Can You Turn the Broken Solar Lights Back On?

Recently, a reader asked for ideas on teaching about solar-powered lights. She wrote:

I would like to find an activity that utilizes the solar panels from garden solar lights. I know that I could probably find many broken solar lights and was wondering if anyone has any ideas? Electricity and solar panels are not my best areas. Thanks, Denise, 8th-grade science teacher.

Solar power is becoming increasingly popular as more people realize its environmental advantages. It produces no climate-changing gases and it is relatively cheap. A careful look around and you are likely to spot devices running on solar power, such as a highway alert signs or your neighbor’s landscape lights.

A study of solar panels or photovoltaic (PV) cells aligns well with the National Science Education Standards, which indicate middle-level students should acquire abilities of and understanding about scientific inquiry and technological design. The Physical Science standards suggest students gain knowledge of properties and changes in matter and transfer of energy.

The science of PV cells is more abstract than most middle school students are ready for, since it operates on principles of atomic particles’ properties and distribution. But the issue can be explored from the core concept of transfer of energy. That is, solar energy enters the “black box” of the PV cell and is converted into electric energy. Teachers can also set up a variety of circuits and allow students to “discover” which are most effective and hypothesize why. Lessons can be extended to discussions of the feasibility of solar-powered homes and factories and the pros and cons of converting from coal to solar energy. Those discussions would connect to the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives standards.

The following resources will provide teachers with background knowledge regarding PV cells. When teachers feel comfortable with the science, they can consider modifying the last resource, a comprehensive high school lab activity, for middle school use.

But, one more thing, Denise — If you have broken solar garden lights, you will most likely need to order the replacement parts from the manufacturer to get them to operate as needed.

Solar Landscape Lighting

http://www.buzzle.com/articles/solar-

How Do Photovoltaics Work?

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/solarcells.htm

Spotlight on Photovoltaic Cells

http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/psu06-e21.sci.photovoltaics/

Investigating Earth Systems – Energy Investigation 6: Solar Energy

http://www.agiweb.org/education/ies/energy/invest6.html

Lesson and Lab Activity with Photovoltaic Cells

http://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/education/modules/documents/PhotovoltaicCells.pdf


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

Exploring Math Interactively – in Your Offline Classroom

Computer technology as an instructional tool for the teaching of mathematics offers unique “hands-on” environments in which abstract concepts can be explored. These environments enable active engagement by students, an experimental approach to math concepts, and an avenue to understanding abstract ideas not readily accessible through other mediums. Virtual manipulatives are the key. In animated scenarios learners see objects on the computer screen that they can move and change, and each change has a visual and immediate effect.

To experience the teaching/learning power of such an environment, you may enjoy exploring Algebra Balance Scales—Negatives from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM). It’s a good example of the mathematical scenarios available online.

So what about the offline classroom? My assumption here is that you have Internet access on one computer, hopefully your own laptop, or even a school computer. You need to go online to find the manipulatives, but at a few sites you can either purchase a CD containing all the applets or download them to your computer after purchasing a license.

Once you have the CD or downloaded material, you will need a way to project onscreen in your classroom. If your school has a computer projector, you’re in! Otherwise, you may use a television set or a Smart Board. A special cable (inexpensive and available for purchase) connects the computer to the TV. Once connected, your class can work together to explore mathematical concepts visually, hands-on!

The sites below contain virtual manipulatives for the middle school and beyond, not all equally appropriate for your classroom but all worth exploring. For each site I refer you to an example and also to the purchasing guidelines.

Principles and Standards for School Mathematics E-Standards CD
The CD contains the full text of the document plus interactive tools and a version of the Illuminations site with its hundreds of lessons and applets. It comes free with your purchase of the NCTM Principles and Standards (purchasing information). My favorite example, for its insights into graphing and slope: Distance, Speed, Time

Shodor’s Interactivate
The entire Interactivate collection, including 155 activities, is available on a CD for a moderate donation [tax deductible] to the Shodor Student Program. Examples include Surface Area and Volume and the Maze Game.

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives
NLVM offers a collection of K-12 activities for download to your computer or as a CD. This allows you to work interactively without Internet connection. As an example, explore Factor Trees and select “two” trees.

Middle School Geometry
This site from Japan includes challenging problems on parallel lines, circles, congruent and similar figures, and the Pythagorean theorem, a good example.  Information on downloading the material is available, but there is currently no CD for purchase.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Integrating Technology: Social Networking

This article was originally published in the January 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.

The Middle School Portal Math & Science Pathways project has has its own online social network – check it out!

When you hear the words “social network” what comes to mind? We all have social networks – our friends, family, work colleagues – but what about your online social networks? Do you network professionally with colleagues through LinkedIn? Do you keep track of high school buddies on Reunion.com? Facebook and MySpace are two of the most famous (or infamous) social networking sites. CNET News reported in June of 2008 that Facebook had 50.6 billion page views and MySpace had 45.4 billion. Wikipedia has compiled a catalog of social networking sites that contains over a hundred listings. These sites are being used regularly by millions of people and are transforming the way people communicate and share information with friends and colleagues.

According to Steve Hargadon, an online social network is the aggregation of web tools for building community and content. Members of online social networks share interests and activities and are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Social networks provide ways for users to interact and form groups around topics of interest such as literature (Shelfari) or photo sharing (Flickr). For instance, Beyond Penguins has its own Shelfari group where users can add, review, and discuss their favorite children’s books. With Flickr, users upload their photos and provide descriptions. Users with similar interests in photography are able to form groups and communicate with each other.

ESTABLISHED EDUCATION SOCIAL NETWORKS
Many educators are using MySpace, Flickr, and other popular social networking interfaces to support educational endeavors; however, some social network interfaces have been built with education in mind. Tapped In, ePals, and Curriki are online social networks built for educators.

Tapped In is a web-based learning environment created in 1997 by SRI International to transform teacher professional development. Through Tapped In, educators can extend their professional growth beyond courses or workshops. It provides the online tools, resources, colleagues, and support educators need to implement effective, classroom-centered learning activities. Tapped In allows for the creation of virtual communities of practice around a wide variety of topics. The environment is built on the metaphor of a college campus with buildings, floors, conference rooms, special interest groups (over 700!), and offices. Beyond Penguins has a room and “holds” monthly events where participants meet and discuss the latest issue of the magazine.

Using the ePals social network, half a million educators and millions of learners across 200 countries and territories safely connect, collaborate, and build community, using school-safe email and blog tools. Teachers can set different levels of monitoring, even for individual students, make pages public, or limit blog views to particular audiences, including workgroups within a class. Students can upload files or photos, create polls, and use a calendar. The technology received an award for excellence from Teaching & Learning Magazine in 2006.

Curriki is a community of educators who support the development and free distribution of world-class educational materials to anyone who needs them. There are 40,000 registered members, and more than 14,000 learning assets in the repository. Founded by Sun Microsystems in 2004, the organization has operated as an independent nonprofit since 2006.

BUILD YOUR OWN SOCIAL NETWORK
Ning (which means “peace” in Chinese) currently provides a free, easy-to-use platform for setting up a fully functional and visually appealing social network from scratch. There are 11 products that come “standard” when building a Ning network – everything from custom video players to event listings. Premium services are also available.

A couple of NING groups that I recommend are Ning in Education and Classroom 2.0. Both of these social networks are all about using social networks and other collaborative digital tools in education. When you are ready to participate at a higher level –

Reply to someone else’s Forum or Blog post.
Start a discussion using the Forum.
Give your opinion by creating a Blog post.
Keep track of all new Forum discussions or Blog posts and comments by using the RSS feeds.

What about using a social network with your students? Ning allows for private networks. What kinds of groups do you think your students might start? Ning has a program where they will remove the ads for free for sites that will be used by students under 18 – the normal charge for this premium service is $24.95 a month.

Whether for personal, professional, or classroom use, social networking sites have the potential to enrich existing relationships and foster new ones. How can social networking transform your life?


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Integrating Technology: Interactive Whiteboards

This article was written by middle school science teacher Todd Williamson and originally published in the December 2008 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.

Over the past several years, many schools have purchased interactive whiteboards (IWBs). This technology can have a great impact on teaching and learning in math and science classes. IWBs can become a portal that allows all of the students in a class to be immersed in technology even if there is limited computer availability in the room. Interactive whiteboards are produced by several companies: Smart Technologies, Promethean, Polyvision, and Interwrite Learning tend to be the most common.

HOW DOES AN IWB WORK?
The basic IWB is a large, touch-sensitive screen that is attached to a computer, through either a USB cable or a wireless connection, and an LCD projector. The projector displays images from the computer’s desktop to the whiteboard. Any touch on the IWB sends a signal to the computer, allowing you to control your computer from the IWB.

A selection of colored “pens” makes it possible to write notes on the surface of the board. It is also possible to save anything written or drawn on the board to the computer. For example, rather than drawing an image several times for different class sessions throughout the day, or through a weeklong unit, you can save the drawing to the computer and bring it back to the board whenever needed. Most IWBs also work with Microsoft’s Office suite to allow you to insert your drawings into PowerPoint presentations or Word documents.

Using A SmartBoard with Microsoft PowerPoint
This link takes you to a video clip showing this process using Smart Technologies’s SmartBoard.

Using Smart Notebook 10 Software
The software packages that come with IWBs from different makers will vary, but, in general, each company gives you access to a number of features, lesson plans, and images. This short video shows some of the features of Smart Notebook software. Similar features are available through Promethean’s Activstudio.

LESSON IDEAS
Smart and Promethean offer lesson plan-sharing web sites for ideas on using their IWBs in the classroom. In addition to these lesson plans, there are hundreds of ways to use IWBs with teaching resources you already use for your everyday classroom needs.

Internet Browsing/Online Activities for Class Demonstrations
Google’s free program called Google Earth shows satellite imagery of the entire world. With an IWB your class can view the local community around your school, virtually visit regions in different climate zones, and see cloud cover/weather patterns across the planet.

Many web sites offer Flash- or Java-based games that are educational in nature. When you don’t want to take the entire class to the computer lab for a game, you may find that the IWB works perfectly. Additionally, the touch screen of the IWB makes computer activities even more “hands-on.” Examples of these types of activities are available at EdHeads, Nobel Prize, and Electricity.

Document Editing
A difficult task for many teachers is teaching the editing process. This is not just a language arts issue; it is also important that students can edit and revise research in other classes and lab write-ups in science classes. Student writing samples can be displayed on the IWB, marked up using “digital ink,” saved, and digitally transferred back to the student. This helps teach the writing process, as well as making writing a more collaborative process for students.

HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM YOUR IWB
Due to the cost of IWBs, many schools are able to purchase only a single board for their building. Since IWBs are a piece of instructional technology, the lone board often winds up in the computer lab. To get the most from an IWB, it should be housed in a regular classroom. Most IWBs can be either mounted to the wall or on legs that allow it to be moved from classroom to classroom. With only one IWB in the building, the moveable option is optimal.

The best staff development on IWBs comes from using them daily in the classroom. Teachers quickly become proficient at the basic functions of the IWB with minimal training. However, the broad range of functions available on IWBs makes using only the most basic functions a waste of the power of the board. If several teachers in the building are interested in learning to use the IWB, the school should consider rotating it through classrooms on a weekly basis. This gives teachers the opportunity to try multiple lessons and advanced techniques with the board.

USEFUL LINKS
Smart Technologies
[From the makers of Smart Boards] From this site you can view Smart’s array of products and access the Smart Learning Marketplace, where there are lots of lessons available in Smart Notebook files.

Promethean
[From the makers of Activboards] Here you can view Promethean’s products and visit Promethean Planet for lesson ideas.

PDtoGo SmartBoard Podcast
Weekly podcast of links and activities for Smart Boards, but could be used for any IWB.

Smart Board Revolution
This is a social network created by users of Smart Board interactive whiteboards. It offers networking with over 400 educators, videos, blog posts, a forum, and file uploads related to using Smart Boards in the classroom.

Google Earth
Google Earth lets you view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3-D buildings, and galaxies. There are many ways to use Google Earth in conjunction with an IWB as part of science or social studies units.

EdHeads
Edheads features educational games and activities designed to meet state and national standards. Current topics include simple machines, weather, forces and motion, and virtual surgery.

Nobel Prize
Educational games based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements.

Electrocity Simulation
Electrocity is a turn-based simulation that explores energy resources and economic factors in developing a thriving city. Players take on the role of mayor and make economic and energy decisions for their city. At the end of 150 turns they are graded on their performance. This is a great way to introduce games with the Smart Board.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

Teacher Tools That Integrate Technology: Educational Blogging (Middle School Version)

This article first appeared in Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears online magazine August 1, 2008. The article has been modified to include middle school math and science examples. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Over the last few years, blogs have evolved into an exciting web-based publishing tool for individuals who want to communicate opinions and ideas, participate in online communities, or share their knowledge and experiences. As of February 2008, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs, which is probably just scratching the surface. Thanks to free blogging software, anyone can “blog” and obviously does!

What is a Blog?

A blog (combining the words web and log) is a web page on which the owner can publish, or log, many entries. The entries are displayed as they are added and can look like journal or diary entries. Authoring a blog, maintaining a blog or adding an article to an existing blog is called “blogging.” Individual articles on a blog are called “blog posts,” “posts” or “entries.” A person who posts these entries is called a “blogger.” Posts consist of text, hypertext, images, and links to other web pages and to video, audio and other files. The most popular blogs (the ones that have the most viewers and links from other web pages) cover politics, gadgets, and entertainment.

Why Do Teachers Blog?

Unfortunately, not many of the most popular blogs are educational, but blogs do have many uses in education, including knowledge-sharing among teachers, students, and parents. Teachers will often start a blog to communicate with students and parents. This can be just the posting of homework or other assignments in one easy-to-find location. Other times a blog can be a rich description of the things taking place in the classroom, drawing the parents into what their children are working on or helping a student who is absent.

Teachers can take advantage of the comment feature of blogs, allowing students and parents to ask questions or for clarification of a post. Teachers can also use a blog to post questions about current subject matter as a way to introduce students to responding in writing and contributing collaboratively in online discussions. For instance, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions about a book the class is reading and ask students to respond through the comments feature with their ideas. Teachers can blog for other teachers, in their school or around the world, about teaching experiences, philosophies, and methodologies.

Getting Your Students Blogging

Not all students will take to blogging (just as not all students enjoy writing), but with some students blogging creates enthusiasm for writing and communicating their ideas. Blogging can give students experience in real-world digital knowledge management, working with groups, and information sharing.

Consider providing older students with an individual blog. Younger students could take turns posting to a class blog. Whether done through software programs that allow teacher control and filtering of posts and comments, or through publicly available Internet services with oversight, blogs give students an opportunity to discover the work and joy of communicating their ideas in written form, and then getting feedback from others. Blogs don’t have to be accessible to the public; feedback can be confined to classmates or other approved individuals. With older students, the feedback can come from the wider audience of the World Wide Web. Student blogging has to be overseen with coaching and training to make sure that personal information is not shared and that blog posts are appropriate.

Home Delivery

Instead of going to a blog site every day to see if new posts have been added, readers can subscribe to services, commonly called news feeds or web feeds, that deliver the latest content to their desktop, PDA, or cell phone. RSS is a subset of the XML programming language that supports the distribution of content over the World Wide Web. Feedburner is a subscription service that delivers the actual content of the post to your email inbox. Not all blogs support these services but most do.

Getting Started

Starting a blog is easier than you think. Here are five steps** to consider when starting out.

1. Choose a Free Blog Service

First, check with your school’s technology center, which might provide a blogging service or have specific recommendations. The following free services have typical RSS features and much more.

ePals offers a free blog tool, called Schoolblog, to schools worldwide. Teachers can set different levels of monitoring, even for individual students. Teachers and students can make pages public, or limit blog views to particular audiences, including workgroups within a class. Students can upload files or photos, create polls, and use a calendar. The technology received an award for excellence from Teaching & Learning Magazine in 2006. With free student email from ePals, teachers can connect students to classrooms in 200 other countries and territories.

Edublogs is built on WordPress technology, which means bloggers can also create static pages, manage comments, password protect individual posts, and create multitiered and complex web sites without ever needing to know html. The system is ready-made for podcasting, videos, and photos. There are excellent video tutorials. By the way, this blog is based on WordPress.

Blogger is the easiest of the three to use, but it is designed for the general public, not just for K-12 educators. There is always the possibility for students to go to web sites they shouldn’t visit, so we do not recommend using this service for student blogs. Blogger allows simple customizations and interacts with Google mail accounts. You can hide the top navigation bar so unsuitable content is harder to find. You can also set up comment moderation so that comments come to your email before they are published.

Edublogs and Blogger allow you to choose RSS feeds as you set up your blog. To add the free Feedburner subscription service go to the home page and click on Blogs and Get Started. Feedburner supports Blogger and WordPress blogs – Edublog has a WordPress backend so click on WordPress if you are using Edublog.

2. Pick Your Audience

Is your blog directed to students, parents, other educators, or your family? Stay true to your audience.

3. Stay Focused

Precise, coherent, newsy, and insightful blogs on a specific topic attract readers. If you are focused on a single topic, search engines are more successful in helping direct users from around the world to your blog.

4. Include a Variety of Media

Mixing your text with images, multimedia, and presentations in your posts can be very compelling. There are many places to find images that can be published without special permission or fees. Be sure to follow the rights information found with the image you want to use. One caveat – make sure to follow your school’s policy on using student pictures or work on public web sites.

YouTube and TeacherTube are two sources of videos you can share with your audience. Slideshare allows you to upload your own PowerPoint presentations and link to hundreds of PowerPoint presentations.

Image Databases:

Creative Commons allows you to search multiple collections. A Creative Commons license means that images are available for re-use, provided that certain conditions are met.

Flickr is a site that allows users worldwide to upload and share pictures. To find images that are free for use, use the “advanced search” option and search for images licensed under a Creative Commons license.

National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery includes images, audio, and video from NSF-funded research. Permission to use images and clips can be requested by contacting the webmaster.

All digital images on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site are in the public domain and available for use.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog is a diverse, searchable collection. You can also search particular collections of interest.

5. Post Often With Meaningful Content

Keep on readers’ radars. Don’t blog about anything you don’t want your daughter, your principal, or school superintendent to know. Set a good example for your students.

One thing to keep in mind before you decide to start blogging: some personal information makes the blog more credible but address and phone number aren’t required. Once you are a pro at blogging, you might want to check out widgetbox, where you can choose from a gallery of photos, games, animations, functions and more to enhance your blog. Happy Blogging!

**The five steps were modified from the print article “Blog design and writing tips for newbies,” written by Nora Carr. The article appeared in the May 2008 edition of eSchool News.

Resources

Need examples or more information? Here are some blogs and posts to get you started!

Background Information Posts

Rationale for Educational Blogging

Blogging for Teachers and Students, Made Easy

Using Blogs in Science Education

Education Blogs

ScienceGeekGirl: Bad Science

Blogs for Learning

MiddleWeb: Middle School Blogs

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) SciLinks: Middle School Blog

Links to School Bloggers

Thoughtful Blog Posts

Learning to Blog: The Elementary Way

Middle School, Day By Day From a Teacher’s Point of View

Almost Monday: Wildwood’s Weekly Staff News


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.