The computer can be a distraction and a frustration, but it can also be a teaching tool. Usually, you hear that you should be using technology in your teaching, but no one gives an example of a site that works for middle school curriculum. Here are a few online resources that actually show the potential of the Internet as a teaching strategy.

The MegaPenny Project

This site shows arrangements of large quantities of U.S. pennies. It begins with only 16 pennies, which measure one inch when stacked and one foot when laid in a row. The visuals build to a thousand pennies and in progressive steps to a million and even a quintillion pennies! All pages have tables at the bottom listing the value of the pennies on the page, size of the pile, weight, and area (if laid flat). The site can be used to launch lessons on large numbers, volume versus area, or multiplication by a factor of 10.

Cynthia Lanius’ Fractal Unit
In this unit developed for middle school students, the lessons begin with a discussion of why we study fractals and then provide step-by-step explanations of how to make fractals, first by hand and then using Java applets—an excellent strategy! But the unit goes further; it actually explains the properties of fractals in terms that make sense to students and teachers alike.

The Pythagorean Theorem
[This site is temporarily unavailable – we are going to leave this link in place and continue to check back in case it revives – 6/26/2010]
This site invites learners to discover for themselves “an important relationship between the three sides of a right triangle.” Five interactive, visual exercises require students to delve deeper into the mystery; each exercise is a hint that motivates and entices. The tutorial ends with information on Pythagoras and problems that rely on the theorem for their solutions.

Fraction Sorter
A visual support to understanding the magnitude of fractions!  Using this applet, the student represents two to four fractions by dividing and shading areas of squares or circles and then ordering the fractions from smallest to largest on a number line. The applet even checks if a fraction is correctly modeled and keeps score. From Project Interactivate Activities.

Algebra Balance Scales — Negatives
This virtual balance scale offers students an experimental way to learn about solving linear equations involving negative numbers. The applet presents an equation for the student to illustrate by balancing the scale using blue blocks for positives and red balloons for negatives. The student then solves the equation while a record of the steps taken, written in algebraic terms, is shown on the screen. The exercise reinforces the idea that what is done to one side of an equation must be done to the other side to maintain balance. From the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.

Geometric Solids
This tool allows learners to investigate various geometric solids and their properties. They can manipulate and color each shape to explore the number of faces, edges, and vertices, and to answer the following question: For any polyhedron, what is the relationship between the number of faces, vertices, and edges?  From Illuminations, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Vision for School Mathematics.

# Citizen Science, Real Data, and Web 2.0 Combine in Snowtweets Project

Real data and citizen science projects are wonderful ways to engage students, but they often are best conducted during the fall and spring. What’s a teacher to do in the colder months of winter?

The Snowtweets Project from the University of Waterloo has one answer. The Snowtweets Project provides a way for people interested in snow measurements to quickly broadcast their own snow depth measurements to the web. These data are then picked up by our database and mapped in near real time. The project uses the micro-blogging site Twitter as its data broadcasting scheme.

Participants can use a data visualization tool called Snowbird that allows them to explore the reported snow depths around the globe. The viewer shows where the reports are located and how much snow there is at each reported site.

How can you participate in Snowtweets?

2. Measure the snow depth where you live, work, or play.

3. Use your Twitter account to tweet the information to the project.

See more detailed instructions at http://snowcore.uwaterloo.ca/snowtweets/snowbird/.

# Dynamic Math and Science Learning With Simulations

Bob Panoff, executive director of Shodor and CSERD: Computational Science Education Reference Desk is passionate about using computational science teaching methods to stimulate student engagement in learning math and science from grades K to gray!

In a recent article for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) entitled “Simulations Deepen Scientific Learning,” he explains the role of simulations in making scientific theory understandable for students. Find out about all of Shodor’s computational projects at http://shodor.org/interactivate.

As an example of how one of the simulations work, click on the following link to see how a disease spreads in a virtual population with the Disease Epidemic Model simulation: http://www.shodor.org/featured/DiseaseModel/.

# Podcast Tools for Students and Teachers

This article was written by Stephanie Chasteen and originally published in the May 2009 Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License. Stephanie is a science teaching fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is one of the creators of the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears podcast series. Read her blog at http://expertvoices.nsdl.org/sciencegeekgirl.

Podcasts, audio recordings published on the Internet and played on computers and portable devices, are becoming popular among all types of audiences, including K-12 teachers and students. Classrooms are both consumers and producers of this technology. As consumers, you’ll find a growing amount of high-quality free educational content for you and your students in podcasts, right at your fingertips! We’ve identified some sources in the resources at the end of this article.

Now it’s easier than ever to make podcasts in the classroom, to become producers. You don’t need a media player, such as the Apple iPod, or specialized software to make or listen to a podcast – just your computer and an Internet connection will do. Though podcasts can be audio and video, audio podcasts will be featured in this article.

LISTENING TO PODCASTS
Podcasts are handy ways to get information – captured on your computer or media player, they are available to you when and where you want to listen. (I catch up on the latest science and education news every day while I bike to work.) And you don’t have to spend time checking the web sites of podcast creators for new episodes. By subscribing to an RSS feed at the web sites of your choice, you will receive new podcasts automatically.

You might listen to podcasts of personal interest, use them as an informal source of professional development, or have your students listen to them (as part of class research on a topic, for example). Of course, not all podcasts are appropriate for students. If you are using iTunes, you can use the Parental Control feature (in Preferences) to prevent students from previewing or downloading podcasts marked with the “explicit” label. But don’t assume that iTunes will do all the work for you! Be sure to listen to the entire podcast before assigning it or using it in class.

SUBSCRIBING TO PODCASTS
There are a number of free programs for automatically downloading podcasts to a computer. iTunes and Juice are two such programs.

In iTunes you can find and subscribe to podcasts in several ways:

1. Through the iTunesstore. Click on “podcasts” in the left column of the iTunes store, and then “podcast directory” on the lower right-hand corner. You can then “browse” or “power search” to find podcasts.
2. Drag the podcast’s RSS icon into iTunes. Most podcast pages display the RSS icon. You can drag that icon into the podcast window in iTunes and the program will subscribe you.
3. Type in the URL. In the “Advanced” tab in iTunes menu bar, choose “subscribe to podcast.” Put in the URL for the RSS feed for that particular podcast.
4. Click on a “subscribe” link on the podcast’s web site. Many podcasts will have a “subscribe via iTunes” link that will open up iTunes on your computer.

MAKE A CLASS PODCAST
Creating a podcast in the classroom can be a great way to incorporate writing across the curriculum. Narratives like personal stories, drama, history, and music all lend themselves well to audio presentations. Plus, students can be more motivated to create a podcast that could be heard across the world, rather than just within the classroom.

Classroom podcasts will take some time. Start small. Consider divisions of labor for student-created podcasts (writer, editor, voice actor). You will likely have to do the final production of the podcast and help with the equipment. Your students should use stage names and never give any personal information about themselves. Podcasts on web sites are publicly available.

You can find many examples of elementary class podcasts on the Education Podcast Network or on Podcast for Teachers. You can find information about using and creating podcasts in KidCast: Podcasting in the Classroom. The creator of the KidCast site, Dan Schmit, is the author of books on the subject as well. He gives an overview of classroom podcasting in this podcast: http://edcommunity.apple.com/ali/item.php?itemID=9973.

Briefly, here are the main steps in recording and broadcasting a podcast:

1. Record the audio using recording software such as Audacity (free!) or Apple Computer’s GarageBand for a Mac. Students can also record via telephone for free at Gcast.com and Gabcast.com.
2. Edit using the recording software (Audacity or Garageband) to cut out anything you don’t want.
3. Add music and sound effects, make volume fades, and so forth. Free sound effects and samples are available at FindSounds and Sounddogs.
4. Compress the audio to an MP3 file. This makes your audio file smaller
5. Upload your file to a class web site or other host sites such as Podomatic or Podbean.com. The host will make your web page automatically!

Some ideas for class-produced podcasts are:

1. Interviews: Students can talk to people who use science in their jobs.
2. History:”This day in science history.”
3. Podcast drama: A recorded version of a classroom skit.
4. Pet podcast: Give kids a chance to talk about biology and nutrition using observations of their pets
5. Outdoor observations: Use cell phones or a portable recorder to note observations during urban science walks.
6. Where in the World: Submit a podcast to this worldwide geography quiz show – http://www.intelligenic.com/where/.

In the resources below we’ve included links to web sites that will be helpful sources as you create classroom podcasts and to other sites that provide science news and information in podcast format.

KidCast
A community of educators who are podcasting in K-12 schools. Books and workshops are available.

Education Podcast Network
Directory of podcasts produced by educators.

Listening to Themselves: Podcasting Takes Lessons Beyond the Classroom
An article from Edutopia.org describes podcasting in a fifth-grade classroom.

Tips for Podcast Fans
Apple’s iTunes site gives helpful tips on creating and subscribing to podcasts.

Podcast for Teachers
Articles, blogs and podcasts about podcasting.

PodSafe Music Network and PodSafe Audio
Find music that is license-free and legal to put in a podcast in these two directories.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Podcasts
Each month Robert Payo and Stephanie Chasteen trek across the poles to find ways to help you teach science in your classroom. They tackle common misconceptions your students might have about science using stories, teaching activities, and the latest news related to the poles.

Teaching Tips
A podcast series by the author and produced by the Exploratorium Teacher Institute.

60-Second Science
Daily (Monday-Friday) one-minute episodes from the staff of Scientific American, who also produce the weekly Science Talk podcasts.

NOVA Science NOW
Brief audio stories from the NOVA series.

Krulwich on Science
Podcasts from a correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk series.

The Naked Scientists: Science Radio and Science Podcasts
Science podcasts from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Check out the kitchen science portion for ideas on classroom activities.

Slacker Astronomy

Science Update Podcasts
Daily and weekly podcasts from the Science Update radio program, produced by AAAS.

# Math Students Collaborating Nationwide, Even Worldwide!

There are middle school projects that gain impact through collaboration with students outside your own classroom, such as estimating the average amount of water used per person per day. This problem takes on deeper relevance when averages are compared to those of classrooms around the country and the world. Other projects, such as finding the circumference of the Earth, require data input by geographically distant schools.

To connect with and collaborate with classrooms interested in the same project, you can make use of online sites, even though you work in an offline classroom. You need Internet access to register for the project (free registration!), to find suggested teaching procedures, and to submit and retrieve data from other schools. But you can be offline while teaching the lessons, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting results.

The Internet-based projects below are excellent samples of what’s available online for the offline classroom. If you know of similar projects, please share via this blog!

In this project, students share information about water usage with other students from around the country and the world. Based on data collected by their household members and their classmates, students determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. Students must develop a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, and present their results.

If your school is located among rural roads, you and your students can collect roadkill data in your community for analysis and compare your data to other areas participating in the project. The site provides a detailed protocol for monitoring and reporting roadkill, a method of reporting data through the web, and access to data collected by all participants. The project crosses many disciplines, including environmental science education and data analysis.

The International Boiling Point Project

Students around the world boil water to discover what influences its boiling point. Is it room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or the heating device used? All you have to do is boil a bit of water, record a bit of information, and send it along to the site for inclusion in the database of results.

In the course of the project, students learn about Eratosthenes and his experiment, and then do a similar experiment themselves by collaborating with other schools. They learn the “why” of the measurements they’re taking, collect the data as precisely as possible, and submit their findings to the central site. By collaborating with a classroom in another state or even another country, they actually determine a good estimate of the Earth’s circumference. The site provides detailed instructions, activities, and reference materials.