My 3rd grade class is always pretty small, so we usually start the year doing a Genius Hour project together so they can practice research and presentation skills. This year, my group of 4 decided they wanted to learn how the Great Barrier Reef has changed over time, and what are the consequences of these changes. They seemed to have a slightly vague idea of what the death of the reef could mean – especially for people who live on the other side of the world. I ran across an excellent site that allowed them to see immediate and long-term effects of pollution and other human interference with the reef. The “Reef Simulator” allows players to choose a scenario, such as overfishing or tourism, and develop a hypothesis for how some of the reef’s dependents will react. With a press of a button, the students can then see a bar graph that reflects short-term population changes due to the scenario, and another button to see the long-term changes.
With a few multiple choice questions, the simulator determines how much understanding the users have of the graph, whether or not it supports their original hypothesis, and whether they want to change the hypothesis.
Since we talk about “systems thinking” in my classroom, this simulator was an excellent interactive that allowed my students to see that changes in a system indirectly affect every single part of the system eventually. They were truly surprised how animals like certain breeds of sharks might become completely extinct without ever being hunted or directly targeted by humans. To follow this up, I plan to show them this TED Ed lesson next week.
After playing the simulation, my students exclaimed, “We need to do something – NOW!” They felt even more urgency when I pointed out that the simulations each showed the effects of one human event, and that in real life the reefs are suffering from combinations of all of them…
My students are always fascinated when I have an ant farm in the classroom, and there is a lot to be learned from these insects as we observe their organized frenzy. Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart” recently published a YouTube video that answers the question, “Why don’t ants get stuck in traffic?” After watching the video you may second guess your feelings on self-driving cars…
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist. Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M. They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.
Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds. Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”
You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.
For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.
I recently read a post on We are Teachers by Erin Bittman (@ErinEBittman) about how to use stuffed animals to teach STEM concepts. In the article, Bittman gives several examples of how students can practice measuring, weighing, and using other mathematical skills as they compare their stuffed animals. In addition, lessons can be learned about animal adaptations and habitats.
One reason I love these ideas is because I have seen the devotion that younger students have to their stuffed animals. With that kind of interest, students will definitely be engaged. The lesson give multiple opportunities for cross-curricular connections that will make the learning memorable and relevant to the students. Check out Bittman’s article for specific activities, and feel free to add more in the Comment section!
I have a “Stemspirational” Pinterest Board here if you are looking for even more resources.
While searching for a TED talk for my 5th graders last week, I came across one that I hadn’t seen before. It was given by Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, and Amy O’Toole, a 12-year-old published scientist.
Beau and Amy tell the story of a class of 8 and 9 year-olds and their serious scientific research into the fascinating minds of bees, which eventually became known as the “Blackawton Bees Project.” During their talk, we learn about the mistaken perceptions that we can have – such as underestimating the abilities of bees to reason and the abilities of young people to make meaningful contributions to our society. It’s a great video that should inspire adults and children to challenge common assumptions and believe that we can all make a difference in the world.
You can find more inspirational videos for students here. I also curate inspirational videos for teachers, which are located on this Pinterest Board.
I briefly mentioned Blippar in a post last summer about the Augmented Reality magazine, Brainspace. A tweet from last night reminded me that there are other educational uses for the free Blippar app. In this post by Rob Stringer on Blippar’s blog, you can find some great uses of Blippar for science activities in the classroom. I’m ready to try the solar system one tomorrow!
I am so thankful that my colleague, Suzanne Horan, shared this video this week. Hidden Miracles of the Natural World is a video of filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s TED Talk in 2014, where he shared some clips from his film, Mysteries of the Unseen World. The footage serves as an incredible reminder that humans are not alone in this world; we are merely a part of a vast system of living things -many of whom are yet to be discovered.