wildlife of flock of penguins gathering together
Independent Study, K-12, Science, Websites

Zooniverse

Zooniverse bills itself as the “largest platform for people-powered research.” It hosts a multitude of projects to which volunteers can contribute data that will help researchers in various fields. You may have heard of citizen science. Zooniverse takes this concept, and extends it to literature, art, and other areas of study as well.

Many of the resources are targeted toward college students, but there are several projects that would be suitable for younger children and a wonderful way to encourage them to learn more while feeling like their actions have a purpose. For example, the first project that I investigated was “Penguin Watch.” The goal is to identify Rockhopper adults, chickens, and eggs, as well as any other animals that may appear in the images that you are shown. Once students understand the task, it is just a matter of clicking on the right color and then the animal in the image to make the count. It’s actually slightly addictive and strangely therapeutic.

Screenshot from Penguin Watch Project on Zooniverse

One incredible second grade teacher, Fran Wilson, developed an entire unit for her students around another project, “Floating Forests.” In a science lesson on habitats, she began by sparking the children’s interest in sea otters. As the students learned more and became more invested in the preservation of this delightful creatures, they did research and other hands-on projects before the teacher eventually introduced them to a way that they could help by counting kelp forests on satellite images. Her blog post is an excellent blueprint for a way to engage students in something that they find meaningful and relevant. She provides many links as well as examples of student work along the way.

In 2020, Zooniverse provided this blog post of online learning resources that they had curated from their site, including a list of age-appropriate projects for 5-12 year olds. Please be aware of their note, “there is no age limit for participating in Zooniverse projects, but children under the age of 16 need parent or guardian approval before creating their own Zooniverse account.” I was able to participate in the Penguin Watch project without an account, so it is possible to use the site without signing in.

If you are a secondary teacher, there are also ideas for you in the blog post of online learning resources. In addition, I found this Edutopia article describing a lesson that high school biology teacher, Robin Dawson, did with the Snapshot Ruaha Project.

You may decide that Zooniverse won’t work as a class activity, but keep it in mind for independent projects, such as Genius Hour. Also, explore the project types as they are not all science — and not all based on imagery. For example, I found a fascinating one on the “Maturity of Baby Sounds.” I would even suggest, in some instances, having Zooniverse as an option in a calming area in your classroom where students can go if they are feeling like they need to cool down or are over-stimulated.

black and white penguin
Photo by Jack Salen on Pexels.com
K-12, Philosophy

Philosophy Toolkit

One of the resources that I have linked in my Philosophy for Kids Wakelet collection is Philosophy Toolkit from Plato. You can search for philosophy lessons by grade level or topic. The lesson quality is inconsistent, as some are basically just suggestions for discussion, while other provide more resources. However, at the very least you will get ideas for engaging questions and recommendations for related activities.

Why bother with teaching philosophy at all? Obviously it’s not on any elementary report cards. But the word itself means “love of wisdom.” And, of course we want our students to love learning and to seek out knowledge. According to the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University, “In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.”

Chances are that you are already engaging in philosophical discussions in your classroom without formally calling them that. Team-building activities, conversations about literature, news, non-fiction materials, and social studies lessons all lend themselves easily to philosophy. If you use Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity, the multiple perspectives and ethics icons also prompt philosophical dialogues.

Since the toolkit can be a bit overwhelming, I thought I’d recommend one of the suggestions, “Joy and Heron.” It includes a 4-minute animation that’s adorable, and would be good to show students of any age, ask them to retell the story, and then discuss the ethics of what the dog chooses to do once it realizes the heron needs food. Right from wrong, empathy, and friendship are all potential topics to cover. If you print the PDF, related lessons in the toolkit will also be recommended.

I know that time is at a premium for teachers, but if you have a moment to explore this toolkit, I think that you will find some real gems.

group of classmates greeting each other
K-12, Teaching Tools

Free Resources for Community Building with Students

One of the frequently visited posts on this site is “SEL and Community Building with Slides.” Of course, as students return to school throughout this month and next, community building is key to starting the year right, and needs to be done throughout the year in order to strengthen connections. On Twitter recently, Dr. Catlin Tucker (@Catlin_Tucker) shared a Google Slides presentation of questions to use with students to start conversations. These are similar to the “Sign-Off Questions” shared by Ester Park (@MrsParkShine). I updated my SEL post with Dr. Tucker’s link, as well as another one from Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) who commented in that same thread with a link to her page of “Question of the Day” suggestions. You can find these links, and more, on my Back to School Wakelet. Whenever people denigrate social media, I want to defend its value as I think about all of the incredible resources like these that are shared by generous, creative educators!

black and white laptop
K-12, Teaching Tools

Mattergrams: Canva Templates Shared by Angela Maiers

There are so many things that I love about this idea, “Mattergrams,” from Angela Maiers that it’s hard to think of where to begin!

Last week, I had lunch with a friend, and confessed that I hadn’t been feeling very “useful” as a person lately. A few days later, I received a beautiful card in my mailbox that, basically, reminded me that I matter. It made my day, and I have a feeling that I’m not the only person who could use this kind of pick-me-up — especially lately.

I’ve been a fan of Angela Maiers for many years (here is the first post in 2012 of several that I published on this blog about her). You can visit her website, Choose 2 Matter, to find out more about her mission. When I saw a recent Twitter post from her regarding “Mattergrams,” I had to click on the link to see what it was all about. After receiving my card from my friend a couple of days ago, I was reminded of the importance of telling people that they matter to you, and Angela Maiers has given everyone a simple way to do this. She offers 16 “Mattergram” templates that you can click on, edit, and share with the person whose day you want to brighten.

This is a wonderful concept, making it simple to take a few minutes to let someone know how important they are. But I was also fascinated by her method of delivery — using Canva in a way I hadn’t considered. I knew that you could publish a Canva creation to the web, and I knew that you could share Canva templates, but I never thought of combining those ideas in the way that her “Mattergrams” page does. This is the kind of content that makes so much sense to busy educators who want to give students choice without overwhelming them with options.

Educators and students get Canva free, though there are some Pro features they can’t use. However, as far as I know those subscriptions do give them the option to share template links and as websites, along with all of the other sharing options. So, as a teacher, you can find a few templates for something (like brainstorming templates, which abound on Canva), make links for them, add them to one page, and publish it as a web page. (Click on “Share” on top right, then “more” if you don’t see the options you want in the drop-down.) Share that web page link with your students, and they have choices without having to spend valuable class time hunting for them.

Canva Sharing Options

I know that sounds like it would be time-consuming, but Canva’s numerous templates and multiple sharing options really do make it easier than designing something from scratch. In the meantime, if you have a moment, send a “Mattergram” to someone out there. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t need a boost right now!

For more ideas of how to create with Canva for your classroom, check out this post!

6-12, Anti-Racism, Language Arts, Teaching Tools

Weird Enough Productions

Tony Weaver Jr. is a hero. I don’t use that term lightly. In fact, I hesitate to use it at all. But when I started doing research on a Tweet from @ProjectFoundEd about this man, I discovered more and more reasons to admire him. In this 2020 world of self-serving politicians and celebrities, Tony Weaver Jr. is the humble, talented, and empathetic champion we need.

Every week, I write an anti-racist post, but Tony Weaver Jr. is one of the many Blacks in our country who dedicates his life to anti-racism. Though his activism stemmed from personal experiences, he explains in this TEDx talk, “Why the World Needs Superheroes Who Look Different,” how other young people were his true motivation. In the CNN video that first led me to seek out more information about him, Weaver expresses such honest emotion about his passion for his work that you know his dedication will never waver.

Weaver is the young entrepreneur who started a company called Weird Enough Productions. “We tell stories that inspire people to embrace their quirks, and get hype about being themselves,” it states on the “About” page. Weird Enough Productions is responsible for a project called, “Get Media L.I.T.” which provides a platform for teachers and students (age 12 an up) where they can use comics and lesson plans to learn about social-emotional topics, media literacy, and digital citizenships. The comics feature a group of young people called “The Uncommons,” who are a diverse cast of characters designed to be representative of the many faces in our population. When you sign up for Media L.I.T. as a teacher, you will have a dashboard to which you can add classes, make playlists of the comics, and push out assignments. Each lesson is either categorized as, “Learn, Inquire, or Transform.” This tutorial for getting started is very helpful.

Get Media L.I.T. is exactly the type of material that will appeal to young people – relevant and visually intriguing. It is a great way to teach students about topics that are not generally covered in the curriculum, and to expose them to fictional heroes who look like them. In addition, the “Transform” lessons offer ideas for how the students can apply what they have learned to make the world a better place.

I will be adding this post to my list of Anti-Racism posts on Wakelet. Please consider sharing it with others, especially those who have the power to make a difference in the classroom. You can learn more about Tony Weaver, Jr. here.

screenshot of Tony Weaver Jr. from “Why the World Needs Superheroes Who Look Different”

5-8, 6-12, character, Teaching Tools

The Good Project

I hesitated about doing this post. I know that educators are struggling right now. You are trying to do what has to be done, and you don’t need anything extra. Getting through what is already required by your district and/or school is stressful enough.

But, The Good Project is really… well… good! It is meaningful, full of free resources, and incredibly relevant. And you, the teacher, can differentiate for yourself by choosing the level of classroom integration you want. Whether you decide to select some of the materials to embed in a curriculum you already have, or go deep with the 170 page lesson plan The Good Project provides, I am pretty certain you can find something that will benefit your students.

I learned about The Good Project when the video, “Beyond the Science Club: A Good Project Dilemma” was tweeted. When I jumped down the rabbit hole, I realized some of my favorite old friends were down there – Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero (also responsible for Visible Thinking Routines). In fact, they were the rabbits who created this fantastic hole I stumbled into.

In their words, “The Good Project promotes excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing people to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society.” I don’t know about you, but I think we desperately need some conversations about those 3 E’s – excellence, engagement, and ethics. The Good Project gives you all the tools you need to do this with your students.

Though The Good Project’s resources are primarily created for secondary students, I could definitely see doing some of the activities and lessons with upper elementary and middle school – particularly gifted students. For example, I think the Value Sort activity would go well with the unit my 5th graders did on Character. If you are looking for specific ideas to use with your students, you can use the Activities Database. You can weave in ethical dilemmas into your social studies or science activities. (There are even a couple of interactive ones students can do online.)

To go deeper, I would suggest the Good Collaboration Toolkit or the Lesson Plans.

The Good Project does not tell students what to think, or what is right and wrong. It gives them space to do their own thinking about their values and what is important to them. With class discussions, it can help them to see different perspectives, and learn about the complexities of the decisions they make. The Good Project poses questions about very real-life decisions that we are likely to encounter so that students can take time to analyze the potential effects of different choices.

image from The Good Project Overview