Spring is the perfect time of year for citizen science! It's warming up outside, students are getting antsy and exhausted, testing is underway, breaks are badly needed. On top of that, things start to get active in the world of wildlife, especially in temperate regions like Minnesota. Animals emerge from hibernation, migrating species begin their long journeys to their summer sanctuaries, and it's breeding season for many organisms.
Citizen science is when citizens, like your students, have the opportunity to play an active role in wildlife studies or projects going on around the world that benefit from participation by citizens. Hawk Watch International, for example, hosts hawk counting events at their migration sites that anyone can participate in. Volunteers count passing hawks and record their count to an online database.
Citizen science is a great learning tool for many reasons. One is the application of science concepts to the real-world. Participating in citizen science also shows students that they can play a role in improving the community and the world around them. They are active citizens, an important 21st-century skill.
I highly encourage organizing classwide citizen science activities or taking a project-based learning approach to citizen science. Take a look at my PBL Toolkit to get students rolling on citizen science PBL projects. Using my Community Action Projects resource is one project-based learning approach that makes sense in this case, as students would be actively participating in projects that better the community.
The following is a list of some of my favorite citizen science projects to use with my high school students AND my own young children. The projects listed below are appropriate for ALL ages. You could get students involved either part of school curriculum, at home for homeschool projects, on a family camping trip, or over the summer to keep students busy and sharp, among other things, There are many more citizen science programs out there other than the 20 listed below. I'd love to know about others that you've done with your students!
20 Citizen Science Projects for Students of All Ages
1. Globe at Night
The purpose of this project is to raise awareness about light pollution and its impact on communities. Students can report their night sky brightness observations daily. All they need is a computer or phone. This would be a great supplemental learning experience to a broader PBL project on light pollution.
This website has a variety of projects to get involved in, which is nice when it comes to student-directed learning. Students can pick a citizen science project in line with their interests such as insects, mammals, migrating species, invasive species and more. What's really cool about this website is that is promotes communication and collaboration with naturalists and research scientists.
3. Project Budburst
Project Budburst focuses on plant observations. The intention of the program is to understand human impact on wildlife, particularly plants. One area of focus right now is determining how plants are and will continue to respond to climate change. This site has a tab for educators with age specific learning activity recommendations.
4. Project Noah
Project Noah is another citizen science option that emphasizes wildlife observation and inquiry. There is a section for educators that has a "classroom" feature where teachers can set up and manage class citizen science projects. The education section also provides investigation ideas from mimicry to backyard ecology. This is a great option for homeschoolers as well. You can add as many students to the "class" as you wish. It would be a great independent PBL project because citizen science naturally collaborative, an important element of PBL.
5. Project Squirrel
This citizen science project seems a bit dull. I mean, squirrels? They're so ubiquitous and kind of a nuisance. They aren't rare. They aren't large predators. They are a slightly cuter version of a rat. Squirrels, however, can tell us a lot about the health of the surrounding environment. Students can get involved in this project by recording squirrel observations and photos. It's a more interesting and hands-on way to learn about ecosystems. There is also a special experiment students can get involved in that looks at food patches.
This resource is incredible. What's different about Zooniverse compared to the other citizen science options mentioned so far is that the projects cross disciplines. There are projects on climate, history, literature, medicine and even art, not just natural science. One of the projects on there right now is called "Anti-Slavery Manuscripts". This project was added by the Boston Public Library to include citizens in transcribing their collection of letters written by anti-slavery activists. I think the best feature of this website is that students can create their own citizen science projects to add to the site, which citizens from all over the world can then contribute to. That would be a really cool PBL project and deep learning experience for older students or as a class project. I used to do large group projects like this with my advisory.
SciStarter is similar to Zooniverse in that there are a variety of citizen science projects available to choose from AND students can create their own. It is essentially a massive catalog of citizen science projects. One of my favorite things about this website is their blog. The blog articles illuminate the impact of citizen science on our understanding of the world.
This is a super black and white, straightforward catalog of citizen science projects in the U.S. It is not fancy and does not have a special section for educators like many of the websites mentioned so far. However, the catalog is exhaustive. If you are having your learners do student-directed PBL projects, this website is a great place to start. They can search for ideas relevant to their interests.
9. World Water Monitoring Challenge
This project is fantastic for raising awareness and educating students on water issues across the globe. Students monitor their local waterways by performing water quality tests. Consider implementing scientific open-inquiry labs on water quality in your area (check out my inquiry-based learning toolkit for guiding materials - I also have several student-directed water pollution activities in my store including inquiry, PrBL and PBL..) Students that are especially passionate about this issue and want to get more involved can apply to be ambassadors on the website. The downside to this citizen science project is that it is not free. Specific water quality kits need to be purchased to participate. One upside (of many) is that it's global.
10. The Great Backyard Bird Count
This citizen science project is only open for participation a few days per year. There are four designated days for citizens from all over the world to count birds. This year (2019), almost 33 million birds were counted. Students can count birds, submit observations, and explore the data. There is also a photo contest students can take part in! Your students will need access to smartphones and the eBird app to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Hawk Watch International, which I mentioned above, is a similar program, but specific to hawks.
11. Journey North
Journey North is a citizen science option that specifically focuses on migrating species such as the monarch butterfly and whooping cranes. There are many organisms to choose from as well as specific projects. The Symbolic Migration project is one example where students from around the world create paper butterflies and send them to students in Mexico. Those students then care for them through the winter and return them in the spring, symbolizing butterfly migration. This is a cool way to integrate art, geography, science, history, and culture, as well as to encourage global learning and collaboration. My kids and I participate in the loon program each spring, which is the MN state bird (my place of residence).
12. Butterflies and Moths of North America
As the title of this citizen science option suggests, this particular project is specific to butterfly and moth sightings across North America. Students can take photographs and record sighting locations of butterflies, moths, and/or caterpillars to the database. Students can open and analyze data maps. This is another one that is easy to participate in as long as you're in North America. Migrating moths and butterflies use the north as a summer sanctuary and the south as a winter sanctuary. They can be found in most environments from urban gardens to national parks. My students and children take part in this project every spring.
13. WildCam Gorongosa
This project can be found and your group managed through Zooniverse (#6). Scientists and conservationists need help tracking and identifying species in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Students scroll through photos taken by wildcams placed in the park. Students identify organisms and their behaviors IN the photos. That's one interesting thing about this citizen science project; students can participate from anywhere in the world, including in a classroom. I understand some educators don't have the flexibility to get out of the building everyday to view wildlife. This is a great option for those in this situation. The "lab" tab in the upper right corner of the homepage is a place for educators to compile class data, which might come from an inquiry investigation for example. Students can also discuss what they see with other volunteers and scientists. It's highly collaborate, and pretty addicting once you start!
14. Nature's Notebook
This website is geared toward educators. Nature's Notebook focuses heavily on phenology monitoring, but what's cool is that you can create your own phenology monitoring program with your students that is relevant to your community. Your students could consider starting a citizen science program as an upper level project-based learning experience.
15. The Wildlab Bird
The Wildlab Bird is another citizen science opportunity offered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Students observe birds near their learning spaces and report sightings of GPS-tagged birds to Wildlab. One thing that is unique to this citizen science option is that they promote STEM. They put a strong emphasis on integrating technology, so much so, that they will provide iPhones to your students for this project. They will also visit your school or other learning environment free of cost to help you get started.
16. Celebrate Urban Birds
This project encourages urbanites to observe their surroundings and appreciate wildlife. You don't have to be in the middle of a national park to find wildlife. This is a great project for urban students that don't have easy access to natural areas.
17. Project FeederWatch
I love this project! There are so many learning opportunities built into it. It is not simply a matter of counting birds in your school yard. You could take advantage of design thinking by having your students build their own bird feeders. The shape, structure size, color, and food included will all be dependent on the bird they're hoping to attract and count. In order to find this information students will have to do some research on the natural history of birds in their community. You could split your students up into groups, have each team determine a bird of focus, design a birdfeeder specific to the species of their choice, and then observe and count the birds to report to Project FeederWatch. This would be a great PBL experience.
18. School of Ants
The purpose of this program is for citizens to help create a thorough map of ant species and their ranges across North America. This is a great supplemental activity or could be a PBL project in itself. Students would learn about the natural history of ants in North America, what they eat, their behaviors, distribution, and more while contributing to real science. This website has many resources for educators as well.
19. The Lost Ladybug Project
Another one on insects! The Lost Ladybug Project asks citizens to help them collect ladybugs, photograph them, and submit the images along with some basic information such as location, date, habitat, etc, to their database. This could be a great supplemental activity to a larger discussion or unit on topics like invasive species, habitats, competition, evolution, genetics, and more. Be creative, or let your students get creative by having them conduct student-led scientific open inquiry investigations.
20. The Great Sunflower Project
The Great Sunflower Project emphasizes pollinators, a hugely important topic and one that has been in the spotlight for quite some time, as our pollinators are at risk. There are a few ways to get students involved in this program. One way is to have them grow sunflowers, monitor pollinator visitors, and test the effects of pesticides on the pollinators. Students can also participate in pollinator counts anytime, anywhere, even in the school yard or in their home gardens. As a project-based teacher, I think this final option is the coolest way to get involved; students can learn about important habitats for pollinators by literally creating their own pollinator habitat such as a bee or butterfly garden.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you're able to get your students involved in at least one of these citizen science projects this spring. By introducing them now, they can take over and continue to stay involved on their own throughout the summer and into next year. I'd love to know about anymore citizen science projects not mentioned here that would be worth looking into.
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Photo Credit: Many of the photos above were taken directly from the citizen science websites cited. The quote photo, blog cover, butterfly photo, bird photos, butterfly art piece, and child looking at butterfly catalog were taken by Experiential Learning Depot.
A couple weeks ago I took my two young children to the zoo. On our way home my four-year-old said "did you know that jellyfish can grow their bodies back when they get chopped up?" In other words, they can regenerate when, say, they have a close call with a sea turtle. My son learned this from chattin' it up with a zoo volunteer. He practiced communication skills, asked questions, took a social risk, and gathered information from an expert on a topic of interest.
I often talk about project-based learning on this blog because it's what I know and use in teaching. An overarching theme of project-based learning is community, from generating projects ideas to the final assessment. Students use community experts to gather information on their project topics, create innovative final products that impact the community, and present their projects to an authentic audience, one that is relevant and often public. All of the PBL components just mentioned involve the community in some way or another.
Before I get into any details on specific ways to use the community as a resource in project-based learning, let's first talk about why you would do this in the first place? Sounds like a lot of work, an extra task or thing to organize, or time away from teaching content. It can be an extra task if you let it. But you could also put some of the responsibility on your students. They can certainly and should be tracking down their own community experts and authentic audience. Community experts also deliver much of the content you would have to otherwise. It also doesn't mean you have to leave the building. As an experiential learning educator I strongly advocate for doing so, but that is not an option for everyone. If it's not an option in your situation, then bring the community to you! And your students can do the same. I'll get to some options soon, but first, why bother to use the community as a resource?
Benefits of Utilizing the Community in Project-Based Learning:
1) Development of 21st-century Skills - students learn a variety of important life skills such as resourcefulness, communication, and collaboration.
2) Real-world application of content - students make meaningful connections when they can see and experience concepts first-hand. For example, shadowing a genetics counselor would allow students to experience genetics concepts in the context of real-life.
3) Building a professional and personal network - students develop a hefty network that could lead to future references, job offers, lifelong mentorships and even friendships.
4) Strengthening the community - community collaboration puts students in a position to actively work at breaking down walls between students and community members that may have developed due to misunderstandings or stereotypes. There is so much to be learned from others, and not just from their expertise, but from their stories.
5) Access to resources you may not be able to offer - I took a graduate class with the biotechnology department at the University of Minnesota several years ago. They offer up their equipment to educators and their students, which I have taken advantage of many times. There have been a variety of scenarios where my students have needed a resource that our school couldn't provide, from actual materials to expertise or skill.
How to Use the Community as a Resource in Project-Based Learning:
The following are ideas or ways that I have personally used or have seen coworkers use the community as an element of learning experiences. You do not have to be doing project-based learning to include community resources in your curriculum. Use some of the suggestions below and adapt them in a way that works for you and your learners.
These are only a few options of many. When planning community involvement in your curriculum, consider the topic of study. Take constraints such as time, your own skills, equipment and space into account. Think about your needs and how a community member might be able to fill that role or provide that resource. It may seem like an additional task to an already demanding load. But if you plan well and put some of the responsibility on your students, it may actually feel like you're saving time, and the end result is worth it. The benefits are worth it.
What are some ways you currently use the community your curriculum? I would love to hear more examples. If you don't currently, what is keeping you? What obstacles do you face and how could you work around them or work through them?
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The Importance of Intergenerational Learning Experiences
The young and the old and everyone in between living, playing, and working side-by-side is a tale as old as time. Yet that tale seems to be one of the past. We currently find ourselves in a
society where those interactions across age groups are few and far between.
Once upon a time intergenerational relationships formed organically. A family living in tight corridors was necessary for survival. Children, parents, grandparents and so on worked and lived as a community working toward the same goals. Their lives were interconnected. Today we live in discrete units. We have our own goals. We have our own lives from 9-5. Students split up by age. A greater role is placed on peers than ever before. Modes of communication have drastically evolved from my grandma's generation to my daughter's generation. Heck, communication has changed dramatically in the past 5 years let alone the past 50 years. Information is at our fingertips. Why ask grandma about the Dust Bowl when I can ask Alexa? I can ask her in the bath. I can ask her while I'm driving. I can even ask her at 3 in the morning when grandma has been long asleep.
Alexa has become such a fixture in our household, that not only does my daughter know how to get what she wants from her, but she also thinks Alexa is a real person. Living with us.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe that the changes we've seen, especially in the recent past, are necessarily bad things. Especially when it comes to technology. These changes are here to stay and are continuing to evolve as I write this. The best thing I can do as a parent and teacher is embrace it. But I also don't want to see my children or my students (or myself for that matter) miss out on the amazing benefits of intergenerational relationships.
Before going on I want to be clear about the definition of intergenerational. The way I mean it in this context is in connection with learning. Intergenerational learning is when those from varying age groups learn from each other. It's not a matter of being in the same room at the same time with people of all ages, like in a movie theater for example. It's working together with the intention of learning from one another. And yes, older generations CAN learn from younger generations, regardless of what you've heard about millenials, or your fears about Generation Z! Everyone has a role to play.
Benefits of Intergenerational Learning Experiences:
1) Learning from each other.
2) Building a stronger, healthier community of trust, reliance, and collaboration.
3) Discovering commonalities.
4) Provides opportunities to see different points of view.
5) Breaks down misconceptions, judgements, and stereotypes.
6) Those involved gain skills from those that are more experienced. This goes both ways. There are skills that young people have that some older generations struggle with. Tech literacy is one example.
7) Older generations can help children develop a healthy self -concept (self-esteem, confidence, identity, ideals, values and priorities.)
8) Intergenerational relationships can provide personal one-on-one attention to a child if approached as a mentorship experience.
9) Gives children someone other than a parent (fear of parental disappointment) or peer (fear of judgement) to confide in.
10) Elders with intergenerational friendships report better mental wellness.
Ways of Making Intergenerational Learning Experiences Part of the Curriculum:
1) Consider developing a mentorship program. Bring mentors from various generations to spend time with your students. They can play games, read to each other, chat, build something, etc. But the interactions should be one-on-one and should occur regularly.
2) Start a technology literacy volunteer committee. This would work well for older students. Pull together a group of kids that would like to offer tech lessons to those in the community that need it.
3) Start a club that community members of all ages can join. Ex: book club, knitting club, chess club, etc.
4) Incorporate intergenerational learning experiences into your current curriculum. Don't change anything, just add community volunteers to work with your students in the classroom.
5) Along those same lines, assign a project specifically designed to provide intergenerational learning experiences. I created a PBL project on generations that asks students to interview several individuals from different generations.
Check it out here: Project-Based Learning: Generations.
6) Organize shadowing experiences. Older students can arrange shadowing experiences with community members from different generations outside of the classroom. Urge them to make this activity a regular occurrence, not a one time thing.
7) Pen pals - if mobility is a challenge, consider a pen pal program with any number of mixed- generation facilities. An assisted living facility is one option. These relationships don't have to be between children and the elderly, however. My high school students used to go to an elementary school once a week to read to first graders. That is also an intergenerational learning experience that benefits both parties.
8) Form an Intergenerational community service crew to give time to improving the community. The purpose of this would be to bring various skills and ideas from different generations to the table. It's also a great way to learn from each other while working toward common goals.
These are just a few ideas. There are many possibilities. Play around with what might work for the age group you work with, your schedule, the number of students you have, your level of flexibility, mobility and more. What works for you and your students may not work well for others. But don't let these obstacles stop you from providing intergenerational learning experiences to your students, or if you're a parent, to your children. There is so much to gain from intergenerational relationships. Don't waste an opportunity!
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10 Free Gifts to Give Your Students This Holiday Season
Children of the 21st century need so much more from educators than content delivery. We as teachers (and parents) grew up in an entirely different world than our students. Information is available to them anytime, anywhere. Memorizing facts, we know, isn't relevant to this generation, it won't be relevant to the next generation, nor the one after that.
What students need now are the "free gifts" on the list above, among other things. There are many more student-needs than what I listed on my gorgeous graphic up top, I just couldn't fit anymore on the page!
Educators are (or should be) well aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basic needs must first be met for learners to reach a level of "self-actualization." Many children do not even have consistent access to their most basic needs: food, water, warmth and rest. School may be the only place they get those things. Safety, friendship and the tools to build a healthy self-concept are additional student needs. Most children struggle with these ideas, especially tweens and teens. They need us to help them navigate through this unique time in history.
What we can give our students this holiday season is support, kindness and love. We can listen when they need us to listen. We can provide our students with learning opportunities that help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. We can offer experiences that foster the discovery of skills, talents, interests and desires.
I left my job a year ago to stay home with my own children, and since then have done some serious reflecting on my career. The last few years at my job I felt bogged down by constant student behavior issues, the pressure of adhering to standards, truancy, and my own stuff going on at home. I lost patience with my students and lost-sight of their most inherent needs.
We all know teachers don't teach for the money! We teach because we love our students. You are likely already giving your students most, if not all, of the gifts on the list. If you're not, it's okay! Give yourself a break. We as teachers are up against a lot. But try to do some serious, honest self-reflection this winter break. Make changes in your classroom if you need to. Create the conditions they need to thrive. Assign projects that promote student voice and choice. Provide a plethora of input to aid students in discovering their interests and talents. Focus on your students, who they are as individuals, and what they really need from you.
Check out some of Experiential Learning Depot's projects that might be just what your classroom needs. They are all student-centered, so provide that choice, voice, autonomy and hands-on experience mentioned on the list.
Activities for Building a Strong Advisory Community
Project-Based Learning Tool Kit
Community Action Projects
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Incorporating Authentic Presentations into Project-Based Learning
There are variety of essential components of project-based learning: personalized project proposals, innovative final products, collaboration with community experts, periodic self and peer-assessments, and most importantly in my opinion, authentic presentations. An authentic presentation is the demonstration of new skills and knowledge to a relevant audience in the community. Students are expected to share their work with the public.
For example, I had a student who wanted to learn more about "coming of age" traditions around the world. She created a children's book as her final product and read it to students in a nearby elementary school class. That is an authentic presentation. She shared her information with a relevant audience in the community. Public presentations of this type might be a logistical nightmare for some educators. Luckily there are a variety of ways students can share their final products to a relevant audience in the community without leaving the building. This isn't necessarily ideal, but if that is your only option, go with it for now.
Check out the graphic below to get an idea of how this works. Feel free to use this graphic organizer with your students as a brainstorming tool. A free printable version can be found at Experiential Learning Depot.
Let's go through an example of a project-based learning authentic presentation:
You assign a project to your life science class. They are to do a PBL project on symbiotic relationships. One student decides to create an info-graphic on the different types of symbiotic relationships. She collaborates with an ecology professor from a nearby university and a graphic designer in the area. They work together to create a professionally done info-graphic with solid, accurate information. The student then needs to figure out how they will share their final product with a relevant audience, that will benefit from the information and/or the final product itself.
Examples of Authentic Presentation Options for this Project:
***Ideally this student would authentically present their info-graphic using all of the examples above.***
The purpose of authentic presentations vs. a standard presentation to the class is that they encourage project quality. Students don't want to share work that they aren't proud of to a public audience. The result is deeper learning and intrinsic motivation to learn and improve.
I have several project-based learning products in my store, Experiential Learning Depot, that incorporate principles of project-based learning such as authentic presentations. Check them out if you think project-based learning is something you might love to try in your classroom.
Have a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend everyone!
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Multicultural Awareness in the Classroom: how to Celebrate Student's Cultural Diversity
Happy apple picking season! Well, the end of it anyway. Apple picking in September and October is a long time Minnesota tradition. It is probably a tradition in the Midwest in general and maybe a few other places that grow apples. Apple picking with the family in Minnesota however, doesn't just mean heading to an orchard and picking apples. It means an entire afternoon of kid rides, face painting, corn mazes, climbing haystacks, taking haunted hayrides, picking out pumpkins for carving jack-o-lanterns, sipping hot apple cider and snacking on brats, fresh apple donuts, and caramel apples. It's shooting rotten apples with a giant sling shot. Yes, this happens, and if you don't know about this, check out Arie's season of the Bachelor! And the celebration isn't over when you leave the parking lot. You then go home and bake loads of apple inspired treats because you have too many apples to just eat!
The sights, the sounds, the smells - mmmmm, apples and cinnamon. This experience reminds me of fall, family, who I am and where I come from. Fall just isn't fall in my world without apple picking. It's not that apple picking is that great. It's the same year after year. But that's the beauty of it. It's a fond tradition that I share with my family, and have since I was a child. I am now passing that tradition on in my own little family. It's a deeply rooted part of my heritage. Yes, getting lost in a corn maze, the same time and place every year, is part of who I am, and I love it!
But, OK. This is an education blog. Yes, yes. So what's my point? This has been an unusually rainy and cold fall for Minnesota. There was a point where I thought maybe we wouldn't be able to apple-pick this year, and I felt devastated even imagining that. This experience has come to play such an important role in my life. Not just apple-picking, but traditions like this in general. I think having and creating traditions is so meaningful. It's an important part of one's self-concept, and knowing who we are and where we come from. There is massive effort on the part of my coworkers and I to help our students have these same feelings of nostalgia, belonging and pride in who they are and where they come from. I've noticed with my students that the learning activities they most enjoy and look forward to year after year are those that have to do with culture and tradition.
I do a heritage project with my students every year, where they focus on a piece of their heritage and culture. They learn about themselves and their family history. They pinpoint family traditions and discover how those traditions came to be. They essentially learn about their family background and then have the opportunity to brag about it in an annual heritage festival, putting their exhibits on display for the community. This project is something the students look forward to each year. If you're interested in trying this with your students, check out this resource to get it going - Project-Based Learning: Heritage.
It's an interesting project to do even when you suspect your students may not have many family traditions to draw from, and those that do may not be fond of their family traditions. I suspect that with my own students, yet they STILL always find something about who they are that they are proud of and want to share.
You could also expose your students to traditions in school. Start them in your classroom. I have two co-workers that are especially great at that. One of them, Val, started an annual tradition called "Feast" every year around Thanksgiving, where each advisory cooks something together, and then the school sits down and shares a meal. Val also brings her own family traditions into her classroom, such as making lefsa with her students. It's a bonding experience for everyone. Another coworker of mine, Tom, is also great at this. He brings his apple cider maker into his advisory in the fall to give students a little dose of that Minnesota apple-picking experience without ever leaving the building.
All of these activities may not hit any of the standards, but they help tremendously in building a strong community within your school and strong personal self-concepts within your students. Children can't think about biology for example, until their basic needs are met. Their learning environment needs to be a place of safety, trust, kinship and belonging. Having school or classroom traditions helps to build on those needs. Check out this free resource for more ideas on creating bonding experiences by implementing school traditions.
What are your favorite family traditions? What are some traditions you have as a school or in your class that the students look forward to?
Happy fall folks!
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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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Here we are, at the start of another school year! You are bracing for new students with excitement and a little anxiety I'm sure, if you're anything like me. You are unsure of new student personalities, backgrounds, and how the class dynamic will play out as you proceed through the year. You refreshed over the summer, and are now returning to school this year with great ideas for new lessons, classroom management techniques, and exciting learning activities for your bio class. All of that is fantastic, as most of you probably spend the bulk of your day with subject students. I on the other hand, having worked the entirety of my career at a project-based/community school, spent the bulk of my time with my advisory students. I was more of a facilitator of learning and a life coach than I was a life-science teacher (although I taught subject seminars as well). Thus, I can now say with confidence that I'm an experienced advisor. I spent almost a decade observing colleagues (some of the best advisors out there) run their advisories and interact with their students. I have experienced a lot of trial and error. I tried many things that I was sure would be a hit that in the end were epic failures. I modified and tried again with a different approach, or I scrapped the idea entirely and tried something new. I understand that I am biased, given my work experience and philosophy, but I believe to my core that having a strong advisory community is just as important, if not more, than having an awesome lesson planned for your evolution unit. Now hear me out...
Let's start with the basics. An advisory in theory is a place where individualized learning takes place. Each student is recognized as a unique individual. It's a space where students feel supported, valued, freed from judgement, comfortable speaking their minds and sharing their ideas. It is a place where they learn valuable life skills and career skills, build self-esteem and form a positive self-concept. It's an opportunity to implement social-emotional learning experiences. Students should see an advisory as a safe space to realize their interests, ideas, and potential. A place where they have voice and choice. For some it is a home away from home. Or in some cases the home they never had to begin with. What a strong advisory system does is encompass the most important aspects of not only education, but life. As educators, we know that certain needs have to be met before human beings can focus on anything else, especially grades and test scores in your subject classes. We get frustrated by the lack of engagement, effort, motivation, productivity. If that's what you're finding with a lot of your students, look below the surface. They may not be getting all of their basic needs met. Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs illustrates those requirements, which includes physiological (food, shelter, etc.), safety (protection and freedom from fear), love and belongingness (friendship, intimacy, trust, affection, etc.), esteem (dignity, independence, etc.), and self-actualization needs.
A great advisor strives to meet these needs for each individual student. If your advisory is a "homeroom", where students simply check in, scroll on their phones, and possibly chat with a friend for 30 minutes before continuing on to their other classes, I urge you to change that. I know it is an extra task, that may need extra prep time when first implementing. If you feel as if a strong advisory program is lacking in your school, discuss with your colleagues and principal. Seek training and additional prep time for an advisory. It is so worth it for kids and teachers in the long run. Student academic success and mental and emotional health depend on it.
As you solidify plans for the coming year, check out some of the great advisory resources below. Some provide training, some give awesome activity ideas, others highlight the research found on the importance of an effective advisory. Utilize some or all of the resources I've offered here if you are someone who wants to establish an advisory community, someone who wants a major advisory face-lift, or you just want to add to your already impressive advisory repertoire.
Activities for Building a Strong Advisory Community
When I was working, my title was teacher AND advisor. Because it was a project-based school, I "advised" the same 20 students most of the day over the course of their entire secondary school career. When I first started teaching I was completely in over my head. My undergraduate degree was in ecology and my teaching training focused heavily on life-science education, not individualized learning in a project-based atmosphere. I assumed I could walk in the door, talk to kids about what I was passionate about - science - and they would follow suit. I was arrogant and was quickly thrown into reality. I worked with at-risk teenagers, most of which did not have all of their basic needs met outside of school. They needed me, their advisory community, food, shelter, love, support, more than they needed to know about the structure of DNA. I knew that I had to change things up. So I did. I put everything I had into my advisory and those kids. My advisory students are bonded for life, close, tight-knit. When your advisory is strong, you find that even the most unlikely pair of students become friends over time. They are bonded by experiences, conflict and reconciliation, common goals and shared passions. Thus, the first resource I'm putting out there is a list of activities I have used over the years to establish a strong and positive advisory culture. It is one thing to know the importance of building a strong advisory, it is another to implement strategies to achieve that goal. This resource gives practical lessons and activities to use to bolster your advisory community. It is a free download that can be found on my TpT page. Click here to get to the download.
Advisory Information Jackpot
Edutopia has a "topics" page with articles on every educational topic you could imagine. Their "advisory" topic is particularly strong. Articles posted under the "advisory" topic vary from social-emotional learning, to building relationships, to tips for reaching out to parents. You can search whatever topic you'd like. If you're trying to incorporate life skills seminars into your advisory schedule for example, search "life skills" on the site's search engine and go from there. I did this and naturally took interest in an article called Teaching for Life Success: Why Resourcefulness Matters by Marilyn Price Mitchell. I like Edutopia in general because they put a spotlight on innovative practices. Edutopia partners with Lucas Education Research, which conducts research alongside universities and world class educators. Together they identify what works, and through the topics website, share that with us. Find this resource by clicking here.
Books to Build a Community of Learners
This resource is a blog post written by a teacher who is suggesting that advisors (or any teacher really) use reading to foster a positive culture in the classroom. I love resources that come directly from teachers and their experiences. I don't need all of my information to come from child psychologists. They may know behaviors, but teachers are on the front lines. Have they tried it? Did it work for their students?! Fantastic, let's try it too! I watched my colleagues for years work their advisory magic. They were the best resources I could ask for. This specific resource is aimed at elementary students, but the idea would work across all age groups. The post provides lists of books under community building themes such as teaching kindness. I work with teenagers, so her books wouldn't apply to my advisory. But I have read many of the books she mentions to my own young children, such as Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun. So cute. Many of the books cited on this post can be found on Storyline Online as well, which is an audio/visual version of the book, read by celebrities. It's easily accessible, the video animation is fun. The downside is that there aren't words displayed. If the purpose is teaching children how to read, Storyline Online is not a great resource. But in this case, if the purpose is to teach lessons on compassion, listening, kindness, etc, it could be a helpful website. The blogger does not offer before or after reading activity or discussion ideas. It would make this resources even better. I would recommend doing before or after reading activities and/or discussion, if that isn't obvious.
If you are working with older students, consider using this basic concept with more age appropriate and content appropriate books. Older students are obviously at different developmental stages than 3rd graders. High school students for example could read books that focus on building empathy, self-esteem, developing a good moral compass. Some great books for teenagers that might be effective in building a strong advisory community include "The Hate U Give", "Of Mice and Men", "Speak", "A Long Way Gone", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", "Wonder", and "The Absolutely Trued Diary of a Part-Time Indian".
There are so many skills and abilities that we hope our students acquire before they enter the big bad world of adulthood, other than knowing the difference between Mendelian and non-Mendelian genetics. I am not trying to underplay the importance of understanding heredity. The hope is that most adults have a basic understanding of inheritance. However, an artist will rarely find herself in a situation where she needs to whip out a punnet square. Other skills like resourcefulness would come in handy at a dinner party, when said artist is trying to figure out the chances of her offspring's ability to curl his tongue. The capability of managing one's time, dealing with conflict in an appropriate and effective way, controlling impulses, acting with integrity, I would argue are just as important, if not more important, than learning how to do a punnet square. Anyone can learn how to do that by doing a quick Google search. I would also argue that social emotional skills are among the top most important competencies to possess to survive adulthood. Strong advisories should take a leading role in fostering these social-emotional skills. This resource provided here is awebinar from Edweb called 7 Mindsets, also the name of the organization that is paving the way for social-emotional learning. The webinar is free and it's awesome. The idea is that students, or anyone really, can navigate this tricky world we live in by embracing these 7 mindsets. It feels a bit cheesy, a little self-helpish, but when it comes to your students, those skills are necessary for happy, healthy lives in the present and the future. I keep these 7 mindsets in the forefront of my mind when planning any advisory activity. For example, one of the mindsets is "live to give". I take this mindset into account when planning service learning opportunities for my advisory students. The image below is prominently displayed on my desktop as a reminder of the significance the 7 Minsets in not only my student's lives, but mine as well. If you have an hour, watch the webinar using the link above. If you don't, just check out the list of mindsets below. There are a variety of awesome advisory webinars on the Edweb site.
Get to Know Your Students
Getting to know your students on a deeper level is a multifaceted endeavor. It takes more than a few icebreakers and a "hello" each morning to understand their strengths, weaknesses, challenges at home, interests, responsibilities, fears, all things that play a major role in academic performance and mental health. Teachers (including me) tend to get frustrated when students are unmotivated, aren't producing, aren't paying attention in class. There are a variety of reasons this may be so. When you know your students, you can better tackle the issue occurring in the classroom. I have always struggled with sleepy students. They aren't tired because they're "bad" or "troubled". They're tired because they're in school all day, work after school to help pay their family's rent, come home and power through projects so they can graduate on time, fall asleep at 2 am, wake up at 6 am to repeat the process all over again. Of course they're tired. Knowing your students well as independent people isn't just important to manage classroom challenges. For some students, you may be all they have. You may be one of few adult positive role-models in their lives, that is a strong leader, a compassionate person that advocates for them, believes in them, and cares about their future. Knowing your students well also helps guide future instruction. If you know that a lot of your students are interested in music, you can provide relevant learning activities, such as assigning a music project, asking a music producer to come in and speak to your students about his or her career, or arrange a service learning project that would result in instrument donations to low-income students. I have found that every student I have ever encountered is extraordinary in their own way (alright maybe there are a couple there that I had to do some really deep digging - like the one that stole my computer, or another that stole my keys). I was physically threatened by only one student in my 9 years in education, and I still to this day care for this student. My students have taught me so much about myself, about life. It is me who is the lucky one for having known them. The hardest part about leaving my job to stay home with my children was leaving my students. I knew them. I cared for them. We spent years building trust and a mutual respect for one another. Even if you aren't buying what I'm selling, ultimately, what is the HARM in getting to know your students? Nothing bad can come of it. So, with that, there are a lot of ways to learn about who they are. There may be a fortuitous, unplanned bonding moment between you and a student. You might get to know them simply through casual conversation. Make time for each student. Shoot-the-shit! With some students it will happen organically. They will be the first ones to come into class that day, talking your ear off before you've even finished your coffee. Others will be more challenging. They may be more reluctant to share their lives with you for a variety of reason. You may not be approachable. No offense. Some people aren't. Evaluate and reflect on your approach. Be firm with your expectations, but understanding of extenuating circumstances. They may be introverts. They may have a history of negative experiences with authority figures. You will have to work extra hard at those students, but they probably need that companionship the most. Make it a priority. One way to get the ball rolling is by asking students to do a variety of surveys. My school required that these be done during orientation at the beginning of the school year. These activities will not activate an instant bond. What they do is provide a foundation to then branch out from. I looked for a website that had all of the great ones right in one spot, but I came up short. So here is a list of some of the surveys we used with our students to set the relationship building in motion:
Interest Survey - this is exactly what is sounds like. It's a survey of questions that you give to your students that gives you an idea of their interests. This can be used to propel student projects or learning activities. I like the one created by Scholastic. Click here to get to the page. If you would rather create your own survey, do it! It would probably be more effective, as you know the demographic you are working with. If you would rather create your own, check out these tips from Edutopia.
Multiple Intelligences Survey - Howard Gardner's theory on multiple intelligences is the idea that everyone possesses different "intelligences", and therefore learn, understand, retain, and operate differently. Knowing each student's "intelligences" is a great tool for better understanding their needs and motivators. This link is a pretty good one. It's brief, which kids appreciate. Results are shown using a bar chart and percentages. Some online multiple intelligence assessments show results on a color wheel, which might be better for more visual learners. Check out the variety of multiple intelligence assessments online and choose one that works well for you.
Learning Styles- speaking of "visual learners", there are also quick assessments that determine how student's best learn. They likely already know the answer to this. You can probably just ask them. But they may not. It could be fun and informative for both of you to get the final results. Whatever the final results may be, this is a great thing to know about your advisees, as you can then better accommodate for their learning needs. You can plan learning activities that fit learning styles. This learning style survey is good. It's simple, straight to the point, and again, brief. I discovered that I'm an auditory learner (vs. visual and tactile) by taking this survey, which is utterly shocking. Try it yourself! It's kind of fun.
Myers Briggs - last one on the list! We made it. Tactile learners probably didn't make it this far in the post! The result of the survey is a 4 letter code that represents a unique personality type. The code includes extrovert vs. introvert, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. I won't get into the details of each here, you can learn this from the survey website if you don't already know. Knowing a student's personality type is essential for understanding their actions. An introvert can't be trained not to be an introvert. Right? Maybe that's incorrect. I spent most of my life wishing I was an extrovert. As I've aged I have learned to accept it and even embrace it. The introvert in me absolutely guides many of my decisions. If you find from this test that a student is an introvert, use that knowledge to your advantage. Knowing these things can eliminate frustrations and misunderstandings by both students and instructors. Check this one out. It's a pretty comprehensive website on all things Myers Briggs. One downside is that it's a little long and the language a bit convoluted. Be prepared to answer students questions and offer assistance. Take a look at my results in the image below. Nailed it.
Alright, I suppose it's time to bring this novel of a post to a close. The INFJ in me likes to exhaust topics! I hope some of the material here is helpful this year. I wish everyone a fantastic school year ahead! Cheers!
For those of you that are seasoned advisors, please share your thoughts, wisdom, and resources. What do you do to build and maintain a strong advisory community?
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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.