Below, you’ll find Web resources that can enhance teaching in each subject area and grade level. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it includes what I would consider the best of the best. Except where noted, I’ve personally seen these sites and software used effectively in a classroom setting. If you’d like to add any to the list, please feel free to leave a comment.
NASA’s Climate Kids site provides resources for tackling the immense issue of global climate change. It includes games, cartoons, and lessons designed to help students understand the causes and effects of global climate change. I haven’t used the site within a classroom, but I wish it had been in existence two years ago, when I had to create my own resources for teaching 4th graders about the subject. The cartoons are wonderful intros to whole-class lessons, and the games help kids understand the idea on a deeper level. There are also “Big Questions” links, which would be perfect for students working on research papers about climate change. And a page of “Green Careers” could help middle school students decide on a future area of study.
Terracycle is a great way to teach kids about the importance of waste reduction, while simultaneously making money for your classroom. A lot of schools collect aluminum cans and recycle them for profit. Terracycle takes that idea a little further — the company collects used juice boxes, chip bags, candy wrappers, and other un-recyclable trash. It then turns them into products like pencil cases and backpacks, which are sold. They’ll pay your school $0.02 for each piece of trash you donate.
Cost: FREE (you get paid!)
FossWeb is the Foss science curriculum’s Web presence. However, you don’t need to teach Foss units to access the wide range of games and lessons available on their site. The activities that accompany units like weather, magnetism, and chemistry provide good introductions to and reviews of basic science principles. I often used the activities whole-class on an interactive whiteboard, and I’ve seen other teachers assign students to work on them in small groups or one-on-one as a review.
Video Science’s name says it all. It’s videos of a science teacher demonstrating various low-cost experiments, with written and verbal descriptions of the related science concepts. The videos are good tutorials for teachers, but they can also be used to introduce or re-visit concepts with students. The site also offers related resources, like a reading list.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute is one of the leading ocean research institutes in the world, and almost all of its data is free and accessible through its Web site. Full disclosure here — I work for MBARI’s sister organization, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the data they have available really is perfect for high school marine biology and oceanography classes. Their databases include years of data (including photos of deep-sea animals) from one of the largest underwater canyons in the world. You can access the data on their Web site and export it to excel for analysis or to Google Earth to take a photo-enhanced tour of the deep sea.
Phun and Algodoo are drawing programs that allow students to design worlds of their own choosing and then, with the click of a button, see how the laws of physics affect that world. It’s a perfect tool for teaching about forces and simple machines. Draw a block in mid-air and, when you click play, it will fall. Draw a lopsided bowl filled with water and, when you click play, it will tip over (in fact, the water will flow downhill and often knock over any other objects sitting around). You can even add magnets, chains, and gears. Phun was the first version, while Algodoo is the new-and-improved edition.
Cost: Phun is FREE; Algodoo is $39 (though there is a FREE demo version)
Links: http://www.phunland.com and http://www.algodoo.com
Outside of the classroom, The Week In Rap is my new favorite Web site. Every Friday, it provides a 5-minute wrap-up of the week’s top news stories as a rap video. It’s sure to grab students’ attention better than Wolf Blitzer.
Buzztracker is history in motion. Since 2005, it’s shown a graphic representation of the day’s news. The site looks at all accredited news stories and pinpoints where they were filed. It then puts a small red dot on a world map in those cities of origin. The more news originating from a certain place, the larger the dot grows. Most days, you’ll see large dots in Washington, D.C., New York, and London. When you click on a dot, you can see all the headlines from that city on that date (with links). Take a look at the archives — start on August 28, 2005 and click tomorrow to scroll through the next week or so. How do the graphics change? Why do they change? What a great way to start a history conservation!
Dipity allows users to create interactive timelines. The timelines can be infinitely long and can include paragraphs of text, videos, links, and photos. Users can collaborate to create group timelines, or they can access timelines that others have already created.
Games for Change is a collection of video games that teach kids about global issues like human rights, poverty, the environment, public policy, news, and global conflict. Click on any category and you’ll see a list of games with descriptions and age suggestions. I haven’t tried this site within a classroom, but I’ve heard really great things about its ability to give students a sense of empathy for people very different from themselves, like refugees.
Grades: PreK-12 (depending on game)
The White House has had a public Web site for years, with valuable historical and governmental information ideal for student research. But the Obama administration has taken the site to a new level by embracing Web 2.0 technologies. The White House blog provides intriguing current events commentary, often accompanied by videos. More impressive to me, though, are the weekly podcast addresses from the President. These podcasts are usually fairly short and synopsize the government’s goings-on from the week, like a weekly State of the Union address. I hope these additions to the White House’s site remain for every administration from here on out because they provide valuable information in a format our students will want to access.
Lemonade Stand is an old stand-by when it comes to learning basic economics principles. And there are several versions available on the Web. Personally, I like the game on Class Brain because it includes advertising costs and uses vocabulary like “assets,” “expenses,” and “net profits.” But Primary Games and Cool Math 4 Kids also offer fun versions that work well for younger students. Teachers can create simple or complex worksheets to have students track their spending and profit over a time period. For a math connection, kids can then use the worksheets to graph their business success.
Spent is a game designed to help users walk a mile in a low-income American’s shoes. While it offers commentary on social justice, it also teaches some interesting lessons about budgeting and economic choices. A warning, though: it was created for Urban Ministries of Durham, a faith-based outreach organization, and they ask for a donation at the conclusion of the game.
Cyberchase is one of my favorite PBS cartoons because it teaches kids to think like mathematicians, gives real-world math applications, and is pretty entertaining. And PBS has done a remarkable job of creating high-level math games on the show’s Web site. There are dozens of games here, so it does require some adult sifting to find the perfect game for specific skills. However, PBS offers a teacher guide to games that includes alignment to national math standards at http://www.pbs.org/parents/cyberchase/lessons/games.html (the teacher page also has lesson plans that align with specific episodes of the show).
Data Visualizations help students understand data in a variety of ways not possible with hand-drawn or even Excel graphs. Plus, they’re really cool looking and fun to make. My two favorite data visualization creation websites are the Google Motion Chart and Many Eyes. With Google, students can create a variety of visualizations, but my favorite is the motion chart, which allows them to compare two sets of data and see how the relationship has changed over time. Many Eyes allows users to display data in about a dozen different ways, all of which are visually interesting.
Links: http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/ and http://www.gapminder.org/upload-data/motion-chart/
Illuminations, from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, has some of the best math activities on the Web. There are tons of free math games and activities out there, but way too many of them are drill-and-kill sites. Illuminations offers activities that push kids to higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and truly help them think like mathematicians. I’ve used the site for whole-class lessons on an interactive whiteboard, as well as for one-on-one help. The site also offers lesson plans and Web resources. And, of course, the activities are all aligned to national math standards.
Mathtrain.tv showcases teacher and student-made math screencasts that teachers can use to front-load lessons, as review, or as tutoring aids. Better still, mathtrain.tv provides model screencasts for teachers who want their students to begin screencasting using software like Jing (see my screencasting post).
English Language Arts
Free Rice is a simple vocabulary quiz game, but it’s also much more. First of all, for every correct answer a user logs, 10 grains of rice is donated to the U.N. World Food Program. Secondly, the game adjusts the difficulty of questions based on your responses — if you’re getting all the questions correct, it increases the difficulty until you start getting some wrong. So every student can feel successful while learning. A lot of high school teachers use Free Rice to prepare students for the SATs. My 4th graders loved competing to get the most grains of rice, and it provided a great transition into discussions about current events and service learning. In addition, they’d use their math skills to answer a number of questions — how many more grains did Zori have compared to Mikalia? If you have x grains of rice, how many correct answers have you had? Etc.
Little Bird Tales users can create a digital picture book. Students can use photos or create their own illustrations, add text and record themselves reading the story. Users can create tales for free on the website or with the $2.99 iPad app.
Starfall is arguably the best free reading Web site out there. Although it targets PreK-2nd graders, I’ve used it extensively with older special education students and non-English speakers to re-enforce basic letter-sound recognition as well as phonics patterns. Unlike more targeted software, students can choose which games and lessons to watch, so it does require some adult (or peer) supervision to keep kids on levels appropriate for their knowledge base.
On Storybird, anyone can choose from professional artwork and then write their own picture book to go along with the art. Once finished, users can publish their books for other Storybird users to read or they can purchase a hard copy of their book. Users can even invite other users to collaboratively write a story together.
Aviary is a tool I just found, through a suggestion on Classroom 2.0. I haven’t tried it out, but it’s gotten some pretty rave reviews. It’s a full, FREE imaging suite with functionality similar to Photoshop. Better still, it’s completely Web-based, so you don’t have to download any software to your computer. Test it out, and leave a comment below about how you like it.
With UJAM, users can quickly and easily compose their very own music. Just hum a few notes, play briefly on a recorder or any other instrument, and the website creates an entire arrangement around your tune. For years, I’ve had students use Apple’s Garageband software to create soundtracks to podcasts or videos. The software is great, but it takes a lot of time and requires quite a bit of musical understanding. UJAM is great for short projects, getting your ideas down, or beginners.
Technology/All of the Above
Dance Mat Typing is a free, fun, leveled game that teaches kids (and adults like me) to type. It’s produced by the BBC and is hosted by an amusing Ringo-esque goat. I had my fourth-graders use this tool for 30 minutes a week for a month before we started blogging and, man, was it worth it! Before I found this tool, classroom blogging was confined by my students’ extremely slow typing. After this, some kids were typing faster than they could write.
Edmodo allows teachers to create closed social networks, like a private Facebook for your class or school. With Edmodo, teachers can house several classes. They can also post assignments (which students can turn in through the site), polls, notices, and grades (students only have access to view their own grades). The site works just like Facebook, except everyone in your class is friends with everyone else. Students can post questions, have discussions, and share links. Better still, any link or document posted on the site is automatically saved to the class library, which students can organize into folders using a system that makes sense to them.
Jing is the perfect application for creating screencasts like those on mathtrain.tv, listed above. And it’s free! It allows you to record whatever is happening on your computer screen as well as your voice, so you can explain exactly what you’re doing. I’ve used it with interactive whiteboard software, like ACTIVstudio, to record students’ problem-solving strategies for e-portfolios and to help tutor other students. It’s also a good application for teaching kids how to use specific software or, if you use an interactive whiteboard, to record and archive your lessons for absent students (or even those who need a refresher).
Quest Atlantis is a virtual world, much like Second Life, designed by Indiana University researchers specifically to immerse children in educational tasks. This is one of the few resources on this page that I haven’t yet tried out, but I’ve heard good things from teachers who have used it. The program is FREE for teachers, but requires them to complete an online training course. Also, at least two teachers from a school must register in order to use the site. (As a side note, I’ve also heard good things about the Reaction Grid, a similar program that costs, at the lower end, $25 per month.)
Direct Link: http://questatlantis.org
More Info: http://crlt.indiana.edu/research/qa.html
Type With Me (formerly Etherpad) is a FREE tool that allows dozens of students to collaborate on a document in real time. If a wiki and an instant messenger had a baby, it would be Type With Me. Put each student on his/her own computer, and they can all co-write a document together. It’s definitely got potential for whole-class or small-group collaborative activities, especially since color-coding allows the teacher to see exactly who added what (no more group hitch-hikers).
VoiceThread allows you and your students to have group conversations around images, documents, and videos. Students can basically create podcasts around a single (or a series of) images, documents, or videos. During these recordings, they can annotate over the files to further express themselves. Voicethread allows dozens of people to record their own recordings over the same file, much like a conversation. So, for example, you might upload a picture of the Dust Bowl and each of your students could record a piece of a story about that picture, complete with annotations. Each student could add to the collective story, including historical facts. When anyone accessed this VoiceThread, they could click through each recording, one by one, to see what each student in your class has to say. Then they could add their own recording to the mix.
Cost: FREE option for educators (for extra perks, $1 per student per year)
Direct Link: http://voicethread.com/
More Info: http://voicethread.com/about/k12/