbal reminders about expected behaviors, and ask students to stop talking when they’re engaging with museum staff. It is important to respect the aide’s authority.

Other considerations for planning digital programs

Celeste Frazier Barthel, former museum educator and current specialist for behavior and social emotional learning in the Greater Albany Public School District in New York, suggests museum educators consider the following when creating or coordinating online programming for K–12 learners:

Length of programming (asynchronous and synchronous). The length of videos and the time students must sit still and focus on a presentation should be based on their age as well as the classroom or program type. For the youngest learners (K–2) and older students with behavior needs, video or one-way communication should be no more than about 10 minutes long or have thoughtfully designed stopping points every 10 minutes. Older elementary students may be able to go for 15–20 minutes without a movement break.

Teachers’ limited time to coordinate logistics for field trips. Create an accessible short video or information pamphlet with basic information they need to know. Set expectations for interactions with students. (Example: Teachers are responsible for ensuring everyone can hear.) Include information about available accommodations and reinforce the message that you can be flexible with your program if they submit their request by your registration deadline. If possible, schedule a short meeting to discuss the plan. (Be flexible about the meeting time of day to work around teachers’ schedules). Send resources related to the topic to the teachers so they can prepare their students for the program and reinforce the learning afterwards.

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