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Monday, June 15, 2015

5 Good Online Educational Resources from the Smithsonian Museums

Earlier today I wrote a post in which I expressed disappointment with the Smithsonian Science Education Center's new video series. To balance that out, here are five resources from the Smithsonian that I do like and think that you will like too.

Shutterbugs Wiggle and Stomp is a new educational game produced by the Smithsonian. The purpose of the game is to help children recognize the movements of animals. In the game children move through a virtual zoo with a zoo keeper. As they go through the virtual zoo the zoo keeper will ask students to take pictures of animals who are demonstrating running, jumping, stomping, and other movements. Shutterbugs Wiggle and Stomp can be played online. The game is also available as a free iPad app and as a free Android app.

How Things Fly is a feature from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. How Things Fly contains an interactive module in which students design their own airplanes. The activity starts with a simple and slow airplane that students have to modify until it reaches a target speed and altitude. As students modify the wings, fuselage, and engines of their airplanes they are given instant feedback on the effects of those modifications. In some cases the feedback includes the airplane crashing and the students having to start over again.

Ask Smithsonian is a fun video series featured on the Smithsonian Magazine website. All of the videos in the series are less than two minutes long. Each video tackles a fun topic in science. Some of the videos address questions that are less serious topics than others. For example, on the first page of Ask Smithsonian there is currently a video about zombie rats alongside a video on the effects of Daylight Saving Time on the human body.

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has some neat resources for teachers and students. One of the resources that I like is the Masters of the Building Arts Activity Guide. The Masters of the Building Arts Activity Guide provides the history of six types of buildings and architectural features. At the conclusion of each section there is a hands-on activity for students to try in your classroom. For example at the end of the section on timber framing you will find directions for an activity in which students attempt to create a model building with straws or pipe cleaners. At the end of the section on stained glass students can try to create their own "stained glass" panels with tissue papers, ribbons, and glue.

Expedition Insects is a neat interactive book from the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The new book was written to helps students in third through fifth grade learn about insects from all over the world. The book is full of pictures and videos to complement the text. Throughout the book students can click or tap on underlined words to quickly access their definitions. Expedition Insects was created for the iBooks platform. It is interactive if you read it on a Mac or on an iPad. A non-interactive version of the book is available to read too.

Riddle Adds New Features for Building Image-based Quizzes

Last month I started using a new quiz and survey tool called Riddle. The surveys and quizzes that you create in Riddle can be image-based or simply text-based. The developer of Riddle has been responsive to input from teachers and other users. An example of that is found in the most recent update to Riddle. You can now add links to your Riddle quizzes and surveys. Those links could be to sources of information, to videos, or to an online audio recording like those you can find on SoundCloud.

In the video embedded below I provide a demonstration of how to use Riddle to create a quiz.


Applications for Education
Riddle's format of using images as response choices could make it a good option for giving informal quizzes on topics that require a lot of visuals. For example, a quiz on fractions might use pictures which represent various fractions. A quiz on art history might use Riddle to showcase works of art of answer choices.

Smithsonian Launches a New Animated Video Series, But I'm Not Sure Who It's For

Last week I received a notice from the Smithsonian Science Education Center about a new series of animated videos that they were planning to release today. The series, titled Good Thinking, is now live on YouTube.

Good Thinking is a set of animated videos featuring a teacher demonstrating and explaining teaching methods. The topics of the videos are Conceptual Change, Learning Styles, and Common Misconceptions About Natural Selection. I watched the videos an I cannot tell who Smithsonian is trying to reach with them. As an adult I didn't find the videos engaging or enlightening. I'm also having a hard time picturing students watching the videos and understanding them. I've embedded the videos below so that you can judge for yourself.


Here's the text of the press release I received about the series. Perhaps you can tell me who Smithsonian is trying to reach with these videos:
“Good Thinking! The Science of Teaching Science” -- a free, engaging and entertaining new web series designed to support science educators and addresses the need for accessible professional development tools that help teachers break down barriers to understanding scientific principles and increase their classroom skills.

A first-of-its-kind series, “Good Thinking!” comprises short, animated videos that explore pedagogical ideas across a range of subject-matter topics like energy, cells, and gravity as well as cognitive research findings on topics like student motivation or the myth of left- and right-brained people. “Good Thinking!” shines a light on the classroom and pedagogical challenges teachers face, and provides solid, science-based ideas that keep their teaching on track. The series enhances K-8 science education and deepens understanding of STEM topics, for teachers and students alike.

Identifying Birds - A Fun Summer Learning Activity

A couple of months ago when the birds started to return to my neighborhood I wrote a post containing resources for learning about birds. This morning through Lifehacker I learned about another neat app for learning about birds.

Merlin Bird ID is a free iPhone and Android app that helps you identify birds that you see in North America. To help you identify a bird you've see Merlin Bird ID asks you a few questions about the color of the bird, its size, where you saw it, and when you saw it. Merlin Bird ID will suggest which bird you saw based on your answers to the identification questions.The suggestion will come with pictures of the bird and some information about it. In some cases you will be able to listen to a recording of the bird's call.

Applications for Education
A fun summer learning activity could be built around using Merlin Bird ID. You could take students on nature walks to make observations about birds. Challenge them to try to identify as many different birds as possible.

Bird ID can be used without entering an email address. It can also be used without enabling location services. If you don't enable location services you will have to enter the zip code of where you made your bird observation.