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
women sitting on the couch
3-12, Art, history, Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies

Women in Culture

International Women’s Day will be celebrated on March 8, 2022 this year. I have some links to activities and lessons on my March Holidays Wakelet, but I ran across the “Women in Culture” page on Google Arts and Culture the other day and wanted to make it more widely known. I could spend days exploring this site! I know you don’t have days, hours, or even more than a couple of minutes, so I’ll point out some highlights that will make it worth your while.

Let’s start by passing all of the great images and scrolling to close to the bottom of the page, where you will see this section:

If you have no other time to bathe yourself in the beauty of this site, definitely download some of the free lesson plans, which will give you guided tours through some of the amazing images and information available to you about inspiring women in all types of careers.

Still have a little time? Maybe you can browse through this exhibit of “11 Women Who Changed the World,” and try to learn more about the incredibly gifted females (Still have a little time? Maybe you can browse through this exhibit of “11 Women Who Changed the World,” and try to learn more about the incredibly gifted females who have made universally positive contributions (many of whom rarely appear in school textbooks) who have made universally positive contributions in field ranging from art to science.

Speaking of science, women in STEM are all over this page. For a small taste of what you can find, take 2 minutes to watch this superhero video about one of those women, who is using biomimicry to discover new materials to monitor our health. A few more videos from the series can be found by scrolling about 1/4 way down the page to the section, “The science of tomorrow.”

If you’ve got upper elementary or secondary students beginning Genius Hour/Passion Projects, this would be a great page for them to browse for topic inspiration. Help them find unique subjects like the “Sea Women of South Korea” or the evolution of “Women in Sports.”

Discover the women who made a difference while increasing your motivation to help more young people learn of these achievements so they, too, can see what is possible.

person pointing on a miniature toy robot
Computer Science, K-12

Day of AI

I know, I know. You’ve got tons of curriculum to cover and here I am telling you about learning that isn’t going to be on a standardized test. But here are a few things that might change your mind about participating in Day of AI 2022: it’s on May 13 (so many of you will be done with standardized tests, or close to finished and we all know how challenging it is to keep students engaged at the end of the school year), you don’t have to do it on the exact date, you need absolutely NO experience, and the resources and participation are absolutely free.

No matter what your opinion is of Artificial Intelligence, the fact is that it is becoming more and more prominent in our everyday lives. Explaining it to our students, and educating them on the potential good and bad ways that AI can impact their lives makes sense — and the resources provided on the Day of AI page are fascinating and relevant. (There are more to come, but you do need to sign up for the free registration to access them.) There will be activities for grade K-12, and you might find, as I did while looking at the materials, that you learn some things you didn’t know as well.

One of the most popular posts in recent months on this blog has been the one I did last year on AI generated poetry, so I know that there is definitely some interest in this topic among my readers. Code.org has dedicated an entire section on AI lessons for students here, and I have a Wakelet collection of other educational resources on Artificial Intelligence as well. From Blueprints for Alexa to Machine Learning for Kids, and multiple fun Google Experiments, there a multiple ways to help your students understand the basics of AI and consider its implications while having fun.

blue bright lights
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
3-5, 5-8, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Writing

Coding with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.

five bulb lights
Books, Creative Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

Gifts for the Gifted Teacher — Creative Acts for Curious People

I’ve been doing my “Gifts for the Gifted” series for almost 9 years. Though I freely admit that the title is a bit of a misnomer because my recommendations are not just for students who have been identified as gifted, I am about to launch another series that may also be misunderstood. At least no one can accuse me of inconsistency. With that in mind, here is the inaugural post of “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher.” While I got a lot of joy out of the books, games, and toys I’ve bought for my students over the years, there are some things that I just think are great for teachers, themselves (which will indirectly benefit their students, so win/win). And during these times when teachers are, quite frankly, getting the shaft, I would like to make some explicit recommendations for anyone who wants to show their appreciation to an educator with a thoughtful gift.

Definition of Gifted Teacher: An educator who loves to learn and to challenge, engage, and empower her/his/their students with relevant and meaningful curriculum. p. 1 of the Engage Their Minds Dictionary, 2021

My first entry for “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher” (oops, that almost became “Gifs for the Gifted Teacher” which I am now officially copyrighting for my next series…) is a book called, Creative Acts for Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg. The foreword is written by David M. Kelley, (not to be confused with David E. Kelley, famous writer/producer of a billion television dramas) the founder of IDEO and a professor at Stanford. David M. Kelley is someone I’ve admired ever since I’ve done my deep dive into design thinking, and Stanford’s d.school is the dream school that I would have totally applied to if it existed thirty something years ago.

The book is thick, which is always a huge plus for me. It is full of activities curated by Sarah Stein Greenberg from great design thinkers at the d.school and beyond, and includes some challenges to try out. Though I see teachers finding it to be an awesome resource, I feel like anyone who has had a problem to solve or may have one to solve in the future could use Creative Acts for Curious People. It’s not just about brainstorming new ideas, but looking at things through different lenses, team building, and working to develop empathy. Altogether, there are 81 Creative Acts in this book, and many could be used with any age group.

I took this book on a trip, and devoured it quickly. My one regret was that I forgot to bring a highlighter, so I’m now re-reading the book and highlighting suggestions that give me ideas. In other words, I am basically coloring every page. I was going to wait until I finished this task to write this review but I got so pumped while I was doing it that I stopped to type this post instead.

I am going to restrain myself from gushing about each and every activity, and just give you a couple of samples. A simple one that you could easily use with students in elementary and up is “Expert Eyes”, where you assign them a place to walk around and make observations on their own by drawing them. Then you have them walk with someone else (for school this could be a buddy from another grade level, parent, teacher, volunteer, etc…) and do the same walk and draw what the companion describes out loud. Depending on the age, do this one or two more times with different people. Then compare the drawings from each time and discuss the new insights you might have gained from looking at the same area through someone else’s eyes. Simple but powerful.

Another example I got really excited about is “The Monsoon Challenge” which would probably be better for older students. The assignment was given in a course called, Design for Extreme Affordability, and the students had to design something to collect as much “rain” as possible. The rain was a sprinkler on a ladder. With less than a week and $20 for each team, the students needed to ideate, build and (hopefully) test prototypes that could be adjusted and ready for the class day of the demonstration. I won’t give away one of the truly genius solutions one group designed, but it’s worth reading the book to find out!

If you know a teacher or leader of problem-solvers who is innovative and loves to guide others through the design process, this book would be the perfect gift for them. I know I will be incorporating a lot of the ideas in my workshops and would have enjoyed using them with my students when I was in the classroom. You can get Creative Acts for Curious People where I purchased it, Nowhere Bookshop, or your favorite independent bookstore. I’ll also be adding this recommendation to my collection of “Books for Maker Ed/Design Thinking.”

photo of young girls looking through microscope
Art, Math, Science

Microbe Art

I have long been fascinated with the intersection of math, nature, and art. From Fibonacci to fractals, I find it intriguing to recognize patterns and similarities in natural objects and animals that also appear in those created by humans, and that we can imagine wildly creative innovations from very logical, patterned, or symmetrical visions. When I came across this video of the “Art of the Microcosmos” by Emily Graslie, I had a feeling that it would lead me down a rabbit hole of Fibonaccian proportions, and I was correct. Her interview with James Weiss made me wish I had him as a Biology teacher in high school, or that I had even once gotten the chance to observe the incredible microscopic animals shown in the video. Of course, I’ve known about the tardigrade (also known affectionately as “water bear”) for a few years, so I definitely have no problem imagining it or any other of the strangely beautiful creatures in this video as artistic inspiration.

Following Emily’s film, I had to look up Klaus Kemp, who creates diatomic art, and then I made the mistake of Googling “art made with microbes” and found an entirely different branch of scientific art grown in petri dishes.

After a couple of hours of being transfixed by so many things I had never seen or even known about before watching Graslie’s video, I finally had the wherewithal to drag myself away and try to do something somewhat productive (though not even minutely creative). I started a new Wakelet of “Math, Art, and Nature,” and I even used Wakelet’s new layout option of columns to attempt to organize it a bit. (You may need to scroll horizontally to see all of the columns, and scroll vertically within a column to see all of the links.) This is, of course, separate from my “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep,” collection, but I went ahead and added a link to it in that one, too.

Just a reminder that, even though fancy microscopes might be nice, you can always get your students started with observations of that microscopic world with an inexpensive Foldscope. You might be surprised at the incredible images you can view with this simple tool.

microscopic shot of a virus
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com