Friday, January 27, 2017

5 Good Elementary School Activities from the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian offers wonderful online resources for students of all ages. The Smithsonian's Learning Lab lets teachers create collections of resources. But you don't have to use the Learning Lab to use many of the activities available through the various Smithsonian channels. Here are five good online activities available through the Smithsonian. These are activities for elementary school students.

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.

Shutterbugs Wiggle and Stomp is an 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.

The Smithsonian Science Education Center's Weather Lab is a simple online activity designed to help elementary and middle school students learn about weather patterns. In the Weather Lab students select an ocean current and an air mass then try to predict the weather pattern that will result from their choices. The Weather Lab provides an overview of the characteristics of each air mass and ocean current. Students should use that information in making their weather predictions.  After making their predictions the Weather Lab will tell students if they were correct or not. In the feedback given to students they will find links to videos for further learning about each weather pattern featured in the Weather Lab.

Habitats is a fun little game from the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The online game challenges elementary school to match animals to their habitats. The game shows students images representative of four habitats; desert, coral reef, jungle, and marsh. Students drag pictures of animals from a list to their corresponding habitats. Students receive instant feedback on each move they make in the game. Once an animal has been placed in the correct habitat students can click on it to learn more about it in the Encyclopedia of Life.

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.

Three Things to Brainstorm Before You Search

One of the things that I ask students to do before they begin any research activity is to take some time to brainstorm. They might groan about having to do this instead of immediately typing or speaking search phrases, but it is good habit for students to develop. Here are three things students should brainstorm about before searching.

1. Brainstorming a list of alternative search terms and phrases to use in a search engine. It is easy for students to fall into the trap of thinking about a topic in only the way that they describe it or how you've described it to them. Stopping to brainstorm a list of similar words and phrases can open students to new ways of describing the topic they're researching.

2. What are the best formats for sharing information about the topic you're researching? If the topic is related to geography or geology, you might find a lot of value in refining the search to return only KML and KMZ files. Refining in that way will bring students to items that typically don't rank highly in search engines, but none-the-less contain valuable information.

3. Who can you ask about this topic? Asking the school librarian might be the best thing that students can do to improve their search results. The school librarian has knowledge of the databases available to students. Many students will struggle with those databases without guidance from a librarian.

You might also have your students try to develop a list of people they know (parents, other teachers, friends of parents) who have expert knowledge on a topic. Those experts can help students think about a topic in a different way.

Strategies like this one and many others are covered in Search Strategies Students Need to Know

A Great Example of Using Google Maps in Science

At almost every conference that I attend I offer a session about Google Maps and Google Earth. Most of the people that come to those sessions are social studies teachers. That is because there is a natural connection between maps and topics in social studies. But there are plenty of other subject areas and topics in which Google Maps and Google Earth can be helpful. One example of this comes from my former colleague, John Haley.

John Haley created a blog and a corresponding Google Map called Maine Geology Hikes. On Maine Geology Hikes John writes about interesting hikes in Maine that lead you to neat geological formations. Each placemark on the map includes a description with a link back to a blog post about the hike. The blog posts are more than just stories about hiking. He shares lessons worthy of inclusion in books on the topic of Maine geology.

Applications for Education
John Haley's Maine Geology Hikes is a great example of using Google Maps in an subject area outside of social studies. The model that John provides could be modified for any state or region. Google's My Maps tool offers a couple of ways that your students can collaborate to create their own geology hikes maps.

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