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Stepping Out Into Nature: Web Resources to Enrich Science Instruction

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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:

arkive.org-ARKIVE 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.

QR Codes: Scanning to Learn

 

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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.

How To Blog with your Students

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Students love to communicate. Allowing students to share what they are passionate about, reflecting on what they have learned, and what sparks their curiosity  benefits their learning on many levels. Students have come a long way from journaling in a spiral bound notebook or a lock and key diary.

If you are searching for an implementation of technology in your classroom, blogging should be at the top of your list.  Aside from being cross curricular, blogging facilitates meaningful learning and provides students with an authentic audience.

Why should your students be blogging?

  • They can write about what the want to write about. Consider adults in the “real world” who blog and blog successfully. They are not given writing prompts or topics, but simply write from personal inspiration.
  • They develop their writing voice. Many students do not know what strong voice sounds like and often student writing lacks voice. Not only can blog writing develop voice, reading blogs can allow students experience in identifying personality and emotion.
  • Blogging promotes reflection. Students should have the time to reflect on what they have learned. Reflective thinking is critical thinking.
  • With blogging, learning is archived. Blogging over a school year(or longer) allows students to see growth and change in their learning.
  • Blogging allows students to develop a positive digital footprint. Stress the importance developing a positive internet presence.
  • Blogging creates engagement. Students enjoy using this non traditional writing format.

Blogging tips:

  • Determine your district policy on blogging.  Keep in mind that there are blogging platforms that are secure, private, and specifically for classroom use.
  • Allow students ample time to read and comment on blogs. A large part of blogging is being participatory.
  •  Whether it be from classmates, parents, or teachers, students need regular feedback on their posts.
  • Stress the importance of a polished entry. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again.
  • Consider starting with one classroom blog where students can contribute. Allowing each student their own blog from the beginning will prove overwhelming.
  • Utilize safe, secure blogging platforms such as Kidblog or Edublogs.

For younger students:

  • Start a class blog in your k-3 classroom and make it a collaborative effort. Solicit content from your students and write a weekly blog post.
  • Invite older students or parents as guest bloggers on your blog.
  • Blog posts with younger children  should include visuals. The post can be based on a visual accompanied by smaller amounts of text.
  • Promote commenting. Younger students can be guided through the commenting process.

If you are considering implementing blogs in your classroom, there are a host of resources and tools to ensure it is a smooth process. Kidblog offers students an excellent platform to begin the blogging process while allowing them a secure writing environment.  Launching blogging lessons in the classrooms will motivate students to write while fostering authentic learning experiences.

Avatars: Virtual Expression

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As educators search for effective uses of technology in the classroom, it is apparent that on many instances the answers are found within the students. As a one to one computing teacher, it is clear that avatars are popular among young people. An avatar is defined as a online manifestation of the student. This virtual representation can help students overcome challenges while providing instruction that appeals to a wide variety of learning styles.
Here are some simple ways to use avatars in your classroom:
  •  Use an avatar to deliver information to your students, define terms, give directions, or give praise.  Yes, allow the avatar to speak for you. It can sometimes be enjoyable for both you and your students to mix up the lecture.  www.voki.com is a free site where you can bring your avatar to life using text input or voice record.
  • Formative Assessment/varied assessment- Students can use an avatar to demonstrate understanding. 
  •  As a writing tool- Students can record what they want to write, and play it back as they transfer words onto the paper. This especially helps the struggling writer.
  •  Bring historical figures to life-Students can create a short narrative on notable people from history and present to the class. www.doppelme.com is a free site where students can personalize an avatar.
  •  Fluency- Allow students to record their read aloud and play it back to practice pronunciation and fluency.
  •  Beginning of the year icebreaker-Students can introduce themselves through their avatar. This may help alleviate the beginning of year nerves.
While Avatars are not meant to replace traditional classroom instruction, they can certainly help students build self confidence and overcome challenges while fostering a multimedia environment.

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.

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Photo Credit: Retrieved from http://edutech4teachers.edublogs.org/

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. Visual.ly can create more complex infographics for secondary students. Both Glogster and Visual.ly 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.

Prodigy Math Game

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Student engagement is crucial to the learning process.  In order to increase engagement, we must increase active learning. Prodigy Math Game does just that by drawing students into the learning process through an engaging, curriculum aligned role playing game. Geared towards children in grades 1-8, Prodigy Math Game is centered around answering math questions to play an imaginative game where students control their own wizard in an exciting, virtual world.

Prodigy Math Game offers differentiated instruction at its best with each student receiving instruction personalized to their learning pace and ability. Prodigy’s goal of creating love for math and student engagement is achieved through this exciting and effective gaming platform. In fact, Prodigy’s claim that your kids will be begging to play this holds some serious truth. My experiences with Prodigy Math Game in the classroom has been positive with students being completely immersed in the learning process and eager to meet their goals.

The Flipped Classroom: Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

 

What is it?

When presented with the flipped classroom model, educators are somewhat apprehensive about making this pedagogical shift. In order to determine its place in the classroom and its potential effectiveness, it is essential to completely understand what the flipped classroom is and is not.

The flipped classroom does not only center on watching videos. While video learning is a component, the main focus of the flipped classroom is opening up instructional time for meaningful,  engaging, and differentiated learning experiences.

The Flipped Learning Network defines flipped Learning as a “pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

As part of the blended learning process, the flipped classroom challenges students to utilize a variety of multimedia formats to acquire and evaluate information, thus creating a constructionist learning environment.  In a recent study, 47 percent of students in grades 9-12, 39 percent of students in grade 6-8 and 25 percent of students in grades 3-5 responded that they wanted to learn online to control their own learning experience(eduviews). With this is in mind, the combination between traditional face to face learning and online learning components can provide students with the ideal environment to meet their learning goals. Tools that include digital content can contribute to a learning process that is current and meaningful. Educators that use blended learning have commented on the increased amount of available one on one instructional time when online components were used within the lesson. Furthermore, video learning is relevant. Our hyper connected digital natives now use online content as a primary resource when gathering information; making it an essential part of the learning process. “Cashing in” on our students propensity towards online content creates the engagement necessary to cultivate meaningful learning experiences.

What is looks like in practice.

Flipping your classroom includes choosing a lesson, seeking a video that supports the lesson, assigning the video for at home viewing, and using instructional time for activities other than direct lecture.  There are a wide gamut of online video sites such as Youtube, Brainpop, Khan Academy, and Ted ED that offer videos in nearly every content area. The gold standard for flipped classroom videos is Edpuzzle, a tool that allows you to search a wide database of educational videos and personalize them for delivery to your students. Capabilities include, cropping, voiceover, the addition of text annotations and questions. An added plus is the ability to monitor if students watched the video, how many times it was watched, and what sections were re-watched. Also included is the function allowing teachers to review student’s results in the embedded questions.

While creating videos may seem daunting to some educators, it is not necessary to flipping your classroom. There are perks to teacher created videos including personalization for students. Simply said, students enjoy watching teacher created content.  What do teacher created videos actually look like? Mr. Kilcran, an eighth grade science teacher has launched flipped learning in his classroom with much success. Not only are his  videos engaging to his students, he has opened up valuable instructional time for differentiated learning and hands on science activities.

Mr. Kilcran Science – Videos on middle school science topics and practical applications of flipping your classroom.

The educational arena has changed making it vital for educators to reflect on how to achieve effective learning. The shift from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” holds more weight now than ever before. The changing needs of our students are significant and adding the flipped learning model to the classroom can foster active engagement in the learning process.

Flipped learning is well worth the attempt.