Now We're Cooking: One Teacher's Kitchen-Based Distance Learning

Her recording studio is a kitchen, and her videos frequently feature food, from pimento cheese to a hot cup of tea. But the star of this new must-see TV for EHS students is not a Martha Stewart wannabe but Dr. Colleen Krivacek, longtime EHS teacher.

When Episcopal shifted to distance learning, Krivacek began shooting short iPhone demonstrations from her home in Covid-19 locked-down Northern Virginia to illustrate and explain principles of science to students. “I have always tried to make science real for them,” she says. “Now I just do quick little demonstrations at home.”

To start a unit on kinetic energy and explain heat transfer to her introduction to chemistry class, she videotaped herself making hot tea, then explained the effect of adding ice to the cup — that the ice didn’t cool off her tea, but the tea essentially “warmed up” her ice by transferring some of its heat to the cube.

In another video, she introduced the concept of limiting reagents in chemical reactions by preparing a snack of crackers and pimento cheese — only to discover that her family had eaten all but a handful of crackers, limiting the size of her snack to a measly four crackers.

“The more I make fun of myself and do silly things, the more the kids enjoy it,” Krivacek says.

Krivacek’s family members — Owen ’20 and Olivia ’23 as well as her husband, Paul — sometimes serve as comic foils in her videos or make cameo appearances. Through the videos and these intimate looks at her family life, Krivaceck hopes to maintain her personal connections with the students, something that has been at the core of her Episcopal career. In a December talk in chapel, she described Episcopal’s students as her “other family,” saying, “You are as much a part of me as Owen and Olivia are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Krivacek had never used the School’s Loom video-production system before distance learning began, but she has found it’s a handy tool for more than fun videos. When making some assignments, she records a video explaining the work rather than writing out a long note. “They still like hearing my voice,” she says. “It’s familiar to them, and the video makes things easier for them.”

Distance learning has robbed Krivacek of the in-person classroom interactions that are her trademark. “I’m an interactive, involved teacher,” she says. “I almost never lecture. I probably log 20,000 steps a day just walking around the room.”

Still, technology has given her an unexpected edge in working one on one with students. Previously, students often did homework in her classroom, with Krivacek busying herself about the room and answering questions as needed. Now, students working remotely will share their computer screen with her via the School's Webex platform, allowing her to see their thought process and homework unfold in real time.

“The kids who have done this have had amazing success,” she says. “I’ve had kids doing better than they have ever done.”