Most teachers I know accept that their classes must be technology-infused. Many think that means replacing traditional tools with the tech version (for example, instead of creating a big bulky poster, use a virtual poster like Glogster). Others think using iPads to read the book is homage enough to the 21st Century teaching police. A surprising number of students — and teachers — still consider technology to be the realm of a chosen few endowed with brilliance and math/science skills. When you try to explain that technology, computers, and websites are easily accessible to anyone willing to think critically and solve problems, they laugh. Or hide.
Here are fourteen websites I use to persuade teachers that technology isn’t always about math and science, that lots of tools work flawlessly as they inspire students to new ways of learning.
This site shows the Google search engine backwards as is everything you type into the search field. This is from the creative minds at elgooG (not affiliated with Google) and only for entertainment. When you’re done giggling over the oddity of a backwards world, try some of their other geeky options included at the top of the screen like:
- Snake Game (at the top of the Backwards Google screen)
- Do a Barrel Roll –click the link and Google will do a barrel roll before beginning your search
- Tilt — click the link and Google will tilt before performing your search
Chrome Experiments is a showcase of over 1200 web experiments written by the creative coding community. They are clever and often addicting and include a mesmerizing kaleidoscope, Fluid Particles (waves of particles generated by a SketchUp type drawing you create), Searching Planet (a 3D visual of what people around the globe search for on Google), and A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2 (shows how carbon dioxide travels around the globe over the course of one year).
For many, study of the human body starts in second grade with an introduction to what’s inside that stretchy, durable skin that coats our bodies. As students progress through school, they dig deeper into concepts of body systems, organs, cells, diseases, and the importance of good health. Whether schools classify these topics as ‘health’ or ‘science’, the importance of understanding the processes that allow us to survive can’t be overstated. Prove this by asking students for personal examples of health problems that upended their lives. For some, it’s as normal as a broken arm, but for many more, it ends in hospitalizations and orphan diseases.
When teaching about the human body, start with a tool students are familiar with: the fill-in-the-blank worksheet. I see you roll your eyes, but bear with me as I drag this tried-and-true stalwart into the 21st Century. There are good reasons why worksheets have been the backbone of assessment for decades:
- Students write or type the information (and get the benefits of note-taking).
- Students read what they type (and get the benefits of reading).
This lesson plan, though, adds a few digital native twists. First, students create their own template in one of several ways:
- draw it using the school’s drawing tool
- take a picture of themselves with the iPad camera (or another digital camera)
- use an avatar that has basically human parts (like a robot). This has the advantage of tying into class discussions on digital citizenship (why use avatars rather than the real picture?).
Next, students digitally label their ‘human body’. To do this, you might need to review the digital drawing tool (like Doodle Buddy or ScreenChomp), image editor (like Canva or PicMonkey), and/or the annotation tool (like iAnnotate or Notability) being used. Besides learning about their bodies, this integrates technology transparently into student learning, as a process rather than a product — as a tool used to complete their project.
C-STEM Studio is a California A-G approved curriculum and turn-key solution for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics through computing and robotics. This web-based scalable program is available for elementary through high school students and can last anywhere from four weeks to a year. As Professor Harry Cheng, Director of the UC Davis Center for Computing and STEM Education who offers this program, states simply: “Our goal is to get kids interested in math and robotics through hands-on computing and robotics.” In fact, the C-STEM Studio algebra curriculum is fully aligned with Common Core state standards in mathematics.
- Linkbot–students write a simple program to complete a function that is then uploaded to a robot–in this case, a Linkbot. One feature I found in this program which I rarely saw in others: It’ll point out syntax errors in programming. This is well-suited to younger students.
- RoboSim–students program a virtual robot of their choice (by picking from among Lego Mindstorm and others) in a virtual environment.
- RoboBlockly–a web-based robot simulation using a drag-and-drop interface to program virtual Linkbot and Lego robots. The RoboBlockly curriculum includes a student self-guided Hour of Code activity as well as teacher-led math activities that meet Common Core state standards for fourth to ninth grade.
- ChArduino–students use Ch programming (kind of a simplified, easier-to-learn C+) and an Arduino board.
To assist teachers, UC Davis offers professional development that lasts between two days and a week on how to roll out the lessons and/or curriculum in their classrooms as well as a C-STEM Conference to share ideas and stories with other educators. For students, there are CSTEM camps and competitions to showcase the robot wizardry of programmers from elementary through high school.
To evaluate C-STEM Studio, let’s look at three questions:
- so what
- who cares
- why bother
One of the most pressing and timely issues facing the education community nationally is how we can address teaching math, science, and engineering concepts to the K-12 population. C-STEM Studio does that with a compelling and thorough software program which trains both students and teachers to use robotics as a superior vehicle for learning math.
When you think of the Supreme Court, you think of old people in black robes that dispassionately determine the fate of the country’s laws. That’s all true, but there’s more to maintaining law and order than a podium and a gavel. The Supreme Court is the apex of one of three branches in the American government:
- The Legislative (the House and the Senate) passes laws
- The Executive (the President) executes the laws
- The Judicial (all the courts in the United States from the local courts to the Supreme Court) judges whether the laws and their execution abide by the nation’s Constitution
The Supreme Court consists of nine individuals who are nominated by the President and voted in by the Senate. Once approved, they serve for life, the hope being that this allows them to judge apolitically, based on the merits of the case rather than political leaning. These guidelines are not without controversy but are critical to a healthy, democratic environment.
But this year, an election year, is different. The death of Antonin Scalia leaves the court split evenly between those who lean Democrat and those who lean Republican. Rarely in our history has an outgoing president — in his last year — been tasked with selecting such a critical Supreme Court justice.
Really, it’s much more complicated than what I’ve described, but this isn’t the place to unravel what could become a Gordian knot of intrigue over the next few months. Suffice to say, this process will overwhelm the media and your students will want to know more about what is normally a dull and boring process and why it has become foundational to our future. This provides a rare opportunity to educate them on the court system in America.
Reading is defined as “the action or skill of absorbing written or printed matter silently or aloud.” Sounds dry, maybe even boring, but once a child learns to read, they get much more than an understanding of words, sentences, paragraphs, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. They get an escape from reality, exercise for their brains, a closeness to like-minded souls, answers to problems–and reading can even predict success in school. It alleviates boredom in the bits of free time that pop up between soccer and dinner and it can be done alone or in a group.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends…”
― Charles William Eliot
Teachers and parents know all this and still, the Literacy Company reports that most teachers in classes of twenty+ students spend only five minutes a day reading, and 46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription medicine. Not a surprise, Statistic Brain says 80% of adults did not buy a single book in the past year (Pew reports it as 77%).
I am constantly on the hunt for good tech reading tools. There are hundreds–thousands–of them, but I’m picky. Here’s what I look for:
Education has changed. Teachers don’t lecture from the front of the classroom. Work isn’t an individual effort. Drills no longer hold pride of place in lesson plans. Now, teachers expect students to engage: be part of the solution, not a passive recipient of the process.
Does this sound boring? Not if you’re a kid. Then, you call it ‘games’ and choose it for free time, as a study break, and with friends. Look at Minecraft where millions of kids voluntarily learn geology, work in virtual groups, and seek out knowledge to build a virtual world.
Here are three apps that gamify education:
Kahoot is a response system that has taken over classrooms all over the country to assess student learning. Using a gameshow format, students compete against classmates, themselves (in Ghost Mode), or any student group around the world, to answer questions based on a specific theme. It is fast-paced, energetic, with scintillating music and a real-time scoreboard that shows student progress. It’s more like the games students love than the tests and quizzes traditionally taken at school.
Kahoot is simple to use. The teacher creates a quiz or survey on the Kahoot website. S/he invites students to join with a game pin, which they enter into pretty much any digital device used in the classroom (smart phones, Chromebooks, iPads, or another). They read the questions off the class screen and answer on their device. Points are earned not only for right answers, but speed of play.
Kahoot works on any device with an internet connection. The learning curve is negligible: no player accounts, no set-up, just the join code.
Collaboration is the new rigor in the classroom. Who hasn’t been mesmerized by children gathered at a table engaged in a high-level discussion, making shared decisions, and demonstrating deep, scaffolded learning? When students share organic ideas and peer review projects, they build authentic knowledge that everyone takes ownership in, but the saying is easier than the doing. You can’t just break students into groups and expect a collaborative workflow. It takes practice. The rudimentary teamwork availed by Google Docs and online tools like Subtext is a great start, but what’s better is projects that inspire, motivate, and teach students skills for speaking and listening.
Here are three activities I use in my classroom to achieve this goal:
Every activity in your classroom includes how-to questions. Before answering, have students ask three classmates before asking you. For example, if they can’t find the tech tool they want, check with three neighbors before putting their hand. Kids love helping each other and spotlighting their talent. Not only does ‘Three then me’ get the student’s question answered faster, it engenders a sense of cooperation and collaboration in the class, that students are resources to each other.
A note of caution: This works best with self-correcting facts, like how to do something, but if it’s a definition or the spelling of a word, students could get the wrong answer and not know it. As you’re training students in ‘three then me’, remind them to evaluate answers, critically think about them before implementing, and trust their own judgment. Does it sound right? Does it fit what else they know about the question? If it does, go for it!
Every week, I share a website that inspired my students. This one is perfect for Hour of Code. Make yourself a hero for an hour:
Grades 3-8 (or younger, or older)
Problem-solving, critical thinking, building
Most elementary age kids I know love math, but that changes when they matriculate to middle school. If you ask seventh and eighth graders what their hardest subject is, they’ll hands down tell you it’s math. And that opinion doesn’t improve in high school. In fact, Forbes reported that 82% of public high schoolers in the well-to-do Montgomery County Maryland failed Algebra. US News blamed math knowledge for a 33% failure rate by Oklahoma high school seniors on their exit exams.
To turn those numbers around, parents and teachers alike are looking to technology. This goes well beyond Khan Academy’s online video training, into fantasy worlds of trolls and wizards, the type of activities most parents have tried to keep their kids away from. Now, they want to use their kids’ native interest in online gaming to scaffold math knowledge. Here are three wildly-popular choices that have made kids choose math practice for their free time:
Coding has become the poster child for a tech-infused classroom. Over 15 million kids participated in Hour of Code this past December. So many teachers took students to Code.org’s curriculum offerings, the website crashed.
So what is ‘coding’? According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s another word for ‘programming’ which means:
The art of turning caffeine into Error Messages
Let’s go to Webster’s definition instead:
The act or job of creating computer programs
Not much better. To techies, ‘programming’ or ‘coding’ is
a series of symbols, used synonymously as text and grouped to imply or prompt the multimedia in the games and programs that happen on computers, websites, and mobile apps.
This complicated definition is why–historically–programming, IT, and Computer Science have been of interest only to the geekiest of kids. But there are good reasons why kids should like this activity. According to Computer Science Education Week: