With summer fast approaching all over the Northern Hemisphere, kids are eager for time away from teachers, textbooks, and To-do lists. In Ireland, Italy, Greece, Russia, and other Eurasian nations, summer vacation lasts about three months. In Australia, Britain, The Netherlands, Canada, and Germany, it’s six to eight weeks. American students get roughly ten weeks.
While kids celebrate, teachers and parents worry students will lose their academic edge. It turns out that concern is valid. Statistics say over the summer, kids lose over two months of math skills, two months of reading skills, and one month of overall learning. Efforts to prevent summer learning loss propel often-unpopular year-round school initiatives and all manner of summer school and summer camps that focus on cerebral topics.
Worry no more. The cure is much simpler: Disguise learning as play. Using the websites below, kids will think they’re playing games while actually engaging in the leading [mostly] free games and simulations in the education field.
A note: some must be downloaded and a few purchased, so the link provided might take you to a website that provides access rather than play.
Here are two gamified options that can be tweaked to address any topic:
- Digital Breakouts — Players of all ages use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles that ultimately enable them to achieve a goal. Digital Breakouts are an update to the traditional and popular webquests that have students explore the web as they gather content in a particular field — history, math, literacy, or others. A great collection of free, ready-made digital breakouts can be found over at Tom’s Digital Breakouts. These don’t have to be played online; for a fee, students can play unplugged.
- Flash cards — apps like the free Brainscape provide topical flash cards kids can memorize in between the rest of summer stuff. You might even provide badges for the lists students finish.
Summer is a great time to learn topics that require dedicated periods of time — like a financial literacy program. These are important for high schoolers, but often not required for graduation. That means many students transition to that almost-adult point in their life where they need to understand credit cards, bank accounts, paying bills, and other financial concepts but have no real knowledge of how these work.
Here are a few sites that gamify financial literacy topics and can be completed over the summer:
- Banzai – online free comprehensive financial literacy program
- You are here – kids learn to be smart consumers
Finding webtools for high school classes requires a different set of metrics than those that apply to lower and middle school searches. Teachers who specialize in preparing students for college and career instinctively want tools that extend learning, support lesson plans, and simplify concepts taught in the curriculum. Of course they do! By high school, the pressure to prepare students for their future is immense. This is the final chance to provide students with the knowledge they require to succeed in the game called life.
Let me put that in pedagogic terms. If you’re familiar with the SAMR Model, you know it refers to the way technology tools can be used to enrich classrooms. This starts at a basic level of replacing traditional tools (like an atlas) and ends where technology provides experiences students couldn’t get without technology. Here’s how it works:
S (Substitution) — use technology in place of a traditional tool. For example, take notes digitally rather than with paper and pencil
A (Augmentation) — technology functionally improves the traditional learning approach. For example, notetaking may include audio and images as well as text
M (Modification) — use technology to enhance learning in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, students can share their notes and comments with each other creating a collaborative and energized learning environment
R (redefinition) — students use tech tools to accomplish learning that wasn’t possible with the traditional approach. For example, students use interactive maps to explore a geographic environment as though they were there.
The high school teachers I know want tools that contribute significantly to a student-centered learning ecosystem and that enrich learning with experiences they couldn’t have without the technology (modification and redefinition). They aren’t interested in replacing the usual tools or facilitating rote drills. Time is too short and the consequences too significant. To that end, here are six worthy websites and digital tools that will make high school classes more engaging, more effective, and more student-centered than ever:
There seems to be a limitless supply of online education content. In fact, my email box and social media explodes with them. But often, these offerings are too basic, a lite version of a paid program that isn’t terribly robust, confusing, or created by people who don’t really understand how to blend technology and education. As a busy teacher, I want resources that are clear, easy-to-use, accessible by all types of students, scalable, and fun.
I found that.
Understand, finding a reliable source is a big deal to me. I give potential new sites the seven-second test: If I’m not engaged and excited in seven seconds, I move on. If I have to work too hard to figure out how to use it, I move on. If it requires more than three clicks to access content, I move on.
WittyWe had none of these problems.
WittyWe is a K-9 learning environment that inspires students to become passionate about meaningful learning through engaging video content. Using techniques such as storytelling, resolving real-life cases, learning through play, and self-teaching, WittyWe covers academic topics such as science, social studies, law, economics, entrepreneurship, and engineering as well as life skills like time management, learning, money management, social awareness, healthy living, goal-setting, and leadership. The videos are arranged as themes, online courses, and/or guided suggestions through Ask the Professor. In this last option, students tell the Professor what they’re interested in by theme, grade, and difficulty level, and he suggests appropriate videos.
STEAM–Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math–is education’s new STEM. By adding the creativity and problem-solving skills that are part and parcel to Anything Art, students have permission to use colors, images, and outside-the-lines thinking to address Big Ideas and Essential Questions.
I’ve written before on ways to use STEM every day in classwork. Here are twelve of my favorite STEAM projects where artistic thinking becomes the engine for unpacking solutions. I think you’ll like them.
1st-2nd grade; free
Use Classroom Architect as the canvas to redesign the classroom layout by dragging-and-dropping chairs, shelves, tables, computers, and more within a virtual classroom. A text tool allows students to label parts, add their name, and append notes that explain what they created. When done, students can take a screenshot and save/share/print.
With this project, students learn spatial layout, rudimentary engineering, and the importance of a proper room arrangement in their learning and class experiences.
- Breathing earth– the environment
- Breathing Earth YouTube Video–of CO2 use, population changes, and more
- Conservation Game
- Earth Day—NASA Ocean Currents
- Earth Day Printables
- Eco-friendly house
- Ecotourism Simulation–for grades 4 and above
- Footprint calculator
- History of Earth Day–lots of reading
- My Garbology
- Starfall — Every Day is Earth Day
- Storyboard That! Earth Day lesson plans
One of the hottest topics in schools and an area of greatest need is STEM resources. Earth Networks has developed creative and compelling STEM curricula on a variety of weather topics. Any school with a weather unit or an onsite weather station will appreciate this site. I asked them to drop in and explain their education programs to the AATT community:
Why Teach STEM?
In the world of education, only a few things remain constant. The weather is not one of them. But people’s desire to learn and understand the factors that shape weather, and the desire to accurately predict it, certainly is a constant. Nearly every business in every industry is profoundly affected by the weather, and knowing how to read and understand the data that is presented to business leaders via WeatherSTEM platforms and weather data visualization software is invaluable. Making weather a part of your student’s curriculum will invariably help them throughout their lives, regardless of the paths they choose.
STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These four topics cover every aspect of our life. Science is our natural world, from the land we live on to the oceans and space we aspire to visit. It’s the weather that changes our picnic plans to the natural disaster that destroyed a town in our own state. Technology includes the iPads toddlers play on, the smartphones we use to guide our days, the apps that turn our lights on and off–or start our car. Engineering is why traffic flows smoothly on crowded roads and why bridges survive despite massive loads of trucks, and is the foundation for much research into global warming and alternative energy. Mathematics happens everywhere–at the grocery store, the bank, the family budget, the affirmative nod from parents to update a child’s computer to their agreement to add apps from the app store.
Every corner of every life includes STEM, which explains the increasing interest in STEM-educated students to fill the nation’s jobs. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, while other occupations are growing at 9.8%. According to the Bureau of Labor and Management:
… jobs in computing and mathematics are projected to grow by 20 percent.
Significantly, STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. The reason: Students trained in STEM subjects think critically, develop creative solutions, solve problems rather than look to others for solutions, and create logical processes that can be duplicated in all parts of their life. STEM-trained students understand how to look at the forest and find the particular tree.
One of the hardest challenges for teachers is how to engage students in core subjects such as geography. It’s about mountains and rocks and valleys that haven’t changed for thousands of years. Why is that interesting? If you aren’t a geography buff, you’re probably nodding. You know what I mean. But watch how quickly the fourteen resources below morph geography from dusty to dynamic:
2-minute Geology is a collection of two-minute videos that address the geology of locations around the world. The presenter is clever, the taping professional, and the experience mesmerizing as students are immersed in the importance of geology around the world–in just two minutes.
Continents Explained is a four-minute humorous video that discusses the difficulty of defining continents on our planet (with a brief cameo from a Minecraft-like character). I came away scratching my head, wondering how the heck the experts ended up with the seven continents we all accept rather than four–or twelve. The video is engaging, energizing, and informative. This is a must for any discussion on continents.
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.