Friday, September 20, 2013

Real-World Learning - It's Really NOT That Hard

I just read this article in Forbes by Emily Canal entitled "Zombies Infiltrate Classrooms to Bring STEM Back to Life" about how The National Academy of Science and Texas Instruments  have created a new program that provides STEM lessons through the lens of zombies, superheroes, space and forensics called STEM Behind Hollywood. Wow - I wish I were back in the classroom cause I would be all over this!  What a great way to get students really excited about learning. Kids are into movies, particularly with those focused on zombies, scifi and superheroes, and here's a way to connect that interest to learning about math, science and technology....win, win, win!

Similar to my post last week about real-world curriculum and technology connections, the message here is real-world learning is important and needed in classrooms. It's not that hard to find amazing resources out there that help make learning topics such as math and science engaging, exciting, relevant and WAY better than a boring old worksheet. Obviously, math tech nerd that I am, I tend to focus on amazing real-world math resources such as Mathalicious and YummyMath, to name just a couple.  These sites provide content that is of interest to students because it involves the world around them and therefore the learning takes place in context, making it more memorable, relevant and motivating to learn.

My point - if we can learn the same concepts in a more engaging way that helps students remember it and, more importantly, WANT to learn it - i.e. REAL-WORLD connections, why are so many not doing so? If your excuse is it's too much work to find real-world connections - guess what - it's really NOT!  Look around - there is a plethora of real-world resources out there that can help you spark interest.  Maybe it's as close as the TV or the movies.

(Speaking of TV, for those math teachers out there, if you have not watched the series Numb3rs, that's a great resource. The series is over now, but you can watch the whole 8 seasons on Netflix.  I admit...I am addicted.  I am on Season 4 and still not tired of the math and science involved. And I have actually made a real-world connection of my own as a result of the math on the series.  Reading a research paper yesterday on online professional development, they talked about using social networking theory to analyze teachers online status, and I actually knew exactly what that was because of an episode from Numb3rs!  Hence my obsession lately with real-world learning. I just checked and the activities and math/science alignments are still available for this series for those of you interested - found this nice blog post from Tom DeRosa called "We STILL Use Math Everyday" that provides how to find the lessons and the alignment.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Curriculum and Technology - Some Examples

I am back from a 2+ month of self-imposed social media hiatus. I will say it was a rather refreshing experience in that I was free from the personal pressure I put on myself to stay "present" on the web and not constantly feel a need to read, tweet, and write, something every day. But, on the other hand, I also feel a little out of the loop and that perhaps I lost a few followers because of this lack of presence. It was however a much needed break and gave me some perspective. It also allowed me to focus on the chaos in my life such as selling a house, buying a house, getting two kids off to college, driving across the country to my new home and next adventure. I am here, I am back and I am hopefully going to have some things to say.

In honor of the start of school for so many teachers and students, I thought I would share some interesting curriculum's from three companies I have either had the privilege to work with over the past few month or who I am just exploring myself. Each is using technology in a different way to get teachers and students access to hands-on, quality, real-world learning. I know there are many teachers, schools, and districts out there looking for relevant curriculum to support their students real understanding, so I wanted to share these in case they might spark some interest. I have provided the links to their websites where you can get a lot more information.

EEI Curriculum
If you are a California elementary, social studies or science teacher, you want to check out this Education and Environmental Initiative Curriculum. First of all, its FREE - you can download the whole curriculum via the web. Second of all, it's a complete K-12 multidisciplinary environmental curriculum that has hands-on learning, amazing maps and visuals, and helps students connect their own personal environment to what they are learning. While it is geared to the California Standards, if you are an educator from another state, you could take these amazing units and adapt them to your own standards or supplement what you are currently doing, as the visuals and real-world applications are beautiful and relevant. The content on water, energy, resource conservation, and climate change are relevant no matter what state you are from. The technology aspect here is that you can access the curriculum and resources via the web - check out the units here. Starting in October they are also going to start offering free webinars for educators to help support them in using the units. Look for the EEI Live! series to start soon.

Globaloria - from World Wide Workshop
 I was lucky enough to actual go through some of the teacher training for this curriculum.  Globaloria is a curriculum that can be used as a supplement to many content area courses or as a stand-alone curriculum (such as computer science, technology). Students learn coding in a gaming environment where they learn specific, real-world content, and use social media and web-based tools to learn, research and communicate. The end result is students create a video game to demonstrate their learning. It's amazing - engaging, multidisciplinary, and it fosters science, math, technology standards as well as helps students become collaborators and problem solvers. The links I have provided will give you a much better picture of what this curriculum does - be sure to watch the video.  I had three days of training and was able to code a very simple Hidden Object Game that taught some fraction skills - the possibilities with students are endless!

Conceptua Math
I am just starting to explore this amazing curriculum - naturally, being a math teacher and one who believes that learning math should be hands-on, visual, and engaging, I am always trying to find great math resources, especially math technology resources.  This is a complete online curriculum, currently just for grades 3-5, but expanding more every year to include K-8 curriculum.  They started with an amazing curriculum focused on fractions for grades 3-6 - definitely check that out! What I love about this curriculum is that it's all there - the hands-on, the visual, the real-world - digital learning that really is learning. Lessons, differentiation, personal learning, assessments and data-driven decision making that helps match teaching and learning. If you are looking for math curriculum that is going to support your technology initiatives or Common Core initiatives, I would definitely check it out.

Hopefully these three will provide some insight to some of you out there and resources for those of you looking for quality curriculum.  I will continue to post things I find in future writings.