The World Wide Web as Interactive Learning Tool

[Editor’s note: The staff writer forgot that last post he promised to write this week about why subscription databases like Big Chalk E-Library are better for academic research than the general Internet … that post is still coming]

               I love checking out the on-line resources that teachers use when they come into the LMC, so that I can share them with the rest of the school. Most times, teachers talk with me about those websites, but sometimes we either forget to share or are too busy during the period to have a discussion. Even when we don’t talk, however, I do take notice of the kinds of interactive sites that teachers are incorporating into their lesson plans. Here is a small collection of some good sites I’ve seen teachers using, and others I’ve found myself.

              Interactive Writing Resources: I believe Ms. Sullivan first introduced me to the Read Write Think.Org site. I saw her students using Essay Organizer recently in the LMC and it reminded me that there are other tools at this site to help students organize their writing and research assignments. This site is dependable as it is hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

               Interactive Math Resources: I don’t recall which math teacher recommended I visit The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics website (sorry), but it is a great site with a number of on-line activities and lesson plans for grades k-12. The NCTM’s Illuminations site is not only for math teachers as some of the calculators and graphing tools lend themselves to lessons in other subjects, such as science, social studies and art.

               Interactive Geography Resources: I’ve always loved maps, but like most Americans I’m not a geography whiz. I know much of the obvious information; the continents and oceans, important mountain ranges, rivers and deserts. I can name the fifty states of my country, but not their capitols (any longer). I can identify all the countries south of my homeland, but don’t really know all the provinces (territories?) that make up Canada. It’s a good thing there are some great places online to brush up on these skills. Here are three worth checking out.

  • United States History Maps: These offerings from Annenberg Media are full of challenging and interesting maps that chronicle the history of the United States. Some maps focus on the natural landmarks of the country, while others are about Native American tribes and the history of settlement and expansion.
  • Games at Sporcle: I’ve mentioned this little site before, and while there are many games/ quizzes that are rather silly (Kate Winslet Oscar Nominations? The Lost Quiz?) a few allow you to brush up on the names of the U.S. States, Countries of Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, and the U.S. Presidents  (Warren G. Harding and Rutherford B. Hayes, why do I always forget one or the other?)

               Interactive Biology Resources: I’ve seen biology classes on various sites learning about DNA, chromosomes, and heredity. Not too long ago, Ms. Willwerth’s classes used PBS’ DNA Workshop to explore replication and protein synthesis. One of my favorite finds is the Dolan DNA Learning Center website. According to the website’s information, part of their mission, “is to prepare students and families to thrive in the gene age.” Its many interactive offerings range in difficulty, and the resources I sampled were well designed for a novice scientist such as myself.

               Interactive Chemistry Resources: I know that many textbooks nowadays come with discs and access to on-line activities that supplement the book. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to explore any of these electronic resources, yet. Instead I offer three activities that I found interesting. Please remember that I am a chemistry tyro.

  • Match the element to its symbol. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Sure many elements reveal their hand with their unimaginitive abbreviations, but there are some tricky ones (I’m looking at you Potassium (K) and there are A LOT of elements.
  • It’s Elemental is a “game” that challenges you to pick the correct coefficient to balance chemical equations. You can choose up to fifteen equations to challenge yourself and the difficulty ranges from beginner to advanced. (I didn’t explore beyond beginner because I got three right in a row and wanted to feel like a winner.)
  • Interactive Periodic Table. I know that there are many of these out there, and I have seen and used quite a few. I found this one from the American Chemical Society (ACS) easy to use and recommend that you explore its features. I’m pretty sure it’s very good because it comes from the ACS and there was a lot of information I didn’t really understand.

               Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something worth using in your classroom if you’re a teacher . If you’re a curious student, I hope you explore the many links for yourself. Have a safe and great Super Bowl Sunday and I’ll see you all tomorrow.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

Speaking of science …

Welcome back and Happy 2010 … so,

               I was only thirteen years old when I first heard of Carl Sagan. He was an astronomy professor at Cornell University at the same time that my uncle was an undergraduate there, and that was enough to interest me in what he had to say. Sagan had a program called Cosmos on PBS in 1980, and while my friends were still talking about Star Wars, I was more interested in finding out how (and if) we would ever get out into the stars. I don’t remember all the particulars of the series, just that it was the first time that I began to doubt that we would ever get out of our puny little solar system. It was also the first time that I really considered, in mathematical terms, how vast the universe is, and how very small we all are.

               But that realization didn’t dishearten me. Instead, Sagan’s presentation about the universe and all its wonders was very uplifting and awe inspiring. This was before we had pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope or rovers on Mars mind you, and still Sagan’s knowledge and enthusiasm for cosmology instilled in me this deep seated and lifelong love for science. Since then, I have read many of Sagan’s books and also found that my deepest, most profound questions have answers that are rooted in what science has discovered.

               This, however, didn’t stop me from becoming an English teacher, since what I loved was reading, and not doing science necessarily. But as an English teacher, I realized that I couldn’t share with my students much of the great science writing that I was enjoying. I couldn’t replace Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet with Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene or substitute an essay from Stephen Gould’s The Panda’s Thumb for Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery”. I found myself struggling for reasons to bring in essays and articles by Stephen Hawkings, Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin, Roger Penrose, Daniel Dennett, and even the Amazing Randi.

               Needless to say, my new life as a librarian is very rewarding because I can share great writing and resources from areas other than “literature”. Now, with the ubiquity of audio and video, I can also recommend sites where people can stop in and listen to a lecture or discussion between some of the great minds of our time. Below you will find a few lectures, discussions and “debates” that I’ve been listening to recently. They are science related for the most part, and might not appeal to everyone, but I find it an amazing privilege to be able sit at my computer and be a fly on the wall while great minds discuss deep thoughts. (All videos come from YouTube, so you won’t be able to view them at school – thank you, filters.)

  • Carl Sagan – Intro to Cosmos: The great five minute introduction to the classic series that started me along the scientific journey. Though it may seem dated, it is not without its redeeming values, and remains a testament to Sagan’s ability to bring science to the masses. (Might be gone soon, since the poster doesn’t have copyrights to the vid)
  • Carl Sagan – God, the Universe, & Everything Else: A short video including Stephen Hawkings, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. If you’re not thrilled at the idea of seeing these three together, then you can forget about the other videos on this list … Go play Mafia Wars or find a lost black sheep at Farmville.
  • VS Ramachandran – The neurons that shaped civilization: From one of my favorite sites, TED Talks, this talk is less than eight minutes long, but is a fascinating discussion of recently discovered “mirror” neurons. These neurons, incidentally, have also been implicated in recent studies of Autism Spectrum Disorders including Asperger’s Syndrome.
  • Carl Sagan – The Pale Blue Dot: I’ve recommended this video before, and I have no reservations in repeating the recommendation. Sagan’s words are pure poetry, and when combined with haunting music and amazing images, his narrative becomes an eloquent plea for why we should care for each other and the Earth.
  • Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg: A great discussion between two giants in science; one a evolutionary biologist, the other a physicist. Don’t feel bad if you get lost during their conversation, just appreciate that you can sit in and listen. 
  • Andrea Ghez: The hunt for a supermassive black hole: According to TED Talks, this discussion deals “[w]ith new data from the Keck telescopes, Andrea Ghez shows how state-of-the-art adaptive optics are helping astronomers understand our universe’s most mysterious objects: black holes. She shares evidence that a supermassive black hole may be lurking at the center of the Milky Way. 
  • Lawrence Krauss discussion with Richard Dawkins: Two of the most vocal and eloquent proponents of Darwinism and evolution sit down and talk with amazing candor about the triumph of science over superstition and dark age mythologies. Enjoy.
  • Dr. Donald Prothero discusses Evolution: How We Know it Happened & Why it Matters: Another lecture in a long line of presentations available through YouTube that refute young Earth creationists and trumpet the importance of Darwin and his discoveries.
  • Richard Dawkins’ series, Waking Up in the Universe: Five talks presented as the Christmas Lectures in 1991, from Oxford University’s eminent professor. I wish I had these available to me when I was just a student in high school. Be sure to follow the links to see all five lectures.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something interesting.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

Site recommendations from Teachers

I cannot believe how quickly two weeks passes in the summer, and it’s starting to get really hot just when it is almost over. Go figure. So I was planning on writing about technology for this post since I had written about books the last three times. While working on gathering resources to pass along, I had the good fortune of getting an e-mail from one of our fabulous science teachers, Ms. Willwerth. She found an interesting site called VoiceThread. According to Ms. Willwerth, “you can take a tour and check it out … In case you haven’t seen it before, this is how it works:

  1. Someone, in our case a teacher, would post a picture or video of something online, and give a little brief about it. It could be a description of what it is, or it could be a discussion starter.

  2. The students could then go online and see this picture or video and make their own comments about it. What’s nice is that it’s not real time, so students who need a little more time to think about and process their response can do that and make a thoughtful contribution.

  3. The teacher can go back on and listen to all the comments of the students. I’m thinking that perhaps I could play the responses back during class and then we could have a true discussion on it, but at least at that point everyone has had the chance to contribute.”

Take the time to check it out and see if it is something we should invest in. Ms. Willwerth is not the only one who shares her resources with me. At the end of the school year, one of our wonderful math teachers, Ms. Giampa, was nice enough to share a number of sites that she has used in her classes. These first three links she says she found “by googling ‘MCAS Test taking strategies”:

Ms. Giampa also uses these sites, as she explains in her notes:

  • MathBits.com – for Algebra 1 classes. Note, there are numerous sites such as this one that can be used in math classes. In addition to using them in the classroom, if I show the students the website and how it works, they are more likely to try it at home or in the library than if I just tell them about it.   

  • College Board SAT Question of the Day – for Senior Math / SAT prep. Again, I also like to show them around the College Board site and how they can use it. This goes for AP students as well.  

  • The Practice of Statistics – While this is specific to Statistics and our text book, it has some cool interactive applets and on line quizzes. 

  • FAQs about Trigonometry – for Trigonometry (although I usually have the students work this one themselves in the computer lab)

Thank you so very much to both Ms. Willwerth and Ms. Giampa for passing along these great online resources. Their contributions also mean that I will share with you what I found, the next time. Thank you for stopping by and I hope the summer has been splendiferous.

P.S. Any remarks about the “new” blog layout? Positive, negative, neutral? I kind of like the simplicity of the new look, though I haven’t yet seen what our filters at school will make it look like. Let me know what you think.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.