Stepping Out Into Nature: Web Resources to Enrich Science Instruction


While nothing can replace actual experience when exploring the natural world, there are a variety of tech tools that can enhance understanding of the environment. With a multitude of engaging web resources available, students can gain background information and general knowledge about nature and its importance to our lives.

Amp up your science instruction with these comprehensive sites: is a hub for films, photographs, and audio recordings of the world’s species.

Cells Alive-CELLS Alive! represents 30 years of capturing film and computer-enhanced images of living cells and organisms for education and medical research.  Hosted by Jim Sullivan, and continuously updated, this site now exceeds four million visitors a year.

Animal Diversity Web-From the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the Animal Diversity Web is an online database of animal natural history, distribution, classification and conservation biology.  The Animal Diversity Web is truly a collaborative effort as students can contribute to web content. To do this, teachers must submit a request form.

Catch the Science Bug– Catch the Science Bug increases science literacy and raises environmental awareness by adhering to national standards and guidelines for content and using varied teaching methods for engaging all types of learners.

Science With Me-Kids love hands-on projects. Science With Me is brimming with fun science projects and resources including science movies, songs, coloring sheets, worksheets and stories.

Active Science-Active Science has 15 different scientific modules, including interactive games and activities.

EcoKids– EcoKids is an interactive environmental web site for children, their families, and educators in Canada and around the world. Multimedia activities allow children an enjoyable channel to learn about the environment.

Periodic Table of Elements – With simple videos, The Periodic Table of Elements offers a glimpse into the properties of each element.

The Science Network-The Science Network showcases the world’s leading scientists explaining concepts including viruses and the birth of neurons.

PopTech– Bringing together a global community of innovators, PopTech has videos explaining economics, water, and plant-based fuels.

National Geographic Kids– The gold standard of nature sites, Nat Geo Kids inspires children to become stewards of the environment through a wide gamut of multimedia learning tools.

In the spirit of Earth Day and the ongoing push to foster a love for science and our natural world, these websites are the ideal addition to your science focused unit of study.


A New Kind of Sharing

The word “share” has developed some different connotations.  I asked my six year old what it means to share and his answer was interesting.  He said, “like how you share pictures on Facebook?”


The exchange of data and knowledge is simply a click away and has become second nature to our students. With the availability of Web 2.0 tools, students can instantaneously share web content.

Consider providing time in your classroom for students to share with their peers. This is an ideal accompaniment to the beginning of the year “getting to know you” activities. Students can research information that might be useful to  a classmate, and share it with them.

Aside from teaching how to share information, sharing lessons can also incorporate simple research techniques.

Students can share:

  • Information
  • Video clips
  • Websites
  • Self-created presentations

As we continue to challenge students to become producers of web content, rather than solely consumers, sharing content fosters open communication and the collaborative culture needed to become effective 21st century learners.

QR Codes: Scanning to Learn



Photo credit: lydiashiningbrightly via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

QR codes have become increasingly popular. Originally created for Smartphone users, advertisers have used QR codes to broadcast information.  Scanning codes have become commonplace in retail stores as well as in many periodicals and are emerging as an effective classroom tool.   A quick response code is a digital image that can be scanned with the use of a bar code scanner.  The code can take you directly to a website. With many classrooms equipped with mobile devices, QR codes can direct students to endless virtual destinations. To get started you need a Qr code reader and a QR code generator to get your students scanning.  Visualead allows you to generate visually appealing codes in three simple steps. Download a QR code reader on your mobile device and students are ready to scan.

Use your Quick response codes to:

  1. Differentiate in the classroom- QR codes can direct students to different information while working on the same skill. Perhaps after reading the same text, QR codes can direct students to different sets of questions that are appropriate for their reading level.  Specific codes can also be created for various reading groups, directing them to various extended learning sites.  Quick response codes can also accommodate different learning styles. Students can scan to visual or musical representations of information.
  2. Make research easy- From my experience working with research projects, many younger students find googling information too overwhelming.  There is simply too much information that is not child friendly. Create codes for students to scan to websites useful for research projects. This eliminates endless Googling and fosters a more efficient research environment.
  3. Create a learning based scavenger hunt- Post codes around the school or classroom for a skills based scavenger hunt.
  4. Scan for classroom incentives- Students can scan codes that lead to fun apps or simply to a sit with a friend pass.
  5. Scan for clarification- Students who may need extra assistance or explanation can scan to how-to” videos.

Voicethread:Starting a New Type of Conversation

One of my favorite cloud based applications is Voicethread, a powerful multimedia tool that connects voice and images. Capabilities include uploading and sharing documents, presentations, images and videos. Each upload is presented on an individual slide and voice comments are then “threaded” in using one of the following options: microphone, webcam, text, phone, or audio file upload. The result is a seamless multimedia creation that is easily shared via e-mail, unique URL, or embed.


Collaborative possibilities reach beyond a simple comment on an image. Educators can transform a lecture to a real time, online conversation. The comment feature encourages students to offer unique perspectives, leave feedback, and ask questions.

What does it look like in practice?

  • K-5 classrooms can create collaborative online stories.
  • Art classrooms can leave constructive feedback on individual work.
  • Social studies classrooms can conduct an in depth analysis of historical images.
  • Encourage a meaningful conversation about a current event. Guide students through a discussion about a controversial topic, encouraging respectful dialogue.
  • Create visuals that accompany poetry and include narration.
  • Math classroom can create tutorials on techniques and processes.
  • Higher Ed can create tutorials and lectures.

With Voicethread, commenting or offering ideas is not limited to the outspoken or confident student. Comments can be made either in or outside of class using their Voicethread identity. Each comment is represented by a small icon that represents the student.

Voicethread fosters a new type of conversation by providing an innovative multimedia platform that promotes active engagement in the learning process.

Using Tech Tools to Build Fluency

Fluency and comprehension go hand in hand.


Students who have the ability to read fluently are more likely to comprehend due to the diminished need to labor and decode each word.  In order for students to achieve reading fluency, they must read, and read a lot. So how can we get our students to read?

These four steps, implemented along with technology tools, can foster motivation and build literacy skills.

1. Model– Teachers must model fluent reading to students on a daily basis. For younger students, echo reading is beneficial. Allow students to repeat a short phrase after hearing the teacher read it. Simple recording tools on your classroom mobile device can  provide opportunities for echo reading. Using your tablet’s recording feature, simply record a passage for students to play and echo. Try a Digital Storytelling site such as Storybird. Write stories with your students and read them aloud. Invite a local author or storyteller to read to your class via a Skype session, or even invite older students to read to younger classes through Skype.

Vocaroo is an online voice recording tool that allows the user to record and share audio content via the web.

2. Practice– Allow students ample time to read and reread passages. Using recording tools such as Vocaroo, or Voki, students can record themselves reading a passage and play the audio back to determine errors and words read per minute. Voki allows students to choose an avatar and give it a voice through a simple recording feature. The participatory nature of blogging promotes both reading and writing practice. Students enjoy reading their peers’ posts and providing feedback. Kidblog is an ideal blogging platform for the classroom setting.

3. Help– Teachers must foster self-correction and self-questioning skills by constantly monitoring student reading. Listening to children read should be done in a small group setting, or ideally on a one to one basis. A classroom set of mobile devices allow students to send the teacher audio clips of short read alouds.

4. Motivation– Perhaps the most important component of reading instruction is motivation. Student motivation can be nurtured by allowing opportunities to read material of interest, and listen and read to others. Technology tools can tailor reading instruction to meet individual learning needs and create much needed motivation in the classroom.

  • Use the internet to find specific reading passages. is an ideal hub for high interest, leveled reading passages.
  • Use audio and video tools to enable students to read to others and hear themselves read. Voki, Vocaroo, Fotobabble, Blabberize, or Voicethread are easy to use multimedia platforms that can enhance reading instruction.

Minecraft: Open World Gaming in the Classroom


Saying “Minecraft” in any class from kindergarten through eighth grade will generally result in a bit of a frenzy. During a recent classroom visit, I noticed a group of students sitting in a small circle intensely discussing the task at hand. It was apparent that due to their fierce engagement, I had gone completely unnoticed. As I moved closer, the mooing and clucking of cows and chickens were clearly audible.

I asked, “is that Minecraft?” At that moment, the intensity broke as they all turned. It was as if  just saying Minecraft broke the spell and opened the floodgates. They eagerly explained the basics of the game and why it remains at the top of their gaming list. From creativity to survival, their reasoning clearly reinforced Minecraft as an engaging learning tool.

Many teachers have asked me what is Minecraft? Simply put,  Minecraft is an open world type game where players can travel through a virtual environment. Also referred to as a sandbox game, Minecraft is void of any artificial barriers and allows players to create and manipulate their world. Using an inventive 3d platform, players can build structures out of textured cubes, forage for resources, craft, and combat.

Can a game with no apparent goals be an effective learning tool? A small group of educators and programmers from the United States and Finland say yes by creating MinecraftEDU. If you are considering deploying Minecraft at your school, MinecraftEDU is the ideal launching point, providing tutorials and lesson plans that can be adapted to  your existing curriculum.

Minecraft’s curriculum connections:

  • Survival- One of two principle modes, survival mode requires players to maintain their health and consider the resources and skills required to survive and develop their world.
  • Geology- Mining is a key element of Minecraft.  Students can identify the physical properties and uses of minerals along with building and studying biomes.
  • Science-  From melons to squash, students can study plants and seeds, along with the essentials to make them grow. Discuss natural habitats as students explore deciduous forests,  deserts, jungles, and tundras.
  • Engineering- Complex structures can be built using Minecraft including replicas of historic landmarks.
  • Math- The Minecraft crafting system can develop reasoning and problem solving skills.

There are two versions of Minecraft available:

Minecraft Pocket Edition- Available for ios and Android.

MinecraftEDU–  Designed for classroom use and available for Mac, Windows, and Linux

As the Minecraft craze continues to spread worldwide, educators are creating engaging learning experiences by making solid curriculum connections to open world gaming.

Real world uses of Minecraft in the classroom:

Wonders of Minecraft– Chronicles the introduction of Minecraft into the middle school curriculum.

Digging For Truth-Minecraft Blog–  Jeremy Briddle writes about creating a curriculum unit that connects Minecraft to the study of early human civilizations.

Minecraft, with all its pixels, is making quite an impact on children. Innovative educators are taking advantage of student’s natural excitement and are achieving effective teaching via gaming.

Is there a place for Minecraft in your classroom?

Infographics: Seeing Information in a New Light

Let’s be honest. Data can be both dry and uninteresting. Text representations of data can also be complicated and difficult to understand.  In an attempt to make complex data easier to digest, teachers are using infographics as an effective means of delivery. Information + graphics= infographic, a visual representation of information. Not new to media, infographics are commonly used on news broadcasts as well as in various periodicals. National Geographic employs beautiful inforgraphics that allows the reader a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.


Photo Credit: Retrieved from

Infographics can effectively help our students conceptualize information. The visual nature of an infographic allows data to be conveyed quickly and efficiently while appealing to the students sense of creativity and design. Not only geared towards older children, educators can utilize infographics in the early elementary classroom as well. Allowing students to create simple infographics to represent concepts and text data can reach the visual learner while fostering 21st century skills in the classroom.

Integrating infographics can be rewarding for both students and educators alike. In order to be effective, educators must guide students in how to read and determine the main idea of the infographic. Guidance in creating an inforgraphic includes how to utilize creation tools and how to establish a general “flow” that will enable readers to grasp the concept. There are many tools to created infographics, but Glogster is most suited for the k-8 classroom. In the web 2.0 family, Glogster edu allows teachers to establish classes and monitor student work. “Glogs” can easily be shared using a variety of channels. can create more complex infographics for secondary students. Both Glogster and have extensive libraries where educators can browse pre-made infographics for lessons.

The uses of infographics are endless. Visual representations of numbers and statistics have emerged in all content areas. Social Studies teachers have turned migration and population data into visual data. Early elementary teachers assist students in creating visuals of concepts or word problems in math.  Let’s be innovative. Our visual students will benefit from our visual teaching.

For more tools to create infographics in the classroom, check out teachthougt’s 46 Tools to Make Infographics in the Classroom.