Why this topic matters
Young people, like the rest of us, have had their lives turned upside down by the Coronavirus. Many will have lost loved ones, their parents or carers may have lost jobs, and many will still be struggling with the new regulations around social distancing, PPE and large gatherings. Talking about these things is therefore important to help students adjust and feel happy and safe.
It is also important to recognise that some students may be living in homes which take a stance at odds with scientific guidance; fake news around COVID-19 is prevalent, and so giving students access to accurate and reliable information is incredibly important, especially as vaccinations begin to be rolled out.
Connections to the curriculum
- Science: teach about viruses, their role in nature, disease transmission, the respiratory system, the scientific advice around social distancing and mask wearing, the analysis of scientific data to inform approaches
- Maths: use the data and statistics around coronavirus to introduce topics including averages, graphs, percentages, exponential growth, and more.
- English: use coronavirus as a topic when writing to inform, explain, describe, etc. teach about journalism and news bias by comparing different newspaper coverage.
- History: teach about sources by imagining that you are a historian in 2120; what sources would you find to learn about coronavirus? How could you tell which ones are trustworthy?
- Geography: use the spread of coronavirus to discuss globalisation. Make connections between coronavirus and Climate Change using ThoughtBox’s brilliant resources.
- PSHE: discuss the impact of the pandemic on mental wellbeing and the choices we all have to support collective care and self care
How to approach it
Recognise the personal impact
With the news often focusing on the statistics and sheer numbers affected by COVID-19, remember the personal and emotional impact that this virus will have had on all the students in your classroom. Give your students space to talk about these experiences, and acknowledge the way that their lives have changed. It’s important even at this stage of the virus, to keep checking in with your students. Acknowledge that emotions and feelings about the virus can change all the time and that this is normal. You don’t need to ‘fix the feelings’ of the students in your classroom, you simply need to offer a space for them to be shared.
Whilst you shouldn’t downplay the risks of COVID-19 or the need to reduce the spread of the virus, it is also important to avoid provoking fear or anxiety by helping students to understand that viruses are a natural part of life. Teach students about practical ways of managing the spread of the virus, give them a space to talk about their worries and concerns, and empower them to make confident, safe decisions. Remind them that they can do a lot to keep themselves and others safe, including washing hands and social distancing. Talk about the positive steps that are being made all around the world, where people are working together to keep each other safe. Use the time to discuss what is within our control, and what is not, and use mindfulness exercises to explore how we can release stress and anxiety around things which we have no control over.
Debunk fake news
Teaching your students how to spot fake news is a vital life skill, and this is particularly true when it comes to coronavirus, when fake news around vaccinations and mask wearing can cost lives. With conspiracy theories, disinformation and uninformed opinions abounding online, make sure you teach your pupils where to go to find accurate information, and how to fact check anything they are unsure about. Teaching students to question and analyse the information they’re presented with is also a great way to encourage and practice critical thinking, as teaching your students how to think (not what to think) is a good way to help them feel empowered in their own choices.
Teach the science
Asking students to simply ‘do as they’re told’ when it comes to following government guidance can cause frustration and push back. Instead, be clear about why we are being asked to wear masks, wash hands and stay socially distanced, so that your pupils can make informed decisions about their behaviour. Encourage them to ask questions, and be honest if you don’t know the answer - pointing them towards reliable sources of information online. Help them to understand where viruses come from, how they are part of our natural systems and how we can empower ourselves to be healthy and resilient in our bodies and in our emotions to respond moving forward.