I LOVE PODCASTS! My students do as well. It's amazing the ridiculous number of podcasts that are out there. You can find one on any topic you could imagine. It's actually difficult at times to wade through all of the options. There are plenty of bad options, but there are some fantastic ones as well. Every single time I listen to a podcast I think of my students and how I could use the podcast in school - "my psychology students would love this podcast", or "wow, so and so needs to hear this statistic for their project", or "how could I incorporate this podcast into my advisory curriculum?", or "what projects could my students do that are relevant to this podcast?" I'm not even teaching right now, and it's still where my mind goes, because podcasts, when working with the right ones, can be such a a great learning tool.
As I was pulling together resources for this post, I quickly found that there is not a lot out there in way of podcast curriculum, and lessons that have already been created are usually tied to English courses. That's okay, because podcasts ARE great learning tools for English classes. But they can be applied to so much more than that! The brilliant thing about podcasts is that even if the initial intention is for an English activity, the experience is integrated. Students practice listening skills, critical thinking, writing, and they absorb a variety of content knowledge in an interesting and unique way. Anyway, I added whatever podcast teaching resources I could find below, but if anyone reading this has other insights, please share! When I share podcasts with my students, it's in the context of project-based learning for the most part. On the bright side, lack of podcast teaching resources leaves an opening for anyone who has the interest and time to design curriculum! However, as most of us lack enough time in the day to pee let alone design elaborate curriculum from scratch, consider making your class podcasting experience project-based. By taking that approach students have choice, and the learning experience is student-directed. It takes a lot off of your plate and comes with enormous benefits to your students. Check out this PBL project specifically designed for podcast projects. You can find similar projects here.
I have used all of the podcasts selected below (with the exception of the "maybe") with my students in some way or another. I use them most often as a project brainstorming activity for my PBL students. I have also selected specific episodes relevant to a seminar I was teaching. I have even taught entire seminars on one podcast series. The RIGHT podcasts never fail with students. So that you don't have to spend an enormous amount of time finding those "right" podcasts - the most audience appropriate and informative podcasts - I have shared below the podcasts I have used with my students. This is not a comprehensive list, as I have not listened to every podcast out there! I would guess that there are hundreds more. The general point of this post is to encourage podcast use in your classroom. As for the "maybe" podcast? It's a great podcast in general, but maybe not great for the classroom. Let me know what you think!
12 Great Podcasts for the Classroom:
1) Storycorps -
Storycorps is one of my favorite podcasts because the stories come from real, everyday people with relatable stories. The listening piece of the podcast is great in itself, but the best part about using Storycorps with students is that they can record their own story and publish it using theStorycorps app. It's a great learning tool for storytelling, writing, and interviewing. It's even a great resource for social emotional learning as it helps students gain perspective and build empathy. I have played stories from Storycorps for my advisory for various reasons and had my PBL students publish interviews on the Storycorps app as their final product. The stories are typically short, so it's not a huge time suck. Bonus. I included below an example of how powerful Storycorps can be. I will always remember this particular story because it changed how I think about forgiveness. Take a listen, maybe with your student as a introductory piece to using podcasts in class.
2) The Daily -
The Daily, by no surprise, produces a DAILY podcast on global and national news. Best for high school students perhaps. It's interesting, brief, and promotes responsible and productive citizenship. It would be an interesting and unique resource to incorporate into your class as a current events activity. The Daily encompasses the major local and global issues taking place right now. Check out Experimenting with Sound and Story: Teaching and Learning with 'The Daily" Podcast for teaching ideas.
3) This American Life -
This American Life is usually my go to podcast when it comes to teaching. It has been around since 1995, so there is no shortage of topics to choose from. Content covered is vast, including episodes on anthropology, art, biology, performing arts, business, law, communications, psychology, multi-cultural studies, writing, diversity, economics, and so on and so on. Episodes of This American Life are long, which may feel like a downside, but what's nice is each episode is separated into 3 "acts", each story independent from the others, so you can pick and choose small segments to focus on. I have even singled out episode openers, which are often times the most interesting part of the show. One student favorite is act 3 of "Bad Baby", episode #521. I listen to this episode with my advisory students, which inevitably launches a discussion about discipline, child behavior, and the telling of family and childhood stories. Another one that I use with my advisory students is "Tell Me I'm Fat", Act 2: It's a Small World After All. It's a good way to broach the topic of self-esteem and development of a healthy self-concept, which is lacking in the majority of teenagers. This American Life has it's own educational resource page. Take a look.
4) Stuff You Should Know -
Stuff You Should Know is great for integrated learning and project-based learning. I love this site because it covers a broad spectrum of topics. If you are looking for supplemental materials to teach on a specific topic such as the Stanford Prison Experiment for a psychology class, you can have students listen to the short podcast episode on that subject. There are thousands of "Stuff You Should Know" episodes. I personally use this as a brainstorming activity for my project-based learners. They may not know what topic they want to do a project on next. Listening to podcasts, particularly Stuff You Should Know, inspires ideas. Scrolling through the archives for a few minutes just now inspired a few topics I would love to do projects on myself! The PBL research process requires a variety of sources. Some students are audio learners. Gathering information from a podcast is a great option for those students.
5) Freakonomics Radio -
You may have heard of "Freakonomics" from the book series, written by Steven Levitt (economist) and Stephen Dubner (journalist). Together the two explore the curious enigmas of the modern world. The books spun off into a podcast called "Freakonomics Radio", hosted by Stephen Dubner. The episodes cover a variety of topics from cheating sumo wrestlers to what the world would look like if economists were in charge. Freakonomics Radio episodes could be applied to an economics, psychology, writing, ethics, statistics, politics, law, philosophy, biology or citizenship class, among others. And as I've said already, it's a great resource for project-based learners. The topics are vast, so students could choose a topic based on their interests. Or if you are confined to teaching to your subject, choose a relevant episode and have students design PBL projects based on that topic. Even if their topic is chosen for them, they will still have choice in final product, community experts, and presentation.
6) Climate Cast -
Climate Cast is a podcast that covers all things climate change. I love this podcast for so many reasons. One is that I'm a science teacher, so the topic of climate change is interesting and important to me. What's cool about this podcast is that it doesn't take a doom and gloom approach, even though it's a pressing issue. The hosts generally stick to the science and research. The purpose is to share information from relevant and credible sources. The episodes also vary in length, some 10 minutes, others 50 minutes. I use Climate Cast in my climate change seminar, but the topic of climate change naturally encompasses a variety of subjects - economics, geography, business, agriculture, environmental science, geology, statistics, technology, sociology, etc. - all of which are mentioned in one episode or another. Peruse the archives to find something that would be a good fit for your students.
7) Planet Money -
Ok, if your students are like me, dense when it comes to money, this may be a good podcast to introduce to your class. It's funny, interesting and perfect for a financial novice. My life was forever changed by the episode "Buy Low, Sell Prime", all about the strategies used by Amazon sellers. I always wondered how they make money, since Amazon is cheaper than everywhere else....right? Not necessarily. Another Planet Money resource I love is a series of videos that show the route a t-shirt makes through the production process. Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt. I implement these videos into my climate change class. You could take any episode of Planet Money and apply it to whatever class you're teaching, or you could do a project-based learning approach and have students do independent projects on episodes of interest.
8) Invisibilia -
Invisibilia is one of my favorite podcasts to use with my students. Each episode focuses on one theme around mysterious human behavior, which from a life science teacher's perspective, is an interesting way to teach neurology and human anatomy. My favorite two episodes go back to the first season. The first one, "Fearless", enlightens listeners on the science of fear, and you hear a story from a woman who was born without the "fear" gene. Wouldn't that be nice? Or maybe not? The other favorite is "How to Become Batman". A blind man tells his story on learning how to "see". This podcast would be great for a psychology class or a neurology unit and of course, PBL!
9) Serial -
OK, if you shrugged when you saw "Serial", I hear you. It's been around for a while, it's all people talked about for a long time. But truthfully, all the good things people said about it have checked out. It is truly amazing, especially for my students. The first season of Serial has been a particularly powerful teaching tool for my inner-city, teenage students (not appropriate for younger audiences in my opinion). This true story is about the murder of a teenage girl in the late 90's. Her ex-boyfriend was charged with her murder and has been in prison ever since. There is no physical evidence that he actually committed this crime. Sarah Koenig, reporter and host of the show, reports on the case. The characters in Serial, season 1, are my students, 30 years later. They are inner-city teenagers, some from immigrant families, that have made similar mistakes, similar life-choices. I have been teaching a seminar exclusively on Serial, season 1, for 5 years in a row. It never fails. I use an amazing resource from TpT, written by Mike and Melissa Godsey. Check it out here. The Serial website is also a great resource where maps, documents, and updates are posted. I require a final PBL project (chosen and designed by the student) from each of my students as well. Check out the examples in the photos below.
If your goal as a teacher is to exclusively teach content, don't give up on this podcast just yet! There is a lot to be learned from it. There are lessons on writing, reading, critical thinking, evidence analysis, mapping, interpreting different perspectives, memory, law, ethics, speaking and listening.
Oh! And Serial, season 3 was just released!!!!!
Student project: this student analyzed the evidence, drew conclusions, and presented her very convincing and well supported version of what happened that day the day Hae Min Lee was murdered.
Student project - this student created a website for our seminar class that he updated daily with character analysis, important document updates, looming questions about the case, and notes about evidence (or lack thereof).
10) Radiolab -
Arg, maybe Radiolab is my favorite? I think I've claimed every podcast as my favorite so far. Radiolab is all about the strange world of science. What's more interesting than that (says the science teacher)? Radiolab is so cool because the team of guys that host the show answer really random questions about the world. Listening always makes me very aware of how little I know, and how much there is still to learn. Knowledge is infinite. Radiolab in class is fun because my students and I learn together. Radiolab is particularly great in project-based learning settings, because one episode leads to an explosion of more questions to be answered. It inspires students and sparks project ideas. For fun science curriculum on Radiolab, check out Science Prof Online.
11) Ted Radio Hour -
Each episode of Ted Radio Hour, hosted by Guy Raz, is a mashup of three different Ted Talks on a given theme. There are so many Ted Talks to rifle through. Okay, again with project-based learning....sorry. I love Ted Radio Hour for my students when it comes to project-based learning. It is a great resource for student projects. Rather than rifling through the thousands of Ted Talks on "hate" for example, Guy Raz pulls together the three best Ted Talks on hate and presents them in an interesting and informative way.
12) RFK Tapes -
RFK Tapes is really just a fascinating listen. It is about Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. It has a "conspiracy theory" sort of theme, which I'm not a huge fan of, but my students are. That element is an awesome hook. You can teach history while satisfying student interest.
Now for the "maybe"....
1) Dr. Death -
Ahhh, what to say about Dr. Death? What a phenomenally enlightening, weird, glorious and frightening podcast. This podcast had me on the edge of my seat, BUT it also made me question everything I thought I knew about health care. The podcast is about one doctor, Dr. Death (aka Dr. Duntsch), a neurosurgeon who killed several people and paralyzed many others under his watch, under his knife, including one of his friends. He was the first Dr. in history to be prosecuted for his botched surgeries, tried as a "crime" rather than a law suit for malpractice. The podcast is about him and the long line of failures by the system. How did this guy get into medical school? How did he get his license? Why didn't anyone observing his surgeries - nurses, anesthesiologists, physicians assistants - say anything to anyone? And how in the world did it take 33 injured, paralyzed or dead patients to stop him from practicing medicine? This podcast works to uncover the answers to some of those questions.
So, why not play this podcasts for your students? My thoughts are that it probably depends on your audience. It may be appropriate for high school students. I also sense that it could be a trigger for those that have had unfortunate medical experiences or treatments. Descriptions of botched surgeries are also quite vivid, which had times made my whole body numb. It wouldn't be good for students (or teachers) that get queasy when it comes to bodily functions, body parts, blood, etc. The reporter and host of the podcast, Laura Beil, is a phenomenal storyteller. She makes you feel like you're right there, in the scene, in the hospital holding hands with a victim who just woke up from a surgery just to realize that he's paralyzed from the neck down. That may be hard for some individuals to stomach. Finally, I wouldn't want it to deter my students from seeking medical attention when it's needed. To instill a fear of Dr.'s or hospitals isn't very productive.
With that said, it is a good reminder for all to do research before having surgery of any kind, especially spinal surgery. Anyone who is operating on your body should come highly recommended, by more than just your physician, and have an outstanding reputation. It's a great lesson in critical thinking. You could easily incorporate the podcast series into any course on law, ethics, journalism, neuroscience, philosophy, anatomy and physiology and more depending on how you use it. The options are particularly limitless for project-based learners. They would design a project on the podcast that fits their learning styles, interests and needs.
My final thoughts are this: use Dr. Death in your classroom with discretion. Obviously listen to it before you play it for your students. Also seriously consider your audience. What is the class subject, how would you be using the podcast, what are student backgrounds, how well do you know your students and what they can handle, etc.? What do you think? Is Dr. Death a good podcast for students?
There are so many great podcasts out there. The ones already mentioned are just a few that I have used with my students. There are many others. The Moth, Science Friday, Crimetown, Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History, Hidden Brain, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, and S-Town are a few other great podcasts with potential for classroom use. Crimetown and S-Town should also be approached with caution. Listen first and have a clear purpose! I'd love to hear your opinions on great podcasts for teaching, plus any resources you'd like to share.
One last thing. I came across this resource that guides students in creating their own podcasts. The homepage has a link for students to enter in a podcast competition as well - Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcast. I have not actually done this with my students. If you do, I'd love to hear about it!
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Earlier this week my two children were walking around outside collecting colorful fall leaves off of the ground that were already beginning to fall. I LOVE fall, but in Minnesota, the fall season is fleeting, and that means WINTER IS ALMOST HERE! Right now is a great time for schools to fund-raise, as many of the best fundraisers happen outdoors. So let's get to it before our fundraising is limited to shoveling snow!
As you know by now I was heavily involved in our school travel program. I have traveled with students to Costa Rica, Hawaii, Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, the U.P., and many very close to home. These trips are not free, nor are they cheap. They weren't possible without significant fundraising efforts by my students. I have been traveling with students for 9 years, so have a lot of experience with fundraising at this point. A lot of trial and error! A LOT OF ERROR. What I have found is that the best fundraisers are those that are student led - entirely planned and executed by students (with some guidance and a few seeds planted here and there.) There are enormous benefits to student-led fundraisers, one of which is the load it takes off of your already spread-thin plate, especially if there is one or two really ambitious, organized, motivated students that can take the reigns. There are also many benefits to students that participate in student-led fundraisers. They invest their time and put hope in the outcome, so see to it that it goes well and goals are met. Fundraising where students can get involved also provides opportunities to build important life skills such as marketing, communication, team-work, budgeting, conflict management, and organizational skills. A bonus? Kids love fundraising! I'm not sure what it is, but I won't argue with them if they're willing to participate in the effort.
I had many students that wanted to organize fundraisers, so I created a graphic organizer to help them streamline the planning process. That template is available at my TpT store (Experiential Learning Depot). Download it here for free - Graphic Organizer for Planning a Student-Led Fundraiser.
Now for the fundraisers. Some fundraisers are better than others when it comes to those that are student-led. I have listed the top 11 student-led fundraisers in my experience. I'm certain there are many great ones, and I'd love to hear about those!
Student-Led Fundraiser Tips:
1) Great fundraisers for students to lead are those that require little money upfront, are local or require light travel, the fundraiser location is easily accessible, the product for sale is made by the students (baked goods, candles, t-shirts, etc. - people are more likely to buy when they can see the effort put in), or the service provided is by that of the students.
2) Encourage students to connect with their community - hugely important. That might mean students spending some significant time just setting the stage for future fundraisers. Their neighbors will be their biggest allies when it comes to raising money because those neighbors could be their "customers" and they can spread the word.
3) Encourage students to collaborate with the school board - ideally you will have members on the school board that are well connected with potential big donors. Keep them in mind when fundraising. Ask student fundraisers to speak with or present to their school board, and ask the board to support student fundraisers.
4) Marketing! Planning and having a fundraiser is just a small piece of the big picture. Students must also get the word out there. There are a variety of ways to market fundraisers. Students know better than anyone how to use social media as a marketing tool! Work with that. Creating a marketing plan is one feature of the free graphic organizer already mentioned.
5) Students should have a specific project in mind - donors want to know where their money is going. Students should create a portable presentation (poster board) that they can put on display wherever they are fundraising. The board should lay out the purpose of the fundraiser. Whether it be a field trip, student travel opportunity, chemistry lab equipment, robots for a robotics class, iPads for your class, or simply notebooks and pencils, donors want to know. It makes it more personal.
6) Encourage students to start planning early. Marketing takes some time, and you don't want to spring a fundraiser on anyone. Give people notice so they can plan to be there!
Ok, here we are. Finally to the guts of this post. I have tried A LOT of different fundraisers with my students. The following 11 were the most successful in terms of student-involvement, money raised, and efficient use of time.
Easy to do Student-Led Fundraisers
1) Donors Choose - if you are an educator and you have not yet donated to a project on Donors Choose OR created a fundraising project of your own, you are truly missing out! Donors Choose is crowd-funding for educators. The best part? The website is deliberately designed to get students involved in their own fundraisers. For example, there might be a "project" created on an educators site to raise $1,000 for classroom Chrome Books. Students can create the project, market their project to friends and family, and are required to write a thank you letter if the project is fully funded. I have used Donors Choose for several school traveling experiences. One of my students created a "project" on Donors Choose asking for enough money to pay for student passports to get to Costa Rica. She met her goal in only two weeks. Passports paid for. The interesting part is that corporations looking to fund interesting projects surf the site. Our passports weren't paid for by donations only from friends and family. A big chunk of the money was donated by businesses.
The projects below are the fundraising projects, written by my students, that have been fully funded.
2) Hometown Calendars - several years ago my boss, a long-time loyalist to St. Paul, MN, noticed a lot of changes happening in our school community. A light rail was going in right in front of our building that would connect the two major downtown areas. He asked students to take photographs of some of the work, then had them go back into archives to find photographs of those same areas from decades ago to see how it has changed over the years. That is how the JCS calendar fundraiser got its start. The students formatted their photos into a calendar to sell. The students take the photos, find old photos to compare and contrast, create the calendars AND sell the calendars. They work closely with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as well. Check out their latest calendar below!
3) Class or school t-shirts - the last few years of my time teaching, my advisory students created school t-shirts to sell to students, teachers, parents and community members. All t-shirts were designed and created by the students. This type of fundraiser involves students from a variety of backgrounds with various talents, and it's fun if you make it an annual thing that the school community can look forward to each year. The picture below is a student-taken and edited photo of the St. Paul skyline that was printed on sweatshirts and t-shirts. It's a great student-created product for a student-led fundraiser.
4) School store - I like this fundraiser because it is mostly student-run, and they take pride it being a part of it. My students survey the student body asking for store product suggestions. It is where we sell healthy snacks, our school shirts, some quick and easy breakfast foods. The downside to the school store option is that the funds raised come exclusively from students. This worked for my students though because we didn't have vending machines in the building. We served breakfast and lunch and that was the only access students had to food throughout the day unless they brought their own snacks. The school store was the only place to get a quick snack in between meals. If the students aren't doing the bulk of the work for this fundraiser, it isn't worth doing. It is an enormous undertaking if you're doing it alone. The students can take charge of stocking, book-keeping, selling, etc.
5) Ready-bake holiday pies - the holiday season is upon us! Okay, I know that seems soon, but for Minnesotans, apple picking has begun already, and that means apple pies! It's never too early to get holiday pie fliers and order forms out to school staff, parents, board members, and neighborhood friends. Several years ago, one particular student who was raising money for a school trip to Hawaii, took charge of this fundraiser. We went to an orchard to pick apples, created fliers and order forms, spread the word on social media, and made freezable, ready-bake pies for pick-up. We wrapped them up and printed out holiday themed baking instructions. Making pies isn't cheap. The apples can get especially pricey. Work with an orchard in the community to arrange a discount or work exchange arrangement. Your fall-back could always be pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin puree is fairly cheap. If you and your students are ambitious, consider extending this concept and start a school garden where you can grow pumpkins, blueberries, or whatever climate appropriate fruits would make for great pies! This fundraiser is great because it could be and should be almost entirely student-run (with some oversight on your part). They can create all of the marketing materials, design an order form, collect the ingredients (or start a garden), organize orders, make the pies, sell, etc. This was one of our most successful fundraisers because the community wanted to support student-driven endeavors. How good does that look!?
6) Venue events - there are a variety of venues and/or sports teams in the Twin Cities that support local schools and want to see them succeed. The Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints are two of the Twin Cities' baseball teams that have school fundraising programs. They put fundraising groups to work behind concessions at games and give them a large stipend at the end of the shift. Valley Fair is an amusement park in Minnesota that has a similar program. They take students behind the scenes to do various tasks in exchange for a large stipend after the shift. My students raised $2,000 toward their earth science trip to Hawaii from Valley Fair alone. This style of fundraising is great because the students did the coordinating. I just chaperoned. Check out local opportunities like this in your own community.
7) Rummage sale - before I talk this one up too much, I'm going to say that this one requires some serious work for everyone, even when it is student-led. However, if it is done well, you'll see serious payout. The reason for this is because it shouldn't cost you, students or the school a dime upfront. Items for sale should be donated. Students leading the fundraiser can ask students, teachers, parents and community members for donation items to sell at the rummage sale. A student of mine organized a rummage sale several years ago. She scanned Craigslist garage sale posts regularly, emailed garage sale hosts, and asked that they donate any leftover items to her rummage sale. We had so many donations, and ended up raising more money from this fundraiser than any fundraiser I have been involved with since. Last bit of advice is for student fundraisers to try to get their hands on baby and kids items!
8) Bake-off or cook-off - bake-offs and cook-offs are by far my favorite student-led fundraisers. Students get SO excited about these events. Bake-offs and cook-offs are both fantastic, however, our cook-offs have generally been more successful than bake-offs. Here is the gist of a cook-off:
9) Yard work service - basically a student fundraising team creates a lawn business. It's best to keep it simple. They can offer raking services, shoveling or weed pulling. This is a great student-led fundraiser for several reasons. One is that few materials are required, therefore it is cheap upfront. They would need rakes, shovels if for snow removal and some bags. They would also need transportation. That is why this is a great student-led fundraiser because students could advertise their services in their own neighborhood. My students usually made fliers and passed them out around the school community. Local businesses would have my student's shovel their sidewalks on snow days. The key to this fundraiser is marketing. A lot of folks are happy to do their own yard work. Others hire professional services. What we did was make it personal and meaningful. We advertised who we were and our fundraising goals. Most people want to support local schools. We also left "donation" amount up to the customer. Typically they give more than we would have asked for. This is also a great way for students to connect with the community, which is important for a variety of reasons.
10) Raffle - this is a great student-led fundraiser to add to any other fundraising event, such as a cook-off. My students wrote letters to local businesses introducing themselves, their fundraising goals, and their purpose for fundraising. They asked in their letters that these businesses donate gift cards to be used for a raffle fundraiser. The students wrote these letters and mailed them right before winter break. When we returned from winter break there were about 50 gift cards from various local businesses. We used the gift cards as raffle prizes at our cook-off fundraiser. It didn't cost anyone a dime, and the planning and prep was fairly straight forward. Students just wrote letters and mailed them to businesses. Simple.
11) Car wash - I probably don't have to tell you that a car wash is a great student-led fundraiser. We see them everywhere because they are straight forward, great money makers, and students love them. Do this before it gets too cold! Car washes are also great spring time fundraisers. I don't know about everywhere else, but in Minnesota, people are outside in shorts the second it hits 60 degrees. They flock to the outdoors, and are typically in good spirits, ready to give, because it may be the first glimpse of sunshine they have seen in 9 months! Have students check out Wikihow's simple instructions on having a car wash fundraiser. Encourage students to add smaller fundraisers to the car wash such as a hot dog stand, drinks for sale, and/or a bake sale.
Fundraisers aren't easy, but a little more manageable when they're student-led. The benefits of student-created, student-organized and student-run fundraisers are enormous, especially for the students.
What successful student-led fundraisers have you seen or been a part of? Please share!
Happy Monday! Have a great week everyone!
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I was recently told, by two individuals that I admire and trust (best friend and husband), that my blog posts should be more relatable. A little less information heavy, and a little more fun. I can do that....I think. If you know me well, especially when it comes to education, you know I tend to be serious. I feel that the intention of this blog is to share information with educators and parents. So I won't stop doing that, but to appease the crowds, the INFJ in me will attempt to be more relatable. And what's more relatable than the Great Minnesota Get-Together!!??
As I go through any average day, I am always thinking about how to make this or that into a learning opportunity, a project or some kind of lesson. I think this is probably a common phenomenon among educators and parents. It’s purely accidental, I can’t help it, and truthfully I don’t mind it. Keeps my brain rolling when some days it feels like all I’m doing is changing diapers and breaking up sibling fights (my children are wonderful and I love them deeply). Every book I read sparks project ideas, including one I’m reading now about cannibalism! I recently visited the science museum with my own kids (awesome trip) and was thinking the whole time about how I could transfer these ideas into my class. A simple walk around the block with my kids sparks project ideas. I’d try them on my students as we speak if I was still teaching. Yesterday I went to the good ole’ Minnesota state fair. My kids were playing with an interactive pollinator exhibit. I said out loud to my husband, “this would make a great project for my students”. He told me to turn it into a blog post, so here we are! Ahead of you is a comprehensive list of projects or learning activities inspired by our family trip to the State Fair on Saturday (the busiest and hottest day of the fair!) Enjoy!
Something worth mentioning is that I am only offering project and activity ideas here, not logistics for implementation. Doing that would take me a year. I have project-based learning curriculum on my TpT site like that, which did take me a year to put together. If you want a guide for implementing project-based learning into your classroom, with a full year of project ideas, templates, rubrics and a manual for application, check here. Look over the sample and discuss with your school's director if you think making the purchase would be a good move for your school (moving from lecture-based/teacher-directed to project-based/student-directed learning). Otherwise, check out the MN State Fair inspired project ideas below, and execute them your way with your class this fall!
15 State Fair Inspired Learning Activities
1) Interactive Exhibits - there was a really fun agricultural area at the Minnesota State Fair for kids. The exhibit simulated how food goes from farm to table through active participation in the process. There was a pollination demo that had fishing pole like structures, with pollinators such as bees attached to the ends of the lines. Our kids took the poles and tried to catch "pollen" (plastic golf balls wrapped with Velcro) nestled in a large flower, and moved that pollen to another flower, simulating pollination. This interactive exhibit kept my children busy and engaged for twenty minutes, and by the time they were bored of if, my four year child clearly understood how insects pollinate flowers. As a project-based learning instructor myself, I am always looking for authentic and innovative final product ideas for showcasing projects. Student-created interactive exhibits, on any subject, would be great for student learning and awesome learning opportunities for exhibit visitors. When designing projects this year, consider asking students to create an interactive exhibit as their final product, that they can then display at an exhibition night for family, friends and the community.
2) Mapping the State Fair - using an online mapping program (zeemaps.com is a great one), create a map that illustrates one aspect of the fair. A student could try to locate data on state fair visitor demographics for example, and map the number of visitors that travel from each county to visit the fair each year. Another student could map all of the "park and rides" available to fair goers or parking areas, all of the root beer stands at the fair grounds, all of the kid friendly exhibits at the fair grounds, etc.
3) Local Food Theme Exhibits - at the MN State Fair this year, my family and I ran into an apple exhibit in the horticulture building that we have never seen before. The exhibit was everything apples! It was awesome. My children each had an apple popsicle. This exhibit inspired this project idea. Discuss as a class all of food items that are grown locally, such as corn, soy beans, wild rice, and apples, in Minnesota's case. Have each student cook something using a locally grown ingredient. Host a local food festival at your school where family, friends and community members can sample recipes made with local food. Turn it into a school fundraiser by charging a few dollars for admission.
4) Open a State Fair Food Stand - Okay, students wouldn't be expected to really open one (it's pretty cut-throat), but have students make plans as if they are going to start one. They should think about what they would sell, vision, mission, goals, cost, marketing plan, etc. If you would like your students to go through the actual vendor application process, they certainly may. The Minnesota State Fair provides forms and details for doing so. Click here to be transferred to application information.
5) Fair Impacts on the Local Economy - have students analyze the various ways in which their state or county fair benefits their local economy. Each student or pair of students can choose one economics question or category to focus on (parking, local businesses outside of the actual fair grounds, transportation to and from the fair, fair food vendors, fair entertainers, number of jobs available and in what departments, advertising, etc.) Students can come back together and share their findings.
6) Create a State or County Fair History Timeline - have students research major events around their state or county fair, and insert those events into a timeline with dates, photos, even videos if they use a digital timeline program. Students can focus on one aspect of the fair's history such as musical guests, dates of establishment for well-known food vendors, award winners year after year, and so on. It could also just be a general timeline of the most notable events.
7) State Fair News Project or Activity - students should search for interesting news articles on their state or county fair. Archives at the local library or history center would be a great place to start. Have students select one specific news article to turn into a history project. For example, in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt made his famous "Speak Softly and Carry a Bit Stick" speech at the MN State Fair Grandstand. If a student was doing a project on this news article, he/she would then research what the speech was about, why the speech was given, what the social and political climate was like at that time, etc.
8) Historical Maps Activity - have students pair up or group up and research old state fair maps. Assign each group a range of years (1900-1920 for example) and ask them to find a map from as many years as possible. Once students have had sufficient time to collect maps, have them printed and tape them to the wall in chronological order. As a group spend some time observing ways in which the fair grounds has changed and evolved over the decades.
9) Environmental Impact - have students analyze possible side-effects of the state fair on the environment. For example, amount of waste produced. Brainstorm solutions.
10) State Fair Energy Use - split students up into small groups to research information on energy use at your state or county fair, essentially investigating how much energy is used, what elements require the most energy, how those elements are powered, and energy plans for the future. This information may not be readily available online. Teach students how to reach out in the community to find the answers to their questions.
11) Amusement Park Rides and Physics - have students choose their favorite ride at their state or county fair. Research how and why the ride works. For example, Gravitron is a ride that spins in circles, and because of centrifugal force, you become plastered up against it's walls, thus not requiring a seat belt to stay in place. Once students have chosen a ride and understand the physics principal(s) at play, have them build a moving model that demonstrates that particular law of physics.
12) Food Art - one of the coolest parts of our state fair is seeing all of the art made of food items, like beans and corn kernels. Have students try this unique art medium!
13) Behind the Scenes - every time I go to the fair I wonder what it's like behind the scenes for those involved, such as people that show animals, run food stands, entertain, work for a clean-up crew, take tickets, set-up and take-down rides, etc. Have students choose one element of the fair that they are curious about and contact an expert in that area. They should either shadow that expert or interview them on what it's like behind the scenes of the state fair. This could really be applied to any community event.
14) Conduct a Fair Survey and Analyze the Results - ask a question about fair goers, create a survey, conduct the survey and analyze the results. Topics could be food favorites, average amount of money spent per fair goer, top 5 most visited exhibits, etc. The fair does not need to be going on to do this activity. Have students create a survey online using Survey Monkey, and post it on their social media pages. This activity could also be done on any event, or any subject for that matter. It doesn't have to be on a fair.
15) State Fair Traditions - my family has state fair traditions. We visit the same exhibits, eat the same exact foods, and go on the same rides year after year. Ice cream from the dairy barn, lefsa and cheese curds are state fair staples for us. Have students write their state fair story. Could be in essay format, article format, poetry, they could write and illustrate a children's book about their state fair traditions. Again, it doesn't have to be on the state fair. Students could do this writing activity with any event where traditions have likely been established.
Hope you're all inspired! Happy Labor Day and last day of the fair to all! Good luck tomorrow for those of you starting school!
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.